We asked frequent travelers what they wanted from a travel pillow and here are the top 5 features they look for:
- Portability and easy storage (e.g via deflation, snap-on straps for attaching to cabin luggage or a stuff bag).
- Ergonomic design providing strong neck support in a natural position without head bobbing.
- Washable or with a removable washable cover.
- A supportive design that does not feel flimsy or slip about.
- Soft and comfortable with no hard sections.
We’ve used these five features as we search for the best travel pillow for neck and head support while traveling. Ultimately a travel pillow should provide comfort in-flight or on the road. The best designs allow you to sleep in an upright position stopping your neck and head from rolling uncomfortably or hyper-extending.
Not all travel pillows are U shaped
Most people assume that travel pillows are U shaped but recent years have seen a much broader range appear on the market. Our reviews below look at pillows that are shaped like a sash (link), ones that resemble a cervical collar, comma shaped designs and even pillows with movable “petal shaped” sections. Some are made from memory foam, others from micro beads and grain hulls. We also looked at wedge pillows that are designed to support the lower back.
Heavier and more supportive Vs. lightweight and less supportive
A quick snapshot, and a diagram, of the different materials used in travel pillows:
- Memory foam – Heavier and less portable than other designs but more supportive and able to conform to the shape of head and neck. Some cheaper designs can “bottom out” under heavy weight reducing the amount of support they provide.
- Micro bead (filled with round polystyrene beads) – Lighter than memory foam travel pillows but less supportive. Can sag after extended use leaving a depression in the pillow.
- Buckwheat or millet hulls (the hulls are the husks that protect the grain kernel) – Less stiff than a memory foam pillow although in some models the density can be adjusted by adding or removing the hulls.
- Inflatable – (made from plastic air chambers covered with foam and material) Do not provide as much support as filled pillows (even when fully inflated some models have a tendency to bounce off pressure points rather than contour to fit them), but highly portable and lightweight.
We continue to review the best travel pillows on the market. See below for our latest reviews.