How to Attach an Air Pillow to a Backpacking Air Mattress

Five years ago, at the age of 60 something and admitting I was getting older, I started using an air mattress on almost all of my backpacking trips. Prior to this I usually used a simple foam pad. I had, over the years, tried a few thin air mattresses but they were too bulky and heavy and always got relegated to the car camping gear inventory. With a foam pad or these older air mattresses a pillow wasn’t necessary. Spare clothing always sufficed. But in 2010, I purchased a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir mattress, which is 2.5” thick when inflated. Being a side sleeper this mattress, unlike the thin mats of the past, required a pillow placed on top of the air mat. So I bought an inexpensive inflatable pillow. Keeping it on the mat during the night wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t irritating enough to investigate a solution, until this trip…

I opted not to sleep in a shelter. After a night of consistent 40 mph winds and even stronger gusts, I awoke around 6:00 am, sans pillow. Fortunately, my friend Chad found the pillow had been captured by a greasewood bush. Not that the pillow would have been a great lose, but littering the desert with a lost pillow wasn’t appealing. I needed a solution.

Simple Solution

Instead of fooling around with the existing pillow, it was time to start from scratch: find a new pillow that would be easy to attach to the Neo Air. After a bit of Internet window shopping, there were no “off the shelf” solutions, and ended up purchasing an Exped brand pillow that looked to be very comfortable, light, and had a tab on each side that would make it simple to attach to my air mattress.

bottom of pillow

I ran a piece of 3mm cord through the tabs with a toggle at each end of the cord. The toggles would make it easy to adjust the tension, even during the night.

cord goes under the air mattress

I have used this system for the past 5 years on my original NeoAir and also on my cold weather NeoAir Therm. The pillow stays secure on the mat and the 3mm cord hasn’t damaged the mat. Simple. Effective.

neither the pillow or mattress are inflated in this picture, which is why the cord looks so long


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