Backpacking Pillows - My Favorite Luxury Item

Every hiker carries at least one luxury item - the item they don't really need but cannot live without on the trail. For many hikers early on during a thru hike, this item is usually something like a solar charger or extra batteries or sleeping clothes. My luxury item on the AT was a plastic princess crown I took great pains to carry without breaking on the top of my pack. I've seen hikers going SoBo carrying jack-o-lantern buckets around Halloween.  NoKey carried a pink necktie and wore it in town and on Katahdin.  After getting a few more miles under my feet, this summer my luxury item changed.  I now carry a pillow. Yep, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I love my backpacking pillow!

 Many backpackers will use a bag filled with clothing as their pillow at night. I was in this camp for many years, carrying a Thermarest bag lined with fleece as my pillow.  The problem, however, is that 1) Your pillow really starts to smell when it's filled with dirty socks; 2) Your pillow isn't very comfy when the only thing in it is dirty socks.  This summer on the Finger Lakes Trail, NoKey bought himself a Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow. I loved stealing this pillow when he would get up early in the morning. I was determined to buy one every time we went into town,  but no outfitters seemed to stock them.  Finally, after our Long Trail hike, I bought a pillow of my own - the Klymit Pillow X.  The pillow changed the way I slept at night. I no longer wake up with a crick in my neck. I no longer fall asleep to the smell of wet, dirty socks at my head.  Being that I backpack for a living now, comfort and a good nights' rest are key to making both me and the clients I take on trips very happy!

 The red pillow above is the Klymit Pillow X; the green pillow below is the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight. 

The red pillow above is the Klymit Pillow X; the green pillow below is the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight. 

Comparing the Pillows

Both of these pillows are incredibly small and lightweight - Klymit weighs 1.95 oz. packed and packs to a size of 3 x 1.25 inches. Sea to Summit weighs 2.1 oz. packed and packs to a size of 2 x 2.8 inches.  The real differences come in once you remove them from their stuff sacks. 

 A dollar bill for scale of the size of the pillows in the stuff sacks - both pillows come with them. 

A dollar bill for scale of the size of the pillows in the stuff sacks - both pillows come with them. 

Inflating/Deflating Valves

The Sea to Summit has a unique valve system - it's a double valve that allows you to blow it up without losing any inside air. It takes me four breaths to blow it up completely.  If you want to deflate the pillow, you open the valve marked "deflate" and it will open right up and allows nearly all the air to escape instantaneously.  It's very quick to deflate. 

The Klymit pillow has a valve system similar to that on a blow up sleeping pad. You pull the valve to open it, blow it up with approximately 4 breaths, and then turn it to close it.  The real pain though is deflating this pillow - it fills up in four separate chambers, making deflating the pillow a job.  No matter how I've tried to deflate this pillow: pressing all the air out, rolling it, folding it, there is always air stuck inside and you have to be patient to let it all out. 

 The top two photos show the double valve system of the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight - an easy and smart valve system.  The bottom photo is the valve on the Klymit Pillow X. 

The top two photos show the double valve system of the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight - an easy and smart valve system.  The bottom photo is the valve on the Klymit Pillow X. 

Comfort for Sleeping

The Sea to Summit pillow has a curved shape and a soft TPU covering.  This almost feels like microfiber on your skin.  The shape allows for you to sleep on either your sides or your back and still have support for your neck.  If you're a back sleeper, however, you will have to play around with how much you inflate this pillow for neck comfort.  It only took us a few nights to figure that out though.  Also, the soft covering might feel nice on your face, but it's not so forgiving when your oily skin rubs on it.  This pillow shows a lot of dirt and wear and needs a lot of cleaning. 

The Klymit Pillow X, as I mentioned before, fills the air in four chambers, making an X-shaped indentation right in the middle of the pillow.  This is great because you don't need to play around with inflation levels.  Your head is naturally cradled and comfortable if you're sleeping on your back or side.  It doesn't have that nice soft coating on it, so it's a bit sticky on your face on a hot night.  

 A happy camper!

A happy camper!

NoKey and I both love our backpacking pillows and if you're hiking for a few weeks or months at a time, this is one luxury item I can definitely get behind!  They're light, small, and compact - I keep mine right in the stuff sack with my sleeping pad!  If you find yourself sleeping poorly on an overnight, I'd highly recommend trying the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight or the Klymit Pillow X for a better night's sleep!  Do you use a pillow in the backcountry? If you do, I'd love to hear about what you're carrying.  Leave me a comment below or connect with me on Facebook!

Disclaimer: Both of these pillows were purchased by us with our own money. We have no obligation to publish positive reviews of either brand and are doing so because we love both of the products.  Links in the post above are affiliate links.