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Camping Pillows

As a side sleeper, I have a hard time getting to sleep outdoors when my head is not propped up. This is not an problem during the winter when I have enough extra down or synthetic clothing to bunch up as a pillow, but the rest of the year it’s an issue because I usually don’t carry enough extra clothing to fill a stuff sack. I guess that’s one downside of going lightweight.

One of the first products I ever bought to address this issue were FlexAir Ultralight Pillows from which you inflate with a straw. At 0.56 oz, this was an ultralight solution, but once inflated they’re as hard as a rock despite having a slightly fuzzy surface. They’ve since been relegated to my dead gear box.

One solution I’ve been forced to adopt is to go to sleep on my back. The downside is that I snore like a dragon in this position and you don’t want me sleeping anywhere near you. If you’ve ever been on a trip with me and wondered why I always sleep apart from other people, this is the reason. I value my life.

Western Mountaineering Cloudrest Down Pillow for Camping
Western Mountaineering Cloudrest Down Pillow

This winter, my wife bought me an 800 fill power goose down Cloudrest Pillow from Western Mountaineering that I will be trying this spring as a solution to my pillow problem. It supports my head pretty well when I use it inside the hood of my Western Mountaineering Ultralite Sleeping Bag, but at 5 oz., I wish I had a lighter weight or multipurpose solution that I could use instead. Still, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for me, so if it works consistently, I’ll be sold. It comes with it’s own attached stuff sack, making it easy to keep clean and dry and is highly compressible as down only can.

What kind of camping pillow do you use? Is sleeping without a camping pillow a problem for you too?


  1. I made my own little stuff sack out of silk and my down vest goes into it making a very nice pillow with no extra weight.

  2. Yeah, but I don't carry a down vest in the middle of the summer. What would you do without it? Leaves don't work well either. I've tried that.

  3. Well, it would work with any spare clothing you carry. Not as comfortable as a down vest but it would work. If you wear all of your clothing all the time an alternative possibility would be to blow up your waterproof stuff sack for your sleeping bag/quilt and put it in the silk stuff sack so you don't lay your head on "plastic".

    You can also fill your waterproof sack with some water and roll the top-closure tight to avoid getting seasick during your sleep. ;-)

  4. Not to be difficult, but I've tried the spare clothing option and it's not very comfortable. Kind of like sleeping on furry rocks, plus there's the fact that I carry very little extra clothing. I haven't tried filling my waterproof sack with water – I can see some downsides to this: it's probably also rock-like and will drain heat from my head despite warmer temperatures.

    But you have got me thinking out of the box. I'm going to give packing peanuts a try. If I can grind them up a bit and muffle the sound they make, I might have a lighter weight alternative that reuses an existing stuff sack. Good exchange – thx!

  5. Great post. I too am a side sleeper and sleep with 2 full sized pillows at home, so getting to sleep in the wild is always difficult. I use 2 pillows for my sleep system. One is a little Slumerjack camping pillow (made with Qualofill) that compresses to about the size of a soda can. Alone this pillow is too small and flat for side sleeping. I place it on top of an inflatable pillow that came with a full size inflatable matress from Walmart. It's too hard by itself, but the combination of these 2 different pillows gives me the softness I crave with the hight I need for descent neck alignment. The downside is that they can separate during the night. I've thought about putting them both in a stuff sack of trying to velcro them together, but it's not a big issue and I don't like the feel of the nylon stuff sack against my face.

  6. I've also tried the FlexAir and found the same as you — too hard. But I find that down is too soft (at least a down vest is). I feel like Goldilocks. The best thing I've found so far is my fleece jacket, rolled up. The fleece is firm but not hard.

    However I'm still looking for my ideal camping pillow. I'll be interested to hear if this new pillow of your works out well.

  7. Another side-sleeper here.. I'm still a mid-weight hiker, although I still don't have enough extra clothes to really make a workable pillow from. In desperation last summer, I dragged my pack down from the bear line (leaving the food up there, naturally!), jammed my boots into the main storage space, and used what few extra clothes I had to pad the top.. I'll be watching with GREAT interest to see if anyone offers up a solution. I've mostly resigned myself to it being one of the comforts of modern life that can't translate to the trail.

  8. The best I've been able to come up with is a combination of the above. I put what extra clothes I have in a stuff sack with the deflated FlexAir, then blow up the FlexAir in the stuff sack to fill out the stuff sack. This way the FlexAir is not completely blown up so it's not rock hard and still helps boost the volume of the stuff sack.

    I usually wrap a shirt around the outside of the stuff sack because I hate the feeling of the nylon, too. I'm considering buying a fleece stuff sack to help with that last part, but haven't tried it yet. I usually keep my spare clothes in a waterproof stuff sack, so that would be a trade off.

    Overall, it's still unsatisfactory, but the best I've been able to get. I too have resigned myself to only having a luxurious sleep in a tent when I occasionally car/beer camp and can bring my real pillow!

  9. I'm also a side sleeper with the same problem. I also tried the FlexAir pillow. I had to put more air into it a few times over the night. I just got the LuxuryLite Pillow pad.

    I haven't had a chance to try it yet but, as soon as it stops snowing here in CT, I'll give it a try and let you know how I like it.

  10. You may like to have a look at the following link I have used this product for many years and it's very good.

    Can't find any US info from UK though.


  11. Your comments system didn't accept my link version so I'll try again…..

  12. That seems to have done the trick. Thanks for the link. It that pillow inflatable or is it a sponge? Hard to tell from the photo.

  13. George – I really like your idea (and others') about the 2 pillow solution, combining a flex air or other inflatable to get a bit more height. I think your idea about using velcro to keep the 2 pillows together is a wonderful idea. I'm glad I brought up this topic – seems like it hit a nerve.

  14. Reference the Ajungilak Pillow… is inflatable by blowing into a short built in tube with a sealing plug. The inflation system slips inside the end of the yellow cover you see on the web site. The cover is zippered and can be removed for cleaning. It packs down to about the size of a Red Bull can.


  15. I am also a side sleeper. The only solution I have found to our problem is a bean bag neck/travel pillow. My solution is not perfect, but I am able to stack the "sides" of the U when I am on my side. The covering is a soft/brushed microfiber that feels great on your skin.

    I also use the pillow in my hammock, but I place my neck in the U for sleeping on my back. This also works on the ground when I roll onto my back.

    I wish that I could find an acceptable "multi-use" solution, but nothing has worked this well for me.


  16. I sleep on with my head on my hydration bladder. It works well if there is very little water and you inflate the remaining space with air, or if it's full of water (not so great in between). You have to make sure that you have a positive on/off valve and not just the "bite" type valve or it will leak. Other than that it works great.

  17. someone might like to look at these.

    Cocoon Ultralight Aircore Pillow

    I have yet to use one of these, but if anyone has, please inform me on the cons/pros.


  18. Half of a poly/cotton pillow case(creatively rolled/secured on the open side), a double zip lock freezer bag or dollar store balloon,and a peice of pillow batting laid on top and placed inside the case.

  19. …Forgot to mention if a single ziploc or balloon is uncomfortable, use multiple snack size ones or multiple small baloons. I use personally use this combo under my modified (removed the fleece and added poly-cotton)Thermarest Wrap-it. The key for this being good sleep is that you can scrunch the height up or down in a semi-unconscience state…

  20. Mine is not too different than the traditional. I use a dry bag with my clothes that I'm not wearing, but I slide my Buff over the outside of the bag so I've got a decent surface texture to rest on.

  21. Here a cheap straw-inflate pillow I use sometimes.

    It's really oversize so inflating it half way makes it about right. Otherwise rolled up pants covered by a folded fleece jacket works pretty good for me.

  22. XL bag of marshmallows.

    : )

    Just wrap it in duct tape to reduce the sugary vanilla smell – eat as needed – easy to replenish!

  23. Earlylite,

    At the time you wrote this article you had just gotton the Cloudrest, but it sounded like you hadn't had a chance to really use. Now, its a year and a half later. What do you think of it? Are you still using it or have you moved on to something else?

  24. Since then I've given up on side sleeping and just use a bunched up insulating coat as a pillow (and lie on my back). I tell people I snore, but they still want to sleep in shelters with me. Go figure.

  25. Sobakawa! Those little styrofoam beads are light as anything. Get the pillow, cut a hole in it, empty out about 3/4 of the beads, and stitch back up (do a good job, or you'll have a mess). I've gotten mine down to about 8oz. A bit heavy I know, but I'm a side sleeper with a big noggin that needs support. Works fantastic with my Neo-Air.

  26. I use a exped Air Pillow (Ruby Red) at 3oz. then I place my crocs under it (side sleeper so I need the height) then we nature calls I know exactly where my shoes are and I have the hight I need.

  27. I don't even leave my shelter anymore – just unzip the door, fire, and aim.

    • Have you tried/seen the GooseFeet pillow? It may be the best solution. You get a down pillow with a stuffsack pocket/sleeve on one side to fill with a fleece or other clothes. This gets the height with a soft down top layer, and keeps the pillow together in one piece. Three sizes and multiple choices of down fill weight. The overall weight for any of the models appear very reasonable. I’m going out on the trail for 2 weeks this summer and sure would like to upgrade pillows without adding too much weight.

    • Philip,

      Most people aim and then fire, however doing things in the order you specified, “fire, and aim” has its advantages because it insures that you always hit your target. No matter what’s at the receiving end, you can say, “I meant to hit that!”

  28. On my last holiday in March I used some foam from a cut up Thermarest, wrapped in a buff, 140 grams. I’m going to cut the foam in half next time to reduce the bulk and weight.

  29. I have a piece of open cell foam, 11 ” wide by 7 ” deep by 2 ” H sloping up to 3″ H. I cut it from a head rest that was part of a foldable nylon chair. It weighs 2.15 oz. For the pillow cover, I’m going to sew together a piece of fleece (top layer) to a piece of silnylon (bottom layer). Probably it would weigh around 3.5 oz all together. While lying down on it, on my floor, I could tell it would be quite comfortable. When packing, I’ll probably put it down in the bottom of the pack, where it can get squashed and serve as bottom padding. I suppose one could pull out the spongy foam and use it to mop up a big spill of water. Multiple use?

  30. It can also sop up the water in the bottom of the pack in a rainstorm. Then you run that through your filter…

  31. I’m a stomach sleeper and someone that has to have a pillow. What I’ve got stowed in my pack is a lumbar pillow that wasn’t originally made for backpacking. It’s made out of a stretchy Lyrca and is full of tiny Styrofoam beads- it has this zipper compartment that holds this vibrating disk that I have long since tossed. It really supports my head nicely, is very light, and dries quickly when wet. It’s not the most compact, but I like it.

    For the DYIers you can purchase that type of filling at Joann Fabrics.

  32. I believe I have a viable suggestion. I use a 2L platypus water bottle

  33. I bought a cheap latex standard size pillow, (latex not memory foam, latex is lighter.) not sure of the weight. But it’s light. I roll it up tight and use Velcro straps (3) to hold it together. I too need the height so I use any clothing or towel under my latex pillow, but the suggestion of the bead styrofoam pillow is genius and that will be my 2nd pillow for height. I need a good night’s sleep I don’t care about the extra weight.

  34. Resurrecting this thread. I’m in the market for a new pillow option. 3 season use, rolling up clothes has never worked for me. The cheap vinyl blow-up pillow I have has sprung a slow leak (and I never really loved it anyhow since it was really plasticy and either hard or deflated). There seem to be some options out there now (Sea to Summit Aeros) but $60-$70 for a blow up pillow? Really? I want something in the 4-5oz range and reasonably comfortable.

    What are people using these days?

  35. A few years ago, my wife bought me an ExPed Schnozzel pump bag for an anniversary present. It’s a waterproof stuff sack that also can be used to inflate a sleeping pad. I made an simple adaptor to inflate my Thermarest NeoAir. While hiking, it’s my waterproof storage for clothing and layers I want to keep dry. At night, I toss in my down puffy and that combo makes the best backpacking pillow I’ve ever had.

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