this thing's incredible

I Use This Inflatable Pillow at Camps, in Cars, on Planes, and Even on the Couch

Photo-Illustration: retailer

A camp pillow might be considered a luxury item for ultralight backpackers. But after enough nights of sleeping on a greasy sack or a pile of clothes, I decided adding one to my kit was nonnegotiable. When it comes to gear, I look for things that are compact and durable — stuff that doesn’t weigh me down or take up too much space when I’m setting off on a thousand-mile trek. But I also search for products I can use when I’m traveling off the trail or even just at home. In my decade of backpacking, few, if any, things have proven as versatile as the inflatable Aeros Ultralight Pillow I’ve slept on at camps, in cars, on planes, and even on couches for the past six years.

The author’s Aeros Ultralight Pillow, in red, at a campsite in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. Photo: Maggie Slepian

I bought my first Aeros pillow for an Appalachian Trail through-hike, where I used it every night for some 1,500 miles. Deflated, it fits into my pocket (or the small pouch it comes with) and takes up about as much space as a deck of cards. But after a few deep breaths, the pillow inflates to a generous size; I have the smallest model (“regular”), which blows up to about half the width of your standard pillow and is plenty big for camping. In cars or planes, around-the-neck travel pillows like the Trtl don’t work for me because I can’t sleep sitting up. I need to lean against something, and the Aeros pillow’s more traditional, curved shape is perfect for wedging between my head and whatever surface I’m sitting next to. I’ve even brought it when staying at friends’ houses because it’s so easy to carry and I don’t have to risk sleeping on a borrowed pillow that may not be as comfortable as this tiny air-filled wonder.

The upper surface where you rest your head is brushed, so it feels soft against the skin. And the pillow has a nifty valve that makes inflating and deflating to your ideal firmness a breeze. You basically inflate it as much as you want and then just press on the valve to release air until you’ve found your desired level of support. In addition to the regular size ($40), you can get bigger sizes, including large ($45) and deluxe ($60). The regular pillow weighs 2.1 ounces, the large clocks in at 2.5 ounces, and the deluxe is 4.6 ounces. If you’re worried about durability, I have used the heck out of mine and promise it holds up. The only reason I had to replace the first pillow I bought is because I slept on it with my face slathered in DEET, which wore through the pillow’s surface — a good reminder to wash your face at night, no matter where or how tired you are.

Photo: retailer/B) Sea to Summit

At Sea to Summit, you can get the pillow in three colors (sea foam, aqua, or gray) and in sizes regular and large. REI sells it in sea foam and gray in the large and deluxe sizes, but the latter is currently just available in sea foam.

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I Use My Inflatable Pillow at Camps, in Cars, and on Planes