Pillows and hiking

Sleep systems

For many people transitioning to overnight hiking or camping brings a lot of new considerations. Where do you go to the toilet? What do you eat? What additional gear do you need? While we will usually think about the big items like packs, tents and sleeping bags (the Big 3), the ancillary items like pillows often tend to be an afterthought.

If you are car camping then the easy thing to do is just bring a spare pillow from home but once you start throwing a pack on your back and walking into the bush, this stops becoming a practical option because it takes up too much space in your pack as well as not coping with them getting dirty and grubby over extended periods.

For many hikers, pillows tend to be considered a luxury but the ability to get a good night sleep depends on a number of factors and comfort is a big one. These days there are many pillow options available to us – which one you use is really going to depend on your desired level of comfort. In this article we take a beginners look at pillow options for hiking and camping.

Many overnight hikers and campers have difficulty sleeping on the trail and there are a number of contributing factors to why this occurs

Your first option for a pillow is to bring one from home. As much as I love my pillow, if I’m doing this I’ll bring a ‘cheapy’ so that if it gets wet and dirty or it doesn’t last very long its not a big loss. Almost everyone has at least a couple of spare pillows laying around the house or stuffed in a cupboard so this is a great option for car camping but it isn’t the best for hiking given pillows are bulky and heavy to carry in your pack

From a hiking perspective an inflatable pillow is one of the best options. There is no end to the brands and models of inflatable pillows on the market. The advantage with this style of pillow is that they pack down quite small, copes with outdoor conditions really well and you can inflate as much as you prefer to get just the right level of firmness. These pillows come in a range sizes to suit everyone’s needs with one example being the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow.

While there are cheaper pillows on the market, the mid price point for a decent quality inflatable pillow is around the AUD $40-$50 range

If you want to go high-end with your pillow and get something that is a bit larger and feels more like your pillow at home, then the higher end of the inflatable pillow range is worth considering. The Aeros Pillow Down Deluxe takes an inflatable pillow and adds a thin down layer to make it feel more like your pillow from home. This is what Gill and I use of when we are car camping or doing hikes of a few days where weight in our packs isn’t an issue. This upper end of the pillow market sits around AUD $80-100

If you are into ultralight hiking or really don’t care one way or another about your pillow, then using something you already have like a clothing packing cell is a great option. In this image I am using my clothing cell as a pillow in preference to carrying a seperate standalone pillow. On my longer trips this option works well for me and has been my main pillow option for the past six years

Final thoughts

While many hikers will consider a pillow to be a luxury item and one they consider leaving at home to save a little bit of weight in their pack, the question you need to ask yourself is what price do you place on comfort? If you are the type of person who can sleep on a rock and really don’t care one way for another where you lay your head, then a packing cell or rolled up jacket may well do the job. If however you’re particular about your comfort level then the small weight and additional bulk that an inflatable pillow adds to your pack may be well worth considering. Without a doubt a pillow is the main luxury item that hikers will carry with them on trail and if it helps to give you a better night sleep then its well worth considering.

Whichever option you go for really doesn’t matter so long as it makes you happy.

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