I quite like my pillows to give a lot of lift - I usually sleep with two relatively beefy ones. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a good equivalent whilst camping, with the normal pillows providing barely any lift and the blow up ones being rather uncomfortable. Sounds like a minor point, but I really don't sleep nearly as well when this is the case which makes for rather grumpy company on backpacking trips!
Has anyone tried any that they'd recommend which give a fair amount of lift, but at the same time are still relatively portable and pack down small?
Here's a few, some are mentioned in comments but I figure I would elaborate.
- Clothes This was mentioned and you noted it wasn't particularly worthwhile on a shorter trip because you don't have many clothes. I typically go ultralight, so my spare clothes are close to nothing but I always have some sort of insulation (unless it's going to be 70+ degrees the whole time). A nice puffy down/syntetic jacket can make for a decent pillow but it doesn't work when you need to wear it at night, which I often do during the winter months. This is my preferred method for most trips.
- Inflatable Pillow These aren't particularly great but I have used an Exped Air Pillow from time to time. It's not thick enough to be easily used in conjunction with thicker pads like the Neo Air or Exped Downmat unless you stack it on top of your pad, and even then isn't particularly thick. My pillow weighs in around 3oz. which can be worthwhile if you really need a better night sleep. It can also be coupled with the jacket pillow for extra comfort.
- Compactable Pillow Many years ago I had a pillow made by Slumberjack that was maybe 1/4 the size of a standard pillow, but was fairly thick and comfortable. I couldn't find the specific pillow in a quick search, but it appears that the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow may be similar. This is the heaviest option, weighing 7-12oz and being a "single-purpose" item as opposed to something like a stuff sak serving multiple purposes on your trip.
I am very biased towards the clothing option. Even prior to going ultralight this is what I did most of the time. My winter weight down hooded jacket has about 2" of loft weighs a mere 12.6oz and does a lot more for me than just give my head a place to rest. Inflatables are decent bang for your pack volume buck but don't have the same levels of comfort as a nice puffy jacket or standard pillow will.Tweet