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 10 Best Backpacking & Camping Pillows

Getting a good night’s sleep in the outdoors is one of the most satisfying and refreshing experiences you can give yourself. Imagine breathing in the cool air and losing yourself in the sound of the whispering wind as you fade off blissfully under the stars. But, without some forethought, you could find yourself tossing, turning, frustrated, and uncomfortable.

Set yourself up for success by putting together a sleep system that you look forward to at the end of the day. The best sleep systems for backpacking and camping include a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a pillow that mimic your bed at home as closely as possible. Check out our Sleeping Bag Guide and Sleeping Pad Guide here.

While pillows may seem trivial and are often overlooked, the ergonomics of your sleep setup are actually very consequential in the backcountry. With the right gear to make you comfortable, you can fully enjoy your time resting, wake up restored, and be at your best for the next day of adventure.

For more of our favorite gear recommendations, have a look through these popular CleverHiker Gear Guide links:

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Why Trust Us?

We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:

  • Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.

  • We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.

  • We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.

  • We travel to industry trade shows to learn about upcoming product innovations.

  • We constantly update our guides when new products launch.

  • We treat our recommendations as if they were for our family and friends.

  • We’re lifelong learners and we’re always open to constructive criticism. If you think we’ve missed a product or got something wrong, we’d love to hear your feedback.

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Which Pillow Type Is Right For You?

There are pros and cons to every type of camping pillow. Here are the main categories of backcountry pillows and some quick links to our top recommendations.

Stuff Sack Pillows are ultralight and excellent for backpacking, but they require a puffy jacket or other soft clothing to give them loft. They can be very comfortable with the right stuffing, but with the wrong stuffing they can be hard or compress too much. Our top picks: ZPacks Medium Dry Bag Pillow & HMG Large Stuff Sack Pillow

UL Inflatables Pillows are lightweight and can stand alone, holding their shape and offering good height and support for side-sleepers. But inflatable pillows can also feel unstable and wobbly at times. In addition, ultralight air pillows tend not to be nearly as soft and comfy as other pillow types, and may be hard on the ears after a few hours. Our top picks: Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight & NEMO Fillo Elite

Compressible Pillows are made of materials that expand, like shredded pieces of foam. They’re often very comfortable and mimic home pillows closely, but they also tend to be much bulkier and heavier than stuff sack pillows and ultralight inflatables. Our top picks: Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow & REI Co-op Trailbreak Foam Pillow

Hybrid Pillows use a combination of components, usually an air bladder topped with a layer of foam or down insulation. They share the same height and support benefits of ultralight air pillows, but they’re typically much more comfortable. That said, they also tend to be heavier and bulkier. Our top picks: Therm-a-Rest Air Head & Nemo Equipment Fillo Pillow

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Critical Considerations

Want to know more about which pillows are best for your sleeping style, inflatables vs. non-inflatables, and a whole lot more? Scroll to the bottom of this post for our Critical Considerations section where we cover everything you need to know.

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10 Best Backpacking & Camping Pillows


MSRP (Small): $24.95

WEIGHT (Small): 7 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Polyester case stuffed with shredded recycled foam

PROS: Very comfortable, inexpensive, soft and warm, durable, fun pillow case patterns

CONS: Bulky, relatively heavy, less supportive than some

BOTTOM LINE: Of all of the pillows we tested, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow was the most comfortable of them all. It feels almost like the pillows we use at home, but it’s smaller and much more portable. The fabric feels nice against our skin and we don’t have to use a down jacket or anything to fill it, which frees up our clothing for use on frigid nights. We really love the comfort of this pillow and are becoming more attached to it with every use. We highly recommend the budget-friendly Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow for camping, traveling, and casual backpacking trips. This pillow comes in several sizes: small, medium, large, and extra large. We prefer the small size to keep weight and bulk to a minimum for our backpacking trips.

TOP PICK: The Therm-a-Rest Compressible is a CleverHiker top pick for most comfortable pillow.


MSRP (Medium): $35

WEIGHT (Medium): 1.8 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Dyneema composite, micro-fleece, velcro and buckle closure

PROS: Ultralight, compact, comfortable, soft and warm, multi-purpose, water resistant

CONS: Requires puffy jacket (preferred) or extra clothing, less supportive than some, slippery underside

BOTTOM LINE: The ZPacks Dry Bag Pillow is an excellent choice for backpacking trips where you need to keep weight to a minimum. This dry bag pillow is very comfortable and warm, once filled with a puffy jacket, and can double as a stuff sack for your clothing during the day. The fleece surface of this pillow is very soft and feels excellent against the skin. The bottom fabric is a bit slippery, but that hasn’t caused us much hassle. The Zpacks Dry Bag pillow comes in medium and medium plus sizes, but we prefer the medium-plus size for its slightly wider pillow shape.

TOP PICK: The ZPacks Medium-Plus Dry Bag Pillow is a CleverHiker top pick for best ultralight pillow.


MSRP (Large): $47 (large)

WEIGHT (Large): 1.7 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Dyneema composite and polartec fleece with zipper

PROS: Ultralight, compact, comfortable, soft and warm, multi-purpose, water resistant

CONS: Requires puffy jacket (preferred) or extra clothing, less supportive than some, slippery underside

BOTTOM LINE: The HMG Stuff Sack Pillow is very similar to the Zpacks Dry Bag Pillow listed above, but with a slightly more rectangular shape and a zipper closure on the backside. Weighing little more than an ounce-and-a-half and folding down to nearly nothing, the HMG Stuff Sack Pillow packs down small and provides a ton of comfort. You’ll need an unworn puffy jacket or extra clothing to stuff this pillow, but if you have the right soft stuff to fill it, this pillow is excellent. This pillow can also be used as a water resistant stuff sack for your clothing, but we find that it tends to be a better pillow than it is a stuff sack. Still, the HMG Stuff Sack Pillow has a lot to love and we highly recommend it for ultralight backpacking adventures.


MSRP: $39.95

WEIGHT: 9 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Baffled air bladder with foam topper inside a Micro-suede cover

PROS: Comfortable, soft and warm, supportive, quality materials, removable foam layer, machine washable case

CONS: Bulky, heavy, slippery underside

BOTTOM LINE: The Nemo Fillo has been one of the most popular camping pillows on the market for many years, and with good reason. It’s made of quality materials inside and out, and it’s plush foam topper provides excellent, cushy support. We like the removable micro-suede cover, durable feeling air bladder, and sturdy valve on the Fillo, but all those features all make it quite heavy. At 10.8 oz, the Fillo is one of the heaviest and bulkiest pillows we tested.  If you’re looking for a luxury pillow for camping, travel, and maybe casual backpacking trips, the Nemo Fillo is a great choice.


MSRP: $34.95

WEIGHT: 5.2 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with a foam topper inside a polyester cover

PROS: Comfortable, supportive, soft and warm, quality materials, machine washable case

CONS: Slightly bulky, relatively heavy

BOTTOM LINE: The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Pillow is super comfortable and made to last. It’s air bladder is made of thicker material than most of the inflatables we tested, and on top of that, a dense layer of open-cell foam gives the Air Head a warm, soft feel. The internal baffling of the Air Head limits the wobble-effect some air pillows get when they aren’t filled to capacity and makes our heads feel more stable. Also, the removable polyester cover seems durable enough to endure regular washing, which is nice. If you’re looking for a lofty, comfortable pillow that doesn’t require any stuffing, the Air Head is an excellent option. We recommend this pillow for use on camping, travel, or casual backpacking trips.


MSRP (Regular): $39.95

WEIGHT (Regular): 2.1 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Stretch-knit polyester air bladder

PROS: Ultralight, compact, supportive, good valve, machine washable case (not included)

CONS: Too firm for some, fabric cover not included, not insulated

BOTTOM LINE: Of all the ultralight inflatable pillows we tested, we found the Sea to Summit Aeros to be the most comfortable, since it’s stretch-poly material makes it feel softer than most. This pillow offers plenty of height for side sleepers who want lots of support and doesn’t require extra clothing like a stuff sack pillow. We love the valve system on the Aeros, and think it’s the best of all the pillows we tested. This pillow folds up into a tiny stuff sack and packs away easily. The Aeros is decently comfortable on it’s own, but is a bit better with the optional pillow case accessory. Overall, we think the Aeros Ultralight is a great choice for those who like a firm, lofty pillow and want to free up their puffy jackets for chilly nights.


MSRP (Regular): $59.95

WEIGHT (Regular): 2.5 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with down topper and synthetic fabric

PROS: Ultralight, compact, supportive, warm, good valve

CONS: Expensive, too firm for some, feels a bit wobbly

BOTTOM LINE: The Sea to Summit Aeros Down Pillow is an incredibly light backpacking pillow, but it still has more comfort and padding than the average ultralight pillow. The Aeros has a thin layer of down cushioning on top, which isn’t super thick, but does provide some additional comfort. While this is among the most expensive pillows on this list, it’s also one of the most comfortable in its weight class. Like most air pillows, the Aeros can feel a bit wobbly when not fully inflated. True to Sea to Summit products, the Aeros Down also has an excellent valve system, which allows for easy micro-adjustments. Overall, the Aeros Down Pillow is among the most comfortable choices for ultralight air pillows.


MSRP: $44.95

WEIGHT: 3 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Baffled air bladder with primaloft layer inside a jersey-cotton case

PROS: Ultralight, compact, supportive, soft, good valve, integrated stuff sack, machine washable case

CONS: Too firm for some, air bladder feels fragile, slippery underside, minimally insulated

BOTTOM LINE: The Nemo Fillo Elite Ultralight Pillow is great choice for backpackers who can’t use extra clothing to stuff their pillow. If you wear your puffy jacket as part of your sleep system, the Fillo Elite will give you a good amount of loft, but still keeps weight to a minimum. With its light layer of synthetic insulation on top and a soft cotton case, the Fillo Elite is more comfortable than most ultralight inflatables. Both the Fillo Elite and it’s heavier brother, the Fillo, are well-designed with integrated stuff sacks that are impossible to lose, removable cases for easy washing, and top-notch valves. Among ultralight air pillows, the Fillo Elite is definitely one of the best.


MSRP (Regular): $17.95

WEIGHT (Regular): 10 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Polyester case stuffed with shredded recycled foam

PROS: Inexpensive, comfortable, supportive, good height, soft and warm

CONS: Bulky, heavy

BOTTOM LINE: The REI Co-op Trail Break Pillow is a solid option for camping trips when you’re looking for a super comfortable pillow and weight/bulk are not of much concern. When it comes to portability we prefer the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow, which is lighter and packs down much smaller. But the Trail Break is a bit thicker, more plush, and costs a little less. Both of these foam pillow options are among the most comfortable camping/backpacking pillows we tested, so it really just depends on the activity you’ll be using it for. If you’re looking for a more portable option that can be packed tightly for camping, travel, and casual backpacking trips, the Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow is our top pick. If weight and bulk are less of a concern and you prefer a higher, very supportive pillow, the Trail Break is a fantastic option.


MSRP: $32.95

WEIGHT: 6.7 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with synthetic thermal layer inside 2-sided nylon/microfiber case

PROS: Soft and warm, supportive, double-sided machine washable case

CONS: Slightly bulky, relatively heavy, feels a bit wobbly, slippery underside

BOTTOM LINE: The Cocoon Ultralight Air Core Pillow is smart for offering two surfaces to choose from depending on the ambient temperature. Its nylon side is comfortable and cool to sleep on during warm nights, while its microfiber side is warm and cozy on cool nights. The Air Core pillow is the largest of the pillows we tested with a boxy shape and good height. We did find that the pillow felt a little wobbly when it wasn’t fully inflated, so it might be better for those who prefer a somewhat firm pillow. The Air Core is a nice option for people who prefer a big pillow with lots of loft. The Air Core is available in 14 x 18 in. and 16 x 22 in. sizes.


Honorable Mentions

The following pillows didn’t make our final list, but they’ve still got a lot of good things going for them. In this section we’ll try to briefly highlight each pillow’s main strengths and explain why it didn’t make the cut. And you never know, maybe one of these pillows will be the right fit for you.


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MSRP (Medium): $59

WEIGHT (Medium): 5.3 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder covered with polyester fabric and down insulation

PROS: Comfortable, good height, soft and warm, supportive, machine washable case

CONS: Expensive, slightly bulky, relatively heavy, undesirable valve

BOTTOM LINE: The Exped Down Pillow is a warm and comfy option for those who are willing to pay a bit more for a pillow made with real down. The pillow is very comfortable overall, but we get hung up on the clunky valve and find it a bit inconvenient. If we were choosing a pillow of similar bulk and weight, we’d prefer the Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow or Air Head Pillow, both of which are also less expensive.


MSRP: $29.95

WEIGHT: 2.7 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with brushed polyester surface

PROS: Ultralight, compact, inexpensive, supportive

CONS: Too firm for some, not insulated

BOTTOM LINE: The Therm-a-Rest Air Head Lite is an ultralight version of the Air Head pillow. It cuts out the extra features like the foam topper and fabric case to shave off ounces, but without those materials, this pillow feels much less comfortable. This pillow does have a little stretch to it and is pretty affordable, but ultimately we prefer the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight among UL air pillows.


MSRP (Regular): $29.95

WEIGHT (Regular): 4 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Down-filled polyester topper with stuff pocket for clothing

PROS: Comfortable, inexpensive, soft and warm, quality materials, machine washable

CONS: Slightly bulky, requires puffy jacket (preferred) or extra clothing, less supportive than some

BOTTOM LINE: The Therm-a-Rest Down Pillow is a good choice if you’re looking for a comfy stuff sack pillow, but want a little extra down padding on top. This pillow has a semi-open back compartment that’s designed to be stuffed with an unworn puffy jacket or other clothing, but it isn’t ideal for containing smaller loose items. At the end of the day, this is a comfy pillow, but you’ll still need a puffy coat to give it adequate filling and the down does tend to compress quite a bit. For lightweight backpacking trips, we’re partial to the ZPacks Dry Bag Pillow and HMG Stuff Sack Pillow among stuff sack pillows.  


MSRP: $60

WEIGHT: 2.35  oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Soft breathable fabric on the inside, waterproof silnylon on the outside, and synthetic insulation in the middle.

PROS: Comfortable, soft and warm, ultralight, multi-purpose, machine washable

CONS: Expensive, requires puffy jacket or extra clothing, less supportive than some

BOTTOM LINE: The Enlightened Equipment Minion is an interesting and unique pillow design. We think it works best as a pillow, though it’s technically a multi-purpose item. In a pinch, the Minion can be fashioned into a stuff sack, hand/neck warmer, sit/kneel pad, or even an odd fanny pack. But realistically, it’s best use by far is as a stuff sack pillow. The Minion is a roll-shaped tube with drawcords to cinch the ends closed. When adequately stuffed with a puffy jacket, it’s very comfortable and its synthetic insulation provides another layer of padding. The Minion is a little gimmicky, but it still a makes a solid ultralight backpacking pillow.


MSRP: $39.95

WEIGHT: 7 oz .

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with foam topper in a stretch-polyester cover

PROS: Very comfortable, soft and warm, supportive, machine washable case

CONS: Bulky, relatively heavy, air bladder feels fragile, valve is difficult to access, slippery underside

BOTTOM LINE: The Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Pillow is more comfortable than most air pillows because of its thick, luxurious topper and stable baffles But the air bladder on the Sleeping Giant feels very thin and we worry that it won’t last long. In addition, the valve is tucked into the pillowcase in a way that makes it cumbersome to access, and the valve itself is not the most user-friendly. For about the same price, we prefer the Nemo Fillo, Therm-a-Rest Air Head, and Compressible Pillow.


MSRP: $39.95

WEIGHT: 6.4 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: X-shaped air bladder with quilted synthetic-polyester cover

PROS: Comfortable, soft, quality materials, supportive, machine washable case

CONS: Bulky, relatively heavy, minimally insulated, air bladder grooves take some getting used to

BOTTOM LINE: The Klymit Luxe Pillow has the most durable air bladder of all the pillows we tested. We found the x-shaped air bladder baffles to be a little odd for side sleeping, but comfortable and stable when lying on our backs. The Luxe isn’t insulated, but it features a thick high-quality synthetic cover that feels soft and cool against the skin. If you tend to sleep hot and want a pillow that won’t make you overheat, the Luxe might be a good choice for you, but we prefer the warmth and comfort of the Therm-a-Rest Air Head.


MSRP (Medium): $39

WEIGHT (Medium): 1.6 oz

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with polyester surface and rubberized underside

PROS: Ultralight, compact, supportive, noisy, non-slip underside

CONS: Too firm for some, not insulated

BOTTOM LINE: If you need support and saving weight and pack space are your main concerns, the Exped Air Pillow UL will get the job done. The honeycomb “Gripskin” surface helps prevent this pillow from sliding off your pad, and there are also tabs on the sides to attach elastic cords to. We know this pillow’s main goal is to be light, but we wish the Air Pillow UL was a little quieter and more comfortable. At the end of the day, we prefer the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight for air pillows in this weight class.


MSRP: $39.95

WEIGHT: 1.6 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Air bladder with stretch-nylon surface

PROS: Ultralight, compact, supportive

CONS: Too firm for some, not insulated, pocked surface takes some getting used to

BOTTOM LINE: The Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow was one of the lightest pillows we tested. It does offer great support for your head and is a major upgrade from not having a pillow at all, but we’ve found the depressions/dimples on the surface to be uncomfortable and take some getting used to. Our favorite ultralight options for backpacking are the ZPacks Dry Bag Pillow and HMG Stuff Sack Pillow, and for those that want to wear their down jackets, the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow.


MSRP: $15.47

WEIGHT: 2.75 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: Stretch-TPU air bladder

PROS: Very inexpensive, ultralight, compact, supportive

CONS: Too firm for some, not insulated, slippery underside, uncomfortable fabric against the face

BOTTOM LINE: The Trekology Ultralight is very inexpensive and offers good height and support. But the surface is plasticy and lacks the softness and comfort we want in a pillow. The Trekology is a fine choice for truly budget-conscious buyers, and may work well with a fleece jacket or clothing to cover it, however, we greatly prefer the comfort of the Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow and think the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow is a much better air pillow.


MSRP: $24.95

WEIGHT: 1.95 oz.

CONSTRUCTION: X-shaped baffled air bladder with polyester surfaces

PROS: Ultralight, compact, inexpensive

CONS: Too firm for some, difficult to inflate, valve feels cheap, not insulated, uncomfortable fabric against the face, shape takes some getting used to

BOTTOM LINE: The Klymit Pillow X Recon is one of the lightest, and most compact pillows we tested. It has an interesting X design and its materials feel durable, but we found it to be be fairly uncomfortable, with a rough surface and awkward shape. The Pillow X Recon might be a good choice for back-only sleepers who want to lock their head in place and reduce any wobble effect, but we had a tough time with it. Ultimately, we prefer pillows like the Zpacks Dry Bag Pillow and  Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow.

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Critical Considerations

SLEEPING STYLES - Size, shape, fullness, warmth, and surface all come together to determine how comfortable a camping pillow is. Look for a one that compliments the position in which you like to sleep, accommodates your size, and satisfies your preferences for softness or firmness. Side sleepers commonly prefer pillows with a bit more height to support the neck and shoulder, while back sleepers might prefer softer, lower-profile pillows.

WEIGHT - For backpacking, every ounce matters. But sleep systems are a place where it generally makes sense to carry a bit of extra weight for added comfort. It’s still really important to keep weight to a minimum, but getting a good night’s rest is also critical. There are some good options for even extreme minimalists that weigh less than 2 oz and serve dual purposes, such as being a dry bag or stuff sack for your clothes. Generally, the lighter the pillow, the more clothing you will need to add to it as filler. If your sleep system is so light that you depend on wearing all of your soft clothes at night, we recommend carrying a pillow that can stand alone. Consider how much of your clothing you will need to wear, air-out, or dry at night.

COMPRESSIBILITY - The smaller the pillow can pack down, the better. When you have to squeeze everything into a backpack or bike panniers, space is at a premium. If space is tight, choose a pillow that compacts into a tiny sack. After all, even a little pillow is can be a big help. If luxury and comfort are the ultimate goals (say for car camping), go for something a little bulkier and more plush. It’s ok to be a proud pillow princess if it makes you happy. Even for car camping trips, it’s nice to trade your full-size bed pillow for a small, compressible travel one to save space while packing and alleviate worry over getting it wet, dirty, etc.

PRICE - While some of the best camping and backpacking pillows are a little on the expensive side, we don’t lose any sleep over spending an extra $10-$20 for a quality pillow we really love. There are plenty of cheap, heavy, plasticy, uncomfortable pillows out there, but we won’t recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves. A healthy, kink-free neck after a solid night’s sleep in nature is priceless. Many of the pillows on our list are under $30.

TEMPERATURE - Just like it’s important to have a sleeping pad that insulates you from the cold ground, it’s key to have a pillow that protects your head and face from the cold night air. Especially if you go for an inflatable, consider that the air temperature will penetrate through the baffles of the pillow and transfer to your body. Having a barrier of insulation (like fleece, down, or foam) between your head and the air chamber will keep you a lot warmer and more comfortable. Similarly, you’ll want to choose a pillow that has a comfortable fabric surface that will wick away sweat and keep you cool on warm summer nights.

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SLIDING - A pillow that keep sliding out from under your head can be really annoying and disturb your sleep, and that’s a common annoyance with backpacking/camping pillows. But there’s an easy fix! Some pillows have tabs on the sides to attach an elastic cord that will secure around your pad. But if the pillow you choose doesn’t, we suggest using a few inches of adhesive velcro to create your own pillow-lock system. Simply adhere the soft side (loops) to your pad and the rough side (hooks) to the underside of your pillow being careful to line them up right. And voilà, your pillow will stay put much better. The velcro won’t last forever, but it’s a cheap and easy way to solve the problem.

QUIETNESS - Unfortunately, some of the lightest pillows are also the noisiest due to the crinkly materials they are made from. While dyneema and plastics may be ultralight, it can be like trying to sleep with your ear pressed up against a potato chip bag (especially when brand new). Everyone shifts and moves some during the night and it’s inevitable that you’ll hear some rustling, but keep in mind, some fabrics are more bothersome than others in that regard. If you are a particularly fidgety sleeper, you may want to choose accordingly or bring ear plugs for your tentmate.

WASHABILITY - Dirt and grime are part of the backpacking/camping lifestyle and many just learn to live with them. But for more fastidious hikers, there are pillows with removable cases that can be easily be machine washed with your clothing after each trip. Down pillows require a bit more care as dirt, sweat, hair oils, and drool can eventually cause them to lose their loft, but it isn’t difficult to rejuvenate them with a little know-how. Check out our tutorial on How to Wash a Down Coat for some pro tips.

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More Information

If you enjoyed this review, you'll probably like our other gear lists as well. Here are some popular resources from the CleverHiker Gear Guide:


 

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