Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Friday, November 29, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: Big Sky International Dream Sleeper UltraLight Inflatable Pillow

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Why would an ultralight backpacker carry a pillow?  Answer: when we sleep on an inflatable ¾-length 2.5 inch high sleeping pad that creates a drop-off at both ends, and we don’t have any extra clothing to use as a pillow. I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite Short pad that weighs just 7.6 ounces, but the drop-off issue made it uncomfortable to sleep on until I considered a pillow. Now I put my empty backpack under my feet to elevate them off the cold ground, and use a pillow under my head. The extra weight is less than 2 ounces, not bad.

An ultralight backpacking pillow, like the Big Sky Dream Sleeper, eliminates the drop-off at the end of an inflatable air mattress and weighs less than 2 ounces.

I know this sounds decadent, but I have been loosening up a bit to include a few comforts in my UL backpacking kit like an inflatable sleeping pad and pillow. I’m not alone J. Gear is getting better and lighter, and my base weight is still under 6.5 pounds, and that’s for summer backpacking and camping at high elevations in the southern Rockies.

Big Sky International Dream Sleeper UltraLight Inflatable Pillow
Inflated Dimensions
17 inches wide x 11 inches high x 5 inches thick (4 inches in center head pocket)
Pillow alone 1.85* oz, pillow with soft cover 4.05 oz
Pillow alone $24.95, pillow with soft cover $34.95

*Note: This review is based on the original Dream Sleeper pillow that weighs 1.85 ounces; the latest version weighs just 1.45 ounces.

The Big Sky Dream Sleeper Inflatable Pillow is made of durable urethane plastic. The
inflated pillow measures 17 inches x 11 inches x 5 inches thick and weighs 1.85 ounces for the bare pillow. The center has a self-centering head pocket that is 4 inches thick (giving a 1-inch deep head pocket. An optional soft “pillow case” adds 2.2 ounces, for a total weight of 4.05 ounces if you use the cover.

The Big Sky Dream Sleeper UL Inflatable Pillow in profile (top) and flat (bottom). The pillow has a self-centering head pocket and has generous dimensions for its minimal weight.

In Use
The pillow inflates like an air mattress, requiring 5-6 blows to completely inflate it. We tested the pillow on several summer backpacking trips and loved it. Deflated, it fits in the palm of your hand; inflated, it is a very generous sized pillow. To save weight we prefer to carry and use the bare pillow, and rarely have skin contact with the plastic because we wear a warm hat at night. But even when sleeping with skin contact on the pillow, it doesn’t fill clammy or uncomfortable, at least for us.

Getting your head at the correct angle is important for comfortable sleeping. We accomplish that by either placing miscellaneous gear under the pillow, or inflating/deflating the pillow or air mattress slightly to achieve the optimum height and softness.

The optional “pillow case” soft cover makes the pillow feel really plush. It’s actually pretty complex: it has a soft outside fabric bonded to a synthetic insulation, each end has a zipper to facilitate inserting the inflatable pillow, and there is a hole in one corner for the inflation valve. It even has a built-in silnylon stuff sack on the inside. We use the plush version for car camping where we want to minimize volume and weight in our car. Likewise, we would also take the cover when canoe camping

In a recent review of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite Short inflatable sleeping pad for Backpackinglight.com, I complained of the drop-off issue at both ends of the pad, and suggested that the pad could be made thinner to reduce that issue. However, since we have been using the Big Sky Dream Sleeper UL Inflatable Pillow the problem has literally gone away. It completely overcomes the drop-off issue when using a short inflatable sleeping pad, and frees up our empty backpack to put under our feet to insulate them from the cold ground. The combination turns a ¾-length 2.5-inch thick inflatable sleeping pad into a very comfortable sleeping system.

The current version of the Big Sky pillow has been lightened, making it the lightest one on the market (see footnote below), and it has ample dimensions to contribute to a good night’s sleep in the backcountry. The following table compares it with other pillows currently available, or soon to be available in spring 2014.

Weight (oz)
Big Sky Dream Sleeper
Montbell UL Pillow
Klymit Pillow-X
Sea To Summit Aeros
Exped Air Pillow UL (medium)

*We tested the original Dream Sleeper pillow for this review; the weight of the newest version (December 2013) has been reduced to 1.45 ounces, which makes it the lightest backpacking pillow currently available.

Considering its new lighter weight, the Big Sky Dream Sleeper provides the best balance of light weight, larger pillow size, and cost. The Exped pillow is also very light and ample sized, but it’s very expensive.

Overall, the Big Sky pillow is a great find and has become a core component of my UL backpacking gear kit.


  1. Thanks Will for that round up. I think in the comprison table though that you mean the Exped Air Pillow UL at 1.5oz as the standard Exped Air Pillow is 3oz.

    1. Hi Philip. You're right; I changed it in the table.

  2. And an inflatable pool floatie is about 1 oz.

  3. They normally don't give the weight of those thingies, so I can't verify. The shape and thickness are less likely to be what we are looking for.