Millions of Americans live with sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by temporary loss of breath during sleep. Most people with sleep apnea also experience chronic snoring. There are two general types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by physical obstructions that hinder air circulation in the breathing passages; and central sleep apnea (CSA), which occurs when the brain is unable to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. There is no cure for sleep apnea, but positive air pressure, or PAP, therapy often alleviates the symptoms of this disorder. People with OSA may find relief from continuous positive air pressure machines, or CPAP machines, which delivers pressurized air at a prescribed rate throughout the night, while those with CSA usually get the most relief from bi-level positive air pressure machines, or BiPAP machines, which can deliver air at variable pressure rates.
CPAP machines are an essential sleep accessory for many people with obstructive sleep apnea, but some models designed for use in bedrooms are relatively large and heavy, and require an electrical outlet. For this reason, travel CPAP machines may be a useful investment for people with OSA. These models are compact, lightweight, and — in many cases — are self-powering. This guide will look at some common designs and features of travel CPAP machines, some buying tips, our picks for the top travel CPAP models, and suggestions for other sleep accessories that make travel more bearable for people with sleep problems.
How CPAP Machines Work
All CPAP machines operate in the same manner, and include the following components:
- Airflow generator: This is the main component of the CPAP machine, and is housed in a unit that is usually rectangular in shape. A motorized fan pulls in outside air, where the generator pressurizes it and delivers it to the user at his or her prescribed rate.
- Humidifier: The humidifier may either be built-in or detachable, but some CPAP machines don’t use one at all. It humidifies the air before it is delivered to the user for purer, cleaner inhalations. Some humidifiers feature water tanks that should be refilled every time the CPAP machine is used, while others — including some travel-friendly models — have waterless humidifiers that are more convenient for on-the-go use.
- Filter: All CPAP machines have at least one filter that is usually located at the back of the central unit. Most are made of foam and washable, while others are disposable and not designed for cleaning. CPAP filters should be washed weekly or replaced whenever they become discolored. Most CPAP users do not need to replace their disposable filter more than once per month.
- Connective hose: The connective hose links the generator unit to the user’s face mask. The hose usually measures five to six inches in length. In most cases, the connective house may be used with any generator unit or mask — though there are some brand-specific exceptions.
- Face mask: The face mask delivers pressurized air to the CPAP user. The mask may cover the user’s entire face, their nose and mouth, or, in some cases, just the nose. Most CPAP face masks are compatible with all CPAP machines — but unlike the other machine components, the CPAP masks are always sold separately.
It’s important to note that CPAP machines and CPAP masks both require a doctor’s prescription, and are never legally available over the counter. When comparing CPAP machine brands and models, here are a few specifications to take into account:
- Operating pressure range: The pressure of air delivered through CPAP machines is measured in centimeters of water, or cmH20. Most apnea patients require airflow with a pressure range of 6 to 14 cmH20, and CPAP machines are designed to deliver anywhere from 4 to 20 cmH20 of air pressure. Some models may offer a wider range, as well.
- Easy breathing: In order to ease the breathing process, some CPAP machines are designed to slightly reduce the air pressure whenever the user is exhaling. This somewhat mimics the natural breathing process.
- Power source: CPAP machines may be powered with AC and DC voltage. To accommodate voltage differences, most models can operate on 110 to 240 AC voltage. Batteries typically deliver 12 DC volt currents. Unlike standard machines, some travel CPAP machines come with integrated batteries that allow owners to use the machine when an outlet is unavailable.
- Ramp time: Ramp time refers to how long a CPAP machine requires to reach a prescribed rate after the machine has been switched on. The ramp time for most CPAP machines sold today falls between 30 and 60 minutes.
- Volume: CPAP machines can be somewhat noisy. The volume is measured in decibels (dbA), and most models measure 25 to 30 dbA.
- Operating altitude: Due to changes in air pressure that occur at certain elevations, most CPAP machines have a maximum operating altitude of 7,500 to 8,500 feet.
- Operating and storage/transport temperatures: CPAP machines can usually be operated in temperatures between 41 to 95°F (5 to 35°C). For storage and transport, the general range is -4 to 140°F (-20 to 60°C) — but this range tends to vary by model.
- Automatic adjustment: Some CPAP models are equipped with a function known as automatic positive air pressure, or APAP. This automatically adjusts the pressure rate for users based on their breathing patterns (as opposed to BiPAP, which must be adjusted for variable pressure rates), and also adjusts to elevation changes.
- Data: CPAP machines may be able to transmit data using a built-in Bluetooth connection that wirelessly connects to phones and tablets. Capabilities vary by model, but this data may include:
- The AHI, or ‘Apnea-Hypopnea Index,’ which measures the number of apnea episodes per hour of sleep. Mild sleep apnea typically results in 15 episodes or less per hour, while severe apnea is characterized by 30 or more episodes per hour.
- Detected leaks or breaches that affect the airflow delivery.
- Total duration of time the machine is used per night.
- Average pressure rate over the course of one night.
Although travel CPAP machines operate the same way as standard models, there are some key differences to note. The table below illustrates some of these differences.
|Characteristic||Regular CPAP Machine||Travel CPAP Machine|
|Average Dimensions||6W” x 10L” x 6H”||4W” x 6L” x 2H”|
|Average Weight||4 to 5 lbs.||1.5 lbs. or less|
|Power Source||AC and/or DC||AC and/or DC|
Integrated battery included with some
|Humidifier Capacity||325 to 425 mL||325 mL or less|
Waterless humidifier may be included
Humidifier not included with some
|Average Cost||$200 to $800||$250 to $600|
Travel Tips for CPAP Machine Users
CPAP users should take certain precautions when traveling with a portable machine. Air travel tips for CPAP users include the following:
- Drain the humidifier before departing: There are two reasons for doing this. First, most airports will not allow passengers to pass through security with containers holding more than 100 mL of liquid. Second, leaving water in the humidifier for prolonged periods can damage the machine. Use bottled water — not bathroom tap water — to refill the humidifier after it passes through security.
- Navigate quickly security: CPAP machines may show up as suspicious items on security x-ray screenings. To expedite the process, label the CPAP bag with a medical equipment tag and stay with the machine as it passes through the screening machines. Security personnel will usually inspect the machine by hand, and remaining with the machine will ensure that nothing is dropped or misplaced.
- Ensure sanitary screenings: Place the machine inside a sealed, transparent plastic bag that will prevent the conveyor belt surface from coming into direct contact with it. If security personnel wish to perform an inspection, make sure they use rubber or latex gloves.
- Check the baggage allotment: Most airlines allow passengers to bring one carry-on to be stowed away and a personal item (such as a purse or a small backpack) to be kept with them in the seat. Although policies vary by carrier, airlines generally designate CPAP machines as medical equipment, meaning they don’t count as carry-ons or personal items.
- Ask about in-flight usage rules: Some airlines allow passengers to utilize CPAP machines while in the air, and others do not. Make a quick phone call to the airline ahead of the departure date to inquire about their in-flight CPAP policy.
- Inquire about power sources: Some flights may be too long to operate a CPAP machine on a single battery, and an electrical outlet may be required for supplemental power. Find out if the airline has seats equipped with outlets.
Additionally, here are a few general tips for traveling overseas with a portable CPAP machine:
- Buy a voltage adapter: Most CPAP machines contain power converters that adjust the AC voltage from 110 to 240 volts. This range makes them operable in most locations. As an extra precaution, travelers are urged to purchase a universal voltage adapter, which are widely available for less than $30 and can be used anywhere in the world.
- Bring spare parts: Assume that it will be difficult to obtain spare CPAP machine parts while overseas — in most places, it will be — and bring extra batteries, power cords, connective hoses, humidifiers (if detachable), and filters, as well as masks and mask cushions.
- Carry medical information: In case a doctor’s visit is required overseas, travelers are urged to bring a medical alert card and a copy of their CPAP prescription on their person at all times during their journey.
Important Considerations for Travel CPAP Machine Shoppers
When shopping for a new travel CPAP machine and comparing different brands and models, here are a few factors to take into account:
- What is your travel CPAP machine budget? Most travel CPAP machines cost between $250 and $600, though some cost up to $900. At any rate, these machines represent a significant financial investment for most people. Remember: the machine’s specs and capabilities — not its price — should ultimately be used to determine its overall quality and suitability for your personal needs and preferences.
- How long, wide, and tall is the machine? Travel CPAP machines are considerably smaller than regular CPAP machines, but dimensions vary and some models may not fit into your luggage as easily as others. Measure all bags you plan to travel with, and determine which models will fit best.
- How much does the machine weigh? The weight of a travel CPAP machine may be anywhere from 10 ounces to two pounds, though models usually weigh less than a pound — and in most cases, CPAP machine weight will not be a factor with luggage weight limits.
- What is the airflow pressure range? Most CPAP machines offer anywhere from 4 to 20 cmH20 of airflow pressure, but you should research the variability of these settings. Some can be adjusted in relatively small increments (such as 0.2), while the increments will be larger (up to 1.0) for others.
- Is the machine designed to ease breathing? CPAP machines with ‘easy breathing’ will adjust pressure rates during exhalations.
- How loud is the machine? Most travel CPAP machines fluctuate between 25 and 30 dbA. The general rule of thumb: the quieter the machine is, the better and easier it will be for travel.
- Can the machine be operated with batteries? Battery-powered CPAP machines can be useful for air travelers who plan to use their CPAP machine in-flight, especially if the seats do not come equipped with electrical outlets, as well as those heading to remote locations with minimal powering options. The longest-lasting 12-volt batteries will operate a CPAP machine for up to three consecutive nights, so be sure to bring plenty of spares if you plan to be off the grid for a long period.
- What kind of humidifier (if any) is included with the machine? A waterless humidifier is considered the most convenient option for travelers, but models with these components are somewhat rare. Assuming your travel CPAP machine comes with a standard humidifier, it’s important to empty it completely before arriving at an airport in order to navigate security quickly and prevent water damage to the machine.
- How long are the power cord and connective hose? Most CPAP machines come with connective hoses measuring six feet (6′) in length and power cords that measure at least 40 inches (40″) in length. Machines with longer power cords may be more suitable for travelers who are unsure about the layout of their accommodations.
- What is the elevation of your destination? Changes in altitude will affect the pressure rates of airflow from CPAP machines, which usually means that users will not receive enough pressure (according to their prescription). High altitudes can also cause false leak detections to occur. Visit your doctor if you plan to visit a place with an elevation of 8,500 feet or higher (such as a mountainous area) to discuss how much air pressure will be needed.
- What are the machine’s operating and storage/transport temperature ranges? This is an important consideration for travelers who plan to visit relatively hot or cold places. Most CPAP machines will operate in temperatures of 41 to 95°F (5 to 35°C), and the storage/transport temperature range will usually be much wider.
- Does the machine come with a travel case? The vast majority of CPAP machines come with some sort of carrying bag or case — but if this is not the case, you should invest in one for easier on-the-go storage.
- Is there a trial period included with the machine? In addition to the warranty, some machines may be returned for a full refund within a certain time frame (typically 30 days or less).
- Does the machine come with a warranty? Most travel CPAP machines come with warranty coverage for two to three years, which is comparable to the warranty length for standard CPAP machines.
Best Travel CPAP Machines: Brands and Models
Now, let’s look at the top-rated travel CPAP machines according to the people who use them. The five travel CPAP models listed below are currently available for sale, and have earned the highest satisfaction ratings from users. Remember: like other CPAP machines, all five of these models require a physician’s prescription and will never be sold over the counter.
|Brand||Apex Medical||Human Design Medical||Philips Respironics||ResMed||Somnetics|
|Model||XT Fit ||Z1 ||DreamStation ||AirMini Autoset ||Transcend miniCPAP |
|Dimensions (Machine Only)||5.1W”|
|Overall Size (Cubic Inches)||113.37 cu. in.||42.9 cu. in.||155.5 cu. in||37.42 cu. in.||59.78 cu. in.|
|Pressure Range||4 to 20 cmH20||4 to 20 cmH20||4 to 20 cmH20||4 to 20 cmH20 ||4 to 20 cmH20|
|Volume||28 dbA||26 dbA||25.8 dbA||30 dbA||29 dbA|
|Operating Power (AC)||100 to 240V||100 to 240V||100 to 240V||100 to 240V ||100 to 240V|
|Hose Length||6 ft.||6 ft.||6 ft.||6 ft. 2 in.||6 ft.|
|Power Cord Length||61 in.||47 in. ||78 in.||72 in.||72 in.|
|Humidifier Capacity||300 mL||N/A||325 mL||N/A||325 mL|
|Operating Altitude||8,000 ft.||8,000 ft.||7,500 ft.||8,500 ft.||8,000 ft.|
|Operating Temperature||41 to 95°F |
(5 to 35°C)
|41 to 95°F |
(5 to 35°C)
|41 to 95°F |
(5 to 35°C)
|41 to 95°F |
(5 to 35°C)
|41 to 95°F |
(5 to 35°C)
|Storage/Transport Temperature||5 to 122°F|
(-15 to 70°C)
|-4 to 140°F|
(-20 to 60°C)
|-4 to 140°F|
(-20 to 60°C)
|-13 to 158°F|
(-25 to 70°C)
|-4 to 140°F|
(-20 to 60°C)
|Carrying Case Included?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Return Period||None||15 days||None||30 days||10 days|
|Warranty Length||2 years||3 years||2 years||2 years||3 years|
|Tuck Customer Satisfaction Rating||91% (501 customer reviews)||84% (271 customer reviews)||95% (103 customer reviews)||89% (173 customer reviews)||89% (304 customer reviews)|
Additional Sleep Accessories for Travel
In addition to travel CPAP machines, here are a few more sleep accessories that will help you catch some much-needed rest when you are in transit and after you reach your destination.
Headphones: Headphones are an indispensible travel accessory for many. In addition to being used with music players, they can effectively block outside noise in loud environments (such as planes and hotel rooms). Several designs are available, including on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear (or earbud) varieties, as well as sleep masks or headbands with built-in headphones. Although prices vary, shoppers can find many options that are priced at $30 or lower. Remember one thing: long-term headphone use has been linked to certain health issues, including hearing loss and earwax impaction (for in-ear models).
To learn more, please visit our Best Headphones for Sleeping guide.
Earplugs: Rather than using headphones, some people prefer to use simple earplugs that expand when inserted into the ear canal. Earplugs are inexpensive — they are usually sold in bulk at $20 to $30 for 50 to 200 individual pairs — and may be made from foam, silicone, or wax. However, like headphones, earplugs carry risks of hearing loss and earwax impaction, and some users also develop ear infections from long-term use.
Check out our Best Earplugs for Sleeping guide to learn more.
Sleep Masks: Sleep masks are essentially blindfolds that block outside light, which helps users relax and fall asleep in bright environments. Sleep masks are usually made from fabrics like cotton, silk, or polyester, and some feature foam padding for extra comfort. The majority of sleep masks sold today are priced at $20 or less, and are widely available through different online and brick-and-mortar sellers.
For more information, check out our Best Sleep Mask Reviews guide.
Travel Pillows: Travel pillows offer extra support and comfort for people on the road, particularly those who utilize planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation, as well as campers and hikers who sleep in tents or on the bare ground. Most travel pillows sold today are U-shaped with elevated backs for targeted shoulder support, and they may be inflatable or non-inflatable. The majority of these pillows are priced between $10 and $40.
Check out our Best Travel Pillows guide for more details.