(Travel) PILLOW FIGHT!!
Reviews of the best current neck pillow options for serious travelers
(The blog post with product links, data and details are below the video.)
Serious travelers know that a good travel pillow can make all the difference in the world to set you up for successful sleeping on a plane, train or bus, yet a truly “good travel pillow” is about as easy to find as a unicorn. When the travel pillow I had been using for years (Komfort Kollar) started to wear out, I decided to research and see if there was anything better these days. In trying to figure out the best one, before I knew it I ended up with a whole pile of pillows. This post reveals what I learned in doing my head-to-head (haha) comparison. SPOILER ALERT: none are perfect, but some do a lot better job than others.
TOP 7 Reviewed:
Through the experience of traveling to 76 countries, I feel I have come to know what counts in a travel pillow. However, instead of relying solely on my opinions, I got input from occupation therapists about healthy neck positions, did a hands-on evaluation with a team of testers with varying neck sizes, and did an objective comparison of each pillow’s specifications and how they interact with your head and neck in a travel setting. I applied certain ground rules to vet down to the Best of the Best:
#1 Must be inflatable.
If you are serious about traveling, you want your flight sleeping system to be as compact and lightweight as possible—something you can almost forget is in your bag. So, as luxurious as they can feel, memory foam pillows like these:
…no matter how creative…
…were immediately kicked out of consideration because they just aren’t practical in the bigger scheme of things. Who wants to lug something like that around for the rest of their trip?
Even though they are generally inflatable, I also rejected all the giant lap-style pillows for being way too bulky and impractical in the real world. Plus, the reviews I saw for them made them sound mighty uncomfortable over a long period.
#2 No single-side supporting pillows.
Solutions like these can do an excellent job of supporting your neck if you lean in just one direction:
Personally, it isn’t when I am passed out in a sleeping-pill-induced coma that I’m going to make good decisions about shifting a pillow from one side to the other. My head bobs and flops around where it wants to go, and my neck gets sore if it leans in one direction for a long time. Sure, I prefer a window seat and will primarily lean to that side, but A) you can’t guarantee you will get a window every time and B) your body will still get jacked up if you lean in that one direction for a 7-hour stretch.
#3 When sitting in an upright position, the less your neck can move in any one direction, the better the comfort over time and the likelier you will able to fall asleep.
To measure neck angles objectively we used a “goniometer” to see how much angle incline each pillow allowed to the front, back and sides.
#4 Must offer sufficient chin support.
This wasn’t one of my original criteria when I was pre-vetting which pillows to review, but became a Ground Rule as I came to realize the importance of this feature.
A Note on Aesthetics
Let’s face it, in terms of appearances, with any of these travel pillows, you can’t avoid looking like a car crash victim. I say run with it and focus on being the most comfortable, best-sleeping person on the plane, tuning out the haters.
A Note on Cost
With the exception of the TRTL Plus which came in at $60, all the other travel pillows I considered ranged from $15 to $30 (which can be worth even just one decent night’s sleep on a plane). When factored over time, I felt the price range was negligible enough to disregard it when making my recommendations.
Evaluation Data Summary
So with all that in mind, let’s dive into my detailed reviews, going from least to most favorite, starting from the very bottom with this one from Go Designs, a truly horrible pillow:
#7. Go Travel
I was tricked into buying this in a German airport because the packaging made it look so promising. Trust me, you don’t want this, even for the only 13 euros I paid.
Its biggest failing is its bungee strap which is too weak to do anything, so the already-low sides fall away without offering any support to your neck, which is kinda the whole point.
That said, they got some things right.
- It’s light, folds up very compact and inflates faster than all the others.
- The large air valve makes it easy to inflate and you can purge air in a controlled way with the push of a button inside the valve.
- They made an attempt to flatten the back, which keeps the pillow from tipping your head forward off the seat, a feature you generally want to have.
Still, trust me, don’t buy this.
Speaking of tipping forward, this Go Designs travel pillow confirms why I’m convinced having support under the chin is mandatory: when your head inevitably bobs forward, you fall out.
Next is this only-slightly-better disaster called the SkySiesta Snug
This neck pillow isn’t inflatable, but their marketing photo made it look so enticing, so I let it sneak into my evaluation. It looks super comfortable, right? Well I suppose it is, if your only intent is to wear it like a guillotine-shaped scarf. Unfortunately, in terms of functioning as a travel pillow–despite the appearance of having a lot of support–the foam is weak and does little for you. You can see in the angle measurements in my chart, that it was mediocre at best compared to the better solutions.
- I like that the back is flat, keeping your head next to the seat back, but I saw in the online product reviews that some people felt they wanted more support in the back.
- Out of my team of testers with a variety of neck sizes, this pillow worked OK for some, particularly those with larger necks, but it didn’t place higher than 3rd favorite for anyone.
- Some people liked the way the SkySiesta covers your ears and blocks out some sound, but others dislike that you cannot use over-the-ear headphones with it.
One takeaway from the above three bullets is that people’s preferences differ based on neck size and comfort predilections, which is why I am giving you pluses and minuses of each and links to everything–in case one that didn’t sit well with me or my testers works better for you.
That said, in addition to not performing well the essential structural duties of a travel pillow, the SkySiesta pillow isn’t inflatable and thus super bulky, so schlepping it around is way too cumbersome. Seriously, who wants to carry a whole extra bag on their bag for the rest of their trip?
#5. TRTL Plus
After seeing all its positive reviews, I felt a thorough travel pillow comparison would not be complete without trying the TRTL Plus travel pillow. Before it arrived, I daydreamed about how comfortable it looked and visualized how it could feel. These higher expectations came crashing down into a crumpled heap of disappointment when I finally did try it.
First of all, I knew that the original TRTL Travel Pillow only supported one side of the neck—which automatically disqualified it from my consideration—but I read somewhere that the Plus version supported both sides. It doesn’t. Well OK, it does, but only if you wake up and shift it to the other side. Nope, not doing it.
The TRTL Plus is also a lot heavier and bulkier than I anticipated. I do like the design aesthetics and the breathable material. I loved the idea of being able to adjust the height, a key feature of the new TRTL Plus design. Even with that adjustability, however, I found that for my neck, making it taller in the front or back did not make it any more comfortable. For almost half my testing panel, the TRTL Plus did not work for them AT ALL no matter how it was adjusted—completely incompatible with their neck size.
Honestly, if I lean to just the supported side, the TRTL Plus feels great and very supportive, but it does very little to prevent forward chin incline and nothing to keep you from tipping to the opposite side.
Despite it having some positives, the TRTL Plus travel pillow is a Hard No for me.
Next up is NeckFix, which is pitched to be a “cervical traction device” for neck pain relief rather than a travel pillow, but it really can do both.
Looking like three U-shaped pillows stacked on top of each other, the NeckFix pillow gives you structure all the way around the neck.
My favorite feature is the external hand pump, which allows you to easily micromanage the air pressure while wearing it. On a plane, between the pressure variance from changes in altitude to changes in my own neck comfort over time, it is nice being able to easily make little adjustments on the fly (haha) even if it doesn’t look great.
Several companies make something similar to this. I went with NeckFix because its components like the hand pump look like higher quality and I like the fact that this one has the option to remove the hand pump by shifting a bead into the tube and then detaching the tube. NeckFix has a nice color and is very soft, too.
I feel like there should be a way to make this work, but unfortunately, despite a lot of fiddling, I find that it cuts off the circulation to my brain before it gives me the support I want, and it also pushes up on my ears and cheeks more than I would like.
With all the skin contact, it is pretty hot too. While some planes are cooled down like sub-zero meat lockers, I find travel pillows more often than not can make you too hot, so I have a bias towards designs which allow your neck to breathe better.
Finally, despite all its structure, I never figured out a way to get it to adequately support my chin, meaning my neck tips forward almost unimpeded, and this pillow doesn’t work when you try to reverse it like I do with some U-shaped pillows.
The NeckFix-type pillow may work great for some people, but so far I am not one of them.
#3. Cabeau Air Evolution
Hereto forward are pillows I consider worthy of serious consideration.
My Top 3 begins with the Cabeau Air Evolution, which is meant to recreate in an inflatable the popular (and extremely comfortable) memory foam designs Cabeau is best known for:
I don’t like the Air Evolution if you wear it the way it was intended, but if you flip it upside and backwards with the opening behind your neck, it does a great job. By reversing it this way, your neck is no longer pushed off the seat and your chin gets excellent support.
- Good support on all sides.
- Removable washable cover, although the sticky zipper is hard to use.
- The hard-to-use, tiny air valve is hidden under the cover, which means you have to fight the crappy zipper every time you want to inflate or deflate it (or you do like I did in the video and just leave it open).
- The clasp which holds the strings together is hard to use. It’s tricky to tell how the two pieces should connect together and it’s a struggle getting the strings tightened, which you need to do to secure it well.
Overall, the Cabeau offers better-than-average support and good general comfort when used reversed as I described. It made it to my Top 3, but could not go higher because–in addition to the cons listed–I feel like the next two options will offer more comfort over extended periods.
#2. Komfort Kollar
I’ve been using a modified version of the Komfort Kollar for years. While it looks like a standard U-shaped pillow, there is more to it than meets the eye.
- Its robust Velcro strap allows you to really lock it on. One downside to this strap is that the Velcro has a tendency to snag on things. Also, the reason I got into this whole Travel Pillow Fight was because this same strap was starting to detach (albeit after extensive use).
- The area under the chin flares out in a way that it offers excellent chin support. The Komfort Kollar measured the least chin incline of all pillows tested. The pillow gives you good structure all the way around the neck; however, it is a bit too bulky in the back, so it can push your head off the seat more than I’d like.
Out of my panel of testers, at least a third didn’t like this design because they felt it choked them. The Komfort Kollar comes in small medium and large. I have the medium. A large might have worked better for those people.
Personally, I didn’t like the feel of the seams and how hot it felt, so I made my own washable cover for it with a breathable material which makes it a lot more comfortable.
In fact, the Komfort Kollar is still one of my favorites as long as it has the breathable cover on it.
Last but not least is the interesting H-shaped pillow from TravelSky. In fact, this is my new favorite, and it was the runaway winner with my panel of testers, too.
You can use it a few different ways. I prefer it with the clasp in front. Once tightened, the robust structure secures my neck in a way that it can tilt very little, making it very comfortable. Importantly, it allows the least lateral flexion of any pillow tested. My chin can still drop forward quite a bit, but still less than most other designs.
If you tend to sleep with your head tipping forward, you are going to love using this pillow when you flip it backwards and upside down. This usage offers excellent chin support, but isn’t quite as supportive on the sides.
Like the Cabeau and the TRTL Plus, this neck pillow comes with a removable, washable cover. The velvet material is soft, but a bit warm when used over a longer period.
One bummer is that also like the Cabeau, it came with the same clumsy clasp. That said, I see in the current item photos online it looks like they updated the clasp to something which I can only hope works better.
One downside to using the pillow in my preferred clasp-forward way is that there’s quite a bit of bulk behind you, pushing you away from the seat back more than I’d like. The nice thing is that if you are in a seat where you are getting jammed uncomfortably forward, you can flip it around and put the open part towards the seat and it still does a great job.
The air valve is the biggest of them all. On the plus side, it allows you to easily inflate it in just a few breaths. One down side to this is that when you want to release a little air by pushing on the rubber flap, it is hard to not have a lot of air gush out.
The pillow folds up quickly into its handy travel pouch.
So while it still has room for improvement, I feel like this pillow is the best, most comfortable and versatile travel pillow in the market today. How do you get /one? There are a few different companies selling something similar and I wasn’t sure which one was the original, but my sense is that TravelSky is the company making most of them. The pillow I bought did not list TravelSky as the manufacturer, but the TravelSky name is on the bag and tags. Here’s where I got it:
I picked the one I did for cost and because I saw fewer comments about air leaking in the reviews (a common complaint of inflatable pillows). This one did actually leak air the first time I inflated it, but I fiddled with the air valve cover O-ring a bit, and it has worked fine ever since.
I avoided the versions of this product I saw online which included a hood, because an eye mask is going to do a much better job of blocking out the light for less size and weight. And sorry, but people are going to still see you drool even with a hood on.
A Parting Note: Please Don’t Recline Your Seat
So that concludes the results of my travel pillow fight. If you have read this far, please permit me to editorialize on why my bias is towards pillows that offer the best comfort in a fully-vertical position. I almost never recline my seat, because with how cramped seats are these days, your seat pushes directly into the face of the person behind you. Many times, you can’t use a laptop or barely even eat comfortably when the seat in front of you is reclined, nor can people get in and out of their seat without doing a limbo lap dance into the face of their neighbors. I feel we are all in this together and if we all just stay sitting up, the overall flying experience is better for everyone. Being able to sleep in a fully-vertical seat is the only way to do this feasibly on long-haul flights, so make sure you have a good travel pillow that lets you do that!
In parting, I hope that at least one of these pillows I have highlighted here will bring you restful sleep in your journeys. Happy travels!
[More travel gear reviews to come! To support my efforts, please consider subscribing to my video channel and purchasing any of the above items using the links I provided, as Amazon gives me credit for referrals if you do.]