Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Review 2020

  • Car Camper
  • Wilderness Backpacker

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Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Overview

Therm-a-Rest has a reputation for providing comfortable sleep in any outdoor setting. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to sleep comfortably without a pillow — even a rolled up t-shirt helps!

While the sleep-centric brand offers a range of pillows, the most popular and simple model is the Compressible Pillow. It’s a no-frills memory foam pillow that compresses to fit in a tight space, and expands like magic to provide basic head support for your weary body.

In the world of ultralight pillows, inflatable pillows, pillows with many fabrics, and uniquely-shaped pillows, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is simple, straightforward, and clear. It doesn’t have different levels of adjustability, and it won’t pop. You can compress it via the built-in fabric fold for storage, and let it expand once you’ve set up camp. You know what you’re getting, and you’ll probably love it.

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Star Rating
  • Comfort
  • Durability
  • Adjustability
  • Packability
3.6

Summary

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is a foam pillow that folds down to burrito size when not in use, then expands to create a large resting surface for your head. It won’t be the lightest or smallest pillow around, but the cost and comfort make it an excellent choice for casual travelers and outdoor folk who want something easy and unbreakable.

While the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow ticks a lot of pillow boxes, we feel that there are much lighter and smaller options that provide similar (or better) comfort for backpacking. For Car Campers, we actually recommend bringing your own pillow. There’s usually room in the car, and it’s an item that will help you get full rest in the wilderness.

That said, if you’re determined to buy a special camping or backpacking pillow that will double well for international travel (and long road trips), the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is an excellent medium-priced option.

See the full Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow review below, and see where it falls on our guide to the Best Backpacking Pillows!

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 7 oz. (200 g) Not exactly heavy, but also not as light as most air-filled backpacking pillows.
Type Foam There’s just chunks of foam (like memory foam) in this pillow. No air.
Shape Pillow This pillow is shaped like a real, at-home pillow! And well-sized.
Valve N/A There’s no valve on this pillow.
Full Size 16 x 12 x 4 in. Even the Small is generously sized. You’ll feel like you’re sleeping with a real pillow.
Max Height 4 in. While this is the full height when expanded, when you lay your head down it compresses the foam somewhat. We found realistic height to be about two inches.
Materials Brushed Polyester, Urethane Foam Fill Excellent, soft materials to rest a cheek on. The foam expands and compresses easily. Can get lumpy if not used frequently.
Stuff Sack No The Compressible Pillow has a flap that allows it to pack into itself.
Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty Therm-a-Rest has a fantastic warranty, so if anything breaks (like the toggle), get in touch.
Retail Price $24.95 Not exorbitantly expensive compared to other backpacking pillows, and often on sale. You’re paying for the warranty, high-end fabrics, and generous size.

Gear Review of the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

The moment of excellence with most sleep products happens in the night, when you’re sleeping. The true test of any pillow is if you woke up in the night due to discomfort. I did wake up a time or two, which is on-par for me with just about any pillow.

The real highlight, though, was when reading. I used the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow on a number of car camping trips (and in the car to get to camp), and would settle down each night to read for a solid half hour before bed. I love to get swept away in a world with complete darkness and the wilderness outside — and I need a comfortable, relatively flat pillow to do this.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-in-sleeping-bag
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow tucked into the hood of the NEMO Forte sleeping bag. The pillow is quite large (even at a size Small).

When I read on inflatable pillows I’m usually bouncing from side to side and can’t relax.

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow was like a thin version of my memory foam pillow from home — I laid on it, switched on a headlamp, and got to reading. It didn’t require shifting of position, never leaked air (cause that’s now how it works), and even the Small is generously-sized.

Comfort – 3.5

Pillow comfort is inherently subjective. Some people need a lot of support, others need almost nothing. I’m fond of flatter pillows in the wilderness, probably because I grew up stuffing t-shirts into my sleeping bag’s stuff sack and using that as a backpacking pillow.

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is very flat. Therm-a-Rest has not overstuffed the pillow with foam — probably so that it compresses small and isn’t too heavy — but the flatness is definitely noticeable. The pillow also compresses more when you lay down on it, which is just how memory foam works.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-thickness
A profile view of the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow. It doesn’t look flat, but when you lay your head down the foam compresses more.

While I liked the flatness, at times it felt too flat, even for me. For anyone who likes a harder, more “full” feeling pillow, the Compressible Pillow may not provide enough support.

Comfort is also refers to how cozy the pillow is — the Compressible Pillow fabric is outstanding. You want to rest your face against something comfy, and the brushed polyester fabric was as good as any pillow I have at home.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-hand-compression
The brushed polyester fabric of the Compressible Pillow feels great in hand or on cheek! That said, look at how much it compresses with a bit of light pressure.

Durability – 4.5

The beauty of the Compressible Pillow, when compared to other lightweight portable pillows, is that it can’t break. You don’t inflate the pillow at all, so nothing can pop.

The fabric is thick and doesn’t feel prone to ripping, there is plenty of high-grade urethane foam inside, and the single drawstring toggle is well built.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-expanded
You can see the flap (on the right) that the Compressible Pillow folds into. It’s well made, as is the toggle that secures it, but if you apply too much force it could rip.

I took off half a star because the “compressible” part of the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow requires you to roll and stuff the pillow into an attached flap. If you do this too quickly, and too forcefully, that flap can begin to tear.

I am generally delicate with my gear, but I could see someone in a rush pulling too hard.

Adjustability – 3

Part of the charm of the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is the lack of features, so it doesn’t score high on adjustability. The pillow has two modes: compressed for storage, or uncompressed for use.

You can’t inflate it, so you can’t adjust it. You can always add a layer of clothing on top or underneath to give it a little more heft, but that’s not really part of the pillow.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-drawstring-closeup
The toggle helps keep the rolled up Compressible Pillow in its burrito-esque form.

I took two stars off because, when compared to many other backpacking-specific pillows, it doesn’t adjust all that much. Don’t buy this pillow if you want to fine-tune your pillow in the middle of the night.

Packability – 3.5

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow has an easy, smart system for packing it up. You approach it like a sleeping pad — start with one end, compressing as you roll it into a burrito-sized object. There’s a sleeve sewn into the pillow that you wrap over the rolled pillow, and a drawstring to secure it in place.

In about 15 seconds you’ve got a compressed, easy to store pillow.

Therm-a-Rest-Compressible-Pillow-review-rolled-up-vs-expanded
Fully expanded Therm-a-Rest compressible Pillow on the left. Packed up pillow on the right.

I took one-and-a-half stars off because, when compared to other backpacking pillows, it just doesn’t pack that small. Ultralight inflatable pillows compress to the size of a sock (or smaller), whereas the burrito-sized Compressible Pillow will take up some room (though still not much) in your pack.

Grievances

My only real grievance with the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is the flatness. This is a boon for reading (as I said), but at times it just felt too flat.

This is a preference thing, but as someone who generally enjoys a more minimal pillow, I was surprised that the high-density foam-filled Compressible Pillow sometimes felt too flat at night.

I was sent two pillows to test (you can see the color variations in this review), and I actually used both pillows on some nights when my body was particularly sore from a long hike or drive.

That said, keep this salient fact in mind: I can’t sleep with inflatable pillows at all. The air makes them wobbly, which I can’t stand, and I feel like my neck is too far off the ground.

Perhaps I’m a poor pillow sleeper. My recommendation? See the Compressible Pillow fully expanded in a store (like REI), lay it down on a sleeping pad (also in a store), and see just how flat it is for yourself.

I ended up using a combination of the Compressible Pillow and some clothing to give me a bit more lift. The Compressible Pillow is very soft, and gives you a very satisfying “pillow” experience when sleeping, so if you need to bolster it up you can pretty easily.

Final Word

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is a flat, full foam backpacking pillow that packs up like a burrito. It’ll last forever, and gives you just enough support to sleep through the night.

Where to Buy Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

We tested the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow in a size small. While there’s only one version of the Compressible Pillow, Therm-a-Rest does offer it in four sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large.

The Small was a decently sized pillow for backpacking, so the larger ones are more suited to camping, glamping, and those who want a much larger surface area.

That said, the height of the pillows — or amount of foam in relation to the overall size — stays the same for each pillow size. So it will be flat, regardless.

Compare Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow prices below.

dbzweier bio pic 2018

Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier is Editor-in-Chief of Backpackers.com. Beyond orchestrating the daily flow of Backpackers.com, Daniel writes surrealistic short fiction and novels, adventures into the backcountry and abroad, surfs, reads, drinks tea, and obsesses over gear. A lot of gear. Visit his website if you want to learn more about his authorial pursuits.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

2 responses to “Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Review 2020

  1. A pillow is one of my comfort items that helps me get a good nights rest. Ive tried all sorts trying to find the right balance of weight, compressibility, cost and comfort.

    This pillow beats all other choices. Its so comfortable I’ve bought 2.

    1. Hi Pete,

      Thanks for reading and chiming in! Yes, this pillow rocks for a lot of people. Do you stack two together, or do you just have an extra for kicks?

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