Which neck pillow is best?
Traveling can be exhausting but catching a nap on the run is easier said than done. More often than not, sleeping while seated follows a rather frustrating pattern: you doze off, your head slowly starts to slide sideways or tilt forward, and you inevitably snap awake. Luckily, though, the right neck pillow can help break this dreaded cycle by providing cushioned support in all the right places.
Our shopping guide has all the information you need to find the best neck pillow for your travels. Read on to learn more about the various neck pillow types, fills, and features. We also included a few product recommendations at the end of this article, like our favorite, the Comfy World Comfort Master, which boasts a highly supportive design with generous cushioning.
What to know before you buy a neck pillow
There are several shapes and designs of neck pillows to choose from:
- Traditional U-shaped neck pillows are easy to use and generally do an excellent job of supporting the back of the head and both sides of the neck.
- Innovative J-shaped neck pillows have three areas with which to support the neck, side of the head, and the chin. The top of the J wraps around the back of the neck and one side of the head while the bottom arch supports the chin.
- For all-around support, 360° pillows encircle the entire neck, providing support for the back of the head, both sides of the neck, and the chin. Some 360° pillows simply wrap around the neck while others fasten shut.
- If you favor sleeping on one side, a cross-body neck pillow might be for you. Shaped like an oversized apostrophe, cross-body pillows loop over the shoulder and provide lateral support for the head, neck, and body.
The filling of a neck pillow will have a big impact on comfort. Glass or plastic microbeads, polyester hollow fiber and memory foam are all common neck pillow fills. While microbead neck pillows tend to be easiest on the budget, their beanbag-like consistency can leave a lot to be desired in terms of comfort and support. Polyester hollow fiber, on the other hand, feels much like a regular pillow, but is prone to eventually losing loft. Memory foam delivers form-fitting support, superior comfort, and excellent resiliency, but also tends to retain heat, so keep this in mind if you sleep hot. And, of course, there’s the basic air-filled blow-up style, which may not offer much in terms of contouring to your body, but these deflate to a flat, packable size that takes up very little space.
What to look for in a quality neck pillow
A soft outer shell with a pleasing texture will boost overall comfort (velour and polyester tend to be the most popular and comfortable outer materials). Even if you decide to opt for an inflatable neck pillow, a plush cover is worth looking for. If you use a neck pillow often, a model with a removable cover is advisable.
Your pillow is bound to come in contact with a variety of unfamiliar surfaces, and washing your cover regularly will help keep it hygienic.
A few neck pillows conveniently come with built-in pockets for smartphones or mp3 players, allowing you to keep your device within easy reach at all times.
Colors and prints certainly shouldn’t be a primary deciding factor when choosing a neck pillow, but with a host of options available, there’s no reason not to go for something that appeals to your taste.
How much you can expect to spend on a neck pillow
Neck pillows cost anywhere from $5 to $50. While budget-priced models might be acceptable for shorter trips or infrequent use, a quality neck pillow will provide superior comfort and a more refreshing rest.
Neck pillow FAQ
Q. Which type of neck pillow should I choose if my head drops forward?
A. If you find your chin repeatedly dropping onto your chest, a neck pillow with front support can help. A 360° neck pillow is probably your best bet, but if you find these too restrictive, a J-shaped pillow or a cross-body model could also work.
Q. Is there a particular neck pillow that works best for side sleepers?
A. Side sleepers typically lean to one side and sleep with a tilted head when seated. Cross-body neck pillows provide unilateral support for both the head and the body, making them ideal for side sleepers. U-shaped pillows can also work, provided your head doesn’t drop forward.
What are the best neck pillows to buy?
Top neck pillow
Our take: A supportive memory foam inner coupled with a plush cover make this one of the most comfortable neck pillows on the market. Ideal for those seeking superior neck and shoulder support.
What we like: Thermosensitive memory foam molds to the shape of the neck, shoulders, and head for customized support. Removable microfiber cover is soft to the touch and easy to care for.
What we dislike: May become somewhat warm, and the thick cover doesn’t do much to combat heat retention.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Top neck pillow for the money
Our take: The versatile, multitasking design that doubles as a lumbar pillow paired with a lightweight price tag make this a smart choice for thrifty travelers.
What we like: Works as both a neck and lumbar-support pillow. Inflatable construction is ideal for travel. Quick and easy to inflate. Comes with a dedicated travel bag.
What we dislike: Removing all the air and getting it back into its storage bag after use can be a bit of a challenge.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: If you just can’t get comfortable using a U-shaped neck pillow, this cross-body model might be a better fit. A top pick for side sleepers looking for fuller head and neck support.
What we like: Large size offers extended upper body support. Works in multiple positions with various fastening options for customizable comfort. Inflates quickly and easily. Plush outer shell boosts comfort.
What we dislike: When secured over the back of a seat, the strap may get in the way of the screens or trays of passengers seated behind you.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
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Erica van Blommestein writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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