Choosing the right pillow for backpacking is important. They are as important as sleeping pads to sleep comfortably after a long hike. If you’re a side sleeper, you would probably need a thick pillow (at least 4 inches) enough to provide support and to keep your spine aligned. You can also combine a lighter and less lofty pillow with an inflatable or make a small, padded pillowcase that you can put an inflatable into or stuff like clothes, etc. Side sleepers commonly prefer pillows with a bit more height to support the neck and shoulder. One of the loftier pillows is the Therm-a-Rest Compressible at around 8 ounces.
Below is a list of top backpacking pillows if you like to sleep on your side.
1. Exped Air Pillow UL
Thickness: 4.3 inches
Weight: 1.6 oz.
Exped Air is a lightweight and anatomically designed pillow that will add comfort and convenience to your next backcountry outing. This pillow is ultralight and it packs down super small. It’s made of polyester and it is very durable but it weighs in just around 1.6 ounces when it’s packed down into its stuff sack size. It is a water-resistant material on the face fabric and it is durable and it’s going to hold up well for multiple backcountry trips.
It is a very soft face as well so it’s not a very crunchy material it’s pretty quiet so it’s not going to disturb you when you’re trying to sleep at night. It’s got a neat design in that one side is a little bit thicker and the other side is a little bit thinner. Both are curved and kind of naturally shaped but they’re designed so that side sleeper or back or stomach sleepers can get a comfortable night’s rest with the pillow. So if you tend to sleep on your side, you’ve got an elevated side and if you tend to sleep on your back or stomach, it’s a little lower on the other side.
You do have one flat valve for inflation and deflation so it’s a super convenient system. It’s almost like a self-sealing valve so you can open that and it doesn’t leak any air because of the valve that you’ve got inside. To inflate or deflate, you can just push or pull on that valve and it’ll let all the air out.
Pros: Small pack size, ultralight, added texture keeps the pillow in place
Cons: You may find it uncomfortable for the first few nights in the backcountry before you get used to it.
2. Therm-a-Rest Compressible
Thickness: 6.75 inches
Weight: 9 oz.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible is a comfortable foam pillow that provides simplicity and support. The pillow comes in four sizes and it is made of upcycled Therm-a-Rest mattress scraps, encased in a suede-like polyester shell. This pillow is a little heavy than others in our reviews and its packed size is not very impressive and it limits its uses. Due to its heavy size and large pack size, this pillow may not be ideal for multi-day hiking or backpacking trips.
The comfort offered by this pillow is great even it is the most comfortable of all the pillows in this list. It is thick and soft and it can tolerate turns in the night easily. It is also incredibly soft. The outer shell fabric feels amazing against cheeks and you’ll love it when you lay down on this pillow after a long hike.
There’s an included stuff sack so you easily roll the pillow up, tuck it into the lip of the pillowcase and then pull the drawstring tight. The pillow is also sleeping bag compatible and it fits snuggly in almost every sleeping bag’s hood. The pillow can be washed in a machine and dried. The exterior fabric is designed in a way it gives the pillow some grip to keep it in place.
Pros: Affordable, easy to use, and comfortable
Cons: Large pack size and heavy
3. Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe
Thickness: 4.75 inches
Weight: 3.1 oz.
Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe is a small, packable and well-shaped pillow that is easy to inflate and adjust at night. Big Agnes is using minimalist I-beam construction that reduces weight, provides comfort, and stable sleeping surface for your head. There’s a micro-adjust valve that you can use to control the firmness of the pillow. It is made of four-way stretch nylon, which is super soft next-to-skin. The pillow also features a built-in advanced heat reflective technology.
On the inside, the pillow is treated with an antimicrobial substance, which reduces the growth of microorganisms. The four-way stretch nylon is very comfortable and it is a great place to lay your head where ever your adventure takes you. There’s a stuff sack included and it fits easily in Big Agnes sleeping bag’s pocket. The pillow is easy to use. There’s a two-way valve that allows quick and easy inflation and fast deflation.
Overall, this is a lightweight pillow that can be used for backpacking. It also enables backpackers and campers to enjoy a restful night of sleep.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to inflate & deflate, durable
Cons: The pillow needs to wrapped in your spare shirt because it is too light & manages to slip away all too often during the night.
4. Cocoon Ultralight Air Core
Thickness: 4.5 inches
Weight: 3.8 oz.
Material: Polyester microfiber/20D nylon
Cocoon Ultralight Air Core Hood Pillow is designed specifically to use in the hood of your mummy sleeping bag. It has rounded edges so it fits into a hood nicely. It’s inflatable so it packs down super small into its included stuff sack. It’s perfect to backpack with, it’s compressible, and it’s even got synthetic insulation on the inside.
There’s a valve right here you can inflate by mouth and you can adjust the firmness. You’ve got lightweight material on the top, which is soft and the other side has a lightweight fleece. The fleece material feels very soft against the skin and it is very comfortable.
You can put it up into the hood of your sleeping bag if you’re just lying on top of your sleeping bag. Anyone who’s been camping with the pillow knows that sometimes that pillow can get lost at night. It can roll off your sleeping pad but with the rounded edges, it fits up there nicely and just stays put all night long. The pillow packs up super small in its stuff sack and it blows up or inflates fast.
Pros: Dual sides, silk-feel (one side) and a microfiber feel (other side)
Cons: It takes a while to find the right firmness.
5. Sea to Summit Aeros
Thickness: 5.5 inches
Weight: 2.8 oz.
Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium has a lightweight and compactable design. You have an internal bladder that you inflate much like a sleeping pad. Unlike some other inflatable pillows on the market, this has a relatively softer topper. It’s got stretch-knit fabric, which is soft against your skin. It even has a layer of synthetic fill underneath of the outer fabric that protects the bladder on the inside but it also makes it plush.
Because Sea to Summit is utilizing its multifunctional valve, you can inflate this and fine-tune the adjustment. So the top part of the valve is the inflate part you can inflate that by mouth or you can use a Sea to Summit pump sack to pump that up. It’s a one-way valve, so when you take breaks blowing it up, the air doesn’t come back out of it. If you’ve overinflated it, all you have to do is push on that button there and it lets a little bit of air out at a time.
When you’re ready to pack it down, you have a deflate valve that’s underneath of the inflation valve. When you open that it just dumps all the air out of it. So, when you’re ready to pack it up, you just have to compress it down, put it back into the stuff sack, and you’re ready to go.
Pros: The top material is soft and comfy and it feels like a real pillow.
Cons: Prone to punctures, cannot be easily repaired
6. Klymit Pillow X
Thickness: 4 inches
Weight: 1.95 oz.
Klymit Pillow X is perfect for those ultralight backpackers who want maximum comfort on their thru-hike or extended backpacking trip but don’t want to add unnecessary weight or bulk to their system. It weighs in at just less than two ounces and packs down super small to about the size just slightly larger than a standard lighter. It’s made of soft and durable 30D face fabric and on the bottom, it’s a 75D fabric. Therefore, you’ve got good durability in the system as well so the likelihood of abrasions or holes or punctures is minimized with that fabric.
Standard patch kits do work on the fabric although they’re not included with the pillow you would have to get one of those separately. The pillow’s got an interesting design in that X shaping. It’s designed to cradle the head so as you lay on it, it cups the back of your head or the side of your head depending on how you sleep. It helps keep you in place throughout the night so it’s granting a lot of comfort in that way. The pillow inflates super quickly with just two to three full breaths and it has an easy to lock valve and you can bleed some of that air if you want a softer pillow surface
Overall, it’s just a simple pillow. It is super lightweight, packs down small, and it’s great for anyone from ultralight enthusiasts to travelers who want convenience and comfort for their trips.
Pros: Takes only 4 breaths to inflate, indents in the middle so your head rests in it
Cons: Takes some time to learn to deflate properly, full twist valve instead of 1/4 turn
7. Big Sky International DreamSleeper
Thickness: 4 inches
Weight: 1.6 oz.
Big Sky International DreamSleeper is an ultralight pillow and it comes in at just 1.6 ounces. When deflated, it’s about 20 inches long by 12 inches wide and once inflated, it inflates to a thickness of about 4 inches. The pillow is ergonomically designed to cradle your head in the center of the pillow. It works great for side sleepers. If you’re a side sleeper, just let a little bit of air out of this thing and it will cradle your head perfectly.
It uses a twist valve for inflation and deflation much like Therm-a-Rest NeoAir and it’s very easy to let a little air out and add more air. A lot of cheaper pillows are made out of PVC, which in cold conditions can get freeze and cracked. Big Sky uses high-grade Thermo polyurethane, which is much stronger than PVC and isn’t apt to crack in cold climates.
The pillow is completely transparent and then it’ll kind of get translucent and eventually it will probably turn opaque. But that does not affect the strength or the usability of the pillow though. By the way, Thermo polyurethane is also more environmentally friendly than PVC. When fully deflated, it will take up very little space in your pack. It fits in the palm of a hand. It takes normally 4 to 5 breaths.
Pros: Comfortable and it doesn’t feel like you’re sleeping on a stiff sack of air.
Cons: A little noisy, you need a pillow cover while using it, not balanced very well
8. Trekology ALUFT 2.0
Thickness: 4 inches
Weight: 3.4 oz.
Trekology ALUFT 2.0 is a small, compact and lightweight pillow that is great for camping, hiking, and backpacking. When fully inflated, it is very comfortable and it provides excellent head or lumbar support. The pillow can be deflated back down in seconds it packs down to 5×2 inches. Due to its small pack size, it can be easily carried out in your backpacking pack or packet for easy access. It weighs around just 3.4 ounces.
The fabric is a durable elastic TPU and it is somewhat water-resistant. The new ALUFT 2.0 has rubber anti-slipping dots on the back to increase friction between your pillow and the sleeping pad. Some straps further prevent your pillow from moving around while you sleep. Also, the pillow is ergonomically designed to provide enhanced neck support for a restful night’s sleep. The pillow is ideal for back, stomach and side sleepers alike.
ALUFT 2.0 can be inflated in just 3-5 breaths and it inflates to a generous 16 x 12 x 4 inches. The pillow is quite easy to use with just click of a button. When you’re done, you can deflate it with the Quick Deflate feature that rapidly releases air after use in only seconds. You can also adjust the firmness to your personal sleep preference.
Pros: Water-resistant, durable, slip-resistant bottom, lightweight
Cons: The air valve gets stiff to operate in cold conditions, prone to leakage
9. NEMO Fillo
Thickness: 4.5 inches
Weight: 9 oz.
NEMO Fillo is a comfortable hybrid pillow that’s a breeze to use. It has a rectangular design and it features a baffled inflating sack on the bottom, with a layer of memory foam on top, held snugly in place by a mesh net. The outer shell is made of polyester and microsuede. It is a multi-purpose pillow and it can be used for a variety of outdoor activities. It is ideal for weekend camping, car camping as well as short backpacking trips.
Like inflatable pillows, the air valve can be used to adjust the thickness, which made it versatile for the back, stomach, and side sleepers. The pillow has a large surface area for your head to roam around on. Also, you don’t have to worry about it sliding off like most other inflatable options. The top of the outer shell is made of microsuede, which provides great next-to-skin comfort. It is also combined with the memory foam so that your head and face gently sink into.
NEMO Fillo is very easy to use. It has an inflatable element and it works like a compressible pillow. It can be inflated in just 3 breaths. The air valve is designed to make adjusting air levels easy. The stuff sack is built into the design, which also reduces the risk of deflating the whole pillow.
Pros: Great support, easy to adjust thickness, small packed size
10. TETON Sports ComfortLite
Thickness: 4 inches
Weight: 12 oz.
Material: ComforTech Microfiber
TETON Sports ComfortLite is a great little pillow that can be used for camping as well as backpacking. This is a self-inflating pillow and it features a foam core. Also, the top is a microfiber and it provides superior next-to-skin comfort. There’s a rapid inflation/deflation value that can be used to adjust the firmness. If you like sleeping with multiple pillows at home, this is the pillow for you.
Many backpacking pillows are meant to be small and they do not provide sufficient head support. This is relatively a large pillow and if you’re a side sleeper, it would keep your head level. The pack size of this pillow is not very impressive but it is well worth the extra space! It comes with a stuff sack and it compacts down reasonable. When packing it up, you just open the valve and roll up the pillow.
The outer covering of the pillow is made of two types of materials. The orange layer you see is microfiber cover, which is quite comfortable. The outer cover is also non-slip and it keeps the pillow in place. It does a good job of keeping the pillow where you want it.
Pros: Easy to compact, comfortable, quick to adjust
Cons: Not the smallest backpacking pillow, heavy
Best Backpacking Pillows for Side Sleepers: Comparison Table
|Exped Air Pillow UL||4.3 in||1.6 oz.||Inflatable||Polyester|
|Therm-a-Rest Compressible||6.75 in||9 oz.||Compressible/foam||Polyester|
|Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe||4.75 in||3.1 oz.||Inflatable||Nylon|
|Cocoon Ultralight Air Core||4.5 in||3.8 oz.||Inflatable||Polyester/nylon|
|Sea to Summit Aeros||5.5 in||2.8 oz.||Inflatable||Polyester|
|Klymit Pillow X||4 in||1.95 oz.||Inflatable||Polyester|
|Big Sky International DreamSleeper||4 in||1.6 oz.||Inflatable||TPU|
|Trekology ALUFT 2.0||4 in||3.4 oz.||Inflatable||Polyester/TPU|
|NEMO Fillo||4.5 in||9 oz.||Hybrid||Polyester/microsuede|
|TETON Sports ComfortLite||4 in||12 oz.||Self-inflating||ComforTech Microfiber|
How to Choose a Backpacking Pillow for Side Sleepers
Below are a few things to keep in mind while choosing a pillow for your backcountry adventures. The pillow you choose should provide enough head support with comfort throughout the entire night, not only when you first lie down on it.
Types of Pillows
There are four basic categories of backpacking pillows: compressible, inflatable, hybrid, and stuffable. Each has its pros and cons when it comes to weight, support, height, comfort, ease of use, and pack size.
- Compressible: These pillows are filled with down feathers, synthetic fibers, and foam, or a combination of these. They are soft and much like your real pillow from your bedroom. There are also comfortable and easy to use than other types.
- Inflatable: Inflatable pillows are all filled with air and they are the lightest options available. You need to blow in air through a valve to use one. You can also adjust the thickness and firmness by letting air out through the valve. When deflated they’re smallest in size and take very little space in your backpack.
- Hybrid: Hybrid pillows have the characteristics of both inflatable and compressible pillows. They feature a compressible top layer, which provides comfort and an inflatable bottom side to increase support while reducing its packed volume.
- Stuffable: This is a relatively new type of pillow. These are lightly padded that can be stuffed with things like clothes, jackets, or extra socks. They provide great support and comfort without adding any extra bulk.
Types of Sleepers
Everyone sleeps differently, but there’re three main sleeping positions; i.e. back, stomach and, side. Getting the right level of comfort from your pillow is important because your sleeping style plays a very critical role in waking up at night.
Thin pillows are great for stomach sleepers because they do not need a lot of support, while on the other hand, side sleepers need a thick and supportive pillow to keep their head level with the spine when lying on your side. Back sleepers need moderate support – a little more than stomach sleepers and less than side sleepers.
A pillow can play a major role in a good night’s rest in the woods. Choose a pillow according to your sleeping style. If you’re a side sleeper, get a pillow that is thick enough (at least 4 inches thick) and supportive. The pillow should be able to keep your spine aligned while you’re lying on your side. Choosing the right one would increase the quality of your rest and reduce aches and pains. We hope these reviews help you choose which pillow will keep you happy in the backcountry.