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Travel Pillows

I still remember the days of backpacking. While there were many wonderful things about those days, stuffing a coat under my head to use as a pillow for the night was not one of the favorite memories. After a long, very tiring day, I wanted comfort. I wanted to sleep well, and sleeping on a hard lumpy bunch of clothes didn’t help that goal.

Since we were on a supported ride cycling across the United States in 2006, we brought our own pillows, but they were bulky to pack, and Chelsea’s didn’t survive the trip. On my own for a few months after the trip, I happened into REI’s flagship store in Seattle and spent hours checking out adventure products, among them travel pillows.

After lots of fun checking them out, and consultations with the REI staff, I finally settled on a medium-size synthetic pillow (instead of down) with a fleece-style pillowcase. That pillow has become a major feature in my sleep for the last two years.

There are several styles to the pillows. One style is a regular pillow made of down or synthetic fibers. Another style is a lumbar pillow – the kind that wrap around your neck – great for times when you need to sleep sitting up, like on airplanes or trains (these can be inflatable). Still a third is a regular pillow style, but inflatable.

I chose a Quixote Classic Pillow Medium – Synthetic Down, measuring 17×13. It weighs in at 13 oz and is very packable – it squeezes up reasonably small, though it is a noticeable bulk in a tight pack. It’s got a ripstop polyester microfiber cover that’s water resistant, with a hook for hanging (which I’ve never used).

Chelsea didn’t want to have a lousy night’s sleep either, so she agitated for her own pillow when we left on this trip. She’s been using hers every night for almost two years.

It is an incredibly comfortable pillow. If you’ve got a preference for a hard pillow, this won’t be what you’re looking for, but neither does it collapse under your head. The only downside to the pillow is that it feels a bit too flat for side sleeping. I find myself sleeping with one arm tucked up under the pillow to give it extra height.

But compared to the alternative of using clothing as a pillow, I would never give up this one. And we’ve used these pillows night after night after night for two years, and they still look and feel great.

We have looked at alternatives, and one of these days we may try one out, especially if we can see it in person at REI. The one at the top of our list is the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Si Pillow. This pillow is partly inflatable, but it also has a certain amount of padding built in. The nice part is that the inflation can be adjusted for whatever height you want, up to four inches. This makes it a plus for side-sleepers.

Another thing I like is that, despite the fact that’s inflatable, it’s also got padding, so it’s less likely to create the “sore ear syndrome” that comes along with most inflatable-only pillows.

It’s supposed to be quick and easy to inflate, having a high-flow air valve.

At 9 oz it’s a lot lighter than what we have now. Since it’s got some padding, I don’t know how small it would get for packing in comparison to what we have now. It’s definitely smaller, at 14.5x10x3.5, and the Quixote pillow we have now is already about as small as I’d want, considering that it’s a longer term solution for us and not short term.

Another pillow I’d like to try out is the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow. It’s made of 100 percent polyester, self-lofting ProLite foam that compresses to one-quarter of its normal size for packing, but apparently lofts up beautifully in just a few minutes. It too is 9 oz, and is lighter than what we currently have. The medium is 14×18, which is slightly bigger than our Quixote pillow. It can be machine washed and dried.

Where to carries the Quixote Classic Pillow Medium – Synthetic Down (item #766376 ); the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Si Pillow (item #751097); and the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow (item #719843).

Check our Amazon store for the Quixote Classic Pillow Medium – Synthetic Down and the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow.


You’ll need a pillowcase for your pillow, and I came across three interesting possibilities.

The first is the Therm-a-Rest Travel Pillow Case. It weighs 3.6 oz, and it’s a good size – 19×14. What intrigues me about this one is that it has an anti-microbial finish and doubles as a washcloth – it has a microfiber fabric that wicks away moisture. So you can wash your face (it has an antimicrobial finish that resists odor-causing bacteria), let it dry quickly, and then use it as a pillow case.

The second possibility is the Therm-a-Rest Trekker Pillow Case. This one’s even lighter at 2.3 oz., but it’s also smaller at 17×14. This one also wicks away moisture. It fits in your pocket, and can be pulled out so you can stuff your clothes in it and create an “insta-pillow”.

The third are silk pillowcases. DreamSack has a beautiful silk pillowcase, under the name of Marrikas Silk Travel Pillow Cases. I love our silk sleep sacks with its silk pocket for the pillow, but I may prefer to have a full silk pillowcase rather than the fleece one we have now.

Where to buy – You can find the Therm-a-Rest Travel Pillow Case (item # 719846) and the Therm-a-Rest Trekker Pillow Case (item # 719845) at

Check out our Amazon store for the Therm-a-Rest Trekker Pillow Case; and the DreamSack Marrikas Silk Travel Pillow Cases.