Best Travel Pillows

Never judge a pillow by its appearance. I was skeptical about this one at first because of its unusual shape, but I’m so glad I was proved wrong.

The first thing I want to address is the hurdle I have faced with other inflatable pillows in the past. I’ve never been able to inflate anything in my life before—not a pillow, not a balloon. They always come out sad and deflated. So, before I tried this pillow, I expected inflating it to be another ordeal, with a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

The Manta Travel Pillow from Manta Sleep claims that it’s fast to inflate, and I can attest that it’s true. I was taken aback (in a good way) by how quickly the pillow inflated. No need for huffing and puffing. It was three breaths for me, and the job was done.

Most of us enjoyed the support that the pillow provided. As suggested by the manufacturer, there are many ways to use the pillow. For example, you can have the pillow cradle your head when you lean back or lock the pillow around your neck by attaching the clasps in the front. You can also fit the pillow in front of you so that your chin rests on it if your head bobs forward when you sleep. Or hug the pillow in front of you to give your neck support. (Read more about the positions suggested by the manufacturer.)

“I thought the head and neck support was great when leaning in all directions in the ‘lock,’ ‘nod,’ and ‘cradle’ positions. The support was so stellar that it felt like my head didn’t weigh anything,” says Wendy Greenfield, CR’s copy chief, who flies abroad about twice a year. 

The Manta Sleep Manta Travel Pillow was especially supportive when I tried it with my shoulders leaning against a wall, simulating a window-seat position. Maybe because of the height of the pillow, I felt it gave more support on the side than the other pillows we evaluated. 

It gets a few points deducted because it might lose air over time, as was the experience of Anna Kocharian, one of our evaluators and a CR shopping editor. She used the pillow on a red-eye flight that was around 5 hours, and by the end of her flight, the pillow had deflated a fair amount. So, if you plan to use it for more extended travel, just know that you might have to re-inflate it.

The pillow’s microfleece cover feels comfortable, but it’s not very breathable. Because it’s inflated with air, it has less give than a memory foam or microbead pillow, which is softer. 

On the pillow, there is a side pocket that the manufacturer suggests you use to store your earplugs, phone, or headphones. It’s handy, but the size of the pocket is better suited for earplugs or earbuds. When Greenfield tried to squeeze her iPhone 14 Pro Max into the pocket, only a third of the phone fit inside.

But if you don’t mind that rigidity and you’re looking for a supportive pillow that will enable you to travel light, the $29 Manta Sleep Manta Travel Pillow is the pillow to purchase. It’s lightweight and portable and provides a great deal of support. When it’s not inflated, you can fold the pillow into the travel pouch it comes with and fit it into your carry-on.

“This is the one I’m planning to buy for an upcoming long flight. One leg of my trip is 14½ hours, and I think this pillow will make a long time in that economy seat a little more tolerable,” Greenfield says.