|From top to Bottom: REI Flash Pillow, Exped UL, Sea to Summit Aeros|
After a couple years of backpacking, I decided it was time to get a pillow. I have tried shoving extra clothes in a stuff sack, wadding up my down hoody, and using water bottles. All of these approaches worked OK at best. A lot of the time, I do overnight trips to bag 14ers, or just get a lot of miles in a couple days. This means that I often won't bring anything extra in the way of clothes except a pair of socks. Two socks do not a pillow make. Now, part of this might be that I just don't have the "experience" or "fortitude" to sleep without a pillow.
Admittedly, I haven't spent nearly as much time sleeping on the ground as a lot of backpackers. On the other hand, there aren't that many backpackers that have broken five vertebrae. So hey, if I want to use a pillow and a full length sleeping pad, I will.
Another thing I took into consideration before jumping into the whole pillow search was the importance of sleep. For me, time in the back country is about getting out, getting away, enjoying the sublime alpine, yadda yadda yadda. Not only that, but it is about moving. I work a desk job. The most challenging part of my job is having to sit still for eight hours at work and another hour and a half in the car. To be on the trail, letting my feet carry me up and out, is...well, it is the main reason I backpack, and hike in general.
So what does that have to do with sleeping? Well, if my goal is to hike, to move, then one of the best things I can do to achieve that goal is to sleep well. If I wake up and have sore shoulders and hips (because I am side sleeper) and my back hurts so much that I can barely sit up, then I am less likely to enjoy the hiking. If I only slept for 4 hours because I couldn't get comfortable, I won't be too keen on putting in back to back 18 mile days.
So this is the balance that I was looking for in a pillow: something that makes sleeping in the back country comfortable enough to sleep well consistently, so I can hike longer, while still being light enough and packable enough to feel like nothing extra is in my pack (also helping me to hike longer). This led me to pick up some pillows for a little review.