Camping Pillows: Do You Really Need One?

Camping Pillows: A camping pillow next to a tent in snowy mountains

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Ultralight backpackers prioritize minimizing weight, selecting gear purposefully. Some see a camping pillow as a luxury, considering its non-essential nature.

In this post, we’ll explore the camping pillow debate and answer the question: Do you really need one? We’ll also share key considerations for choosing if you opt for one. Let’s begin.

The Importance of Sleep Quality

In the wilderness, far from home comforts, quality sleep is precious. For ultralight backpackers, it’s not just rest; it’s vital for safety and enjoyment.

On the trail, a clear mind is your greatest asset. Quality sleep allows your brain to process experiences, solve problems, and make sound decisions.

Poor sleep can lead to fatigue, irritability, and a decrease in overall morale. Conversely, a well-rested backpacker is more likely to have higher endurance levels and a more positive outlook on their journey.

Camping Pillows – A Closer Look

Camping Pillows: A person holding up an ultralight inflatable sleeping pillow in its carry bag

Camping pillows offer advantages, but some ultralight backpackers debate carrying them due to weight.

However, nowadays, you can find ultralight pillow options weighing only 2-3 ounces (56-85g), making them worth considering.

Hence, it’s essential to consider these arguments and the scenarios in which pillows might not be the best choice:

The Case Against Camping Pillows

  • Weight and Minimalism: Ultralight backpacking places an emphasis on minimalism and reducing pack weight. Every item carried must serve a vital purpose. For those counting every ounce, even a lightweight pillow may be viewed as an unnecessary addition.
  • Alternatives and Improvisation: Rolled-up clothing, extra layers, zip-lock bags, or using a backpack as a makeshift pillow are common practices. These solutions are lightweight and serve the purpose adequately.

The Case for Camping Pillows

While they do add some weight and take up space in your pack, let’s explore why pillows might be worth it:

  • Enhanced Comfort and Support: One major benefit of camping pillows is comfort. Unlike makeshift choices that can shift at night, camping pillows are designed to cradle your head and neck for improved support and alignment.
  • Compact and Lightweight Options: Some inflatable or compressible options take up minimal space in your pack, ensuring that you can enjoy the benefits of a pillow without sacrificing too much weight.
  • Versatility: Camping pillows do more than just support your head. They can also add extra comfort behind your back when sitting at camp or provide support for your back or knees when sleeping if you get injured on the trail.

Recommendations for Choosing the Right Pillow

To be candid, we endorse the use of a camping pillow. To assist you in making an informed decision, we’ve compiled expert tips and recommendations from experienced backpackers who have encountered this dilemma:

  • Choose the Right Type: If weight savings are a top priority, inflatable or stuffable pillows may be your best bet. The lightest stuffable pillow – Pillow Sack by Granite Gear – comes in as light as at 1.48 oz (42g). For those valuing comfort, compressible or hybrid pillows could be more suitable.
  • Prioritize Multi-Functional Gear: Look for camping pillows that can be used for more than just head support, such as additional cushioning or backrests. This versatility maximizes the value of the pillow.
  • Consider the Seasons: Think about the seasons and conditions you’ll be camping in. In colder weather, a camping pillow can provide insulation between your head and the ground. In warmer conditions, breathability and moisture-wicking properties become essential. If you are hesitant to bring a pillow in the summer, we strongly suggest bringing one during winter.

Also consider your sleeping position when choosing a camping pillow:

  • Back sleepers benefit from a moderately supportive and comfortable pillow, with contoured options offering extra comfort.
  • Stomach sleepers find relief in thinner, flatter pillows for minimal support.
  • Side sleepers need a thicker, supportive, and firmer pillow.

If you’re curious how to choose the perfect pillow in more detail, check out our dedicated post here.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve examined the pros and cons of pillows, one thing is clear: whether or not to carry a camping pillow is a personal choice.

Some ultralight backpackers value the comfort and improved sleep quality a pillow offers, even if it means a bit more weight to carry. They believe better sleep prepares them for the challenges of the trail. We’re in this group too.

On the other hand, minimalists argue for adaptability and creative solutions, dismissing the need for a dedicated pillow. In the end, it’s your call, but remember: backpacking is about the experiences, not just gear weight.

For the most ultralight camping pillows, check out our TOP 5 guide.


Is it safe to not use a pillow?

Yes, it is generally safe to not use a pillow while sleeping. However, the choice to use or not use a pillow depends on personal comfort preferences and individual sleep needs. Some people find pillows beneficial for neck support and comfort, while others may sleep comfortably without one.

What are camping pillows made of?

Camping pillows are typically made from a variety of materials, including inflatable options made from durable plastics like polyester, compressible pillows with insulating materials like foam or down, and hybrid designs that combine inflatables with fabric covers. These materials are chosen to provide comfort, support, and portability for outdoor enthusiasts.

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