Best Travel Pillow of 2021
The Travelrest Nest Ultimate may be the perfect travel pillow. At the very least, it's the best in the class. The unit is supportive of the cranium and relieves the burden placed on the neck, even when the head nods forward. This last point is achieved thanks to the velcro that closes the U-shape and the cutout at the back that pushes the arms of the U together when weighted. The velvet-like exterior material is soft and easy on the skin. At the same time, the cover is easy to remove, washable, and straightforward to put back on the memory foam core.
As will be discussed below, not all pillow designs make it easy to remove, wash, and replace the cover. While we appreciate the thought and care put into the Nest Ultimate's design, we would have liked to see a few more color options for the cover. As it is, the unit only comes blue and gray. Also, the unit doesn't pack down as neatly as some, though it's no bulkier than the other memory foam models. All told, these complaints are quite minor as this is definitely the most comfortable model of the bunch.
The Cabeau Evolution S3 is a convenient, supportive, and comfortable pillow. However, the addition of the headrest straps broadens its usefulness, making it worthy of a permanent place on your office or gaming chair. The core of the pillow is memory foam, and the outer cover is washable polyester. The cover comes in 5 color options (indigo, jet black, steel, galaxy, cardinal) and is easy enough to remove when you're ready to give it a wash.
While the Evolution S3's cover is simple to remove, it is a bit more challenging to get it back over the memory foam core than we have liked. This is largely due to the unique shape of the core. Speaking of the core shape, we found it to be less supportive of the chin than the design suggested. However, this is just a minor criticism in light of the superb support the unit offers to the sides and back of the head. Thoughtfully, the cover design includes a pocket to hold items such as a phone.
Although the trtl is adjustable and comfortable, it requires that the user unwrap the scarf to adjust it to the opposite side of the head. Additionally, the scarf has to be wrapped pretty tight for the user to receive the maximum benefit of the internal frame. While some may like the "snug as a bug in a rug" feeling that a muffler provides, others may feel like they are in a head-lock. That said, we found this model to be pretty darn comfy, and we liked the myriad color options available.
The Rokeye Travel Pillow is one component of a three-part sleep kit that also includes earplugs and an eye cover. While this travel trifecta is quite effective — and competitively priced — our analysis focused on the pillow. We found the Rokeye to be reasonably comfortable when leaning the head to one side or the other and remarkably cozy when leaning straight back. We also appreciated that the travel bag kept the memory foam fully compressed, making it easy to stow away.
Despite our appreciation for the previously discussed value and design features of the Rokeye, shortcomings remain that are worth mentioning. Perhaps most concerning is the overall loose fit of the unit even when the drawstrings are pulled tight. This looseness limits support for the chin. Exacerbating the fit issue is the odd shape of the pillow. As it is, the unit must be aligned just so to give the user optimal support. However, when we line up the pros of this sleep kit next to the cons, it's clear that it's well worth their money.
The AirComfy Ease Travel Pillow got a nod from the judges for its versatility and appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. Specifically, this model can be used as both a pillow for lying horizontally as well as positioning behind the head when sitting. Moreover, the pillow deflates and rolls-up into a tidy little cylinder for space-conscious travelers.
Despite the utility of the AirComfy Ease, it comes with a few notable deficiencies. First off, the pillow must be inflated manually. This isn't a huge deal but it is unique to this model. Also, this unit doesn't work effectively for leaning one's head to the side while seated. Frustratingly, the pillow's compact size and dog bone shape make it like a watermelon seed being pinched when its weight. However, the unit's headrest strap will secure the pillow to a seat and, as a result, the unit is quite comfortable and stable in that position.
The Cabeau Evolution Classic simple but effective pillow, especially if you prefer side-tilt head support. This unit also has a good amount of cover color options (midnight, graphite, navy, camo, plum), all of which are removable and washable. We also like that the unit has twin drawstring toggles that join together with a clasp so that you don't have to pull the pillow over your head to take it off.
Given the sold performance of the Evolution Classic, you might wonder why it didn't do better in our analysis. The fact is that it was just a tad less comfortable than the top models, particularly in the head forward position. Also, the washable cover is a bit of a hassle to pull over the foam core. As a final issue, the storage bag that would keep the unit more compact is sold separately. That said, this is a reliably cozy option.
The OSTRICHPILLOW GO's asymmetrical rim and flowing organic lines make it look like a piece of modern art as opposed to a neck supporting pillow. The unit is well made, comfortable, comes in several color options, and folds up into a compact travel bag. The cover is easy to remove and is washable. Moreover, the cover fabric (95% Viscose, 5% Elastomer) is reasonably comfortable.
While there is much to like about the GO, unfortunately, the designers chose to make the side to side support uneven. As it is, the left side provides a much better head prop than the right. The wrap is secured around the neck with a clip as well as hook and loop panels to good effect. However, the unit has to be pretty tight for optimal positioning and some may find this uncomfortable. That said, the overlap in the front offers a solid shelf to rest the chin upon, a good feature for those who make like a bobblehead when they doze off.
The competitively priced MLVOC Travel Pillow is one part of a sleep support system that also includes a sleep mask and earplugs — all of which are helpful for those international flights and long bus rides. The pillow itself offers wonderful support when the head is tilted back. Conveniently, the whole sleep system is stored in a bag that is included with the purchase.
Despite the bargain price and extra articles included with the MLVOC, the pillow is less than successful at providing support on par with the leading models in the class. As it is, the MLVOC is loose-fitting, meaning side-to-side support is limited, and chin support is almost entirely absent. Taken as a whole, this unit's low price does not offset its shortcomings. For around the same amount of money you can get a pillow that will be more comfortable and engaging.
The Cloudz Microbead travel pillow's best feature is the microbead filling. The memory foam fill used by much of the competition wants to bounce back to its original shape and thus there's constant pressure against the skin. Not so with the microbeads. This filling material spreads out and stays put. This is particularly noticeable when leaning back as the U-shaped pillow cups the nape quite nicely.
Unfortunately, the willingness of the microbeads to move around limits side-to-side support. Moreover, chin support is almost nonexistent despite there being a clasp closing the pillow around the neck. Making matters worse, the Cloudz is not compactable, making it a poor choice for light travel. That said, the unit comes in a kaleidoscope of colors and is priced to move.
The Fabuday Travel Pillow is a humdrum pillow that is best described as being better than no pillow at all — but just barely. Yes, the unit has a plush velvet exterior that we thought felt good on our skin. Additionally, the unit has a resilient memory foam core that is comfortable. However, that's where the pro list ends.
The main problem with the Fabuday is that it is thin and offers little side support and no chin support whatever. Moreover, the unit lacks a stuff bag and instead offers a snap secured loop to attach it to a carry-on. While the pillow's price is compelling, we suggest looking at other products here reviewed, particularly if you want lateral and forward head support.
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer and Senior Review Editor Nick Miley are both big guys that don't fit well into coach seating. Accordingly, both have sought inexpensive solutions and found that a good pillow is the only reasonable way to mitigate what is otherwise an uncomfortable experience. Over many years of work and recreational travel, this duo has tried several pillow designs and their experiences informed this review.
While personal experience is a great foundation for evaluating products, we set-up repeatable tests and analyses that allow us (and you the reader) to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the products. Our review consists of three areas of focus that collectively cover all aspects of a quality pillow design. Namely, these are support and comfort, packability, and cover.
Analysis and Test Results
The problem with the vast amount of travel pillow available is that many look alike and it is hard to evaluate the quality and performance of each without spending precious time to do so. That's where we can be of service. We buy and test every product we review. The methods and results of each portion of our analysis are discussed in detail below.
Support and Comfort
The average human head weighs around 11 pounds and, depending on its position, the head can put significant strain on the neck supporting it. Knowing this, a reasonable question to ask next would be what good is a pillow if it doesn't offer support in a comforting fashion? Our team used each of the pillows in the review in a variety of positions that we broadly defined by the lean of the head. These are side (right and left support), back (nape support), and forward (chin support). The Travelrest Nest set the standard for the class, offering all-around superb support without causing a sense of encircling pressure.
The reason that the Nest performs so well is that its memory foam core is cut high around the side of the neck and tapers in the back supporting the natural curve of the spine and keeping the head more upright. The chin is cradled in a high position as well and supported by the hook and loop closure of the U-shaped pillow. Other models that approach this level of support and comfort are the Cabeau Evolution Classic and Cabeau Evolution S3. Both are variations on the Nest design.
When traveling, the weight and size of one's bags really matter. Traveling light is the ticket as it will save you effort and money in the long run. This review is focused on travel pillows and as such their packability is of paramount concern. Three factors contribute to packability and the AirComfy Ease exemplifies them all. These are packed weight, packed size, and the inclusion of a stuff bag. As the name implies, the Ease easily deflates, rolls up, slides into its custom bag. All told, the stored pad is the size of a soda can and about half the weight.
While weight matters when it comes to packing, there is not a significant difference in the weight of the pillows reviewed to warrant much discussion. What matters here is that the pillow can be compressed and that the unit comes with a bag to keep it in a compact state. While the Ease uses air as its core, most other models use memory foam which is highly compressible but quick to expand. The Cabeau Evolution S3, MLVOC, OSTRICHPILLOW GO, Rokeye, and Travelrest Nest all use memory foam at their core and come standard with a bag. When stored they are about the size of two big fists held together. The remaining models lack bags, however, the trtl Pillow packs up quite well without one.
The cover analysis looks at the ease in which the pillowcase can be removed, whether it can be washed and the difficulty of putting it back on the core. We also take stock of the comfort of the materials used and the color options available. Surprisingly, the Cloudz pillow lacks a cover and as such, it was not favored by our team. However, the permanent outer layer has springy spandex on one side and cozy faux fur on the other and it comes in over 20 colors. Conversely, the AirComfy and the trtl covers are the easiest of the lot to don and doff and they wash up nicely but lack such expansive color options — 5 and 7 colors respectively.
Unfortunately, many of the models that performed well in our support and comfort analysis have complex shapes that make lining up their covers more of a challenge. Models like the Cabeau Evolution Classic, Cabeau Evolution S3, and Travelrest Nest are examples of pillows with this problem. Although the following was not a consideration in our cover evaluation, we think that the benefits of having a comfortable, supportive pillow greatly outweigh the benefit of having a cover that is easy to take off/put on.
The above review is a deep dive into travel pillows. Our in-house evaluation looked at all the aspects of a quality pillow — from comfort and support to packability to cover design and washability. While many products appear to be similar, our testing reveals that all pillows are not created equal. Our analysis makes it easy for you to separate the wheat from the chaff so that you can get to counting sheep in transit.
— Nick Miley and Austin Palmer