Are you looking for the perfect pillow to bring with you when traveling? After spending more than 115 hours testing thirty-four pillows on fifteen flights, we're confident the best travel pillow for most travelers is the Cabeau Evolution Cool. It's comfortable, compressible, machine washable, and it actively keeps you cool while resting.
Cabeau Evolution Cool
Table Of Contents
Best Travel Pillow Overall
Cabeau’s newest line of travel pillows is just about as futuristic as a travel pillow can get – and I mean that in the best way possible.
Cabeau has gone to great lengths to address many of the common issues people encounter when using a travel pillow, and I think they did a stellar job.
Recommended for: Plane rides, train rides, bus rides, car rides
If you’re really looking for the best option on the market, quality has to be your number one concern. Luckily, Cabeau’s newest pillow just oozes “premium.” Nothing is out of place, and it’s very clear that a lot of thought and passion went into this travel pillow.
The outer cover is a polyester/spandex blend, which I was fully prepared to hate. Turns out it’s actually perfect!
The cover is comfortable, machine washable, and specifically designed to keep you at room-temperature even when using the pillow around your neck.
On the inside we have a standard, but high quality, 100% memory foam insert. The twist here is that it’s a “dual density” insert. Basically, there’s a less dense outer layer of memory foam wrapped around an inner, denser layer of memory foam.
Built into the insert are proprietary “cooling vents” that allow normal air circulation around your neck even when you’re using the pillow.
If you’ve ever felt hot, scratchy, or constricted by typical travel pillows, Cabeau’s Evolution Cool pillow is an absolute godsend.
This travel pillow provided me with the single most comfortable travel experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I honestly don’t have a single critique in the comfort department.
On top of the dual-density memory foam, the Cabeau features a raised neck support design that ensures your neck will remain in a neutral, comfortable position for your entire trip.
The Evolution Cool comes with extras galore: a high quality storage bag that has pouches built in for additional storage, along with memory foam earplugs attached to the pillow’s drawstrings.
They specifically designed the pillow to allow for larger, over-ear headphones too, which is yet another reason why this travel pillow totally kicks ass.
I only picked this pillow up a month and a half ago, but it’s already become my go-to travel pillow whenever I know I’ll need some heavy duty comfort assurance.
Read my full Cabeau Evolution Cool Review!
Most Versatile Travel Pillow
This one’s definitely an odd-looking travel pillow, but I’m honestly in love with it. On an airplane, in the car, at home watching TV…there’s no wrong way to use the J-Pillow.
Recommended for: Plane rides, home use, ground travel depending on personal preferences
Very impressive. It’s covered in a luxurious, plush velour material, and you’ll find yourself compulsively touching the pillow just because of how soft it is.
On the inside, the J-Pillow is stuffed with a polyester fiber filling. I’m usually not a big fan of this material for travel pillows, but it works beautifully with the J-Pillow for whatever reason. The pillow strikes a perfect balance of firmness and “sponginess.”
The entire pillow is machine washable, which is definitely a unique feature among travel pillows. I’ve washed it 4-5 times to date, and it’s just as soft and supportive as it was on day one.
This is where the pillow’s J shape really shines. There’s practically an infinite number of ways you can position this pillow.
It doesn’t matter if you need lower back support, neck support, leg support, or any other kind of support. You can position the three prongs of this pillow to perfectly address any aches your body might throw at you.
I came out of a 6 hour plane ride essentially ache-free, simply because whenever you feel that soreness start to kick in, you can reposition the pillow easily and quickly to fend off any long-term aches.
I’ve used the J-Pillow over the course of 12+ travel-intensive trips, and its held up flawlessly.
The one thing it’s lacking is any peripherals. Nowadays nearly every travel pillow comes with a complimentary storage bag, set of ear plugs, sleeping mask, and so on, but the J-Pillow doesn’t.
Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.
Read my full J-Pillow Review!
Best Inflatable Travel Pillow
This one’s labeled as the “Ultimate Travel Pillow,” and with very good reason. It’s different than the standard around-the-neck travel pillow, and is perfect if you’re seeking a more innovative approach to travel comfort.
Recommended for: Plane rides, car rides, bus & train rides depending on how much space you have
The Travelrest pillow is the only inflatable pillow you’ll see on this list.
It’s hard to do inflatable pillows well, but Travelrest managed to get it down perfectly. It’s truly heavy-duty, and I haven’t been worried about it popping even once.
The whole thing is covered in a faux-velvet material – it’s not the softest material in the world, but I don’t actually have any complaints about it.
If you’re worried about the material, they also sell a separate, true-velour cover for the pillow, which will satisfy even the pickiest customer out there.
The coolest part about the Travelrest is its inflating mechanism. They’ve come up with a simple inflation method that gives you complete control over how well-inflated the pillow is.
This is super important for inflatable pillows, because it means you can change how firm the pillow is on the fly, without having to fiddle around with one of those stupid inflation things that you have to bite down on over and over again.
The Travelrest sports a “lateral” design, which means it’s a full-body pillow that hooks around one shoulder, and crosses your body to end at the opposite hip.
This is one of those designs that you’ll love or hate – I definitely love it!
If you have a lot of back pain, this is the pillow for you. It does a good job of stabilizing your whole body and keeping your spine in a neutral position even as you sleep.
It also gives you something to comfortably wrap your arms around. That might not be for everyone, but I always like holding something as I sleep and this pillow is perfect for that.
I’ve officially owned and used the Travelrest pillow for over a year now, and I’ve had zero issues. No rips, tears, or any other degradation in quality.
Travelrest is also fairly active online, and has a number of instructional videos that help you inflate, position, and even repair the travel pillow.
I eventually did buy the separate “luxury” cover that Travelrest also sells, and I really like it. I’m not a big fan of selling the two separately, but it’s a minor gripe compared to the mileage I’ve gotten out of this thing.
Read my full Travelrest pillow review!
Best Travel Pillow For Camping
It might seem surprising that I’m including a classic, rectangular sleeping pillow on this list, but I’ve been really impressed by this little pillow from Therm-A-Rest.
Recommended for: Home use, camping, hotel use, airplane use. Compressible pillows like this one pair extremely well with compression sacks, as both help to save you space while on the move.
Read More: The Best Compression Sacks of 2018
To start: this pillow is manufactured in the USA, which is definitely a selling point for me. It’s always nice to support companies based in your home country, and I think the overall construction of the pillow really is flawless.
The outer cover of the Them-A-Rest is a “brushed polyester” that definitely gets the job done. It’s not as soft as some of the other plush, velour covers I’ve talked about, but it’s not uncomfortable either.
On the inside we have a filling of polyurethane foam chips. This isn’t my favorite filling of all time, but to be honest I’m not sure I’d even realize it wasn’t “true” memory foam if they hadn’t been so up front about it in the product description.
The entire pillow is machine washable, and I’ve washed it 3+ times with no apparent issues. There are users that have had less than stellar washing experiences, though. It seems Therm-A-Rest may have some minor quality control problems, because certain units seem to break open fairly easily when washed and dried.
I’d just be doubly sure you’re adhering to all washing/drying instructions, and maybe use a different machine if you know that your own can be rough at times.
Again, this pillow gets the job done. It doesn’t make me rave about how comfortable it is, but I don’t have any specific complaints either. It’s a very straightforward, functional travel pillow.
I’ve tried it out on longer flights and a few bus rides, and it’s definitely a big improvement over no travel pillow at all.
The Therm-A-Rest really shines when you take it off road, however. This is hands down the best camping pillow I’ve ever used.
I know, I know – a lot of people consider real pillows to be an unnecessary luxury while camping. I never had a problem using a pile of dirty clothes myself, but I knew I could never go back to that after the first time I used the Therm-A-Rest while camping.
Therm-A-Rest offers this pillow in a variety of colors, and even offers four different sizes so that you can be sure you’re getting a good fit with the travel pillow.
It doesn’t come with any extras, but does have a “pouch” built in to the case that you can use to compress the travel pillow.
Again, I would consider this a standard, no-frills, functional travel pillow that really shines when you want some extra comfort while camping, or even as a comfortable addition to any hotel room.
Read my full Therm-a-Rest Review!
Best Travel Pillow For Neck Pain
If you think this one looks weird, that’s because it does. I was definitely hesitant to try the Trtl pillow out in public at first, but I’m really glad that I did!
It uses an innovative new design where you simply wrap the “pillow” around your neck, with a neck brace mechanism serving as a support wedge between your head and whichever shoulder you want to lean towards.
Recommended for: Plane use, ground travel depending on how much space is available
The beauty of the Trtl pillow is how simple it is. It’s basically a fleece scarf wrapped around a neck brace, and you can’t really mess up either one of those components too badly.
The cover is a very plush, fleece-like material, and it’s as soft as any pillow cover I’ve ever touched. It’s fully machine washable, and I don’t see it tearing, ripping, or losing it’s plushness anytime soon.
That’s a good thing, because the Trtl requires much more skin contact to use than most other travel pillows.
The neck brace piece is really just a simple, 4-pronged plastic support system that’s wrapped in the cover. Mine has held up perfectly so far, but I am a little worried that extended use could eventually cause the plastic to bend and even snap.
I think the Trtl is a very comfortable option. I’m not so sure about the “scientifically proven” claim that the company makes, but I don’t have any specific complaints about the pillow so far.
It allows for a very natural resting position by firmly but gently supporting your head in a specific direction. This does mean that you can’t really change head positions without re-wrapping the Trtl, but that’s not especially hard to do.
I’ve tried this one out on an east-to-west-coast flight, and I slept like a rock the entire time. I woke up with absolutely no neck pain, which was a welcome surprise.
It is worth noting that users with longer necks and/or narrower shoulders have reported issues using the Trtl, because its “one size fits all” model does count on fairly “standard” neck and shoulder measurements to function optimally.
I haven’t had the Trtl for more than a month or so, but I’ve definitely already gotten my money’s worth out of it.
Like I said, it’s an ingeniously simple design of two very basic pieces. Should the cover rip or the inner brace break, I can’t imagine it would be hard or expensive to replace either piece.
It would be smart for the company to release a “tall” version, and maybe even one for those with narrower shoulders.
The Trtl doesn’t come with any extras, but it’s such a unique spin on the standard travel pillow that I wouldn’t really expect it to.
Read my full Trtl pillow review!
Best Travel Pillow For Long Flights
This pillow is clearly the winner in my book – definitely the best travel neck pillow for international plane rides. Below, I’m going to talk about the most common comfort problems people run into on long haul flights, and explain exactly how the Evolution Cool perfectly addresses every single one.
This is the number one issue most people face on extended trips.
You have to keep your neck in a pretty awkward position for hours on end, and the human body really isn’t supposed to work that way.
Sleeping on length plane rides can make neck pain even worse, too. When you’re asleep, your head flops all over the place and ends up in some very painful positions.
Well, Cabeau’s Evolution Cool travel pillow literally took care of all of my neck pain.
I first tested the pillow out on a twelve hour flight from the US to Europe, and was hoping that it would help even just a little bit.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up after a solid seven hour nap with 0 neck pain, soreness, or tightness!
The pillow is so good at preventing neck pain because of Cabeau’s new “dual density” memory foam approach.
Basically, they have two layers of memory foam inside the pillow. The outer layer is squishier and fits to the shape of your neck almost immediately, while the inner layer is denser and provides a firm base of support underneath the squishy outer layer.
You know how a lot of memory foam pillows get “crushed” during long trips, and become so compressed that they stop providing any real comfort? Cabeau’s dual density approach completely solves that issue.
Instead, the outer layer will slowly compress towards the inner layer, but the inner layer itself won’t compress further.
They basically found the perfect balance of firmness and comfort for a travel pillow.
On top of that, they designed the pillow so that it has a raised upper lip to it. This works extremely well, and keeps your neck firmly but gently in a healthy, neutral position.
A lot of other pillows seem alright at first, but let your head flop all over the place when you start nodding off.
You don’t have to worry about that with the Cabeau. When I woke up, my head and neck were in exactly the same position that they were when I fell asleep. No pain, and no tightness!
It really boils down to this: if you get bad neck pain on long plane rides, do yourself a favor and at least give the Cabeau a try. You really can’t put a price on saving yourself from serious neck strain.
It actually felt like I had been asleep at home in my comfy bed, instead of on a cramped, hot airplane.
Speaking of hot airplanes…
This is one of the main reasons I hate flying.
It doesn’t matter what you do – your airplane is always going to be too hot or too cold.
I’m not sure which is worse, either: sweating your butt off in a hot and stuffy plane cabin, or shivering and chattering your teeth because they set the A/C to -50.
I usually hate the heat more than the cold, and luckily this is where the Evolution Cool pillow really shines.
In fact, this is where it gets its name – the Evolution “Cool” – from.
Cabeau designed this pillow so that there’s plenty of airflow around your neck when you’re using it.
They cut air circulation vents into the pillow, so it doesn’t trap your body heat.
A lot of other travel pillows might seem comfortable at first, until you wake up drenched in neck and back sweat.
Not with the Cabeau!
I thought the circulation vents sounded like some kind of marketing gimmick at first, but they really, really work.
There’s nothing worse than being cramped, sitting, and sweating all at the same time, and for that reason alone Cabeau’s Evolution Cool is always going to be my go to travel pillow for long plane rides.
This is going to sound pretty similar to the neck pain category, because the pillow does a bang up job with back pain too.
I usually don’t even take back pain into consideration when testing travel pillows that just go around your neck, because most of the time it’s not back pain that these types of pillows are meant to address.
Well, I don’t know if Cabeau did it on purpose or not, but I was really surprised at how effectively this pillow dealt with my back pain.
It really just does such a fantastic job of keeping your head and neck in a neutral, comfortable position, that your back just doesn’t have the opportunity to get bent out of shape.
A lot of my back pain usually kicks in when I’ve been sleeping in a weird position. My head moves around a lot when I fall asleep on planes, in cars, or on buses, and that just seems to kickstart and exacerbate my back pain most of the time.
Well, like I said before, the Evolution Cool has this neat raised outer edge on it that firmly keeps your neck upright and straight when you’re using it. In addition, you can clasp the toggles in the front of the pillow around your neck, which keeps everything firmly in place.
And since your back usually does follow the curvature of your neck, it makes sense that a straight neck equals a straight back.
As a side note, I am talking primarily about upper back pain here.
It wouldn’t really be fair to criticize the pillow for failing to prevent lower back pain, because it’s not meant to be used for lumbar support.
I guess you could take it off of your neck, fold it up, and cram it behind your lower back if you really needed to. I’m sure it would actually be pretty comfortable, just because of the high quality memory foam.
To put it simply, I think that keeping everything straight, upright, and aligned properly is the real key to traveling without neck and back pain.
I don’t think I’ve tried another pillow that maintains alignment as well as the Cabeau did for me.
That’s why, no matter how comfortable a pillow might be, it’s important to consider how big and how stow-able it is.
I have to say, the Cabeau is not the smallest travel pillow in the world. It measures in at 12.3 inches long, 10.2 inches wide, and 5.5 inches vertically thick. It also weighs 15.8 ounces, which is just barely under a pound.
Personally, I’ll gladly take the slightly bulkier size in exchange for the crazy comfort I’ve gotten out of this pillow. But, I also tend to keep these things around my neck for the entire flight.
If you find yourself using it in stints throughout the flight, I could definitely see it becoming a bit cumbersome to take on and off, and to store when not in use.
The funny thing is that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they actually think it’s a pretty small pillow. So maybe it’s just me either way, but no matter what you think, remember to check the size of your pillow before taking it on a super long flight.
It’s also worth nothing that you always have the option of compressing memory foam pillows to a fraction of their full size.
This can just get annoying when it then takes a few minutes for them to regain their shape afterward.
The headphones problem
This is a big one for a lot of people, even though you don’t hear about that often.
The number one issue many people have with around the neck travel pillows is that they interfere with headphone use.
The memory foam lip often gets in the way of over-the-ear headphones, pushing them up and preventing them from sitting comfortable on your head.
Well, apparently Cabeau was paying attention, because they actually fixed this problem!
There are shallow grooves built into the pillow on either side, right below your ears. You can nestle even the biggest of headphones right into the grooves, so they sit flush over your ears with no resistance from the pillow.
Again, this is a feature I didn’t even know that I wanted. But, once I realized how clever it is, I’m going to have a lot of difficulty trying out other pillows that haven’t implemented such a subtly helpful design.
Buying Guide (2018)
Are you overwhelmed by how many options there are?
For this mini travel pillow buying guide, I’ve settled on the two most important metrics to keep in mind when perusing my list of travel pillows: material and form.
Below I explore exactly what these metrics mean and how they can ultimately come together in the form of the best travel pillow for your individual needs.
When dealing with travel pillows, material is king.
No matter how form-fitting, fancy, or reasonably-priced a pillow is, you don’t want it if it’s made out of scratchy material and filled with packing peanuts. Even if one of my reviews sounds particularly appealing to you, don’t go with that option unless you’re sure that you like whatever material that travel pillow is made out of.
It’s important to understand the different types of materials that are used in travel pillows so that you can be sure of what you’re buying.
Beginning with the outside covering, most quality pillows utilize either a velour or velvet derivative material.
It is fairly common for cheaper travel pillows to be made with a stretchy nylon or spandex covering, but most of the higher quality pillows featured on this site utilize either velvet or velour.
While velour and velvet appear to be the same, there are some marked differences in each material.
Cutting the loops makes velour less of a shiny material than velvet is, while still feeling incredibly soft.
Because velour is a knitted fabric, the end result is a stretchy fabric that tends to be thinner than velvet.
Velour is commonly found in bath robes (see to the left), comfort clothes, and track suits.
Unlike velour, velvet is a woven fabric. Velvet does use the “pile weave” structure, which is a parallel to velour’s pile knit structure. This means that velvet is created by weaving yarns into little loops, all in the same direction.
The loops remain intact in velvet, as opposed to the cutting of the loops that occurs in the creation of velour.
Because the loops are kept whole in velvet, velvet tends to be a shinier fabric. Velvet also has very little “give” – it’s not stretchy. Velvet is a thicker fabric than velour overall.
There are many faux-velvet derivatives that vary in quality, but in my experience most tend to be rougher and more scratchy than true velvet. In short, velour = stretchy and light-weight while velvet = thicker and non-stretchy.
Knowing the difference between velour and velvet allows you to develop a travel pillow preference, which results in better and higher-quality rest when one made of your preferred material.
I personally prefer velour coverings on my travel pillows, as I feel that the stretchiness of velour better facilitates head and face comfort.
The light-weight quality of the fabric also allows the pillow to breathe more, and it doesn’t trap as much heat when in use.
Other than the cover material, we have the inside stuffing of the travel pillow. I’ve found that most travel pillows use either memory foam, polyester fiber, microbeads, or simply air as their filling.
While you can find the odd goose down travel pillow, and certain hypoallergenic travel pillows may use alternative allergy-friendly stuffing, I’ve found the former four fillings to be the most prevalent.
Memory foam filling is held by many as the best or most luxurious travel pillow filling.
As a very brief description, memory foam is polyurethane with added chemicals that increase its resistance and density (check out the memory foam article on wikipedia to learn more).
Higher densities of memory foam will soften when in contact with body heat, allowing it to mold perfectly to contours within minutes.
Memory foam is extremely compressible, and higher quality memory foam will return to its default shape very rapidly when decompressed.
In my experience, memory foam tends to trap heat more than other filler materials, which might be a deal-breaker for those who are sensitive to temperature while resting.
Polyester fiber is perhaps the most one size fits all filling of travel pillows, as it is already widely utilized in standard pillows and other cushions.
Polyester fiber is a robust material that stands up to hard abuse. Here are some characteristics of polyester fiber filling:
- Resistant to stretching and shrinking
- Resistant to most chemicals
- Quick drying
- Mildew resistant
- Abrasion resistant
- Easily washed
In other words, if you tend to be hard on your belongings or are traveling to more rugged destinations, polyester fiber filling may be the way to go.
Most microbeads are actually high quality polystyrene spheres – essentially small beads of Styrofoam.
Each individual bead ranges typically from 0.25mm to 0.7mm in diameter. Microbeads emulate memory foam in a way, as they tend to quickly reposition when subjected to pressure, giving the feeling of molding to one’s body.
Microbeads are non-toxic and actually discourage dust mites and other allergens, making them a good pick for allergy-prone travelers.
A common complaint about microbeads is that they tend to have a “new plastic” smell upon purchase, although in my experience this smell fades rapidly.
Microbeads do not trap heat and allow travel pillows to breath quite well while in use.
Many travel pillows use air as a convenient, cost-saving, and storage-friendly filling option.
When dealing with inflated travel pillows, I’ve come to realize that the quality really depends on the inflation/deflation mechanism.
A mechanism that’s intuitive and easy to access while the pillow is in use lets you inflate or deflate as needed.
This allows a more precise control over the firmness of the pillow that you miss out on with other types of filling.
Inflated travel pillows tend not to fit the contours of one’s head as well as other materials, though, and in my experience act more as support devices rather than true comfort-promoters.
Form (Shape of the Pillow)
Taking a travel pillow’s form/design into account when buying is an absolute must. There are four basic categories of travel pillow form that I’ve come across: around the neck, full-body, standard pillow, and miscellaneous/innovative.
Around the neck
Also known as U travel pillows, around the neck travel pillows are definitely the most common form of travel pillow.
When considering an around the neck travel pillow, some things to take into account and research are:
- The size of the neck opening. Do you have an especially large or small neck, and will this cause discomfort if the neck opening is not properly sized?
- Does the travel pillow have any type of button or fastener around the front that can be used for chin support?
- What style cushion is being used? Is it flat-backed, for a more form-fitting experience, or is it round-backed? Round-backed travel pillows often garner the complaint of pushing the head forward in an uncomfortable fashion.
Full-body travel pillows are often meant to provide a more complete resting experience to the user, and typically allow for better alignment throughout the entire upper body while resting.
Some things to take into account if you’re considering a full-body style travel pillow:
- Is it too big? Will you be able to easily maneuver the pillow on a cramped plane or in a cramped car, and will it give you trouble while packing?
- What kind of support does it give? Certain full-body travel pillows will focus more on body support, some focus on head support, and some try to provide all-over lateral support. What type of support matters most to you?
- Does the travel pillow have any type of clasp or strap that will keep it stable and in place during use? Untethered full-body travel pillows will often shift and become unwieldy while in use.
This style of travel pillow is exactly what it sounds like: a standard, square or rectangular pillow, although usually downsized for easier traveling and packing capability.
These pillows are perhaps the easiest to reposition during use, and can be re-purposed for lumbar support, leg support, lap comfort, and any other use that one might desire while traveling.
In my opinion, the biggest downside of a standard form travel pillow is that often, it will not interface comfortably with, say, an airplane seat, or a car seat.
This travel pillows are usually efforts to combine the best feature of various other forms.
For example, an innovative travel pillow might have 3 prongs instead of the traditionally 2-pronged U shape, which allow for increased chin and neck support.
Perhaps they simply take the around-the-neck form and enhance it by adding high-rise neck supports.
There is an endless pool of modified travel pillows to choose from, and I’ve found that innovative, non-standard travel pillows are often best for those with very specific travel comfort needs.
When you’re reading through my travel pillow reviews, remember that they do often reflect my subjective opinion.
When I go over something like construction quality or pricing, I’m always as objective as possible. But, when I’m talking about things like the shape of the pillow, how it fits around my neck, or what material it’s made out of, personal opinion does come into play.
For example, if I enthusiastically recommend a pillow made with a velour cover but you know that you hate velour, that’s ok! That travel pillow simply isn’t for you. Never make a purchase if you know for a fact that you’ll dislike something about that travel pillow, no matter how good it might sound otherwise.
At this point I’ve tested and reviews more travel pillows than I can count. This page only represents a subset of the pillows I’ve reviewed, and I’m constantly updating it and adding more content.
Please enjoy my reviews, and please contact me with any questions! I’m positive that with all of the reviews on this page, you will end up finding the perfect pillow!