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Exped Ultra Pillow

photo: Exped Ultra Pillow pillow

The Exped Ultra Pillow is an extremely small and inflatable pillow that can make a big difference in one’s quality of rest on the trail. As a backpacking pillow it is small enough to take almost anywhere, plus it is an easy-to-use product that comes in handy for air travel or a car road trip.

Pros

  • Compact
  • Lightweight (1.8 oz medium, 2.1 oz large)
  • Very durable/great construction

Cons

  • Getting inflation dialed in can be tricky
  • Lichen color shows dirt and oil
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Snow Lake, Washington

"Pillow talk" may be sometimes considered taboo, and discussions related to pillows in the backcountry can be equally questionable. Some people shun the idea, thinking of extravagance and unnecessary weight. Others may consider this an essential. Nevertheless, Exped’s Ultra pillow is a superb inflatable pillow for those who want to cushion their heads after a long day hiking. 

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Setting up camp—N. Puyallup River, Mount Rainier National Park

Two sizes are offered of the Ultra model: 

  • Medium              15 x 10.6 x 3.9 inches, 1.8 oz
  • Large (tested)   18 x 11.8 x 4.7 inches, 2.3 oz  

The 20D recycled stretch polyester Ultra pillow (Large) I tested weighed in at 2.25 ounces, 2.5 ounces with the storage bag. 

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Ultra Pillow (middle) between a small Smart Water bottle and the Exped Ultra 1R mat 

 

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The Exped Ultra Pillow performed well on my 93-mile thru hike of the Wonderland Trail in September of 2022. Read on for more details of its performance.

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This pillow packs to approximately the size of a tennis ball

Ease of Use

The Exped Ultra pillow is a very straightforward and easy to use product; one valve is used to inflate/deflate and adjust. 

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Common two-way valve

The pillow easily inflates with two to three breaths, and quickly deflates when pressing the central check valve. 

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An easy to operate pull is a nice feature

The one-way flap has an easy-to-use pull, which is helpful in cold weather and on sleepy mornings at 4 a.m. on the mountain. 

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The pillow held fast in firmness during all temperature ranges

Getting the inflation to the desired balance may be considered a little tricky, but this is merely a subjective observation. One's head alignment can vary greatly with the amount of air volume in the pillow, and "dialing in" can take a little time. Fully inflating, then deflating to the desired amount seems to be the most efficient method of doing so. 

Features

This pillow like many others on the market, is anatomically shaped. This is helpful for adjusting for comfort, as its variable height helps dial in a hood system with one’s sleeping bag. 

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Side view of the Exped Ultra Pillow

 

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Those who prefer sleeping with the pillow inside their bag may want to consider sizing down to the Medium pillow (not tested). The Large worked fine with my Rab cool weather bag though, which has an open-hooded, semi-mummy design. 

The nylon storage bag is very durable, protecting the pillow from punctures. There is also enough extra space to store a pair of earplugs. 

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Guiding several trips on the Appalachian Trail in the mid-Atlantic, and leading a week-long teen trip during the summer showed that the pillow was up for the task of traveling cross-country for a long-distance hike.  

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Without anchor points to a sleeping mat, one may have to get inventive with straps or cords if you want to attach it to your pad. Although Exped states that "fabric eyelets allow attachment to a mat," the Exped Ultra 1R mat I tested concurrently does not have eyelets or any other way to attach the pillow.  

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Bonus—inflatable pillows double as a great lumbar support

Construction & Durability

The Ultra Pillow has shown to be quite durable over the course of approximately 20 nights on trail. As a tossing, turning, never comfortable sleeper, I tend to be very hard on inflatable pillows. Outside of the accumulated dirt and grime from long distance hiking, no signs of wear have been noted. This pillow can easily be hand-washed with mild soap and warm water.  

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Week-long kids Camp-Out, campground near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The Exped Ultra is constructed using a recycled 20D stretch polyester, laminated with a hydrolysis resistant TPY polyetherimide. These chemicals are utilized to help prevent the product from breaking down from water/moisture contact, which is especially helpful for a product in close contact to one’s breathing, night after night. 

This pillow is Oeko-Tex 100 certified, which is a relatively new process where products are tested for harmful substances. More can be read on Oeko-Tex 100 certification here.

Conditions

The Exped Ultra pillow has been tested since May 2022 on several overnight hikes on the Appalachian Trail, a weeklong guided trip for kids in Maryland and West Virginia, and on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. Temperatures have ranged from nearly the 90°F mark in the mid-Atlantic down to the mid-30s in Washington state. 

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Another evening on the Wonderland Trail in the Pacific Northwest

Many thanks to the people at Exped for the opportunity to test the Ultra pillow for the Trailspace Gear Review Corps. 

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Experience

I have used several other inflatable pillows over the past several years, but this is my first experience using Exped products. Previous use has ranged from similar pillows like the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight pillow to a couple of more generic no-name inflatable products.

Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (Sample for testing and review provided by Exped)

About the Author

Sean Van Cleve spends much of his free time as a backcountry guide in the mid-Atlantic USA. A certified Leave No Trace Trainer and Wilderness First Responder, Sean focuses on outdoor education with friends and clients alike. Whether it is recreational high-pointing, section hiking on the Appalachian Trail, or leading multi-day backcountry trips in West Virginia, practicing outdoor ethics is at the forefront of the experience—preserving the land for future generations. 

Far superior to extra clothing stuffed in a stuff sack. Inflating is no-brain easy, deflating is cumbersome.

Pros

  • Packs small
  • Inflates quickly
  • Asymmetrical profile accommodates almost all sleeping positions

Cons

  • The only con is the clever, but cumbersome, deflation process

This is my second Exped pillow. The first one developed too many leaks to patch, however it came with separate inflation/deflation valves which made it super fast and simple to deflate.

This "new" version has only one valve for both inflating and deflating. To deflate, one has to very carefully align the deflation "tool" over an extremely flexible spike which is attached to the actual flap valve, and then press the spike down to allow air to escape.

It is virtually impossible to fully deflate the pillow with one attempt at depressing the spike. It routinely takes me three "depressions" to fully deflate the thing. Most of the air comes out with the first attempt. Then you have to roll the pillow up to trap the remaining air up under the valve and depress it a second time. And, typically, a little more trapped air is still present which necessitates a third attempt to actually get every bit of air out.

If you're okay with slightly bulky pillow in your pack, one attempt may suffice.

Experience

I've used Exped pillows for the past 12 years. Before that, all my extra clothes crammed in my sleeping bag stuff sack.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $35

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Specs

medium large
Price MSRP: $34.95
Current Retail: $26.21-$34.95
Reviewers Paid: $35.00
Weight 1.8 oz 2.1 oz
Dimensions 15 x 10.6 x 3.9 in 18.1 x 11.8 x 4.7 in
Materials 20 D recycled stretch polyester, TPU polyether film laminate hydrolysis resistant / Oeko-Tex 100 certified
Product Details from Exped »

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