Neck PillowFrom time to time we all need to travel long distances, occasionally it’s using public transport on a train, bus, airplane or perhaps as a passenger in the family car. Whether you opt to sleep on the journey or not, there is often a requirement for good head and neck support to take the burden off and allow for a snooze or general relaxation. There is nothing better for this than a simple and smart invention known as a travel pillow; although that’s the most common name, it has many other aliases too which we will refer to going forward below.

There are plenty of different designs, shapes, fillings, sizes and brands to choose from; infact there is such an abundance of choice in this niche it quite possibly exceeds any other type. Many of the best travel pillows have already been tried and tested by ourselves over the years, it’s something we enjoy and focus our studies on, but now it’s time to pass on some of this knowledge.

For the general public, knowing how to choose a pillow isn’t something you’d be expected to handle without a little expert help and advice, and that’s why we’re here to help. Recently we conducted 20 reviews; to make it fair all were from different brands but of a similar budget. Of the 20, we have chosen to document 5 of the best which we came across. Hopefully if you’re looking to buy a new one or have never owned one before, our information will aid in your decision making process. Also, additional to the below reviews, you may want to learn more about the different types and characteristics, therefore we have additionally put together a comprehensive buying guide for some extra pointers on finding the best travel pillow that money can buy.

What Is A Travel Pillow?

Airplane PillowThe simplest definition would be that travel pillows are ones which are small and compact enough to take on journeys, however this can be broken down further depending on their type of usage, and shape:

A travel neck pillow is small and uniquely designed to provide support to the neck and head whilst sitting upright and traveling. Also known simply as neck pillows, these aren’t limited to usage on buses, planes and trains. They are often used during activities at home such as reading, watching TV, or even whilst sleeping in a car during your lunch break.

The other type are the traditional oblong kind but which are small enough to be merged into your luggage without taking up too much space. These are often referred to as a hiking, backpacking or camping pillow.

Travel Pillow Buying Guide

Over the years travel pillows have been adapted and changed to accommodate an ever increasing market, hence the wide variation of designs which incorporate different shapes, sizes, and fillings. As you may have guessed there are numerous choices to make before you buy. In order to shed some light on this clever invention we have included some more detailed characteristics of the most popular ones below:

The Differing Shapes

Pillow ShapesTravel neck pillows are available in various different shapes. Generally the most common ones are U shaped, but can also be found in other shapes such as a J or in the form of a large arch which goes over a shoulder. Traditionally they rest on top of ones shoulders and support behind the neck and either side of the head. This clever U shaped design is to stop the head from rolling side to side or falling forwards whilst catching up on sleep on those long journeys. In regards to the head rolling forwards this is dependent on the level of chin support which is provided. For this, the old school U shaped pillow does the job pretty well, however in order to further prevent forward head roll and provide better chin support, leading manufacturers have recently adapted a J shape which is further more effective. The other kind of small travel pillows are normally rectangular and highly compressible. They are lightweight whether compressed or full size, but when expanded they can sometimes reach up to 4 times their original size. In the morning when its purpose is served, simply compress back into the supplied carry case and hide away among the rest of the luggage.

Various Filling Types

Pillow FillingThe filling is an important factor for some. A few different kinds exist, but most commonly it’s either memory foam, polyester fiber or air. Due to its unique conforming nature which molds around the neck, shoulders and head, whilst providing a reassuringly firm support, memory foam does the job very well and is much cheaper than it once was some years ago. Another filling is polyester fiber, which although isn’t as clever as the conforming memory foam, it is very long lasting and durable, resistant to stretching and shrinking, retains its shape, and is easily washed and dried. Neither are better than the other; they both have similar characteristics and pricing so choosing a pillow based on filling shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Lastly there is air, which is often a great choice because an inflatable travel pillow filled with air can be adjusted to suit the firmness level for everyone throughout the length of a journey, which for long haul flights is very important.

Size & Weight

Pillow SizesThe various sizes for a travel neck pillow isn’t consistent as they are in mattresses for example, and nor are they defined in categories such as Standard, Queen or King. Instead each one should have its own dimensions listed separately as part of the specification. In general the adult U shaped pillow is an average of 10″ x 12″ in length and width, and approx 3-5″ in height. A kids version is much smaller and averages around 9″ x 9″ length and width and 3″ height. In terms of weight, which is a rather important characteristic of this product, the average weight of an adults size is approximately 8 ounces, and a kids size is slightly less at 5 ounces. For obvious reasons the lighter the product the better; a lesser load to bear on the shoulders means a more weightless feel to the product, which in turn causes less irritation and improves quality of sleep.

Quick Comparison

Brand & ModelShapeFillingSize (inches)WeightPrice
J PillowJPolyester Fiber 11.8 x 7.9 x 137.5 oz
Cabeau – EvolutionUMemory Foam 9.5 x 10 x 511.7 oz
TravelRestOtherAir (Inflatable)2.2 x 4.8 x 10.86.4 oz
Therm-a-RestTraditionalMemory FoamVariousVarious
AirComfyTraditionalAir (Inflatable)14 x 3.2 x 8.56.2 oz

The Top 5 Travel Pillow Reviews

J Pillow

A simple name for a simple product, though very effective in delivery in every possible way. Abundant online, most conventional travel neck pillows you’ll encounter are extremely basic in design, but, this one is slightly more thought invoked and thus delivers extremely well. With padding and support in 4 key designated areas it offers unrivaled comfort throughout. Firstly, there is unparalleled simultaneous neck and chin support which successfully stops forward head roll. Secondly, with the side and back of head support it makes both surfaces a comfortable resting area. There is no reason why this would be inadequate for transatlantic flights, or even during a short commute on a train. This is already the number one best seller right now online and in various stores worldwide, and through owner reviews has been rated the best airplane pillow by thousands of verified users from across the globe. If the above isn’t already enough, it has also been awarded Winner of British Invention of the Year 2013.

Cabeau – Evolution

A lot of thought has gone into the design and delivery of this popular memory foam travel pillow. Unlike others in its price range, this one pays much more attention to detail which is why it could easily win the best travel pillow 2017 award. It comes with free earplugs and a compact carry bag which compresses it to 1/4 of the size for compactness. There is a washable cover for hygiene and also a pocket for your smart phone or mp3 player. The raised memory foam supports around the sides are responsive and comfortably supportive of the forward leaning of the head and chin. Unlike cheaper alternatives, the Evolution doesn’t have a big bulky section around the back and so doesn’t push the head forward at any point when leaning back against the seat. The adjustable front toggles do well at keeping everything in place which is much needed during that all important sleep. Whether it’s for long haul flights or short road trips, in terms of features, price, quality, and multi purpose usability, this could quite possibly be the best neck pillow to date.

TravelRest – Ultimate Inflatable

Given the non standard shape and design of this unique inflatable travel pillow, you wouldn’t believe but it actually really does work, better than they advertise it too. It can successfully stop the bobbing head whilst positioned across the torso whether wearing down the side, tethered to the seat or attached to the headrest. The ergonomic shape works well at providing full lateral support and prevents head and neck pain too. For an inflatable pillow it inflates rapidly, in no more than 4 or 5 puffs, and deflates easy enough too. Once deflated you can roll up and tidy away to a neat 2″ x 9″ x 3.5″ which is small enough for your coat pocket. The added benefit of being inflatable is that you can increase or decrease air to satisfactory standard in order to tailor the firmness level. Some describe this as supportive, soothing, or just simply comfortable; whatever your requirement the TravelRest inflatable neck pillow is up there with the elite and well worth the affordable price tag.

ThermaRest – Compressible Pillow

The ThermaRest Compressible is slightly different to the previous ones we have already reviewed here. Unlike the others it isn’t a traditionally shaped travel neck pillow as such, instead the shape is an oblong type which means it will typically be used whilst laying down flat. It’s still classed as a travel pillow due to the tiny, highly compressible and compact nature which makes it ideal for backpacking, hiking and camping. The shredded memory foam filling is surprisingly firm and being stuffed in a polyester shell is perfect for lightweight convenience and comfortable sleep throughout the night. There is plenty of loft and no sag or loss of height at all overnight. When compactly wrapped away it’s hardly noticeable. When unwrapped it forms to almost 4 times its size very quickly. Most widely available in Small, there are also Medium, Large and Extra Large options available for purchase in various colors of choice. This one has far exceeded our expectations, plus for the price and quality you really cant go wrong; in our opinion the best camping pillow we have reviewed to date.

AirComfy

Another great inflatable travel pillow that is a perfect all rounder, which has become extremely popular due to the multi functional capability and quality build. Unlike the traditionally U shaped ones mentioned above, the unique arched design here does well at keeping you feel unrestricted and unpinched but at the same time offering a cradle of support for your neck. Like others in the price range it compresses into a fraction of its full size and can be stored in the supplied carry case. Another great perk is the self inflating functionality which means adjustable firmness with no effort whatsoever. The AirComfy inflatable neck pillow doesn’t just shine on an airplane or car headrest, it can also be used as a lumber support if required. Overall it deserves 5 stars for effort and delivery.

Conclusion

If you’re after the best travel pillow you should first decide how it will be used. As you can see from the above the different variants in design are each tailored for slightly different types of usage, for example some are good for airplane flight, whilst others for camping. Hopefully our five travel pillow reviews are enough for you to at least narrow down one as we have included different brands, types, uses, and price ranges too. However, if you still need further information or help on any of the above please feel free to contact us, we’d love to help.