When it comes to new travel advancements, you probably don’t think of the humble travel pillow. But the standard U-shaped neck pads that are both tough to pack and embarrassing to wear on the plane are becoming a thing of the past thanks to new designs and technology. Whether you’re looking for super packable memory foam, quick-inflating travel pillows, or game-changing incognito neck support, we tried all the newest, most hyped options to find out which are truly a step above the rest.
For the best new travel pillow Editors’ Choice Awards category we sourced more than a dozen cutting-edge travel pillows with varying technology—ranging from inflatable to memory foam—from 10 different companies. Each pillow was scored based on comfort, practicality, portability, price, and durability following road tests on which a tester traveled with the neck pillow. The results showed a clear winner and several finalists.
Sleeping on the plane doesn’t mean having to tote around an embarrassing travel pillow anymore. Meet the outstanding winners and finalists for the best travel pillow of 2018.
Editor’s note: For the latest version of this story, see The Best New Travel Pillows 2019.
Gold: Trtl Pillow Plus
A total reinvention of the travel pillow that’s long overdue for cranky plane sleepers, the Trtl Pillow Plus is an incredibly adaptable neck-support accessory that’s both secured and hidden by an attached scarf. A newer iteration of the popular Trtl Pillow, the Plus ups its game into an adjustable version that offers cozier, more pillow-like head support. But the Trtl Pillow Plus’s true advantage over all of its competitors is its adjustability: Easy-to-use inner toggles change the height of the neck support in two different spots to suit all neck sizes and styles of sleeping. It’s the first of this technology we’ve seen in a travel pillow, and it’s a game changer when it comes to sleeping on the plane.
Clearly making waves, the Trtl Pillow Plus recently raised 10 times its Kickstarter production goal of $25,000, and it’s now available for preorder on Indiegogo from $45. The Plus is machine-washable, packs flatter than the vast majority of non-inflating travel pillows, and is made of high quality, comfortable materials—even its Velcro is soft, so that it won’t snag on your clothing or scratch your skin. Its practicality is undeniable, and it costs less than some far simpler travel pillows.
Silver: Cabeau Evolution S3 Memory Foam Travel Pillow
Thick, U-shaped travel pillows are usually too big to pack, too flimsy to actually be supportive, or—somehow—both. Enter the Cabeau’s Evolution S3 Memory Foam Travel Pillow, which uses collapsing memory foam and a durable, zippered stuff sack to become both comfortable and packable. Thoughtful features include a patent-pending “Seat Strap System”—two straps that can be secured directly to your plane seat’s head rest, and a snap at your chin to join the pillow’s ends. This ingeniously eliminates the chances of your head flailing around (or onto your neighbor’s shoulder) and prevents the pillow sliding out of place when you move around.
The washable, quick-drying fabric makes its price tag more than fair, and Cabeau also makes a slightly pricier “cool” version of the Evolution that subs the seat straps for mesh air vents that are perfect for anyone who tends to overheat when using a neck pillow.
Bronze: BCOZZY Chin-Supporting Travel Pillow
Simpler can be better than high-tech when it comes to comfort—especially when you’re traveling with kids, limited bag space, or both. The BCOZZY Chin-Suppporting Travel Pillow comes in kid, adult, and adult XL sizes so that you can choose what works for you, rather than getting a one-size-fits-all product. The BCOZZY’s plush material and elongated, overlapping ends make it particularly resilient—meaning you can fold it in two to lean to one side, stack the ends to support your chin, or slide the stacked ends around to support either side of your head. The BCOZZY’s cushiony material and wide shape even make it versatile enough to double as a seat cushion if you’d prefer. It packs nearly flat, or can be attached to a personal item with a snap-buttoning strap.
Finalist: Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Travel Pillow
Inflatable travel pillows were unable to crack our top three because they’re simply not optimal in the changing air pressure of a plane cabin: One minute your pillow could be tenderly cushioning your head, and the next it could feel near-deflated. But one inflatable travel pillow did stick out above the rest. Sea to Summit’s Aeros Premium Travel Pillow stands apart for its super easy inflating system, which blows up in seconds without any extra huffing and puffing and retains air until you decide to release it (by pulling out the two-layered plug).
The Aeros Premium’s soft outer makes it a far better choice than plastic-lined travel pillows that squeak, scratch, and stick to skin. It also has thicker side cushions while staying thinner behind the neck, perfect for propping your head up on either side—though it could use a connecting strap to make it fit more securely while you sleep.
Finalist: Ostrich Pillow GO
Remember the internet-ridiculed Ostrich Pillow of 2013? The makers of the bulbous sleeping hood have heard the criticism and made a few attempts at a comeback since then—but most recently could have something with the Ostrich Pillow GO. If you like firmer pillows and have more plane seat space to spare than the average-sized person, its neck-brace-like design offers much more support than most travel pillows—and this pillow has the handy connectable ends that our testers consistently preferred. The pillow’s outer layer is washable, and its Velcro-securable ends roll up securely enough to fit in a personal item or to be wrapped around a bag strap.
Finalist: Edge Signature True Adaptive Pillow
A brand-new travel pillow that also offers more support than most, the thick Edge Signature True Adaptive Pillow has an M shape that helps keep your head in place, and drawstring-linked ends so you can secure it to your neck. It’s arguably the least packable pillow we tested, but it earned bonus points for its handy pocket, perfect for keeping earplugs and an eye mask in—as well as for its cushiony memory foam and included stuff sack.
Finalist: Klymit Cush Seat Pillow
Another inflatable option that blows up fast, Klymit’s Cush Pillow stands out for its versatility, affordability, and ease of inflation—it only takes about a breath and a half to fill firmly, and seals easily with a twisting nozzle. But this flat, long cushion isn’t your ideal head pillow for plane sleeping because of its shape: It’s instead a versatile option for a for using as a seat cushion or as back support when camping or on the plane, or for stashing in the car for those times you need a cushion for a picnic bench or bleachers. It packs flat, and is definitely durable enough for outdoor situations.
Looking for something squarely for your head? Klymit’s Pillow X is a similar, but thicker option for doubling as your own plane pillow (who knows where the airline’s flimsy pillow has been) or packable camping pillow.
Finalist: Casper Pillow
A supportive yet soft travel pillow that’s much more luxurious than the plane’s (but about the same size), Casper’s new Nap Pillow is less packable for the plane cabin than it is for the car or office. It packs the mattress-in-a-box brand’s cult-followed cushiony support into a 10-by-15-inch case. Billed as a travel pillow, it’s definitely better for road trips or as a lumbar support pillow at the office—although some fans of Casper’s microfiber fill might find a way to fit one in their personal item.
Couples Sleep Mask
In need of a sleep mask for you and your beau? This lightweight eye mask comes with fully adjustable straps and is perfect for someone looking to get some sleep while on the go. The 3D contoured shape design puts no pressure on the eyes, allows you to open your eyes as freely as you please and keeps any eye makeup in tact.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Editors’ Choice Product Awards 2018
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Shoes for Men
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Shoes for Women
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Gadget
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Carry-on Bag
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Packing Accessory
- Editors’ Choice Awards: Best New Travel Backpack
Editor’s Note: Some products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.