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We get it. You think there is no comfortable way to sleep on a plane — especially if you’re flying in economy.
You’ve tried all the basic positions: head tilted back, head slouched forward, head on window, head on a stranger’s shoulder, face down on the tray table and, of course, the fractured-necked giraffe. Either way, you wake up cramped, tired and sometimes to the frustrated demands of a flight attendant who has already told you multiple times to, “Please put your seat in the upright position for landing.”
But there’s a semi-solution for travelers crammed in the economy cabin known as the neck pillow. And in recent years, it’s really evolved.
Some of us are big proponents of the neck pillow. This humble contraption has saved many students from severe neck cramps during Ryanair-filled semesters abroad in Ireland. They’re often compact, plush and offer just the right amount of support so you can sleep sitting up without bothering anyone (or hurting yourself).
But not all pillows are created equal. That’s why a couple of us seasoned travelers at TPG tested out some of the most popular neck pillows on the market so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found.
The Design: Crazy, we know. This “pillow” looks like a scuba diving mask — or a space helmet. But the Ostrich has its perks. Designed to feel like cocoon, the best way to rest with the Ostrich is in that, “face down on the tray table” position we mentioned earlier. It’s pretty cozy, and it’s made of a high-quality combination of viscose and elastomer. There’s also an air hole in the center of the pillow so you don’t, you know, suffocate. Best of all, it reduces all light and ambient sound around you — so it’s basically a two-in-one pillow and sleep mask.
The Experience: It’s surprisingly comfortable, but the Ostrich is frankly pretty weird. The shape offers no neck support, it’s gigantic, there isn’t enough cushioning despite how big it is, and it’s not very packable. Because of the “cocoon” effect, it can feel extremely claustrophobic in there. But, really, the nail in the coffin was the price. At $99, it’s the most expensive product we reviewed on this list. Does anyone really need to spend that much on a neck pillow? You tell us.
Don’t Use: If you’re claustrophobic — or don’t want to shell out a Benjamin on a glorified neck pillow.
Best For: People who do not like any light or sound while trying to sleep.
The Verdict: 5/10
Buy: OstrichPillow.com, $99.00
The Design: Here, we have another innovator: the inflatable neck pillow. But save your breath — this pillow comes with a built-in pump (ba-dum-tss). Within 30 to 60 seconds, you can go from having a deflated handful of fabric to a full-on neck pillow that can be aerated to varying degrees of firmness. The Daydreamer comes with a pouch and is outfitted in a luxe, velvety material. It’s also machine washable and packs away the easiest out of any neck pillow we tested.
The Experience: In theory, this pillow sounds like a home run, but it somehow falls short. Here’s why: It’s inflatable, which makes it ultra easy to pack and somewhat customizable. But it doesn’t really maintain its firmness as you wear it. It deflates slowly over time, thus decreasing the amount of neck support it delivers. The pump is also a struggle — you have to squeeze hard, and quite a few times, to get the pillow to your desired firmness. But hey — could be good for a quick in-flight workout?
Don’t Use: If you have carpal tunnel, or need a lot of support throughout a long-haul flight.
Best For: Arm day, or travelers seeking a bargain (it’s one of the least expensive neck pillows we tested).
The Verdict: 6/10
The Design: Huzi is one of a few products we tested that really strayed from the traditional memory-foam, U-shaped style most of us envision when we think of a neck pillow. It features a durable and super, super soft bamboo fabric, which is machine-washable, hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial.
The Experience: What makes the Huzi interesting is its “versatile design.” Simply put: it’s a stuffed infinity scarf. Yes, you can wrap it around your neck and call it a day, but you can also use it as a window or desk pillow, for additional back support, or wrap it around your face like eye mask that also muffles noise. But there’s a reason that neck pillows have that traditional shape. The length of the Huzi is just a lot to deal with, and it can be awkward and bulky when you’re in an upright sleeping situation.
Don’t Use: If you’re looking to travel light. The Huzi doesn’t pack up all that easily.
Best For: If you’re looking something that can multitask.
The Verdict: 6/10
The Design: So, the Trtl is just straight up not a pillow. If anything, it’s more like a neck brace. Or a thick scarf with one hard side. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a contender. This adjustable, er, thing claims to be “scientifically proven” to hold your neck in a better position than the standard U-shaped travel pillow. It’s got a patented design.
The Experience: Despite that fact that it’s lightweight, soft, easily packable and keeps your head and neck in a pretty good position — it’s just not really all that comfortable. Also, since it’s essentially a fleece scarf, it gets really hot under there. When it’s wrapped around your neck and you try to “rest” your cheek on it, it sort of feels like you’re putting your face on a shelf. Trust us: It’s pretty off-putting. But it is one of the more affordable products we reviewed.
Don’t Use: If you prefer to rest your head on something cushy, or if you’re the kind of person who gets hot easily.
Best For: People who are looking to travel light. The profile is slim enough for a passenger sleeping in a super-cramped, low-cost carrier’s cabin.
The Verdict: 7/10
The Design: This neck pillow is pretty basic. U-shaped memory foam that’s equipped with a velour cover — the Travelrest doesn’t mess with many gimmicks. Its biggest selling point is an adjustable velcro strap at the front that allows for some customization. It also comes with earplugs. But, other than that, it’s a pretty standard neck pillow.
The Experience: We liked this one. The shape, while it seems pretty archetypal, is actually a bit taller than the average neck pillow, which provides a comfortable resting position with fantastic neck support. It also has a sneaky dip in the back that cradles the head nicely. Objectively, this might not be the pillow for you if you like to sleep on a softer surface. The memory foam is definitely on the stiff side, which also makes it bulky and difficult to pack. Another con? The pillow didn’t maintain its quality after being washed.
Don’t Use: If you have a short neck, or prefer a softer pillow.
Best For: People who like to sleep on a hard pillow, and are willing to spend a bit more on travel accessories.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
The Design: The BCOZZY pillow, while it looks pretty basic in the photos, actually offers a fair degree of flexibility. Known for its chin support, you can switch up the BCOZZY’s shape to wrap around the whole neck, elevate just one side of your head, or fold it in half if you want to give your skin some breathing space. It also comes in multiple sizes, so your kids can have a comfortable up-right sleep too — if you can get them to sit still.
The Experience: This pillow was very comfortable and very supportive. It keeps the head upright without pushing it forward, which is a plus. But one of the issues we encountered when testing the BCOZZY was that it doesn’t stay in place and has a tendency to unwrap. When using the chin support, it can also be a bit hot on the neck.
Don’t Use: If you tend to overheat on airplanes, because when the neck pillow is wrapped all the way around, things tend to get sweaty.
Best For: Restless, fidgety people who are moving around and shifting positions during the flight anyway and people who really do require additional chin support, because a lot of traditional U-shaped neck pillows lack in this department.
The Verdict: 8/10
The Design: It’s a straightforward, supportive memory foam neck pillow. It’s also compact and easily portable. It has a drawstring in the front (admittedly, we’re not sure this has a purpose) and a velvety lining that feels nice against your skin. And it’s black, so it matches everything. Aeris also throws in an additional eye mask and earplugs with your pillow purchase — which we love, of course.
The Experience: There isn’t much to say that’s specific about the Aeris. It’s just a basic, comfortable neck pillow. It does its job, just like it should. If you want an example of how powerful that simplicity is, TPG’s creative director, Isabelle Raphael, selected this pillow out of all of the others we tested to take with her on a trip to Australia from New York. One annoyance we had is that the Aeris is a hassle to fit back into the portable pouch. Other than that, it’s, well, a neck pillow.
Don’t Use: If you don’t have room to pack it. The pouch helps, but it’s not the most compact pillow.
Best For: Pretty much everyone who likes using neck pillows.
The Verdict: 9/10
The Bottom Line
Comfort is subjective. There are people out there who enjoy sleeping with the fan and the AC on, after all. So, when picking a neck pillow, consider how you like to sleep at home. Prefer a stiff pillow? Try out the Travelrest. Can’t stand any noise or light when you’re trying to sleep? The Ostrich might be for you (if your neck pillow budget is limitless, of course). But sometimes, simple really is better: The most successful neck pillows we tested were the most traditional. Sweet dreams!
Additional reporting by Isabelle Raphael and Orli Friedman.
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