Lightweight Backpacking – Pillows

Any space and weight you can save while on a backpacking trip is usually welcome. There are many areas in which backpackers try to economize on weight. They may bring ultra light weight cooking stove and mess kits, as few clothes as possible, bring extremely light tents and sleeping bags, and so on. One other area that deserves mentions is pillows.
Pillows are sometimes not mentioned in the context of backpacking weight economy because they may be considered a “non-essential” item. That is, many hikers don’t feel they are necessary because it’s possible to rest your head on the upper part of a sleeping bag or improvise a makeshift pillow from wadded up or folded clothing. For anyone who’s experienced a night on the hard ground with no pillow, however, these can seem like less than optimal solutions. A pillow greatly increases comfort and can really be the factor that makes or breaks a night’s sleep.
Fortunately, there are a variety of lightweight backpacking pillows on the market which economize on weight and space admirably and still allow hikers and climbers to have a pillow when they sleep. There are two main options when it comes to lightweight backpacking pillows – compressible pillows and inflatable pillows. When well made, these two types both do a great job of saving weight and space while providing enhanced comfort. Let’s take a look at each type in a little bit more detail:

Compressible Backpacking Pillows

Compressible pillows are ones that are filled with down or a synthetic cushioning material that is able to compress to a very small size. Thus they can fit into a backpack without taking up much space. They also economize on weight, often weighing less than half a pound. They usually wad up to fit into a stuff sack that maintains their small size when the pillow is not in use. When the pillow is pulled out of the stuff sack, it expands to its full size and is ready for use. These pillows are great for hiking, climbing, and even car trips or simple family camping. These are actual pillows and regardless of their level of expensiveness tend to be a great improvement over nights on the sleeping bag top or other makeshift pillow type.
A common complaint with this type of pillow is that when unfurled they are not as firm and well stuffed as people would like. This in a sense stands to reason: if these pillows are able to be so easily and extensively compressed by pressure, then the pressure of your head resting on them is bound to create some compression as well. The better compressible hiking pillows have stuffing that is able to withstand lighter pressures without compressing. A good compressible pillow will usually provide a good level of comfort.

Inflatable Backpacking Pillows

The other main type of hiking/camping pillow is the inflatable pillow. These pillows inflate with air. If space and weight economy are the primary reasons for buying such a pillow, these are unparalleled. Without air they weigh as little, and take up as little space as a small piece of clothing. They can simply be folded up and put into the backpack and weigh only ounces. Then they are inflated to reach their full pillow size. Mouth inflation is easy – they don’t usually need any kind of inflator mechanism. However, if someone does want an inflation device, lightweight ones are available.
If there is a drawback to these types of pillows, it is that they are usually a bit less comfortable than compressible hiking pillows. This however, can depend on the tastes of the sleeper. Some may prefer the bouncy feeling of an inflated pillow to the feel of a compressible. If an inflatable pillow feels a bit too firm, you can let a little bit of air out of it to give it some extra softness.

Backpacking pillows have evolved to the point these days where the weight and space they take up is minimal, and they offer a greatly improved night’s sleep. Thus there really is no reason not to take advantage of them. Without any noticeable sacrifice of hiking comfort they increase sleep comfort and make for a more enjoyable expedition and better rest for each day’s hiking or climbing activities.