Everything you need to know about pillows

“I love sleep, my life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know.” Ernest Hemingway

The perfect pillow is one that gives you a great night’s sleep, providing support and comfort throughout the night, but not taking up your whole pack! Depending on preference, some people prefer smaller or larger pillows, and harder or softer materials {ref = https://www.the-pillow.com.au/blog/choosing-the-right-pillow-for-healthy-sleep-relationship-between-pillow-and-healthy-sleep/}.

It’s worth thinking through whether you need a pillow. Some bushwalkers are comfortable enough with using spare clothing or jackets to rest their head on or even inflating a cask wine bladder. If you are comfortable doing this, it’s a great way of saving weight and space in your pack. This is definitely something to test at home first before committing to it on a long trip.

Check & Pack Checking and packing your pillow

Pillows are quite straightforward to check and pack. It’s simply a matter of doing a quick once-over as follows:

  • Check that the pillow is clean & dry: check the fabric both upper and lower.
  • Check that the pillow is working & undamaged: Check for wear and tear on the fabric. If the pillow inflates, check that there are no punctures and that the valve is still intact.

Use in the field Using your pillow in the bush

As with most gear in the field, make sure to treat your pillow gently. Avoid using it on sharp surfaces, and take care to reduce the amount of dirt or mud that it comes in contact with. Inflate the pillow a little more than you think you will need once laying down, release a bit of air to make it perfect. Consider placing your pillow in your inner sheets or sleeping bag hood to prevent it from running away.

Care and Maintenance Using your pillow in the bush

Back home, wash at the end of each trip following manufacturer’s instruction. Dry thoroughly, and store in a cool, dry place.

Selection Choosing your pillow

There are a few different options for pillows. Most simply, repurposing another item of gear such as a jumper or jacket, or carrying a separate item for the job.

The big tradeoff is pillow selection is comfort against weight. Generally speaking, the more comfy options are bigger and bulkier, better suited to car camping than overnight bushwalks. The other consideration is how you sleep – on your side, back or front – which again may affect pillow the style of pillow you choose.

People that sleep on their side tend to favour a thick pillow so that their head is neatly aligned with their spine. People that sleep on their front generally do not need a lot of neck support, finding that a small thin and flat pillow is best. People that sleep on their back find a medium support pillow the best.

Having said this, it comes down to trial and error to figure out which pillows provide you with the most comfort. It’s worth getting right to prevent aching backs and necks in the morning!

Here are a few options that overnight bushwalkers can consider:

  1. Readapt clothing items already in your pack
    Consider using clothing items such as a jumper or jacket as a pillow. You can sleep directly on the clothing, or create a custom-made pillow using a stuff sack or dry bag.

    Stuff clothing into a stuff sack or dry bag so that there is a bit of bulk to the package, but it is still soft. Depending on how soft or hard you like your pillow to be, add more or less clothes. Avoid any sharp objects such as coats with sharp zippers or toggles. Move clothing around to ensure the pillow is even. Place stuff sack or dry bag inside a t-shirt or thermal to create a soft sleeping surface for your head.

  2. Compressible pillows
    Compressible pillows are filled with a foam, feather or synthetic fibre stuffing and can be stuffed down to a small volume using a compression sack. Compared to inflatable pillows, they are softer and better resemble a pillow you might use back home regarding comfort, however, over the night they do lose shape, and some users may find this uncomfortable. Down feather options provide the best insulation but tend to be pricey.

    Examples are:

    1. Therm-a-rest compressible pillow

      Source: https://www.snowys.com.au/pillow-small

    2. Sierra Designs DriDown Pillow

      Source: https://sierradesigns.com/dridown-pillow-650-dridown/

  3. Inflatable
    Inflatable pillows are firm and lightweight. Users must inflate by blowing air through the valve. Without any interior stuffing, they fold up small, however, some make crackling noises whenever users turn their heads, so check the material.

    1. Sea to summit aeros premium pillow

      Source: http://www.paddypallin.com.au/sea-to-summit-aeros-premium-pillow.html

    2. Exped Air UL

      Source: https://www.bushcraftequipment.com.au/store/products.php?product=Exped-Air-Pillow-UL

  4. Hybrid
    Hybrid pillows are a combination of compression and inflatable models, with a compressible top layer to rest your head on but an inflated bottom. They bridge the gap between comfort and lightweight.

    Examples include:

    1. Nemo Fillo Elite Ultralite Backpacking pillow

      Source: http://www.paddypallin.com.au/nemo-fillo-elite-ultralite-backpacking-pillow.html

    2. Exped REM

      Source: http://www.exped.com/australia/en/rem-pillow-m-0

  5. Readapt a water bladder or wine cask
    You might hear bushwalkers joke about using a wine bladder as a pillow, but some people genuinely find this a great way of repurposing an item into a comfortable night’s sleep!

    Make sure the bladder is empty. Squeeze open the nozzle and blow air into the bag. When inflated to the appropriate amount, close the nozzle and wrap the bag in a shirt or thermal to muffle any crinkling and create a soft sleeping area. Although an old wine cask bladder is most common, any other kind of hydration bladder could also work.