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    Updated on Apr 10, 2020. Posted on Apr 10, 2020

    Hit The Road With The Best Travel Pillows

    Don't sleep on getting one but do sleep on it after you get it.

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    Modern man’s search for a better travel pillow is a Sisyphean task. Seemingly every day a new Kickstarter or Indiegogo or Shark Tank-er emerges to try to make airplane or train travel ever-so-slightly more comfortable.

    Fox TV / Via giphy.com

    Yet despite those efforts, millions of people disembark from their economy cabins every day feeling cramp-y and having slept poorly. And though we’re still waiting for a true innovation to replace the less-than-perfect-but-still-ubiquitous U-shape, we have found three of the very best travel pillows out there today that will make your tiresome trek as pleasant as can be.

    Editor's Note: We're currently updating these picks! Check back soon for more.

    Samsonite 2-in-1 Magic Pillow

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    The “magic” of this “magic pillow” is not just that it can be converted from a U-shape to a traditional rectangular pillow, but also in the precise degree of its microbead stuffing. It’s the Goldilocks of pillows: While some reviewers have thought its firmness was too much and some too little, we found it was the perfect amount to make the pillow moldable yet firm, no matter how or where you’re sitting. Massaging the beads in the U-shape lets you flatten the back of the pillow out, keeping your spine more aligned in the seat — something most U-shaped pillows fail at.

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    In both the U and rectangle shape, the beads are sparse enough to mold around large over-ear headphones, but dense enough to still support your head. The moldability is also convenient for disloyal travelers like us who use multiple airlines; each airline has their own unique seat shape, many of which seem to be designed for something other than a human head, but the Samsonite Magic Pillow can be squashed or shoved into and around differently shaped headrests with ease in both its shapes. The rectangle shape of the pillow is also useful for window seats, car travel, and lower-back comfort. We even used it to hold up a smartphone for movie-watching on a flight without in-seat display screens (the horror!).  

    In both its shapes, the pillow has a slick spandex-like side for a cooler feel and a fuzzy side for a warm and cozy feel, so you can navigate the rapid temperature cycling of commercial travel with ease. Both sides are also incredibly soft, and not that typical cheap-pillow-microfiber-softness that feels a little chalky — this is legitimate softness (to the point where one tester found themselves just stroking the fuzzy side for an awkward amount of time during a recent trip — sorry, seatmates).

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    The biggest complaint we have is more about microbead pillows in general than this particular one: It’s not very compact, which makes it hard to carry. But this version at least has a hook that you can attach to your carry-on or backpack, which you don’t get on many inexpensive models. In this price point, there weren’t many pillows that testers felt were even worth carrying around. Inflatable pillows are borderline cruel on the neck and ears, and like cheap memory foam, they often have a long-lasting and offensive smell. The Cloudz brand that is often sold in airports was the second-best version we tested, and similar to the Samsonite in almost every way, but doesn’t convert to a rectangle. And for our money, a flexible travel companion is the best travel companion.

    Get it from Amazon for $15.

    BCozzy Chin Supporting Travel Pillow

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    Pillows at this price point had the most diversity of shapes and functions, but few of the innovations actually delivered a better travel experience overall. We were looking for a pillow that was easy to use, easy to carry, and didn’t cause a huge embarrassment or inconvenience for our fellow travelers (we’re looking at you, toilet seat). And though at first glance it may not seem like it’s a wild departure from other models, the BCozzy Chin-Supporting Pillow came out a true winner.

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    While you can adjust the tightness and overlap several ways, the BCozzy can take two main shapes: the round loop and the double-stacked C-shape. In the round shape, the pillow wraps all the way around your neck and is secured in place by the weight of your chin or head. This might take some getting used to for people who don’t like their neck to be touched, but the tightness is adjustable while still being secure, and it offers unparalleled support for people who tend to nod off. No other pillow shape we tested kept our testers’ heads in a true “upright and locked” position (so to speak) the way this one did. And you can also adjust the pillow to support where you want to lean, from under the chin to either side of your head, which is great for aisle and middle seats. The double C-shape is ideal for side sleepers, sitting in window seats, and on car rides when you want to put your weight on a particular side or surface.  

    One of our main considerations for any travel pillow is whether it works with large over-ear headphones. Since the BCozzy sits lower on your neck and chin, all the headphones we tried didn’t even touch the pillow (except in the C-shape).

    The runner-up in this category was also the most controversial: the Trtl, which has been described as a “scarf with a shelf.” Some testers truly loved it, and others didn’t even bother bringing it back with them on the return flight. While we appreciate a risky design innovation, the feeling of being choked and the fact that it only supports one side of your head at a time made it a lot less useful than the BCozzy.

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    The main complaint our testers and some reviewers had of the BCozzy is that the fleece material can get hot, especially in the full wrap position. While it only felt uncomfortable in a few cases, we also found this can be solved with a silk scarf or any light material wrapped around the top where it touches your face or neck. And while it doesn’t compress or become compact, the snap strap attachment is much easier to use than some other clips, and it stayed secure through layovers and transfers while attached to various bags and luggage.

    Overall, the excellent support and innovative design that this pillow offers to keep your head upright makes it a shoo-in for our mid-range pick.

    Get it from Amazon for $30.

    Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow

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    You may be surprised that there aren’t THAT many expensive travel pillows out there. Or maybe you think, like us, that people who are in the market for a luxury travel pillow just end up traveling in first class instead. For the rest of us back here in coach, the Cabeau Evolution S3 is our pick for the best splurgeworthy travel pillow.

    The original Cabeau Evolution pillow was already one of the best memory-foam U-shaped pillows out there. The materials are high-quality, the design is great for all neck sizes, the memory foam is pleasantly firm, the case is washable, and it packs down tightly. It was even Wirecutter’s runner-up pick (behind the cheaper Cloudz, which we explained above does not do it for us). But the recently released Cabeau Evolution S3 is a significant improvement on that already-excellent pillow, with a few key features that make it worth the extra cost and make it our high-end pick.

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    The “S3” stands for their patent-pending Seat Strap System, which is one of the features that we think makes this pillow a winner. The adjustable straps on the back of the pillow attach to the wings of an airline seat headrest in multiple ways, which keeps the pillow — and your head — steady and aligned throughout your journey. While not all airplanes or trains or buses have wings on their seats, we think they are common enough to make it worth the gamble. Pair those straps with the adjustable front clasp, and this pillow offers superior support even for the floppiest of necks.

    While the shape is still a classic U, there are a few small improvements that set both the Evolution and S3 apart from competitors. The back of the pillow is relatively flat, which keeps your spine more aligned and flush with the seat. And the raised sides give extra support, even when your head is leaning to one side. The memory foam is dense enough to be supportive, and while the raised sides did bump up against large headphones, the flexible foam didn’t add a lot of pressure or make them uncomfortable.

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    The material on the S3 is also more comfortable — in a variety of temperatures — than the earlier model. It’s marketed as a quick-dry high-performance fabric, and while we didn’t sweat enough in the ear region to fully notice and appreciate this feature, both the Evolution and S3 come with a removable and machine-washable case, unlike our other two picks. Sweaty neck-havers, this one’s definitely for you.

    One of the best features of the Evolution and the S3 is that despite the large, comfortable size of both pillows, they compress to become incredibly compact in their included travel bags, which makes them super portable. In fact, they pack so tightly that it took a couple minutes for the pillow to get back to its original size when unrolled (though not so long that it was annoying). Several reviewers mention that the zipper on their compression case broke, and while we did not have that experience in testing, most reviewers also report getting a replacement easily when purchased directly through Cabeau.

    While we still haven’t found a travel pillow that feels as good as the lay-flat comfort of the first-class elite, the Cabeau Evolution S3 is the closest thing to true ergonomic luxury we can find.

    Get it from Amazon for $40.