Whether you’re in the window, aisle or dreaded middle seat, a new generation of innovative travel pillows mean that it’s finally possible to get first-class sleep at the back of the plane. From full-size, down-filled inflatables to basic scaffolding for your chin, these days there’s much more to the humble travel pillow than an overpriced horseshoe-shaped cushion that you panic-bought at the airport.

We tested these pillows across a flight from London to Switzerland, car and coach journeys and – where appropriate – camping. As well as testing for comfort, one of our key tests was portability, specifically whether it was possible to easily carry the pillow through an airport in hand luggage without wearing it around your neck or fastening it to the outside of the bag.

We also looked for versatility, because travel pillows should be good for much more than flying: think long, bumpy bus rides in the Andes, a snooze on the deck of a cargo ship, or just an extra second pillow for your budget hostel.

Because of this we included a couple of camping pillows in our tests as well, because there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring a feathery pillow on your flight if it packs down to the size of a water bottle (like the Sea to Summit one below).

Budget and packability aside, it’s worth thinking about where you’re hoping to nap before you buy. A full-sized pillow will make a couple of hours on the floor (or, if you’re really lucky, a bench) in your layover airport infinitely more comfortable, but won’t slip as easily between you and the plane window as some of the more structured (and odd-looking) options below.

Finally, if you suffer from any neck or shoulder pain on flights, try some of the more restrictive pillows that fully encircle your neck, like the Ostrich. You won’t be worrying what you look like when you’re sound asleep.

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Huzi Design Infinity travel pillow: £35, Amazon

A lovely, squishy, blanket-in-a-scarf; there are – appropriately – infinite ways to use the Infinity Pillow. Our favourites included folding it up into a ball to sleep on like a pillowy mountain, looping it a couple of times around your neck for a super-luxurious spin on a traditional neck pillow, or bundling it onto a seat-back table and face planting into it. This versatility makes the Infinity absolutely perfect for those long-haul flights where you have to manoeuvre yourself into endless sleeping positions just to stay sane, or flights where you want to snooze both on the plane and on the floor during a layover. It was easily the most comfortable pillow we tested – the bamboo fabric felt gorgeous – and we let it off the packability test because you can wear it like an outlandish, but very comfortable, scarf.

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Thermarest compressible pillow: £17.95, Absolute Snow

One of the best-looking pillows in our tests also felt the closest to a real pillow: Thermarest’s compressible cushion comes in sizes from small to roughly the size of a normal pillow, but all of them roll up to about the size of a water bottle thanks to the squishable foam filling, upcycled from Thermarest factories. The pillow was designed for camping – and adds an excellent level of luxury here – but is also ideal for a window seat nap, if your back ever gives you trouble when you’re flying, or if you’re planning a long journey by car or coach. It comes in a number of jazzy covers, all made of a plush, comfy microfibre.

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Ostrich Go pillow: £49, Ostrich

A genuinely comfortable riff on the old-fashioned neck pillow, the Go – born of a Kickstarter campaign – wraps your neck in its memory foam arms to create a lovely soft cocoon. Because it provides so much padding under your chin and at the back of your neck, your head is prevented from slipping forwards or backwards when you literally nod off. The height of the pillow means that you don’t have to crane your neck at all for it to feel completely supported, making it perfect for anyone with neck trouble. It doesn’t pack down enormously well, although it does roll up far more conveniently than a standard neck pillow.

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Sea to Summit Aeros down pillow: £55, Sea to Summit

Our reviewer once spent 18 months sleeping on a Sea to Summit inflatable pillow while cycling around the world, and wasn’t sure what benefit a down filling could add. She was happy to admit she was wrong: the down filling here sits in a kind of envelope around the pillow rather than inside the pillow itself, which means you get all the structure and firmness of a fully-inflatable pillow, plus the amazing packability. To top it off, a deliciously luxurious down halo to rest your head on really does add extra warmth, making this a brilliant pillow for camping. Since it compresses down to such a tiny size, it’s a perfect back-up for any adventure.

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J-Pillow: £19.95, Amazon

This J-shaped plushy pillow is like an old-fashioned neck pillow, but with a modern twist. It has two possible positions: with one arm under the chin creating a cradle for the side of your head (perfect if you tend to literally nod off), or with one arm around the back of your neck and a cradle for the side of your head – our favourite, and the most supportive-feeling. Firm, comfortable and brilliantly simple, the only downside is its size: you really can only transport the pillow attached to the outside of your luggage, although there is a handy loop to help you do so.

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Sonoma lavender pillow: £36.74, Nordstrom

The only true old-fashioned horseshoe-style neck pillow to make our list, the Sonoma is a spa day wrapped in a soft, lavender-filled package. The flax and lavender flower stuffing isn’t as firm as some of the other fills here, but it is comfortable and moulds well around your head or neck. But the real selling point is the soothing lavender smell, which provides a cloud of sleep-inducing comfort every time you move your head. When you get home, you can heat it up in the microwave or chill it in the freezer for a real luxury.

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Outwell memory pillow: £17.50, World of Camping

Outwell’s memory foam pillow is perfect for travellers who suffer from neck or back problems, offering ergonomic support in a tiny, budget-friendly package. It’s a little too flimsy to use on its own as a camping pillow, but because it’s so scrunchable it works brilliantly on a flight: the memory foam filling means that it will continue to offer good support behind your neck even if you’re in an aisle or a middle seat, and it’s just the right size to give you back support on a long haul flight.

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Trtl pillow: £24.95, Amazon

Fans of this highly structured, admittedly odd-looking pillow are evangelical about it. Basically a scarf crossed with neck brace, the hard, structured brace part props up the side of your head, and is held in place by the long scarf-like wrap. Imagine resting your head on your hand, but with none of the effort. The Trtl is absolutely ideal for a middle or aisle seat, because although you need to secure the wrap quite tightly for it to work, it requires no outside support. However, it could feel a little hot or restrictive after a long time, so it’s best suited to a medium or short haul flight. Our reviewers found that getting the sizing right was a little tricky: if you have a smaller head, you will probably find the recently-launched junior size a bit more comfortable. Try it out first, or bring a cheap back-up pillow like the Outwell with you just in case.

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The verdict: Travel pillows

Ultimately, sleeping style is totally subjective, which is why we went for the infinitely adaptable and insanely comfortable Infinity pillow for our top pick. If you want something a bit smaller or a pillow you can also take camping, the down-filled Sea to Summit provides the perfect combination of portability and comfort.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.