Another Solution to Airplane Stiff Neck Syndrome

This clearly shows the extra profile of the Evolution pillow and its drawstring fasteners in the front.
This clearly shows the extra profile of the Evolution pillow and its drawstring fasteners in the front.

Over the years, we’ve tested a huge number of different potential solutions to the problems we as coach class passengers all suffer on long flights – how to support our head while trying to sleep.

They’ve ranged from many variations on the classic inflatable collar/pillow to an innovative unit that fits between the entire seat and yourself (the First Class Sleeper, and something we still like) to a uniquely designed object (the TravelRest, and another long time favorite).  There are also many more products we’ve tried, disliked, and ignored.

So when we were invited to try what looked for all the world like yet another slight variation on the well-worn theme of travel pillows, we found it hard to muster too much enthusiasm.  But as part of our tireless quest to check things out so you don’t need to do so too 🙂 , we agreed, and soon enough found ourselves opening a box containing a Cabeau Evolution Pillow.

Ostensibly, it looks very similar to most other travel pillows, but it has three vital differences.

First, it is made of memory foam rather than being inflatable.  This seems to do a better job of adjusting to the contours of your face than an inflatable pillow, which varies in stiffness/pressure depending on the cabin pressure, and always feels a bit wobbly and/or bouncy.

Second, it is raised up with a higher profile than a typical travel pillow, giving more support more quickly to your neck and head.  This support can further be adjusted by tying together the two ends of its ‘U’ shape with a provided adjustable clip fastener, giving you as much or as little freedom vs support as you wish.

Third, many people seek support not just to help their neck and head from lolling to one side or the other, but also to prevent their head from falling forward.  The Evolution pillow has two approaches to that.  First, if you tighten the clip fasteners at the end of the ‘U’ there is some added support, and if that’s not enough, then a bit of lateral thinking resolves the problem fully.  Rotate the pillow 180° and you then have the usually much less essential rear support of the pillow (assuming you’re in a typical airline seat with some type of headrest) now in front, cradling your chin and keeping your head as you want it.

The pillow has a cloth velour type outer cover which can be unzipped and removed for cleaning purposes.  A pocket on its left side can be used to hold an MP3 player or smart phone if you’re listening to music while dozing – that’s a clever idea, I guess, and means it won’t slide off your lap or wherever, but I’m not sure I like having an electronic device that close to my brain.

The pillow (or to be precise, its cover) comes in five different colors.

In addition, there is a carry pouch for the pillow.  You can roll up and compress the pillow (Cabeau claim you can reduce it down to one-quarter its normal size) then stuff it into the pouch and pull its zipstring tight, making for a much smaller object to carry when you’re not using it – for added convenience, the pouch even has a velcro loop on it so you can affix it to your carry on bag handle or something else.

A pair of memory foam type earplugs are also included.  Personally, we’ll stick to our noise cancelling headphones, but if you like sticking things in your ears, then they are included for free.

The pillow in its carry bag, weighs about 12.4 ounces.

Cabeau (the French sounding name was formed from the name of the founders’ son, Luca Beau) also offer the pillow as a traditional inflatable unit or as a filled-with-tiny-plastic-beads unit.  They have the same identical design, weigh much less, and cost less too ($20 compared to $35 for the memory foam version) but are not as comfortable.  The inflatable one compresses down to a tinier size than the memory foam one, of course, whereas the plastic bead unit doesn’t really pack down much in size at all.

We’ve spent too much time with less-than-best travel pillows, so didn’t give them a second glance.  It’s either the memory foam one or nothing for us!  Unfortunately, the trade-off is its bulk.

Talking about the memory foam, Cabeau tell us that they expect the pillow to last 4 – 6 years at a minimum, and perhaps as long as 10 years, and they say they’ve seen no ill effects from squishing it up  into its carry bag and leaving it squished up for as long as a year; with the pillow still quickly returning to its original shape once released from the bag.

So, how good is this pillow?

Don’t get us wrong when we say it is not ‘good’ at all.  Rather, it is great.  It is marvelous.

While it doesn’t give the same back support that the First Class Sleeper does, it is much easier to carry and deploy, and doesn’t look as strange as the TravelRest, which for those of us who are a bit self-conscious about such things might be a blessing.  Our feeling is that when you pull out a TravelRest, you are making a major commitment to sleeping, and if you fail to succeed, you feel like a conspicuous failure – ‘I’ve got this unique looking device and I’m not sleeping any better than the person with the $10 blow-up pillow’!

The Cabeau Evolution pillow looks enough like ‘normal’ pillows as to allow you too to look passably like a ‘normal’ passenger, and, best of all, it simply works.

It gives you comfortable and adjustable support sideways and forward.  It is a very clever design that seems to come up with solutions to every part of the ‘comfortable neck/head support when sleeping on a plane’ problem.

That’s really all one can say about it, and all one needs to say about it.  The concept is simple and the implementation excellent, which makes one wonder ‘So what was so hard about that?’ and begs the question of why we’ve all suffered for so many years/decades/flights without such a great travel-aid in the past.

Anyway, now you need suffer no more.

It’s twin ‘secrets’ to its great comfort are its high-profile sides and your ability to tie together the ends of it with whatever degree of tightness you wish.  This makes the pillow very adjustable for personal preference, and, when adjusted, very comfortable and effective.

Cabeau also suggest it can be used as an outdoor pillow, for example when lying on a towel at the beach, either face up or face down.  I’ve not tried that, and of course, in such a case, it is great that you can remove the cover and wash it, should it become too infested with sand or salt water.

You can see more about this product on Cabeau’s website, where it sells for a list price of $34.95 and hefty shipping fees on top of that.  Alternatively, you can enjoy the convenience of shopping on Amazon , where it sells  for $29.95, and potentially with free Prime second day free shipping.

This is a good product, and we’re pleased to review it positively.  But it is bulky, and for that reason, you might want to consider the Caldera Releaf unit as well – similar in concept, but nowhere near as bulky.  The Cabeau might be slightly more comfortable, the Caldera might be slightly more practical.

And lastly, as a reward for those who read all the way to the end, while this wonderful travel pillow will help in many situations, there are some things that it can not do.  Such as, for example, the situation so vividly shown in this Youtube video.

9 thoughts on “Another Solution to Airplane Stiff Neck Syndrome”

  1. Pingback: Great Reviews For Our Evolution Pillow Keep Pouring In! | Cabeau Blog

  2. The price is up to $39.95 on Amazon for the memory foam unit, with shipping included for Amazon Prime members. Cabeau sells for $34.99 plus anywhere form $9.20 home delivery in CA to $58.05 overnight. It looks good and I will see how good it is – my issue with some seats 0 AA’s notorious “Eisenhower” 757s with low seatbacks are dreadful with no neck or head support for tall people. Thanks for alerting us to this product!

    1. Hi, Jose

      The price on Amazon has gone down and up a couple of times in the week since I published the article. It does indeed now seem to be $39.95, and with free shipping for everyone, not just Prime members (Prime members get second day, other purchasers get standard speed shipping).

      Amazon’s prices seem to vary at least as much as airline ticket prices!

  3. Just bought one at SFO from shop inside security – price was $29.95 plus tax (a great surprise – as cheap as Amazon, no shipping and readily available). Multiple colors were available – I bought black and it shed on my khaki pants but that’s over now. Used it from SFO – EWR and then from EWR-GLA. Much more comfortable than my bucky. Packing it into the provided storage bag is interesting but it will compress into a relatively small space.

  4. Bought it in SFO airport for 34.95 and thought it might be a bit less on Amazon but it looks promising. Tried it briefly on a puddle jumper to PHX that was the rest of my trip from HK.
    When I get an upgrade to business I always need an additional pillow and the design is comfortable.
    The tie in the front is a good design with easy adjustment and release (a worry of mine when I’m half asleep)
    I think this well become the new standard for the good ones.

  5. It looks like this pillow would work best from all travel pillows I have seen. Doesn’t it push on your neck from behind too much? When I used inflatable U shaped travel pillow, this caused unbearable pain. When I used a memory foam one it was much better, but still somewhat uncomfortable after a long travel due to too much foam material at the back forcing my neck into unnatural position.

    I ended up using Miami J collar which I found superior to all travel pillows I have tried/seen. Despite the looks it is very comfortable to wear and sleep in when seated.

  6. As some products are (such as plug earphones), it fits most guys and is too large for women. They should make model for men and one for women or at least 2 sizes.

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