Pillow Talk: Flex Air Ultralight Pillow

Sleep is important to me, and especially when I am on the trail. After a long day (or even a short day) of trekking up and down and through the mountains, proper rest is much appreciated and more importantly needed. However, in order for me to get a good night’s sleep, there are certain things that I require. Namely, a comfortable (enough) bed to lie in. For myself, this includes a plush and comfortable air pad, a warm and cozy down sleeping bag (or quilt) and of course an adequate place to rest my head…that is pillow.

I am a side sleeper. I begin the night by lying on my back but as I begin to drift off, I assume the fetal position, that is, on my side. And for me, being a side sleeper demands a certain amount (height) of pillow. I have tried those things such as putting extra clothes in a stuff sack, putting my boots under my head or using my backpack but these things have not worked for me. I have found that I need a pillow, a real pillow. So, I have come to the conclusion that a pillow will make its way into my pack whenever I head out on the trail. Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t find the lightest on that works though…

As I have mentioned above, pillow height is the real factor that I need when I look for a pillow. When I lay on my side my head needs to rest pretty close to level with the rest of my body in order for me to be comfortable. I have found that “filled” pillows (whether it be down or synthetic) simply won’t cut it for me. Sure, they work at home, but my house pillows are a bit larger than my backpacking pillows. They are filled with enough “fill” to provide vertical support.

So, I narrowed my search down to air pillows. The air will allow a set amount of loft to remain present even when I lay my head down on the pillow. Granted these types of pillows are not necessarily the most plush pillows, but they do provide the support that I need. As long as this need is fulfilled, I can tolerate less than the desired amount of comfort and make it work for me.

So,I have been very happy with my Cocoon Ultralight Air Core Pillow. The pillow offered my needed amount of vertical support, and it was pretty comfortable and light to boot. So, I thought that I was all set…

Then I came across these Flex Air Ultralight pillows over on Antigravity Gear. Two things immediately drew my attention.

  1. Price: $7.99 for 3!
  2. Weight: Listed at 0.9 oz!

I was placing an order from AGG at the time and upon seeing these felt that I would be a fool not to give them a try too. Worse case scenario, I would not like them and would be out $8 (although they would still make great loaner pillows). Or, on the other hand, I would hardly miss the dough and like them, have 2 on back-up, and even better, drop 2+ oz off of my current pillow weight!

Well, I won’t keep you in suspense, I do like them!

Once I received them and put them on my scales I found that the pillow with the straw weighs in at 0.9 oz (26 grams), so the listed weight was right on the money! Score…and bye bye extra weight! Also, for you gram weenies, the pillow without the straw weighed in at 0.8 oz, or 24 grams. (According to the Jolly Green Giant, these pillows can be inflated without the straw, and deflated with a simple stick. So, the straw can be left behind…  🙂 )

Constructions is simple. The pillow appears to simply be a piece of material folded in half and then heat sealed around the 3 unsealed edges, and the valve is in one corner. The exterior is a “soft and durable non-woven poly exterior” which is not uncomfortable when in direct contact with my skin (although it isn’t my pillow at home either). The straw is a common straw, nothing special.

Just as the pillow is a simple piece of gear, so to is the way in which it operates.

So far I have got to say that I am happy with this pillow. I have only used it on three nights so far, and based on this use so far I do not see why it will not last for a number of nights more. Regardless, at the price point for 1 (~ $2) I cannot complain too much anyway.

I will continue to carry a straw to inflate/deflate the pillow, but as I mentioned in my video, I will get a nice neon colored straw so that it will be easier to spot while on the trail. And thanks to the Green Giant’s advice, I should be ok even if I were to lose the straw.

As far as durability, I will pay close attention to both the seams and the valve as I believe that these would be the weak points on the pillow (not that I find them to be weak at this point though). However, due to the simplicity of the pillow, the only other actual remaining factor is the material that pillow is made of. As long as I keep sharp objects away from it though I believe that this will not prove to be a problem. (Of course  though, this is only speculation at this point).

When deflating the pillow I have not been able to get every bit of the air out. Don’t get me wrong, I can get about 99% of the air out, but just not all of it. The reason I bring this up is because this could be a problem if packed the wrong way. If the pillow is rolled up too tight with air remaining in the pillow and pressure is applied, the pillow could presumably pop just as a balloon under pressure. I am not sure how much pressure would be required to achieve this, but with enough it will definitely happen. To counter this, when I pack the pillow I only fold the pillow once and place the pillow in the pack. This should prevent too much pressure being put upon the entire pillow at once. So far it has worked.

In the end, I am definitely happy with my decision to get these pillows. They are very inexpensive and in respect to actual weights, they have saved an enormous amount of weight (about 70% of my previous pillow weight). But more importantly, they have provided me with a supportive as well as comfortable place to lay my head at night and has resulted in a great nights rest. For this I am most happy!

~Stick~

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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39 Responses to Pillow Talk: Flex Air Ultralight Pillow

  1. Hey, Stick –

    Carolyn, “Oz,” over at AntiGravityGear. I stumbled on your post today. I didn’t read through all the comments, and this post has been around a while – but in case it hasn’t come up, here’s a tip for keeping track of your straw and getting all the air out of your pillow. Insert the straw into the channel and roll from the other end. Just leave the straw in the channel during storage. I store my pillow down the side of my quilt stuff sack. Also, neck gaiters (or “Buff’s) make outstanding pillow cases. And, if you wrap an inflatable pillow in a down jacket or vest and stuff it in a buff – – you might not be able to tell the difference from your pillow at home. (Stuff the pillow and jacket in the buff before inflating.) 😉

    Happy Trails!
    Oz.

    Like

  2. Jay Gatton says:

    Hey stick, just wanted to ask a question/advice about sleeping. I have been using the flex air pillows for a while now (because of your site! thank you), and I am running into a little trouble. I use the REI flash airpad which is tapered to the extreme, and when I try the shirt over the airpad method to stuff the flex air pillow in it still managed to work its way off the pad waking me up every so often due to not having a pillow under my head. I am trying to figure out a method that will keep the pillow attached to the pad while sleeping at night. Any suggestions on how to do this outside of the t-shirt method? I tried cutting a small hoe in the pillow to run some stretch cord from either end, but the material gave away and ripped with just slight pressure. hmmm… help? lol…

    Like

  3. jeff calvary says:

    Hey, just wanted to say thanks for the info on the Flexair pillow. I know that this post has been here awhile but just now getting ready for a hiking trip and I’m determined to sleep better this time out. I wanted to add that if you go to http://www.grahammedical.com (the makers of flexair) and go to the contact us tab at the top, you can click on request a sample and get a sample of the large and small flexair pillow. After receiving the samples and trying them i wanted to order them but could only find them on ebay for like $5/pillow or buy them in bulk. The websites that you mentioned were out of stock at the time. I went to http://www.colonialmedical.com were you can order 5 for just under $10, to the house.
    Thanks again for your help and I’m now watching a lot of you awesome reviews.

    Like

  4. Dave says:

    I used the Flexair pillow, single chamber but found I tended to roll off. I got a bulk buy of 50 of the smaller single chamber (like 10″ x14″) for $36 and sewed two together along the 14″ side. I now had a 20″ x 14″ pillow with good support when on my back and quite good support on my side. Total weight was still less than 2 oz.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Dave,

      That is a great idea, sewing 2 of them together. These may be a little big to do that, but if these ever wear out and I get some more I will remember that and get the smaller ones. Thanks for the tip!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  5. John Clarke says:

    fantastic thanks for sharing !

    Like

  6. Tony Fischer says:

    Hey Stick, was wondering how the durability has been and if you are still using these for your pillow? If these are what I am thinking, they are designed for hospital and EMS use and are single use items so anything more than 1 use is better than designed! Do you think they can be repaired with tape if they develop a leak?

    Enjoy the videos and blog. I’m just up the road near Memphis so LMK if you ever need a hiking partner up at Big Hill Pond!

    Tony

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Tony,

      I am using the same one that I started on. I have 2 others that are ready for back-up though for when this one does fail. I am completely happy with them though. I don’t think that tape would work too well on this material though if it were to puncture, but it wouldn’t keep me from at least trying if I am trying to sleep at night…

      That is cool that you are so close, maybe you can make it for a hike sometime…I need to get another one planned though…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  7. Ryan says:

    Sticks,
    Just wanted to pass on that I bought a travel pillow from Ikea. I think it costs $3 and total weight with the pillow case is 4 ounces. The air bladder itself weighs 1 ounces. It has a shoulder cutout which I found to be nice as a side sleeper and it pumps up pretty thick (just over 4″). Can’t have enough options for pillows. Here’s a few pics….

    Also, they have flip flops there that make good camp shoes. I wear a size 9.5 and the mediums which fit me weigh 3.5 ounces….

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Ryan,

      Neat pillow. How does the bladder part of the pillow feel against your skin? I am not so sure that I would like that much of a cut out on it though. I found that I prefer a more traditional shaped pillow over the contoured pillows.

      And nice find on the flip flops! Thanks for sharing.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  8. Ryan says:

    Great review like always Sticks. I just got two of them and my daughter loves it, but I’m not sold just yet. I think it needs to be chambered to stop the waterbed effect. The search for the perfect pillow continues.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Thanks Ryan for the kind words and glad that they are useful to you!

      As for the pillows, I agree, if they were chambered they would be nicer, and they used to sell them this way, but now they are impossible to find… However, for me, they have become my favorite pillow for ground sleeping. Plus I made a neat little DIY pillow holder from some spare 8D and some shock cords, of course though it adds back in 0.5 oz to the total weight. But, good thing is I only have to use this during the summer when I don’t carry extra clothes…

      Anyway, if you happen to come across that perfect pillow, let us know…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  9. Jared says:

    Excellent review as always. I was about to order a set of pillows from AGG, but I noticed that they’ve gotten rid of the 3-pack, and now only offer a single pillow for $3.95. When you add in shipping of over $6, that gets a little steep for me for a disposable pillow.

    So I googled flexair pillow and found that there are much cheaper places to buy the pillows. Even more exciting, I found that they make a smaller size – 14.5″x10.5″ (versus the large/regular size 19″x12.5″). I don’t have both sizes, but based on what I’ve seen online, the small size weighs about 0.24 oz. less.

    I found both sizes on ebay. Here’s the link for the small size: http://www.ebay.com/itm/FlexAir-Inflatable-Ultralight-Pillow-Backpacking-Travel-Medical-New-Small-Size/270927025569?ssPageName=WDVW&rd=1&ih=017&category=36114&cmd=ViewItem

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Jared,

      Thanks for the heads up. I had not realized that the pillow packages had changed at AGG. I am glad that I got them when I did then.

      Yeah, I had came across the smaller pillows on a different site, but I am pretty happy with the size on this one. Considering I have already saved 2 oz by going to the Flex Air from my other pillows I am happy, and to save any more with the smaller one I would have a very minimal weight savings which wouldn’t be as ideal for me in terms of weight vs comfort.

      If you get the smaller ones though I would love to hear what you think of them.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      ~Stick~

      Like

    • Jared says:

      I got one of each size so I could decide which one I liked better. The smaller one ends up being about the same size as the Therm-a-rest pillow I had been using when tent camping and the Black Rock hammock pillow I use when hammocking. It works for the gram counter. However, I think I’m with you that for a quarter ounce more, you get a pretty big pillow (relative to other backpacking pillows), and it’s totally worth the weight.

      I also figured out a trick to deflating them. I was using the roll-it-up method from your video, but still couldn’t get the air out. So I just sucked the little bit of leftover air out through the straw. Every last bit of air came out of the pillow, so there should be zero chance of it popping.

      Like

    • Stick says:

      Jared,

      That is a good point about sucking the air out through the straw…thanks for pointing it out to me…It is surprising that these little things slip by me so easy sometimes… 🙂

      Thanks again,

      ~Stick~

      Like

  10. Aaron says:

    As a side sleeper myself I’ve found a dedicated pillow to be invaluable. Well worth the weight IMO – Right now I’ve settled on the offering from Montbell. I love the CloudKilt / Cuben welcome mat in the first photo!

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Aaron,

      I agree, gotta have a pillow! Although, I will admit that I am going to give a simple 1 gallon Ziploc a try at least once this summer. It will be a multiple use item at least two-fold, and maybe by three… 1 as a pillow, 2 as a laundry bag, and possibly 3 as a dry sack in my front pack pocket for a few items. The 3rd use though may vary because of durability. If I put a hole in the bag then it can possibly be useless for all counts…however, duct tape should repair it pretty good to though… Anyway, I am not saying I will love it, but it just may work… It will be held in place as I do my other pillows, inside a shirt that is pulled over the top of my full length air pad!

      And I too love my CloudKilt. Truth be told, it has been used as all but a rain kilt… Also, I would like to get another one that is about 10 inches wider (not longer) and built with either 1 oz/sqyd or probably even 0.74 oz/sqyd cuben. (This one is made from 1.26 oz/sqyd iirc.)Considering the extra width, the lighter weight cuben should still come out at the same weight (but possibly less if I go with the 0.74…)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      ~Stick~

      Like

  11. Steve M says:

    The best Flex Air Pillows were the now discontinued Dual Chamber model. I have about 4 new ones left. They hold your head right in the “sweet spot”!
    Stick, is that a cuben kneeling pad outside the tent? I use a small piece of tyvek that just does not work. knee forces water right through it.
    Great info, thanks for sharing all this!
    Steve

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Steve,

      I knew that there had to be others out there…thanks for confirming… 🙂

      That is actually a CloudKilt that I got from ZPacks a long while back. That was probably one of my first cuben purchases… Strange thing is I have still yet to actually use it as a rain kilt…the rain that I have been in was either to little for me to worry about putting anything on or I manage to luckily just miss the rain… But I have used the far out of it as a small ground sheet. I keep it close so that I can grab it and spread it out to use it as a spot to take a snack/lunch break, or more recently been using it as a front porch for my Hexamid. It also work well on the ends of tents or to cover items with…

      Hope this helps.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  12. Joanna Reichert Photography says:

    Is that the Solo or Solo Plus shelter? Had considered going with the Hexamid 2 but ended up with a double-wall Marmot b/c we had such condensation issues with our Tarptent . . . .

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Joanna,

      It is the Solo Plus. And can I recommend that if you get it ask Joe about taping it for you. I hate seam sealing. Joe will tape some stuff on request, not sure if he will do a tent, or how much it will cost, but I wish I had asked him about it. I feel like it would have worked better than me seam sealing it, and it would possibly be lighter…

      Anyway, I like the roominess of the Solo Plus, granted I have not been in the regular Solo, but I am very happy with the room in this one. Also, this tent has some sweet ventilation and so far of the 4 nights I spent in it (1 including rain) I have not had any moisture in the inner wall. It is quite breezy inside the tent, almost like sleeping under a tarp.

      I will do a video review on it sometime soon…

      Thanks for stopping by and watching.

      ~Stick~

      Like

  13. John Church says:

    nice review
    Now, what about the Hexamid—waiting on your review before I pull the trigger!
    Thanks
    John Church
    AKA Old Geezer

    Like

    • Stick says:

      John,

      I will try to get another video on the hexamid up sometime in the next couple of weeks. I just got off of work and rushed home to put it up in the yard. We are supposed to have thunderstorms this weekend so if the weather goes as planned I will get to see how it does in some bad weather!

      Otherwise, I am really happy with it so far. You know how some things just kinda work for you…well, this is how I feel so far about the hexamid…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  14. Gizmo Joe says:

    The pillow looks cool………….I was actually really excited when I got your blog email today saying that you reviewed the pillow, I have been looking forward to it since you mention that you were taking it on your last A.T. hike haha……..right now I am using a travel pillow from wal-mart cut down (its about 2.25 oz) ……….it works alright……….I don’t know I might have to give this a shot some time…….hummmmmm I do have a nice 50ish mile section of the A.T. coming up in March…..and as always nice post!

    Gizmo

    Like

  15. Michael says:

    I’m wondering if you can’t just use a similar technique with a large ziplock bag + straw. The flex air would require less fiddle factor, but I think a ziplock may be a decent knock off of this pillow. Ziplocks are multi-use, too. You may want to give “water wings” a try, too. Those are the inflatable floaties that kids use in the swimming pool. They’re about a buck for 2. Personally, I’m not a big fan of inflatable bladders for pillows. I can’t seem to get comfortable on them. But I appreciate the video and review. I’ve read about these but your review is the first time I’ve been able to see these in action. Thanks, Stick!

    SoCal Mike

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Mike,

      I imagine a large Ziploc would work. I would wonder if the seal would stay sealed all night though. I know they are tough though. Good point on the multiuse too.

      I did give those little floaty pool toys a thought when I was buying some for my daughter last spring, but I never did actually try one.

      Thanks for checking it out and commenting!

      ~Stick~

      Like

    • John Abela says:

      I have a ziplock in my setup that I use for a stuff sack, a pillow and for washing cloths (I carry a small dropper of chlorine) and it works very well. Never had it open up on me at night. I just stuff cloths in there and it keeps them dry should it rain while I am hiking (and way cheaper than any CF water bag), plus it acts as a decent pillow (granted, much smaller than this flexair) plus every few days I can use it when I hit a creek and my socks/briefs/shirt need cleaning. Went a few hundred miles in 2011 with a single ziplock before it blew a seam. At 10 grams (0.35 oz) its one of those super awesome multi-task items!

      Like

    • Stick says:

      John,

      Thanks for chiming in about the Ziploc as a pillow.

      I bring a gallon size that I use for garbage, but I tell myself that if needed I would use it with some of my Dr Bronners to wash my clothing on the trail. So far though, at 5 days most I am usually good though considering I bring spare…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  16. Brian Green says:

    I took one of these with me to Mount Whitney and it totally failed despite working fine on some previous overnighters. IMHO it’s a piece of crap because you can’t rely on it. I’m still looking for a suitable replacements but know for sure that it won’t be another one of these.

    Good to hear you are having beter luck with it than I did. Mine barely stayed inflated for more than an hour 😦

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Brian,

      Thanks for sharing. That would suck. This is how I figure they would go out, but hopefully not after just a few nights of use. Any possible idea of what happened?

      I guess this is the risk that we take when using air pillows. I am trying to figure out how I could get it too work at least somewhat if it were to fail while in the field. I am thinking maybe cutting a corner and just trying to fill it with duff. At least to get me through the hike.

      Anyway, what are you using for the time being?

      ~Stick~

      Like

  17. Enjoyed the article and the video!

    Like

  18. Gerry Brucia says:

    I have had one of these flex-air pillows for two years now and it served me well….until this past weekend. Apparently somehow it got a leak and would not hold the air. Within an hour of inflating it, it was flat again. Because they are so inexpensive, I threw it out when I got home rather than find the leak. I like them a lot but they are not as durable as I’d like. I guess that is the sacrifice that I am willing to make for such a light and comfortable pillow.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Gerry,

      Wow, 2 years out of the same pillow? At this price point I would say you definitely got your money’s worth! 🙂 Thanks for chiming in though. It’s great to hear that they will last so long. And I feel the same way, if (when) mine begins to leak I will probably not look for the problem but rather trade it in when I get home for another one.

      As far as durability, I feel like as long as I treat it right it will be ok. I don’t expect it too last forever though. However I am careful to take care of all of my gear, despite how durable it actually is.

      I will probably add about 2 or 3 more packs of these to my cart next time I order from AGG just to have plenty. And like I mentioned, these are great loaner pillows…

      ~Stick~

      Like

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