Glowing reviews, a genre-defying design and more than a million units sold worldwide have earned the TRTL Travel Pillow a near-mythic reputation as the must-have travel accessory. But is the hype warranted? We put the popular neck pillow through its paces on a mid-haul flight between Sydney and Perth to find out.
What is it?
Calling TRTL a pillow is a bit of a stretch – more accurately, it’s a fleece wrap fused with a kind of neck brace support, sharing more DNA with a scarf than any of the plump neck donuts you may be familiar with. The ingenuity of the TRTL’s design lies in its simplicity. With just a length of machine-washable, hypoallergenic fleece fabric, some thin pads of stretch foam and a firm yet pliable plastic insert, this one-size-fits-all product provides a snug, easily-adjustable fit. Designed by former mechanical engineers Michael Corrigan and David Kellock, the TRTL ‘pillow’ went through more than 80 prototypes to refine the internal support structure and achieve the right balance of robustness and flexibility. According to TRTL’s own scientific studies, all this experimentation has resulted in a design that is 1.5 times more supportive for your neck than traditional travel pillows.
Since the launch of the original TRTL, the brand has expanded its range with a cooling version of its neck pillow for hot sleepers – featuring airmesh ventilation panels and cutting-edge Tencel fibres that don't retain heat, wick sweat from the skin and are anti-odor – as well as the TRTL Pillow Junior, for younger travellers. The company also now produces eye masks, flight socks and travel blankets for a head-to-toe in-transit sleep solution.
Full disclosure: I was always likely to be a tough customer for TRTL. I find sleeping mid-air all but impossible. Yet this surely makes me a worthy test case for an accessory that has inspired such plaudits as: “I’ve truly never slept better on a flight”, as one reviewer claimed.
Even with the expectations of so many positive write ups in the back of my mind, I go into the experience determined to be as impartial as I can. And yet, the first few seconds wearing the TRTL truly are worth waxing lyrical about. Unlike conventional travel pillows that can sometimes feel like you’re in a plush headlock, the velvety fabric and adjustable velcro strip provide a cosy fit without any claustrophobia. Like some sort of magic trick, the design keeps my head propped at a comfortable angle without any discernible pressure transferring to the shoulder. This illusion of weightlessness allows my neck to relax completely so the rest of my body can follow suit – avoiding the inevitable awkward nods as I try to drift off.
Even when pitted against my stubborn inability to snooze in-transit, TRTL proves to be an insomniac whisperer. I manage to successfully fall asleep on the flight and as an added bonus – my travel companion later informs me – the gentle angle of my neck prevents me from disturbing fellow passengers with any slack-jawed snoring.
How it travels
Carry-on space is a precious commodity so efficiency often trumps fashion when it comes to getting all your stuff on a flight. Wearing your travel pillow in the terminal is a style concession seen in airports around the world but TRTL is slender enough to slip into your carry-on bag without much fuss (there’s even a carabiner on its carry pouch if you want to clip it to your luggage for easier access) and it’s light enough not to be a burden on your weight allowance. At about the size of an iPad, it’s even sufficiently compact to fit into larger handbags, for those travelling light.
If there is a shortcoming, it’s TRTL’s lack of versatility. While a conventional travel pillow can be used as a multi-purpose cushion, TRTL can only do one thing. Users should also be prepared to draw a little attention – putting the TRTL on calls for some elbows-high arm flapping so it’s not subtle. But the promise of arriving at your destination rested and refreshed means this is worth it.
Even for someone like myself, who has a history of struggling to get any shut-eye en route, this reinvention of the travel pillow could make restless long hauls a thing of the past. With its lightweight, space-saving design, adding it to your packing list is a no-brainer. The aim of this road test was to find out if the TRTL is worthy of the hype. And the verdict from this well-versed traveller is a resounding “Yes”.