Do you Put Pillow Inside or Outside Sleeping Bag?

Pillows are one of the essential pieces of gear when it comes to backcountry sleeping. I always sleep better with a pillow so I always take something with me even if I’m not taking a dedicated pillow. There have been times when people had to fill their stuff sack with clothes. We’ve all been there done that but with today’s market with pillows, there’s no need to do that anymore. So, how to sleep better with pillows? Well, there are essentially two ways to use a pillow with a sleeping bag i.e. inside or outside. Let’s see both configurations one by one.

Inside the Sleeping Bag

This is the most common and preferred way. I always keep my pillow inside the hood of my sleeping bag because it holds the pillow in place otherwise you are forever fighting to keep your head on your pillow through the night. If you put it inside the hood, it stays put all night long. The hood actually holds the pillow in a state of perfect harmony. Learn more about attaching pillows with your sleep system here.

Outside the Sleeping Bag

You can also put your pillow outside the sleeping bag i.e. in between your sleeping pad and bag. This is the least common way because when it’s outside the bag, it keeps sliding. This is only preferred when it’s not too cold outside and you are willing to lower your hood.

Do you really need a Pillow?

When sleeping in a bag in the wilderness, a pillow provides support to your head and neck. It also helps maintain a good body posture which leads to a good night’s sleep. If you don’t use a pillow or if your pillow has failed to provide support during the night then the next morning, you will be extremely tired. If you don’t have a pillow or if you don’t want to bring one to save some weight, you can use your jacket or a stuff sack full of clothes as an alternative to a pillow. Learn more about if you need a pillow with a sleeping bag here.

Go Pillow Free

You can also go pillow free. You just need a t-shirt or a fleece hoody and roll it up under your head. That way, you will also have a warm t-shirt or hoody the next morning. If you have a sleeping bag or pad’s stuff sack, you can also use it as a pillow by stuffing some clothes in it.

What options are available?

There are two main categories of pillows i.e. camping and backpacking pillow. The primary difference between both types is the weight. Camping pillows are usually heavy, bulky but more comfortable while backpacking pillows are designed to be lightweight but may not be as comfortable as their camping counterparts.

Nemo Fillo

Nemo Fillo
Weight: 9 oz.
Dimensions: 16 x 9.5 in.
Thickness: 4.5 in.
Packed Volume: 1.4 L

This is a camping pillow designed especially for sleeping outdoors. It’s an air pillow and it just takes a few breaths to fully inflate. The pillow is thick enough even for side sleepers. On the inside, there’s an air bladder that actually holds the air and on the top of the outside, it has a one-inch layer of memory foam and it’s covered with soft washable microsuede. This outer surface feels really great against the skin and it also gives the ultimate comfort. The pillow measures 16 inches long, 9.5 inches wide, it weighs around 12 ounces, and it packs down super small.

To inflate the Fillo, you just need to locate the red inflation valve. Just twist and pull it and then inflate. It will take just a few breaths to fully inflate. Once full, push down the valve and twist it back to lock it so no air can escape. Now, to deflate the Fillo and pack it up, you just need to find the red air valve and open it up. Let all the air out by pushing the pillow. There’s a little compartment on the back that has a built-in stuff sack. To pack it up, pull the stuff sack out, stuff it in using your thumbs, and pull the drawstring.

What I like: Very comfortable surface, good support, easy to adjust thickness, the exterior is washable

What I don’t: Heavy bulky, can’t be used for backpacking

See the Nemo Fillo

Sea to Summit Aeros

Sea to Summit Aeros
Weight: 3.1 oz.
Dimensions: 14 x 8 in.
Thickness: High side: 5 in.; Low side: 4 in.
Packed Volume: 0.4 L

Sea to Summit Aeros is a lightweight pillow designed for backpacking. It offers good nighttime head support at minimal weight and volume. The pillow packs down super small and you can pack it in your backpack almost unnoticeable but you will appreciate its presence when you are laying down to rest. There are plenty of adjustments and unlike other inflatable pillows that feel like blown-up ziplock baggies, the Aeros stands apart from those models because it has a comfortable polyester cover, an ergonomic shape, and a baffled air chamber. The pillow is also extremely lightweight weighing around just 3 ounces, which makes it a good option for backpacking and thru-hiking.

The Aeros pillow is significantly more comfortable than most backpacking pillows on the market. One of the sides of the Aeros pillow is elevated an inch higher, which gives the option to achieve the ideal thickness. The pillow also holds your head well and supports your head and neck. The Aeros is easy to use and inflate. It just takes three breaths to fully inflate. You can also adjust the firmness by letting some air out using the small button near the valve. This valve allows you to slowly release the air so you can achieve your desired firmness. The design is great and it measures around 14 by 8 inches. This small size makes it a suitable option to use in the hood of a sleeping bag. It packs down small and it takes up only 0.4 liters of space in your pack.

What I like: Lightweight, small pack size, good neck support

What I don’t: Not super comfortable

See the Sea to Summit Aeros


When you are sleeping in the backcountry, you need a pillow to support your head and neck. A sleeping system that is a combination of a sleeping pad and bag does not allow head support by default and you need something for that purpose. When it comes to using pillows with sleeping bags, you have two options available; either put it inside the hood or put it in between the sleeping pad and bag. Most people (including me) prefer a pillow inside the hood because it’s convenient and comfortable. But you can also put it outside the bag as well, it’s a preference thing.