So many people invest so much time into hammock set up and kinda forget about the sleeping part.
Do you need a pillow in a hammock?
No, you don’t have to have a pillow for hammock camping. However, you have camps of people who prefer to hammock camp with a pillow and others who don’t. If you find the ideal angle in your hammock, you can be very comfortable without a pillow. There are also alternatives to having the support you want from a pillow without needing an actual pillow. Then again, it all really comes down to preference.
At the end of the day, we are talking about comfort while sleeping. Everyone has different sleeping preferences whether they are in their hammock or bed at home. There are many ways to sleep in your hammock and the pillow vs no pillow question is almost always brought up. There are differing opinions on the topic, but your preference is what I will leave you with. There’s no right or wrong way to sleep in your hammock. Do what makes sense and is comfortable for you. Experiment with pillows and see if they are a good fit for you.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY: Can You Sleep in a Hammock Every Night?
Let’s dive into the options for sleeping with or without a pillow in your hammock.
Just like sleeping in your bed at night at home, you have the option to have a pillow or toss the thing on the floor. I’ve read about some of the benefits of sleeping in your bed at night without a pillow. Apparently, your body is resting in a more natural position thus relieving pressure from your back and neck. I’ve haven’t seen a study substantiating that claim so take it with a grain of salt.
In a hammock, there are no points of pressure so it really doesn’t matter whether you are using a pillow or not. Again, it comes down to personal preference. It might take a few naps out in the backyard or woods to figure out if you prefer to sleep with a pillow or not. I personally tried to sleep in my hammock a few times without a pillow and discovered that I actually do prefer having one.
A pillow is what I would consider a luxury item when camping. You can survive without it, but it will allow you to have a better camping experience.
I’ll just come out with my opinion about this topic. As mentioned above, I sleep with a pillow in my hammock. I went back and forth for a while and experimented with everything that I list in this post.
Sleeping without a pillow didn’t work well for me. I wasn’t a big fan of how my hammock hugged my head when I didn’t use a pillow. It felt a little claustrophobic to me. My first solution was to purchase a camping pillow. It’s an inflatable and can be relatively firm. I like firm and I sleep on a firm pillow at home so this was a great fit for me. I like using the pillow because it pushes the hammock away from my face and allows my head to move around a little more. Not everyone likes or can sleep on a firm pillow though so that’s why I wanted to write about all the options available.
Camping pillows are a great option. There are two types of pillows – self-inflating and blow-up. The self-inflating pillows are usually filled with foam or down and, as the name implies, will self inflate. Some self-inflating pillows come with a valve and others do not. The pillow is small and is no wider than the headrest of most sleeping bags.
The advantage of camping pillows, no matter the type, is that they pack down to be fairly small and don’t add a lot of weight to your pack if you are backpacking. If weight is important to you, camping pillows can weigh as little as 2oz. They don’t take up a lot of room in your pack either. I personally chose to go with a lung-powered, blow-up camping pillow that rolls up into a tiny ball and I don’t have to worry about it taking up a lot of space.
The cost of camping pillows varies. You can pick up an inexpensive one for under $20 while the nicer quality pillows that come with down filled soft touch fabric can cost over $50. A little pricey for a camping pillow so be sure you like a pillow in your hammock before you get a really nice one.
My good buddy that I go backpacking with fairly often, settled on a travel pillow as his method of choice. He prefers to have support for his head while sleeping in his hammock, but didn’t want to buy a special pillow to do so. He travels by plane a lot for work and has already invested in a super nice travel pillow for that purpose. Rather than spending more money, he just ties his travel pillow on the outside of his pack.
The U-shape of the travel pillow cradles your neck and gives you the support you need in your hammock. Some are pretty firm and others can squeeze down into a tiny little bag. This is a solid option to just see if you like having a pillow. A big benefit to travel pillows is that most people already have a travel pillow hanging around the house or can borrow one from someone else easily. You can get them just about anywhere and they are relatively inexpensive starting at about $20 depending on what kind you choose.
Use what you have
When every ounce of weight matters, use what you have. If you are backpacking and just don’t have any wiggle room for extra weight in your pack, get creative and use what you have. This is probably the most realistic scenario when it comes to hammock camping with a pillow. I know a lot of people that are always concerned about the weight of their pack and, as a fellow hiker, I definitely respect that.
“Why worry about just a few extra ounces?”-Confused Backpacker
If you go to add things to your pack with the mindset of “a few extra ounces won’t hurt” you can easily shoot yourself in the foot. A few ounces here and there start to add up to pounds. A popular way to get around packing an actual pillow of some kind is to use the clothes you pack and use them for a pillow.
There are a few different methods to achieve this. It may seem simple, but there is somewhat of an art to getting the right pillow out of your clothing. I always pack a hoodie for those cool, crisp nights. Hoodies are great to use for pillows. This is how I do it (beware this is riveting stuff): I fold the arms in and then roll everything into the hood. Boom. Now you have a nice, handmade pillow that is also pretty comfortable to sleep on. Depending on the type of support you want, you can use any kind of clothing you have on hand. I will say though, I have not found jeans or denim materials to work as well and they aren’t comfortable. They will do in a pinch, but they are not as soft and they kinda flatten out during the night.
I always have a dry bag that I keep all my clothes in when I camp. It keeps everything clean and dry. I have also used my clothing-stuffed dry bag as a pillow with success in the past. For the times that I don’t pack a hoodie this method works well. If you choose to use this method, it just takes a few good punches to the bag to get the lumps out.
Word of warning about this – don’t use the dry sack that contains your dirty clothes. Trust me. Don’t do it. The smell of the dirty clothes lingers all night and you will feel gross if you use it as a pillow. I have learned to keep a sealable, airtight bag for all of my dirty clothes and keep it separate from my clean clothes. You could still use the airtight bag with the dirty clothes inside if you had to and it wouldn’t smell, but I wouldn’t suggest doing so unless you were sure the bag was truly airtight.
Sometimes funny lessons are learned while out in the woods. Then, after you have gained said knowledge, you look back on it and contemplate if you should tell people about it. Ya know, let everyone know how dumb you were when you first started backpacking. I’m sharing this for your benefit and so you don’t make the same mistakes. Please don’t judge (or make fun of me).
Your Bed Pillow
If you are camping and not backpacking or hiking, you can use your own pillow from home. When camping at a traditional campsite, you have the benefit of packing whatever you would like to and haul it in your car. This includes your pillow. Whether you choose to camp out in your tent or hammock, you can use your own bed pillow. They work just fine in your hammock too.
Now You Decided
I bet you’re a bit surprised that you just endured this novel of an article just about pillows…for hammock camping. You’re welcome. Honestly, I’m surprised I had so much to say about it.
In all seriousness, I would have to say that you don’t need a pillow to hammock camp. It’s a luxury and I would suggest trying out both. One night with a pillow, and another night without.
You should even try out some of the alternative methods I mentioned to see if they might work for you – especially if you’re a backpacker and worried about extra weight. I have tried them all and I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy my little blow-up camping pillow. It’s one of the luxury items I don’t leave home without. Either way, you have to find what is most comfortable for you. To me, that’s my favorite thing about hammock camping. You make the rules. Same applies to pillows. You do you.
I wish you a good night’s sleep with or without a pillow in The Wanderful Wild.