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What To Use As A Pillow When Backpacking


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Courtney Sylvester



When embarking on a backpacking adventure, one of the essential items that often gets overlooked is a comfortable pillow. While it may seem like a small detail, having a good pillow can significantly enhance your quality of sleep and overall comfort during your travels. However, when it comes to backpacking, space and weight are crucial considerations. Carrying a bulky and heavy pillow is not feasible, especially when you have limited room in your backpack.


In this article, we will explore the different options available for backpackers looking for lightweight and compact pillows. We will discuss their pros and cons, as well as alternative pillow solutions that can be used in a pinch. Whether you prefer the convenience of an inflatable pillow, the comfort of a compressible foam pillow, or the ingenuity of a DIY pillow alternative, we’ve got you covered.


As backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts, we understand that a good night’s sleep is essential to fully enjoy your travels and make the most out of your experiences. So let’s delve into the world of backpacking pillows, and discover the best options for ensuring a restful night’s sleep while on the go.


Factors to consider when choosing a pillow for backpacking

When selecting a pillow for backpacking, there are several important factors to consider:

  1. Weight and Size: The primary concern when choosing a backpacking pillow is its weight and size. Look for pillows that are lightweight and compact, as they won’t take up much space in your backpack. Consider the pillow’s packed size and whether it can easily fit into your pack without adding too much weight.
  2. Comfort and Support: While you want a pillow that is lightweight and compact, it’s also essential to prioritize comfort and support. Look for pillows that offer adequate cushioning and neck support, allowing you to have a good night’s sleep. Consider the pillow’s material and construction, as well as the firmness level.
  3. Durability: Since backpacking involves outdoor activities and exposure to different weather conditions, it’s crucial to choose a pillow that is durable. Opt for pillows made from high-quality materials that can withstand rough handling, moisture, and abrasion.
  4. Ease of use: When you’re on the move, convenience is key. Look for pillows that are easy to inflate, deflate, and pack away. Consider if the pillow comes with a built-in pump, stuff sack, or compression straps to make it easier to use and store.
  5. Multi-functionality: It’s always a bonus if your backpacking pillow can serve multiple purposes. Some inflatable pillows can also double as a seat cushion or a back support while sitting on rough terrain. Consider if the pillow has any additional features or functions that can add value to your backpacking experience.

By taking these factors into account, you can narrow down your options and choose a pillow that meets your specific needs and preferences. Let’s now explore some of the best pillow options available for backpackers.


Options for lightweight and compact pillows

When it comes to finding a lightweight and compact pillow for backpacking, there are several great options available:

  1. Inflatable pillows: Inflatable pillows are a popular choice among backpackers due to their compactness and adjustability. These pillows can be inflated and deflated as needed, allowing you to customize the firmness to your liking. Some inflatable pillows even come with built-in pumps for quick and easy inflation. Look for pillows made from durable materials such as nylon or polyester to ensure they withstand the rigors of backpacking.
  2. Compressible foam pillows: Compressible foam pillows are another excellent option that offers a balance of comfort and packability. These pillows are filled with memory foam or down feathers that can compress down to a smaller size when not in use. They provide a soft and cushioned feel, making them ideal for those who prefer a more traditional pillow experience.
  3. DIY pillow alternatives: If you’re looking for a budget-friendly and creative solution, consider DIY pillow alternatives. You can use items like dry bags, stuff sacks, or clothes stuffed inside a pillowcase to create a makeshift pillow. While these options may not provide the same level of comfort as specialized backpacking pillows, they can be a great backup plan in case you forget or lose your pillow while on the go.

Each of these pillow options has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to consider your personal preferences and backpacking needs when making a choice. Additionally, don’t forget to read reviews and take into account other backpackers’ experiences to help guide your decision.


Now that we’ve explored the various pillow options, let’s delve into some tips for maximizing comfort and support while backpacking.


Inflatable pillows

Inflatable pillows are a popular choice among backpackers due to their lightweight and compact design. These pillows typically feature an air bladder that can be inflated using either a built-in pump or by blowing into a valve. Here are some key advantages and considerations when choosing an inflatable pillow:

  1. Portability: Inflatable pillows are incredibly lightweight and can easily be deflated and packed away when not in use. Since they take up minimal space in your backpack, they are an excellent choice for backpackers who prioritize saving weight and space.
  2. Customizable firmness: One of the main benefits of inflatable pillows is the ability to adjust the firmness to your preference. By inflating or deflating the pillow, you can find the perfect level of support and comfort for a good night’s sleep.
  3. Easy maintenance: Inflatable pillows are typically easy to clean and maintain. Most models have a removable cover that can be machine-washed, while the air bladder can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. This ensures that your pillow stays clean and fresh throughout your backpacking trip.
  4. Durability: Look for inflatable pillows made from durable materials such as nylon or polyester. These materials are resistant to punctures and tears, ensuring your pillow can withstand rough handling and outdoor conditions.

Despite their many advantages, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when using an inflatable pillow. Firstly, some backpackers may find the firmness of an inflatable pillow to be less comfortable than a traditional pillow. However, this can be mitigated by adjusting the amount of air inside the pillow to find the right balance. Secondly, there is a slight risk of the pillow deflating during the night, which can disrupt your sleep. To avoid this, make sure the valve is securely closed and check for any leaks before using the pillow.


Overall, inflatable pillows are an excellent choice for backpackers seeking a lightweight and compact sleeping accessory. With their customizable firmness and easy portability, they provide a comfortable solution for a good night’s sleep while on the go.


Compressible foam pillows

Compressible foam pillows are a popular choice for backpackers looking for a balance between comfort and compactness. These pillows are filled with either memory foam or down feathers, which provide a soft and supportive sleeping surface. Here are some key advantages and considerations when choosing a compressible foam pillow:

  1. Comfort: Compressible foam pillows excel in providing a more traditional pillow experience. The memory foam or down filling conforms to the shape of your head and neck, offering superior comfort and support while you sleep. This can be especially beneficial for individuals who prefer a plush and cushioned pillow.
  2. Portability: While compressible foam pillows are not as compact as inflatable pillows, they can still be compressed down to a smaller size for easier packing. Most compressible foam pillows come with a stuff sack or compression straps, allowing you to reduce their volume and fit them into your backpack more efficiently.
  3. Durability: Compressible foam pillows are made from durable materials, ensuring they can withstand the rigors of backpacking. The outer cover is often constructed from breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics, which contribute to the pillow’s longevity.
  4. Maintenance: The outer cover of compressible foam pillows is usually removable and machine-washable, making them easy to clean and maintain during your backpacking trips. It’s important to follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure the longevity of your pillow.

While compressible foam pillows offer excellent comfort, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, they are generally heavier than inflatable pillows, which can increase the overall weight of your backpack. Secondly, compressible foam pillows may take up more space compared to inflatable options, so it’s essential to ensure you have enough room in your backpack for them.


Ultimately, if you prioritize comfort and value a more traditional pillow experience while backpacking, a compressible foam pillow could be the perfect choice for you. Its soft and supportive filling, along with its compressible design, makes it a reliable and comfortable companion for a restful night’s sleep.


DIY pillow alternatives

When you find yourself in a pinch and don’t have access to a specialized backpacking pillow, you can get creative and utilize DIY pillow alternatives. These alternatives may not provide the same level of comfort as dedicated pillows, but they can be a practical solution in certain situations. Here are a few DIY pillow alternatives to consider:

  1. Dry bags: Dry bags are commonly used to keep gear and clothing dry during water activities. However, they can also be a makeshift pillow when stuffed with soft items such as extra clothes or a sleeping bag liner. Simply secure the opening of the dry bag to prevent the filling from falling out and place it inside a pillowcase for added comfort.
  2. Stuff sacks: Stuff sacks used for organizing your gear can also be repurposed as makeshift pillows. Fill the stuff sack with soft clothing items such as a fleece jacket, spare socks, or a beanie. Adjust the amount of clothing to achieve your desired level of support, and place the filled stuff sack inside a pillowcase for extra cushioning.
  3. Clothes stuffed inside a pillowcase: If you don’t have any bags or stuff sacks available, you can simply use your extra clothes to create a makeshift pillow. Take clean clothing items like t-shirts, fleece layers, or spare pants, and tightly pack them inside a pillowcase. This DIY pillow alternative can provide some padding and comfort during your backpacking adventures.

While these DIY alternatives may not provide the same level of comfort and support as specialized backpacking pillows, they can serve as a temporary solution if you find yourself without a pillow on the trail. It’s essential to note that the level of comfort may vary depending on the items used and your personal preferences.


If you choose to use a DIY pillow alternative, it’s a good practice to ensure the items you use are clean and don’t have any sharp edges or objects that could cause discomfort while sleeping. Experiment with different clothing items and adjust the amount of filling to create the best makeshift pillow for your needs.


Now that we’ve explored DIY pillow alternatives, let’s move on to some tips for maximizing comfort and support while backpacking.


Using clothing as a makeshift pillow

When you’re in need of a pillow while backpacking and don’t have access to specialized gear or DIY alternatives, one simple solution is to use your clothing as a makeshift pillow. While it may not be as comfortable as a dedicated pillow, it can provide some cushioning and support when you’re in a bind. Here’s how you can use clothing as a makeshift pillow:

  1. Pillowcase method: Take a clean t-shirt, hoodie, or any other piece of clothing and tightly roll it up. Place the rolled clothing inside the opening of another clean shirt or a spare pillowcase. Fold or tie the ends of the pillowcase to secure the clothing inside. This will create a makeshift pillow that you can rest your head on during bedtime.
  2. Duffel bag method: If you have a small duffel bag or a similar bag with a zippered opening, you can fill it with soft clothing items like hoodies, pants, or extra socks. Stuff the bag with enough clothing to create a cushioned surface. Close the bag securely and lay it flat or prop it up against something to use it as a pillow.
  3. Individual clothing items: If you prefer a less structured approach, you can simply bundle up your clothing items into a makeshift pillow. Gather clean t-shirts, socks, and other soft garments, and arrange them into a loose pillow shape. Adjust and maneuver the clothing to achieve the desired thickness and support.

Using clothing as a makeshift pillow can be a practical solution when you don’t have access to other options. However, keep in mind that the comfort level may not be the same as with a dedicated pillow, as clothing lacks the specific design and cushioning provided by backpacking pillows. It’s important to note that the level of comfort may vary depending on the clothing items used, your personal preferences, and the conditions of your sleeping environment.


Remember to prioritize cleanliness by using clean clothing items for your makeshift pillow. Additionally, make sure to adjust the amount of clothing and the arrangement to suit your comfort needs.


Now that we’ve explored using clothing as a makeshift pillow, let’s move on to some tips for maximizing comfort and support while backpacking.


Tips for maximizing comfort and support while backpacking

Getting a good night’s sleep while backpacking is essential for optimal performance and enjoyment of your outdoor adventures. Here are some tips to help you maximize comfort and support while sleeping in the backcountry:

  1. Choose the right sleeping pad: Investing in a high-quality sleeping pad can greatly enhance your sleeping experience. Look for a pad with sufficient thickness and insulation to provide cushioning and insulation from the ground. This will help alleviate pressure points and keep you warm during chilly nights.
  2. Layer your sleeping setup: If you’re camping in colder conditions, layering your sleeping setup can add extra insulation and warmth. Consider adding a lightweight blanket or liner between your sleeping bag and sleeping pad for additional comfort and thermal insulation.
  3. Adjust your sleeping position: Experiment with different sleeping positions to find the most comfortable one for you. Whether you prefer sleeping on your back, side, or stomach, make sure to align your spine and provide proper support to your neck and head. This will help prevent discomfort and soreness in the morning.
  4. Pack extra clothing layers: In addition to using clothing as a makeshift pillow, bringing extra clothing layers can be beneficial in regulating your body temperature while sleeping. Keep warm clothing items, such as a down jacket or a beanie, within reach to layer up if needed during cold nights.
  5. Utilize a neck pillow: If you find it challenging to get proper neck support with a makeshift pillow or a backpacking pillow, consider using a small inflatable or compressible neck pillow. These pillows are designed to provide support to your neck and can help alleviate discomfort and prevent stiffness.
  6. Create a comfortable sleep environment: Take the time to prepare your sleep environment before settling in for the night. Clear away any rocks, sticks, or other sharp objects that could cause discomfort while you sleep. Set up your tent on a flat and level surface to minimize any unevenness.
  7. Establish a bedtime routine: Establishing a routine before bed can help signal your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This can include activities like stretching, journaling, reading, or practicing relaxation techniques. Creating a consistent routine can promote better sleep quality.
  8. Stay hydrated: Proper hydration is essential for overall well-being, including sleep. Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to prevent dehydration, as it can affect your sleep quality. However, be mindful of minimizing fluid intake close to bedtime to avoid disruptions due to bathroom breaks.
  9. Practice good sleep hygiene: Just like at home, maintaining good sleep hygiene while backpacking is important. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule, limit screen time before bed, and create a dark and quiet sleep environment. These practices can help signal your body that it’s time to rest and promote better sleep.

By implementing these tips, you can create a more comfortable and supportive sleep setup while backpacking. Remember, everyone’s preferences and needs may vary, so it’s essential to find what works best for you through trial and error.


With a well-rested body and mind, you’ll be ready to tackle new adventures and make the most of your backpacking experience. Happy travels!



Choosing the right pillow for your backpacking adventures is crucial for a restful and comfortable night’s sleep. While space and weight constraints may limit your options, there are still several excellent choices available to cater to your needs.


Inflatable pillows offer the benefit of being lightweight and compact, with adjustable firmness to suit your preferences. Compressible foam pillows provide a more plush and traditional pillow experience, while still maintaining a compact design. If you find yourself without a dedicated pillow, you can get creative with DIY alternatives or utilize clothing as a makeshift pillow.


Regardless of the pillow option you choose, it’s important to consider factors such as weight, comfort, durability, and ease of use. Additionally, maximizing your overall comfort and support while backpacking can be enhanced by using a suitable sleeping pad, adjusting your sleeping position, layering clothing for added warmth, and establishing a bedtime routine.


Remember, the key is to find a pillow and sleeping setup that works best for you. Comfort and restful sleep are essential for enjoying your backpacking expeditions to the fullest.


So, whether you opt for an inflatable pillow, a compressible foam pillow, DIY alternatives, or utilize clothing as a makeshift pillow, prioritize your sleep comfort and make the most of your outdoor adventures!