If the past year of multiple lockdowns have left you feeling nostalgic for the days of long-haul travel and bumpy bus rides, get ready for things to open up again with a new travel pillow.
Traditional travel pillows – the kind of c-shaped wraparound pillows you can pick up at the airport – are still your best option for the dreaded middle seat. But innovations from the world of lightweight camping mean there are more packable pillows for every sleeping – and travelling – position.
Nothing beats a full-size pillow, and thanks to lightweight camping tech you can get fairly close now with an inflatable version. Some people will hate the inevitable “crinkle” that comes with a blow-up pillow, though: elegant memory foam pillows from leading brands like Simba and Outwell mean you can get close to bed-like comfort on the road.
Finally, don’t forget a travel pillow if you’re heading to a campsite or overlanding. The smallest, lightest pillow we found fitted in our trouser pocket, inflated to the size of a regular pillow, and had a cosy layer of down that made it perfect for a chilly night in the wilderness – or a layover on a cold airport terminal floor.
Our tester is a travel journalist, and has tried every pillow on the market in the quest for a comfortable night’s sleep in long-haul economy.
Pre-lockdown we tested some of these pillows on the longest flight in the world, on the cold floors of the busiest airport in the world, and on bus rides across continents. More recently we’ve taken them with us on long car rides to socially-distanced campsites, and slept on them under the stars.
What you look for in a travel pillow depends on where and how you’re travelling, but across the board we looked for excellent support, softness and portability.
These are the best travel pillows for 2021:
- Best overall – Sea to Summit aeros premium traveller pillow: £30, Seatosummit.co.uk
- Best for travelling light – Vango deep sleep ergo pillow: £18, Vango.co.uk
- Best for bus rides – Outwell memory pillow: £28, Outwell.com
- Best for ultimate comfort – Simba travel pillow: £45, Simbasleep.com
- Best for something different – Trtl pillow plus: £49.99, Trtltravel.com
- Best for sleeping anywhere – Infinity travel pillow: £39.99, Infinitypillow.co
- Best for cold conditions – Sea to Summit aeros down pillow: £41.99, Trekkinn.com
- Best for the middle seat – Travelrest memory foam pillow: £34.19, Travelrest.net
- Best for nodding off – BCOZZY supporting travel pillow: £29.97, Amazon.co.uk
Sea to Summit aeros premium traveller pillow
Unbelievably compact for the level of comfort it provides, this inflatable, neck-supporting pillow is our new favourite for long bus, train and plane journeys. The familiar wraparound shape has a few nice twists, like a lower profile at the back and sloped profile on the arms that effectively stopped our heads from flopping forwards or feeling uncomfortably stretched on either side.
The classic Sea to Summit valve locks air in, and we loved the ability to make micro-adjustments with the fine tune button. The surface fabric is seriously soft and feels lovely against your skin.
Vango deep sleep ergo pillow
Best: For travelling light
The soft-touch, knit-feel cover of this inflatable made it stand out among the many velour pillows we tested. Extremely light and packable, because it’s air-filled, it’s absolutely ideal for stowing in the top pocket of your pack for backpacking and camping trips.
Because of the shape and size it’s best for times you’re sleeping on your back – in an airport on a layover or while camping. If you leave it slightly under-inflated, we found it worked a treat in a window seat as well.
Outwell memory pillow
Best: For bus rides
Sublimely comfortable, with all the responsive fit of a full-sized memory foam pillow. Tiny micro beads, separated into three rows by deep dimples, make this small rectangular pillow really malleable – we particularly loved it for window seats, or anywhere you can fold it against a wall although our tallest tester found it a little thin for his neck size.
The soft cover is comfortable and properly pillow-like, and the synthetic filling feels warm and snug. There’s a little rustle from the beads when you move your head, but barely noticeable – like the noise a bean bag makes.
Simba travel pillow
Best: For ultimate comfort
Neat, beautiful and comfortable, sleep experts Simba’s compact travel pillow is the best looking travel pillow we tested. Given the support, stability and comfort you get from its fill (Simba’s special cooling open-cell foam), it’s amazing how well it packs up – just wrap it into a cylinder and stow it in the smart matching stuff sack. It feels just like a real pillow, which makes it the perfect small luxury for layovers, or anywhere you might get a chance to sleep lying down.
Trtl pillow plus
Best: For something different
A bit of a Marmite pillow, in that some of our testers loved it and others didn’t get on with it at all. Like the basic Trtl (£24.99, Trtltravel.com, the pillow is designed around a long scarf with a soft, height-adjustable support panel to rest your head against. It is endlessly customisable, and the height-adjustable Plus fixes some of the problems we found with the original Turtl, making it ideal for taller or shorter people who don’t fit a standard neck pillow.
It is really good at stopping your head falling forwards when you’re dozing, but the (admittedly very snuggly) fleecy scarf won’t stop your head falling to the unsupported side, so this pillow is better for people who aren’t prone to serious neck pain.
Infinity travel pillow
Best: For sleeping anywhere
After a solid year of use this scarf-like pillow still goes everywhere with our reviewer. A long, stuffed loop of soft bamboo, you can loop it a few times around your neck like a big scarf to support your head on a flight or car drive, or loop it anywhere else for a nap on the go.
It’s invaluable for long flights with layovers, where you can use it like a normal pillow if you find a patch of floor to sleep on, or wrap it over your eyes like an eye mask. There is something oddly comforting about being able to entwine yourself in it like a blanket, and it’s a nice extra luxury on camping trips. It’s a little hard to pack down: you can wear it around your neck, but this gets quite hot.
Sea to Summit aeros down pillow
Best: For cold conditions
The ultimate lightweight travel pillow, this rectangular inflatable pillow packs down to smaller than pocket-size, and weighs just 95g (we tested the large). It is very firm when fully inflated, but the dual valve means you can make micro adjustments if you need to squish it into a plane seat.
We loved the luxurious down layer, which felt as warm and soft as a proper pillow, and reduced the crinkle factor you get with most inflatable pillows. Overall it is better suited to a window seat, car or bus journey or anywhere you’re planning to nap lying down – at the terminal, for example – because it doesn’t have the wrap-around support of a neck pillow. Ideal for camping.
Travelrest memory foam pillow
Best: For the middle seat
The perfect travel pillow. Ideal for flights or long car journeys, it takes the traditional C-shaped pillow and offers some small but brilliant improvements, like a flat back that’s angled to rest against a seat head. It’s also incredibly soft, with moulded memory foam that supports and compresses in all the right places. Best of all, it packs down well – about the size of a coffee cup – and fit into the side pocket of our larger backpacks.
The velcro fastener is basic but does the job, and the price is excellent. Our reviewer loved it so much she started wearing it for long afternoons in front of the laptop while working from home – it raised some eyebrows on Zoom calls.
BCozzy travel pillow
Best: For nodding off
A clever twist on a standard neck pillow, this plush and malleable pillow is perfect for sleeping in a middle seat, or anywhere that your head might drop forward. It has the best front support that we tested, because you can wrap the arms right underneath your chin, and folds up nicely to make a great pillow for a window seat.
If you’re taller or shorter, though, you might find that the skinnier arms of the pillow don’t provide quite enough support on both sides of your neck.
The verdict: Travel pillows
Combining the portability of an inflatable pillow, the softness of a camping pillow and the wraparound support of a traditional neck pillow, Sea to Summit’s travel offering is a revelation. If you have more space, the gorgeous Infinity Pillow never fails to guarantee a good night’s sleep.
For the latest discounts and offers on other travel buys and luggage, try the links below:
Make travelling light work with one of these travel wallets to keep all your holiday documents safe
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in