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Best Travel Pillows – 2019 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Our Research

43
Travel Pillows Considered
65
Hours of Research
5
Sleep Experts Consulted

Quick Overview

Anyone who has attempted to sleep in a car, on a plane, or while using other modes of transportation can attest to the aches, pains, and pressure points that tend to develop from sleeping in an upright position. For this reason, travel pillows are an indispensable sleep accessory for many road trippers and frequent fliers.

Best Travel Pillows

Travel pillows are much smaller than standard pillows. This allows them to be easily scrunched and stuffed between the sleeper’s body and their headrest. They are also very lightweight, making them easy to store and lug between destinations; many are made from plush fabrics or lightweight foams, while others are filled with air that can be deflated for better portability.

In addition to standard rectangular or square-shaped travel pillows, today’s come in U-shaped varieties, as well as more innovative designs. This guide will explore the different types of travel pillows, as well as our picks for the best travel pillows sold today. Our choices are based on verified customer and owner experiences, as well as intensive product research and analysis.

Our Top 5 Picks

Best Travel Pillows – Reviewed

Editor's Pick – J-Pillow Travel Pillow

Editor's Pick – J-Pillow Travel Pillow

Highlights

  • Unique shape provides head, chin, neck support
  • Easily compressible
  • Soft and cozy material
  • Snap-loop fastener for luggage
  • Machine washable
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J-Pillow Travel Pillow are available to Tuck readers at the lowest price
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Editor’s Pick Overview

Original is the best word to describe the J-Pillow Travel Pillow. This pillow was designed by a former flight attendant who knows what it’s like to sleep poorly during travel. Unlike most competing models pillow, this novel design is created to give your head, neck, and chin support while you snooze.

The unique shape will fill the gap between your head and shoulders to give you the best neck support with a travel pillow. The shape also allows you to conform and twist the pillow in different positions as needed, customizing it to fit your head and neck perfectly. The J-Pillow is great for plane travel, but it also works for buses, cars, camping, and even reading at home.

If you’re worried about the size for portability, they have a solution for that, too. Simply enclose the pillow ito its carry bag, decreasing it to about half the size. You can then use the snap-loop fastener to attach it to your luggage, and not worry about carrying it around until you need it. It’s also easy to take care of. The J-Pillow is machine washable and durable, so you won’t have to worry about it getting dirty as you take it along on your travels.

Good for:
  • Head and neck support
  • People who move their head when they sleep
  • Comfort seekers

Best Value (Inflatable) – AirComfyTravel Pillow

Best Value (Inflatable) – AirComfyTravel Pillow

Highlights

  • Inflatable
  • No cover
  • Hourglass-shape
  • Built-in band for headrest security
  • Versatile design
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Best Value (Inflatable) Overview

The AirComfy Travel Pillow is an inflatable pillow with an hourglass shape that makes it suitable for not only air and auto travel, but also as a support pillow for the back, knees, and other areas while sleeping in a bed or sitting in an office chair.

The AirComfy also provides great stability for travelers thanks to an elastic band in the back, which can be wrapped around headrests; this prevents the pillow from jostling excessively, making it beneficial for travelers who are restless sleepers.

With an average selling price of less than $20, the AirComfy is another high-value inflatable travel pillow. It can also be deflated and compressed into a travel-ready carrying case. And due to its compact size, inflation does not require much manual breathing; different air capacities also adjust the firmness to accommodate adults and children with different pillow feel preferences. The AirComfy does not come with a cover; it may be spot cleaned only.

Good for:
  • Office workers and support pillow users
  • Those who don’t mind manually inflating pillows
  • Restless sleepers who move their heads

Best Value (Non-Inflatable) – TravelRest Curl Memory Foam Pillow

Best Value (Non-Inflatable) – TravelRest Curl Memory Foam Pillow

Highlights

  • Non-inflatable
  • Memory foam interior; microfiber cover
  • U-shape
  • 2-year warranty
  • Adjustable drawstring provides customized fit
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Best Value (Non-Inflatable) Overview

The TravelRest Curl Memory Foam Pillow is a highly supportive U-shaped pillow padded with a soft, single-piece memory foam interior. This material conforms closely to the sleeper’s neck and shoulders for a personalized fit, but the shape recovers nicely and indentations are unlikely to develop quickly.

The memory foam also alleviates pain and pressure points in the neck, shoulders, and other sensitive areas that may become aggravated during travel. An adjustable drawstring at the front of the pillow allows users to cinch or loosen it for personal customization and better stability.

The TravelRest Curl comes with a removable, machine-washable microfiber cover; the memory foam never needs to be cleaned. The pillow is backed by a two-year warranty; most competing travel pillows do not come with any sort of warranty coverage.

Good for:
  • Back, neck, and shoulder pain sufferers
  • Those who prefer a personalized fit
  • Sleepers who do not like inflatable travel pillows

Best for Neck Pain – Cabeau Evolution Pillow

Best for Neck Pain – Cabeau Evolution Pillow

Highlights

  • Non-inflatable
  • Memory foam interior; velour cover
  • U-shape
  • 360-degree neck support
  • Comfortable, ergonomic design
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Best for Neck Pain Overview

Most travel pillows offer a limited amount of neck support. The Cabeau Evolution Pillow is a standout because its thick frame and raised back are designed to support travelers whether they sleep upright with their heads tilted back, forward, or to the left or right sides.

The memory foam interior conforms closely, regardless of the sleeper’s position, to alleviate various aches and pains in the head, neck, and shoulders, while the soft, removable velour cover provides elevated comfort. The Cabeau Evolution Pillow features an adjustable drawstring at the front for added customization and stability.

The pillow is also highly compactable, and can be compressed to roughly 25% of its full size. A carrying case is included with every purchase. All Cabeau Evolution Buyers receive a full money-back guarantee if they are not satisfied.

Good for:
  • All upright sleepers, regardless of how they tilt their head
  • Neck and shoulder pain sufferers
  • Sleepers who do not like inflatable travel pillows

Most Innovative Design – Trtl Pillow

Most Innovative Design – Trtl Pillow

Highlights

  • Non-inflatable
  • Fleece with built-in neck brace
  • Wrap-style
  • Exceptional cushioning and comfort
  • Optimal design for head tilters
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Most Innovative Design Overview

Our choice for the most innovative travel pillow is the Trtl Pillow, which is made from ultrasoft fleece and equipped with a flexible, built-in neck brace. The pillow is designed to be wrapped around the sleeper’s neck much like a scarf. The ribbed brace can be repositioned in any direction, but is firm enough to provide adequate support – particularly for travelers who tilt their heads to the left or right when they sleep upright.

Portability is another reason why the Trtl is a great alternative to traditional travel pillows. Due to its and extremely light frame (148 grams in all), the Trtl can be easily stowed or attached to the handle of a suitcase or backpack. This pillow is also completely machine washable and does not require spot or dry cleaning.

Good for:
  • Sleepers who tilt their necks to the side
  • Travelers with limited luggage space
  • Those who do not feel comfortable on traditional travel pillows

Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Travel Pillow

Many people rely on travel pillows for support and comfort when sleeping in cars or on planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation. Travel pillows are also popular among campers and backpackers. These pillows are usually compact enough to fit into a standard suitcase or overnight bag.

Most travel pillows are U-shaped models to fit snugly over the sleeper’s shoulders and provide optimal support to the head, neck, and spine, but some models take on different shapes. Today’s travelers can choose from a wide range of inflatable and non-inflating pillow designs. Most are priced between $10 and $40, and are widely available through brick-and-mortar and online sellers and retailers.

This guide will explore the pros and cons of using a travel pillow, some key considerations for shoppers, and our picks for the best inflating and non-inflating models that are currently available for sale. First, let’s look at why you should (or shouldn’t) use a travel pillow when you’re on the road.

Who Should Use a Travel Pillow?

Sleeping and transportation often don’t mix. Seats on airplanes and other modes of transport often feature seats that do not recline much (if at all), minimal legroom, and little to no cushioning for the head and neck. The problem is compounded by travel duration; most people can make do during a two- or three-hour flight, but overseas flights typically span at least eight hours. Combine these discomforts with the realities of jet lag and most travelers disembark feeling strained and achy.

Many airlines and train lines offer pillows to accommodate passengers, but in most cases these pillows are quite thin. This can be problematic because pillow support and comfort is directly tied to loft, or thickness. Sleeper’s should take their head size and shoulder width. Most airline pillows are ‘low-loft,’ meaning they measure three inches thick or less. As the table below shows, low-loft pillows are primarily suitable for people with small heads and narrow shoulders; people with larger dimensions tend to be much less comfortable.

Pillow Loft Category Thickness Range Optimal Head Size Optimal Shoulder Width
Low Less than 3" Small Narrow
Medium 3" to 5" Average Average
High More than 5" Large Broad

Travel pillows, on the other hand, are usually medium- or high-loft, meaning they measure at least three inches thick. In addition to providing more loft, travel pillows also help passengers adjust to the unnatural sleep position of sitting in a chair that reclines very little, if at all.

When most people sleep in a reclining position (as opposed to sleeping on a horizontal surface), their neck will naturally crane forward as soon as they fall asleep. This often results in them waking up with a neck ache. Sleeping with a travel pillow allows them to lean their head and neck back further, reducing the risk of falling forward when asleep.

The sleep position issue may not be as crucial for campers, who normally sleep in their tents in a horizontal position. However, campers still require certain levels of loft in order to feel comfortable and supported — particularly if they sleep on a pad or sleeping bag that is thinner than their bed at home. For this reason, high-loft pillows are usually most suitable for backpackers, campers, and other recreators who sleep in tents.

Common Travel Pillow Shapes

U-shape

U-Shapes are the most common shape you’ll find in travel pillows. Many people love this kind of pillow for its simple support. The inflatable U-shape pillows also make for easy deflation and storage while you’re not on the plane. However, other users have complained that this shape doesn’t provide enough neck support, and that some innovation is in order.

J-shape

The J-shape, which is largely new on the market, attempts to answer for the U-shape’s shortcomings. This type of pillow allows for more versatility and chin support, keeping the head propped up higher than some U-shape pillows. Unfortunately, the shape of this makes it less portable than some of its peers.

Hourglass

The hourglass-shaped travel pillow’s biggest strength is its versatility. While many shapes are made for the head and neck only, this one is like the Swiss Army knife of pillows. Use an hourglass shaped pillow for your head and neck, but also for the back, knees, or even while sleeping in a bed. If you’re looking purely for neck support, however, another shape may be ideal for you.

Wrap Style

A wrap-style travel pillow will wrap around your neck much like a scarf. This design is great for a traveler whose head tilts while they sleep. It’s also ideal for portability: unlike its other clunky counterparts, this is one of the easiest shapes to pack up and stow in a snap. If you’ve liked traditional travel pillows in the past, however, you may not have a need for this one.

Rectangular

Rectangular travel pillows are the closest thing to a pillow you’d use on your bed at night. The biggest difference: they’re more compact and meant for travel spaces. The rectangular pillow may work for you if your neck easily holds itself up while sleeping. These are rarely popular travel pillow options precisely because most people aren’t so fortunate. Overall, it’s usually better to find a travel pillow that will better support your neck.

Inflatable Versus Non-Inflatable Travel Pillows

Many frequent travelers have serious opinions about which option of travel pillow is better: inflatable or non-inflatable. The type that’s best for you depends on a variety of factors you care about. That includes:

  • Overall Comfort: Non-inflatable pillows are made from a wide variety of inner materials, from memory foam to plush latex. For the most part, these materials are inherently more comfortable than air. However, the tradeoff for plush materials is usually portability.
  • Portability: Inflatable travel pillows win hands-down on portability. Deflating them makes it easy to pack up and slip into a carry-on bag or luggage. That said, certain non-inflatable pillow designs, such as the wrap style, make for easier packing than non-inflatable U-shape and J-shape pillows.
  • Loft Customization: Higher loft travel pillows allow you to keep your neck upright. Having an inflatable pillow is advantageous if you’d like to play with a higher or lower loft.

The table below compares inflating and non-inflating travel pillows in terms of design, composition, price, and other factors.

Travel Pillow Type Inflatable Pillow Non-Inflatable Pillow
Materials
  • Shell: Polyurethane
  • Cover: Velvet or velour
  • Shell: Memory foam
  • Cover: Velvet or velour
  • Single-piece: Polyester or fleece
  • Construction Inflatable shell with removable, washable cover Foam shell with removable, washable cover OR single-piece, machine-washable design
    Average Loft Range 3" 3" to 5"
    Adjustable Loft? Yes No
    Average Price Range $10 to $20 $10 to $40
    Pros
  • Lower price-point
  • Adjustable thickness
  • More compact
  • Stable shape for more continuous support
  • Wider loft range
  • Cons
  • Air loss potential
  • Will not inflate if shell is cut or torn
  • Potentially higher price-point
  • Bulky and difficult to pack in crowded bags
  • Inflatable Travel Pillows

    The majority of travel pillows sold today are U-shaped models designed to rest on the shoulders with both ends facing forward. For added neck support, some of these U-shaped pillows have raised backs with a gentle curve; this ergonomic-minded design can help prevent neck pain and pressure.

    Some U-shaped pillows are long enough to be completely wrapped around the neck. This provides 360-degree support, allowing sleepers to crane their neck at the most comfortable angle.

    In addition to U-shaped designs, some travel pillows mimic the rectangular shape of bedroom pillows. Other designs include thinner, fabric wraps with a foldable built-in neck brace for a flat resting surface; and long, slender models that can be embraced like body pillows.

    Regardless of shape, travel pillows can generally be divided into two categories: inflatable and non-inflatable. First, let’s look at inflatable models. Common characteristics of inflatable designs include the following:

    Travel pillows can generally be divided into two categories: inflatable and non-inflatable. First, let’s look at inflatable models. Common characteristics of inflatable designs include the following:

    Inflation Method

    Some inflatable travel pillows fill up the old-fashioned with: with human oxygen. They feature a tightly sealed air valve that allows users to blow into the pillow until they reach their desired loft. Some newer models feature inflation systems that do not require human oxygen. Instead, the user opens a valve and presses down on a button until the pillow is properly inflated. In either case, the loft is adjustable. However, it’s important to never overinflate a travel pillow; this can cause the pillow to burst at its seams, or otherwise damage its structural integrity.

    One notable downside of inflatable pillows is that they will probably deflate to some extent after a few hours of use — especially at high altitudes. Sleepers may be most comfortable by slightly over-inflating before use in order to compensate for the lost air.

    Material Composition

    Most inflatable pillows feature a shell made from polyurethane-based material, such as polyvinyl, which can be slick and cold to the touch. To provide more resistance and a warmer feel, inflatable pillows often have a cover made of materials like velvet or velour.

    These covers also create a more hygienic barrier between the sleeper’s face and the pillow shell, since they are removable and can be machine washed; polyurethane shells should never be laundered.

    Compactness

    While all travel pillows are fairly compact by definition, deflated travel pillows take up much less space than non-inflatable models (which cannot be reduced in size). This makes inflatable pillows more suitable for lengthier trips, since they take up less luggage space, as well as backpacking trips. Most inflatable pillows weigh 10 ounces or less.

    Price-point

    The average price-point for inflatable travel pillows is lower than that of non-inflating models. Expect to pay between $10 and $20 for a new inflatable pillow.

    Non-Inflatable Travel Pillows

    Next we’ll discuss non-inflating pillows. Common features of these models include the following:

    No Adjustment

    Unlike inflating travel pillows, non-inflating models cannot be adjusted in terms of loft due to their solid construction. If possible, sleepers should test out these pillows before purchasing to determine if they meet loft preferences and needs.

    Material Composition

    Most non-inflating travel pillows sold today are made from memory foam, also known as viscoelastic polyfoam. This material is designed to become softer when it comes into contact with body heat, and then recover its shape once it begins to cool down. Travel pillows are typically made from firmer memory foam that will provide continuous support to the head, neck, and spine; softer foam tends to sink, which can lead to neck pain.

    Like inflating pillows, non-inflating pillows made from memory foam often come with removable, washable covers. Non-inflating designs made from other materials (such as polyester or fleece) may not feature a cover, but these materials are usually machine washable. These pillows are usually filled with beads or polyester puffballs, which tend to be less comfortable — and if the pillow develops a tear, these fill materials may escape and compromise the pillow’s overall loft.

    Thickness

    Since they are not adjustable, non-inflating pillows tend to have more loft than inflatable ones. The downside to this is that they tend to be bulkier are harder to fit into luggage than inflating models that can be deflated and reduced in size. The material of non-inflating pillows may be scrunched or molded to make more room, but these pillows may not be suitable for travelers who have limited space, such as backpackers and those taking extended trips. On the other hand, non-inflating pillows may be ideal for short trips or car camping.

    Price-point

    Non-inflating pillows tend to be the more expensive option — though most are still generally affordable. Shoppers should expect to pay between $10 and $40 for a new non-inflating travel pillow.

    The table below compares inflating and non-inflating travel pillows in terms of design, composition, price, and other factors.

    Important Considerations for Travel Pillow Shoppers

    If you are in the market for a new travel pillow, here are a few factors to keep in mind when comparing different brands and models:

    • How much does the pillow cost? The vast majority of travel pillows are available for sale at $40 or less, but inflatable pillows tend to cost less than non-inflating ones.
    • What is the loft of the pillow? Inflating pillows can be adjusted to achieve proper loft for each sleeper, but even when inflated to capacity these pillows tend to be medium-loft. Non-inflating pillows cannot be adjusted, but they may be medium- or high-loft.
    • How does the pillow inflate? Inflatable pillows may be inflated manually with human oxygen, or fill with air using built-in valves and buttons. Choosing between the two often comes down to personal preference — although placing one’s mouth on the air intake valve is considered somewhat unhygienic, particularly if more than one person uses the pillow.
    • Does the non-inflating pillow consist of one or two pieces? Some non-inflating designs feature a memory foam shell and a washable cover, while others are one-piece designs made of washable material with bead or puffball fill. The majority of travelers seem to prefer the feel of memory foam compared to one-piece designs made of materials like polyester or fleece.
    • Is the pillow or cover machine washable? The vast majority of travel pillows either have a removable, washable cover or are themselves machine washable. This is important for hygiene, as oils and bacteria can accumulate on the pillow’s sleeping surface.
    • How much space does the pillow take up? Non-inflating pillows are fairly compact when they are deflated — but owners should make sure they will not come into contact with sharp objects inside their luggage. Non-inflating pillows can be bulkier and harder to fit into bags.
    • What position do you prefer to sleep in? Those who sleep on their back usually find that U-shaped pillows offer the most comfort and support. However, side-sleepers who are not accustomed to leaning their heads back may find that differently shaped pillows are more comfortable and supportive.
    • Does the pillow include a warranty? In rare cases, travel pillows come with product warranties that may last as long as two years, but most do not come with any sort of warranty. Some pillows that do not include a warranty may provide a money-back guarantee with proof of receipt instead.

    Tips for Sleeping Well While Traveling

    Getting great sleep during travel time can make a world of difference once you reach your destination. Of course, each type of travel comes with its own challenges. Airplanes are short on humidity, while buses and trains may have lots of disruptive stops. No matter the transportation method, these general tips for will help you sleep better while traveling.

    • Come comfortable: Long gone are the days where you have to dress up for travel. Wear loose clothing that allows for healthy blood flow. Bringing along layers like a sweater or hat will help you stay warm if temperatures fluctuate.
    • Drown out light: Buses, airplanes, and trains are full of light disruptions that may not match with your sleep cycle. Bring a quality sleeping mask that will ward off disturbing lights and allow you to sleep through the duration of the trip.
    • Block noise: Airplane cabins can reach up to 105 decibels in the cabin, and long-term exposure to those noises aren’t great for your ears. You can prevent this problem by wearing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs.
    • Stay hydrated: While it’s important for all travelers to stay hydrated, this is especially true for air travelers. Low humidity in a cabin predisposes you to dehydration. Drink water and limit alcoholic drinks to a minimum. Most airports make you dump out water at security, but you can work around this by bringing an empty water bottle and filling it up at the water fountain before you board.
    • Pack healthy snacks: Avoiding high-sodium snacks will keep you hydrated. Instead, opt for foods that will help you sleep better. Snacks such as milk, cheese, nuts, cherries, and bananas are portable and ideal for the job. That’s because they have active ingredients like tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium that signal to your body it’s time to doze off.
    • Position your body well: Try to keep your spine aligned as well as possible while you sleep and let your muscles relax. Make sure not to cross your legs for long periods of time as it may restrict blood flow and result in a “sleepy”, tingly sensation.

    More Sleep Accessories for Travelers

    In addition to a supportive pillow, the following accessories may come in handy for sleep-deprived travelers.

    Headphones

    Headphones are a noise-blocking sleeping staple for many travelers. Additionally, listening to music using headphones at a reasonable volume can help lower one’s heart rate and alleviate stress prior to falling asleep. Headphone styles that are currently sold include on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear (also known as earbud) designs. Standard models are available through most retailers for $30 or less, but shoppers may prefer to spend a little extra for sophisticated headphones that block outside noise more effectively; these models may cost up to $250.

    For more information, please visit our Best Headphones for Sleeping guide.

    Earplugs

    Rather than listening to music, some sleepers prefer to block noise using a pair of earplugs. The majority of earplugs used today are made from compactible, flexible materials like foam, silicone, or wax. These materials offer a snug fit that conforms closely to the unique contours of their ear canal. Shoppers should take note of the Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, when comparing earplug models; this may range from 20 to 34, and higher ratings are associated with more effective noise-blocking. However, it’s important to note that using earplugs has been linked to certain health problems, including earwax impaction, ear infections, and hearing loss.

    To learn more, check out our Best Earplugs for Sleeping guide.

    Sleep Masks

    Sleep masks are essentially blindfolds that help people sleep in environments where they can’t control light (such as airplanes or other forms of public transportation). By simulating darkness, sleep masks can help facilitate the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that controls one’s natural sleep cycle. Sleep masks are usually made from fabrics such as cotton, silk, and/or polyester, and some also contain foam for extra cushioning. Most sleep masks are available for $20 or less.

    Visit our Best Sleep Mask Reviews for more information.

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