Travel pillows need to strike a tricky balance: not supportive enough and you’ll end up with a crick in your neck, too big and stiff you’ll, er, end up with a crick in your neck. They also need to be compact, lightweight, and easy to clean — no small feat for a humble travel accessory!
We spent weeks testing 10 of the most popular and highest-rated travel pillows on the market. We evaluated pillows of all different designs and materials on both comforts and build to determine the best travel pillow for trips via plane, bus, or car. And while many of the pillows we tested had their merits, there were three clear winners:
Cabeau Evolution S3 updates the standard U-shaped travel pillow design with raised sides that gently cradled our head and neck when we used it. The S3’s flat back also rested relatively flush against our seat, preventing our head from uncomfortably jutting forward, while an adjustable front clasp let us slightly tighten or loosen the neck opening to our liking, which makes it possible to tailor the pillow to travelers of different sizes. We found that the S3 works best when leaning your head to the side or as a cushion against a solid surface, but it still offered decent chin support. Its two built-in straps are attached to nearly any seatback we tested on, keeping the pillow in place and helping to lessen whiplash during sudden stops or turbulence.
The J-Pillow is a fantastically comfortable option with a big caveat: It works best if you’ve got a window seat. The J-Pillow’s lack of neck attachment is a plus for those who find regular U-shaped travel pillows restrictive. And when we could lean against a hard surface, the J-Pillow offered excellent head, neck, and front-facing/chin support. Like the Cabeau S3, it comes with a sturdy (though less compact) travel case that clips to your luggage. There also aren’t any covers or zippers to deal with; the entire pillow can be tossed in the wash.
The Turtl is essentially a padded neck brace and was the most portable pillow we tested. It folds down relatively flat, taking up almost no space in your luggage, and one of our taller testers loved its sturdy support. The Turtl is perfect for cold nights or flights, and we love the hug that it gives around the neck.
How We Test Travel Pillows
The most important things to look for when shopping for travel pillows are comfort and portability: You need something that’s going to offer real support without taking up a bunch of space in your luggage (thus defeating the purpose of being a travel pillow).
With these considerations in mind, we settled on two major rubrics for our pillow testing criteria: comfort and build. We then had one short tester and one tall tester evaluate how comfortable and supportive the pillows felt when behind our heads, under our chins, and in the crooks of our necks.
We gauged how easy the pillows were to transport by rolling them up, smooshing them down, and packing each into its carrying case (if included). We attached those carrying cases to our luggage and noted how doing so impacted our mobility.
We also noted how the pillows’ covers felt against our skin and then slipped those same covers off and put them through a machine wash cycle.
Finally, we factored in the cost and looks of each pillow to determine their overall value and to choose the best pillow for most travelers.