There are only a few things you need to make a good camping trip: good food, good friends, and good sleep. Along with the other necessities, a pillow for camping is pretty darn important. Bringing a regular pillow is easy enough for car camping, but hauling it across the wilderness for days might not be so practical. So, what are some alternatives to camping pillows?
1. A Regular Pillow
This answer might be the exact opposite of what you are looking for, but it works and I’ve done it. While I do appreciate minimalism, bringing a full-sized pillow even for backpacking works for me. I won’t do this for longer trips, but I have done it on a few overnights without issue.
I don’t bring my regular pillow I use at home. Instead, I have an old more raggy pillow I bring just for my camping trips. This way I don’t mind getting it dirty or even losing it (this actually happened to my friend on the trail. We were too tired to backtrack to find the pillow).
Of course, there’s a lot of potential issues with bringing a regular pillow backpacking. The main issue is its size. Pillows aren’t small and can’t exactly fit in your pack. I usually attach my pillow to the outside with two small bungee cords. I have a tutorial on how to attach bungees to your backpack.
Besides the size issue, there are two other issues. The first is, when the sleeping bag is attached to the outside of your pack, it can get wet. If there was potential for rain, I would not do this option at all.
The other issue is the weight. Pillows weigh about 2.5 pounds, which is significant on longer multi-day treks. Anything long or with a sizeable elevation, I would consider other pillow options.
2. Trekker Pillowcase
This is a really clever pillow option for camping. The Trekker Pillow Case is a pillowcase that is stuffable. It folds up small enough to fit in your pocket. When you are ready to use it, simply take it out and stuff your clothes inside.
You can stuff with the pillowcase with anything soft, such as your down jacket, towels, clothes, hats, gloves, and anything else.
When you aren’t using the pillowcase as a pillow, many hikers use it as a stuff sack for their clothes. It can even help organize your clothes by keeping your daytime and nighttime wear separate.
The Therm-a-Rest Trekker Pillowcase is super light, weighing only 2.3 ounces. It’s quite convenient over inflatable camping pillows because they won’t get punctured and don’t require any inflation.
3. Stuff Sack or Dry Bag
If you are already carrying a stuff sack or dry bag, you can totally use that too. Stuff your stuff sack or dry bag with clothes and you are good to go. You could even bring a pillowcase to wrap around the bag or use a t-shirt for extra comfort. If you are already carrying a stuff sack or dry bag, this would be the lightest option. Even an extra garbage bag could work.
Similarly, you can wrap soft items or clothes in a jacket, t-shirt, or zippered fleece. Fleece is nice since it’s soft, zips up, and the arms can be tied.
4. Camelback or Empty Wine Bag
Another option for a camping pillow alternative is to use a water bladder like Camelback or any other brand. I personally prefer to carry water bottles, but if you do have a water bladder, it can work as a pillow.
When you do use your water bladder as a pillow, fill it up to almost completely full. This will give it enough thickness and firmness but not too firm. You can even wrap your bladder in a t-shirt of fleece for extra softness. As a bonus, if you fill the bladder with water, you can be ready in the morning to boil water or make coffee.
Another neat trick is to use an empty wine bag instead of a bladder. Make sure you rinse all the wine out from the bag so you don’t get any smells. Then, fill it with air instead of water.
5. A Backpacking Pillow
After the free and cheap options have been covered, investing in a quality backpacking pillow may be just what you need. While I can get away with a lot, having a comfortable night’s sleep is something I won’t skimp out on.
Here’s are some popular options among backpackers:
Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow
The Aeros Pillow is quite popular, giving hikers the comfortable sleep they need. It’s easily inflatable, compact, and comfortable. What’s also great about the Aeros Pillow is that it has added synthetic fill for extra comfort and to wick away moisture. It’s soft 50 denier polyester out and curved stability make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
Places to buy:
Trekology Camp Pillow
The Trekology Camping Pillow is probably one of the best affordable camping pillows. It inflates in just 3 breaths and can be easily deflated and rolled up to put in its stuff sack. The valve has a special “button” to make for fine-tuned adjustments to its softness.
Places to buy:
Thermarest Compressible Pillow
Thermarest is known for their camping sleep system. Their pillows are no exception. The Thermarest Foam Pillow is another popular one pillow that is larger than the rest. If you’re looking for more of a real pillow, this is a good option. Instead of being inflated, it uses expandable foam that can be rolled into its stuff sack to save space. This is ideal for someone who wants a big pillow with space savings.
Places to buy: