In the good old days, no-one needed to take their own travel blankets with them. The airlines provided plenty of free ones – indeed, if one wasn’t enough, you could usually get a second one, handed to you with a smile rather than scowl. The blankets were reasonably sized and reasonably warm, and hopefully also reasonably clean.
Now, almost no airlines provide blankets on domestic flights. No frills international flights are also seeing the disappearance of blankets. Increasingly, the airlines may offer to sell you one – typically for about $10, on both domestic and international flights. This price might include a pillow, and possibly an eye shade or ear plugs too.
Don’t feel that $10 is a good value for a blanket and pillow and eyeshade. The type of pillow you get included – a tiny little squab of material – is close to useless as a comfort aid. The only good thing about the $10 transaction is that it isn’t a huge amount of money, which means you can simply buy the pack of things as needed, and leave some or all the items behind on the plane at the end of the journey with few financial regrets.
However, it is not unheard of that a flight might be sold out of blanket packs, or perhaps you want to snuggle up the minute you get seated, rather than wait until whenever for the flight attendant to come around selling the packs. Plus maybe you want something better than what you know is the absolutely cheapest product the airlines could source from China (typically costing them in the order of 50c – 75c each).
Particularly if you’re on an overnight flight, or regularly find the cabin temperature cooler than comfortable, you might want to consider owning your own travel blanket. The good news is they come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and prices, and as long as you’re aware of the extra hassle factor involved with carrying your own blanket on and off flights, they’ll quickly earn back their cost compared to buying disposable airline blankets, while providing a much better travel experience.
This article helps you choose the one best for you.
Blanket Size (and Weight)
It is important to consider the size of a travel blanket – both in terms of its opened up area, and also in terms of its volume when packing it into your carry-on bag – a bag which for most of us seldom has much spare space. A related consideration is its weight.
Travel blankets are usually rectangular in shape. They range on the short side from as little as 30″ up to as much as 50″, and on their long side from as little as 48″ to as much as 72″. A few outliers are either larger or smaller.
To put these sizes into context, a regular twin-bed sized blanket or sheet is somewhere between 60″ x 90″ up to 84″ x 110″. Because travel blankets don’t have to wrap around mattresses, or ‘tuck in’, and because they are usually for one person rather than two, they are of course much smaller in both width and length.
Most of the time we don’t need a blanket to wrap around our feet and then go all the way up to our shoulders, but for sure, more length is generally better than less. From a person’s ankles to their shoulders is about a foot less than their total height.. If you wanted to have a blanket to wrap around your feet that would add easily another foot to the total blanket length needed, and a wrap around the shoulders is probably another 9″ or so. In addition, because there’ll be some bunching up of the blanket, particularly at the top, you’ll need a longer blanket than you might think.
So, generally, we’d recommend looking for longer lengths, unless you know that your intended use doesn’t require ‘whole body coverage’.
In terms of width, most people measure at least 18″ from shoulder to shoulder – something the airlines conveniently forget when giving us seats that are less than 18″ wide! Add 6″-9″ of wrap around on each side, and that suggests you may probably be able to make do with blanket widths of as little as 36″, but, again, more is generally better than less.
The trade-off of more being better than less presents itself in the form of greater weight and bulk, both being significant factors for travelers, particularly in often space and weight constrained carry-on items. However, in general, we find that ‘narrow and long’ is usually better than ‘wide and short’.
In terms of weight, a small fleece blanket measuring 40″ x 60″ and made of relatively lightweight fleece would weigh 12 ounces. Just about any/every travel blanket of any type is going to weigh at least this much or more, and while clearly you don’t want any more weight than the essential minimum, you also don’t want to end up with a blanket that is lightweight but useless. So budget on at least a pound of extra weight for a blanket, possibly a little more for its carry bag.
The least expensive blankets are made out of a spun polyester material generally known as ‘fleece‘. This fabric was invented back in 1979, and due to the inventors deliberately choosing not to patent it, has become very common. It is (or, at least, should be) low-cost, and if you care about such things, is often made from recycled plastic.
Fleece is slightly difficult to wash and depending on its form, probably somewhat prone to pilling. It also attracts static electricity, and in the dry air on a plane can sometimes cause electric shocks. We don’t like fleece, but can’t deny its versatile and low-cost nature.
Less common are acrylic blankets, and probably, if we were to research some more, we’d find a dozen other types of artificial fibers used for blanket making, too.
Most artificial (and, for that matter, natural) fabrics come in a range of different thicknesses/weights, generally measured in terms of gsm – how many grams it weighs per square meter of material. Typical values for fleece go from 100 gsm up to 400 gsm, and to put that into context, a typical sheet of ordinary photocopier paper weighs about 75 gsm.
We don’t see the need for the heaviest weight blankets when you’re on a plane.
The next (big) step up from fleece would be to what is often euphemistically called ‘bamboo’ fiber. When you think of bamboo, you might initially think of hard wooden chopping boards and other materials, but bamboo fiber is surprisingly soft and flexible. This is because a lot has happened to the wood between when it is chopped down and when it appears in your blanket. It has been processed into rayon, an ‘artificial silk’ (another euphemism) made from cellulose fibers. Just like wood can end up as a sheet of paper, so too can it end up as a blanket.
Not all rayon comes from bamboo, of course, and there has been a propensity for companies to claim their products as being made of ‘bamboo’ when in reality the raw material of their rayon is not from bamboo at all. Rayon is more expensive than fleece, but significantly less expensive than cotton, silk, and wool.
Which brings us to these other natural fibers. Writing as a New Zealander, I naturally have a propensity for sheep’s wool (particularly the fine merino types), but there are other types of wool often used as well – alpaca and goat (ie cashmere and pashmina – the latter probably too thin/light for use as a blanket); even possum/wool blends. Indeed, all types of wool are often blended with cotton, other natural fibers, or with artificial fibers in an attempt to ‘square the circle’ and offer something that hopefully has the most desirable properties of each component, with their less desirable properties obscured by the other ingredients. I’ve even seen a Yak hair blanket.
Natural fiber blankets can be bulkier, heavier, and greatly more expensive than fleece and bamboo/rayon.
Other Features and Considerations
It is helpful to think not only about when you are actually using the blanket, but about what happens before and after as well. How is it transported? Some blankets come complete with some type of carrier pack – this has the benefit of helping keep the blanket clean, so is probably a good extra thing to have included, although there’s nothing too difficult about getting an appropriately sized zip lock type plastic bag and simply stuffing your blanket in that when not in use.
Some blankets have a ‘self making bag’ – an included pouch that you can collapse/fold the blanket into. The benefit of that is that you’re not going to lose your carry pouch if it is actually part of the blanket piece.
Some blankets come with a type of compression strap (more commonly, two) – you roll the blanket up then wrap the straps around the blanket and tighten them to help squeeze the blanket into less space. That’s a good way to minimize the amount of space the blanket requires, but does nothing to keep it clean.
Another consideration is how the blanket is edged. The cheapest items have almost nothing around the edges at all, or maybe just a blanket stitch. Better have a folded over hem, and the best have a separate material used to make a wrap-around hem.
One other factor is the color of the blanket. You might think this to be self-evident, but there is a consideration that might be worth keeping in mind – choose a blanket color that will be visually obvious and hard to overlook. We’ve left all sorts of objects on planes in the past – particularly books and other items we place in the seatback pocket in front of us and then forget about at the end of a long flight when rushing to get ready to leave.
From that point of view, it might be reasoned that fluorescent yellow would be the best color for your travel blanket and hardest to overlook in the half-light of the plain cabin when arriving somewhere in the dark. Perhaps that is going to extremes, but one thing it does hint at is that a patterned blanket might be more obviously present than a plain blanket in a muted color that perhaps blends in with the airplane seats and carpet.
Some blankets are in special shapes – with a slit through which your neck can go, to make it easier to have the blanket wrap around your shoulders, and perhaps even providing poncho-type sides/sleeves for your arms as well. This is a good idea.
Four Blankets Reviewed
We ended up selecting and trialling four blankets to represent the primary range of choices for most of us.
1. Low Priced Generic Fleece
There are hundreds of choices of low-priced fleece blankets offered on Amazon and elsewhere. Generally, their pricing seems to be in the range of $10 and up to about $30 for a generic rectangular blanket. With a bit of searching, you can find them for as little as $8 and we eventually found one for a mere $6.50 or so (its price varies from day-to-day) which is an ‘add on’ item that can be purchased as part of an Amazon order of $25 or more in total.
The blanket had a claimed size of 50″ x 60″ and used 210 gsm weight fleece. It weighed 13.0 ounces (a weight consistent with its claimed 210 gsm material) and measured very close to its stated size.
It felt very light. But the blanket also provided some appreciable warmth, although its main value is perhaps simply to provide a barrier from the cooling effects of the flows of air and drafts that might be blowing around the cabin. 50″ wide is plenty wide enough for us, but 60″ in length is verging on too short.
However, at a price of $6.50 a piece, these are less expensive than comparable airline throwaways, and at least as good. We see Amazon also sells them in bulk quantities, perhaps anticipating their use as semi-throwaway items.
2. Travelrest Value-Added Multi-Purpose Fleece
The creative and friendly folks at Travelrest not only sell a distinctively different type of travel pillow that we like, but have also applied their minds to the subject of travel blankets, too.
They’ve come up with what they describe as a 4-in-1 poncho style travel blanket. The two distinctive things about this is that it packs up into its own ‘built in’ travel pouch, and that the blanket is more than just a blanket – it has a slit cut in it for your head to go through, making it easier to drape the blanket around your shoulders.
If you do a good job of folding the blanket neatly into the pouch so that it isn’t lumpy, then the pouch can do double duty as a pillow or lumbar support as well. Does that mean you should buy two or three blankets so you can use them simultaneously as blankets, pillows and lumbar support? We’ll not answer that.
The pouch measures about 10″ x 13″.
The blanket and pouch weigh 1 lb 3 ounces. That’s only 6 oz more than a generic fleece by itself. The blanket is narrower but longer than the generic fleece, a stated 40″ x 72″ and measuring to be almost exactly that size, maybe even an inch longer.
The reason for the extra weight is that the fleece is thicker/heavier and therefore also appreciably warmer than the lower price generic product above. In terms of surface area, it is slightly smaller (2880 sq in instead of 3000 sq in) so the weight is primarily due to better fleece, plus also a trivial allowance for good hemming around the edges and the thin built-in carry pouch.
The head slit is about 11″ down from the top. The 72″ length, even after fold-over around my shoulders, easily reached down to my ankles, and the 40″ width was perfectly wide to wrap around my front and sides.
Also included is a tubular sack. If you’re the sort of person who isn’t good at refolding maps, you mightn’t enjoy refolding your blanket to evenly put it back into the built-in carry pouch, and so you could instead just stuff the entire thing into the sack – especially when getting ready to leave a plane when you can’t easily lay the blanket out and fold it over, etc.
This is a very clever ‘belt and braces’ approach. You can repack the blanket into the built-in pouch when you’re back home or in the hotel room – it is actually quite easy if you have the space (ie the top of your bed) to do it. As for the separate carry sack, when not in use, leave it inside the zipped up built-in pouch and that way you’ll never lose it.
They also provide a little instruction sheet showing you how to fold the blanket and promoting their other fine products too. Note that when you have packed it into the pouch, the ‘inside’ of the pouch is on the ‘outside’ so as to keep every part of the blanket clean while being carried.
A 180 day warranty is offered – as we comment in the next item, we’d like to see these items, which are only occasionally used, carry much longer warranties.
We really like this product, because every part of how you’d use it has been well thought through. Amazon sells it for $29.95. Note there is also a smaller sized one – 38″ x 60″ rather than 40″ x 72″. This saves you 3 or 4 ounces in weight, but is priced the same, and our suggestion is to get the full-sized one. We’ve never heard anyone complain of ‘too much blanket’ but for sure, having not enough is a problem!
3. Bedvoyage ‘Bamboo’ Blanket
We really wanted to like this product, which we first encountered being demonstrated at a local Costco store where it was on a short-term sale. It is also available from Amazon for $49.99, and can be purchased either by itself or with a zippered pillowcase/carry case, at the same price. Yes, of course, get the combo including the pillow/carry case for the same price.
The blanket itself measures 45″ x 70″ (although it states that it might slightly shrink after washing). This is a sensible size – we much prefer extra length rather than extra width. It weighs 1 lb 7 oz by itself. The pillowcase is a fairly large 13″ x 17″.
We found ourselves anxious about this blanket’s strength and warmth properties. The weave was a very loose weave, such that you could see through it in places, and in several spots, the threads became very sparse. We cautiously tried sticking a finger through one such place, and while the threads didn’t break, we’re a bit concerned about the blanket’s uneven density and porosity.
There’s a 90 day warranty, which seems short for something that might only be used for a few hours, once every month or two, particularly in light of our concern about the ‘thin patches’ in the fabric.
Our (ie mine and my daughter’s) non-scientific perception of the blanket’s warmth performance was that it is slightly less warm than the thin fleece blanket. This is unsurprising given its porosity.
We shared our comments with Bedvoyage, in case they wished to respond, but they chose not to.
4. Silk Camel Cotton/Silk Blanket
This is a duvet style blanket inasmuch as it comprises a cotton ‘envelope/outer’ and has a thin silk filling within it. You can actually unzip the cotton shell if you wish to see the silk inside it.
While the big appeal, for many people, might be the silk, it is only a very small part of the total blanket. The blanket weighs 1 lb 13 oz, and of that, only 7 ounces is the silk filling, the rest is the cotton shell. The blanket measures 50″ x 60″, and comes in a very nice zipable carry tube that is about 5.5″ in diameter and 15″ long. You can squash it into a slightly smaller size if you need to. The carry tube adds 4 oz to the weight.
You can unzip the shell and remove the silk lining if you ever need to wash the outer shell.
Unsurprisingly, the blanket was easily the warmest of the four tested. Indeed, for me (I generally prefer to be on the cool side) it became too hot – just like with regular duvets. My daughter, equally unsurprisingly, liked its greater warmth.
I’d have preferred the blanket to be longer, and if necessary, narrower. For me, the 50″ of width is wider than I need, but the 60″ of length doesn’t reach all the way to my feet. The same 3,000 sq inches of blanket that a 50″ x 60″ blanket represents is more ‘valuable’ to me if it is in the form of 72″ x 42″ or even 75″ x 40″.
This blanket is starting to explore the upper limits of size and weight, and at $79 on Amazon, is pricier, too. But if you want a really strong and long-lasting blanket that is also very warm indeed, and if you aren’t too very tall and/or don’t need to have coverage all the way to and around your toes, this is definitely the finest of the four blankets.
There is also a smaller 35″ x 47″ ‘mini size’ blanket which costs slightly less ($50) but even if you’re buying for a child, it seems to us that it is better to get the full-sized blanket and allow the child to grow into it. There’s no reason not to expect a very long life from this blanket, after all. No warranty policy was stated, but via email we were advised by Tamara that there is currently a one year warranty on these blankets.
Bonus – the Silk Camel Eye Mask
Out of curiosity, we also tried their Silk Sleep Eye Mask. This is a modestly priced $9 item on Amazon and struck us as being an ideal ‘stocking stuffer’ – something to get for the person who already has everything.
We liked that it was soft rather than scratchy, and we also liked that it had an adjustable strap. A lot of these sorts of masks have quite tight bands, making them less comfortable and causing one to feel slightly claustrophobic. This one allowed us to adjust the tension to a much looser setting, and made it much more comfortable and more conductive to going to sleep.
A bit of light leaked in from the bottom, no matter what tension was used (more tension actually makes it worse), but that is common with some other masks we’ve tried, too. The main ‘in front’ part was perfectly dark, and this was a mask we felt would work well for us, on a plane or anywhere else. It comes with a tiny mesh drawstring carry bag.
The only problem? Our mask came in a bright pink color (black on the inside, but bright pink on the outside). It requires a certain amount of bravery for a man to be seen wearing bright pink, and my daughter (as expected) promptly claimed it as hers. Fortunately black and blue versions are also available.
Our favorite of these four blankets is the Travelrest blanket. We like its extra length, we like the cleverness of its design and its warmth factor – neither too much nor too little. We like its reasonably light weight and compact size, and we consider the $30 cost to be fair and good value.
But if you just want a low-cost and almost literally throw away blanket, then of course the generic $6.50 fleece is hard to argue against.
If you want a ‘bulletproof’ product that will last and last, and if you want maximum warmth, and if you don’t mind a bit of extra space and weight in return, then the Silk Camel duvet type blanket is the way to go.