This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.
Why do you need a pillow?
Obviously you need to put your head on something when you’re sleeping. But it doesn’t have to be an actual pillow.
Bringing a whole pillow from home will be large, heavy and take up a lot of room. There are other great options that are almost as good.
First up is a pile of clothes and/or jackets. Roll up a jacket or sweater and use that as a pillow.
Second option is to bring some kind of stuff sack that is soft and fuzzy on the outside. There are stuff sacks that can hold your clothes and then are soft on the inside. Flip it inside out and stuff some clothes inside and you have a pillow.
Third option is to get an inflatable pillow. They blow up like a balloon but are shaped like a pillow. Bonus points when you wrap a down jacket around the pillow to give some extra squish. A t-shirt on top of the down jacket gives a soft feel to the whole thing.
How tall do you want it?
Back sleepers can sleep with almost nothing. Throw a mat on the ground and they’re good to go. Side sleepers have a problem though. They need some sort of pillow. Some are good with some rolled up jacket an inch high. Others need a nice pillow 4 inches tall. If you like something taller, make sure you bring that backpacking. If you don’t sleep well in the backcountry, it’s going to be hard to enjoy the trip.
Can it strap to the sleeping mat?
Some pillows have a strap that goes around the sleeping mat so it doesn’t move. Nice if you are a slide sleeper or move around a lot in your sleep. Others can fit in the hood of your sleeping bag. Keeps it all in one place. The inflatable pillows seem to migrate more.
Test at home
As with all of your gear, test it at home or on a short trip. If you find out your pillow setup sucks, spending a week on it isn’t going to go well.