The Best Camping Pillows – Our advice on sleeping under canvas

best camping pillows

Camping can be uncomfortable. Spending the night under canvas and surrounded by nature may sound idyllic, but the reality is often quite different.  Regardless, we love it but anyone who has ever camped knows that equipment is key. Pillows may be something you are tempted to skip on, especially if you’re backpacking or you’re packing the kids and half of your house into the long-suffering car.
Our advice is to think about your pillow and take one that you’re happy with. Sleeping is essential for a stress-free holiday, and even though you can’t control the weather or the family in the tent next-door, you can at least make sure your head is comfortable.
With now more than 35 years of camping trips under my belt, and a lot of pillow experience, here are my best camping pillow tips:

  1. Take a pillow. Sounds obvious – but don’t try to manage without one, even if you’re backpacking. A rolled up jumper will not do as it unrolls in the night, is lumpy, uneven and if you get cold at 3am, you’ll want it on your body and not under your head.
  2. The pillow that comes as part of your airbed, is not a pillow. It’s just a bit more air in the end bit and generally if you move your body, your head will bounce too. Use a separate pillow, even if you place it on top of the airbed raised end.
  3. Inflatable pillows – i.e. blow up ones made of the same material as your airbed are not nice.  Bouncy, slippy, hard or flat (especially if they have a leaky valve or a little puncture), the PVC they are made of ensures that if you manage actually to stay on the pillow, you’ll have a sweaty head in the morning.  We don’t like them!
  4. Roll-up mini pillows for camping are ok if you’re backpacking and don’t have the space, but if you move around at night you’ll spend hours in half-sleep thinking about when your head will fall off the little pillow. Take a larger pillow if you can, and a full-size one for sure if you’re travelling by car.

Our favourite camping pillows.
After a lot of practice (and many an uncomfortable night), we think we’ve found the best camping pillows out there. Drum roll please…

Best pillow for comfort (for grown-ups and little kids):
Panda Pillow – This is a gorgeous-feeling, eco-friendly bamboo and memory foam pillow. It is actually nearly full length and not marketed as a travel or camping pillow but it’s thin and squishes up into a small space in the car, so works well if you want a proper pillow to rest your head on. It’s not the cheapest – £45 adult; £25 kids pillow- but you can also use it at home as a regular pillow after your trip. Memory foam ensures your head stays supported and comfortable but very soft natural bamboo cover is breathable so allows you to stay cool in summer and warm on colder nights.
Available from MyPandaLife  – or you can read our full review here. They also do a cute kids’ version which my son loved.



Outwell memory pillowBest small memory foam camping pillow:

The Outwell Memory Pillow is a smaller memory foam pillow with a smart, soft, grey washable cover. For its size it is remarkably comfortable as it’s memory foam. It has a water-repellant cover bag for those damp camping moments – a definite winner as far as comfort and space is concerned.
Available from Amazon at around £21, it’s a good investment if you need a pillow to take up less room but still be very comfortable.



Best compressible camping pillow:

Thermarest pillowThe Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow  we really liked.   It’s a standard microfibre synthetic pillow that rolls up small enough to take in your backpack. Compared to the memory foam ones above, it can be a little bit more lumpy and bulky, but it’s plump and it rolls. It comes in four different sizes and nine different funky designs. It uses its own pillowcase to roll up into, so you don’t have to hunt for the compressor sack when you’re packing up your tent in a hurry. Good for children, teens and adults alike, we’d recommend either the small or the medium. Don’t buy the large / x-large or you might as well take your pillow from home.
Available at Amazon at from around £21.

Take a look at the little video below to see the actual sizes:

If you’re taking a normal pillow from home, think about the pillow filling.

Synthetic pillows (microfibre / hollowfibre)
+ The best option for camping if you have no space issues in your vehicle. Inexpensive, so you won’t worry about them getting a bit grassy or even chucking them away after a couple of weeks camping. They dry out quickly and are light to carry.
– Normal pillows are big and bulky; and even the travel / camping pillows don’t compress down like a memory foam pillow or down pillow does. Space is often your biggest enemy.

Feather and down
+ Lovely to sleep on and compress down beautifully so you get a lot in a little space.
– If its likely to be damp, they absorb moisture and are slow to dry out. The last thing you need is a soggy pillow to rest your head on at night time.

+ Sheep are very clever at knowing what to wear to manage rain, sunshine or cold, and wool is great natural heat regulator.
– However, they too are very heavy and will not squish into small spaces.

Happy camping!