Boeing has a patent that attempts to solve one of the perennial problems of air travel: sleep, or, rather, how to sleep comfortably in coach. Unlike the fancy seats up front that convert into flat beds, the compact and rigid seats in the back contort us into sleeping in awkward positions not intended for humans. It’s bearable on a quick domestic hop, but what about red-eyes and long international flights? Boeing envisions a detachable backpack that lets you lean forward, cushioned for comfort. But like all patents, it may never reach production.
Fortunately, there are alternatives. Whether you’re trapped in a coach seat, a bus seat, or a bench at an airport terminal during a layover, these are our favorite accessories that can help you achieve a good night’s sleep, even if it means sitting in ungodly positions. And while these products may not look high tech, they actually contain advanced materials, technologies, and designs that aren’t commonly used.
Blanket: Rumpl Puffy ($65)
In 2013, two avid outdoorsmen set out to create the best blanket ever, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign. Using the same materials found in premium puffy jackets and sleeping bags, the Rumpl is lightweight and durable, yet it is designed to retain body heat. The 20D ripstop nylon with DWR (durable water repellant) coating makes it resistant to water, food stains, or body odors, yet it’s machine washable. It’s far more comfortable blanket than the harsh polyester ones the airline provides (if you get one at all). Because the materials are so thin, you can easily squish it into a backpack. You can also roll it up and use it as a pillow or lumbar support. Read more here.
If blankets aren’t your thing, look again toward the outdoors industry for lightweight jackets that are breathable, yet keep you comfortable, no matter the cabin temperature. At 3 ounces and super thin, the Ghost Lite from Mountain Hardwear is easy to pack, yet the fabric helps you stay warm even when the air is blasting. It’s so durable that it works as an everyday jacket too.
Pants: DU/ER L2X denim ($129+)
Part of the discomfort of long-haul travel is having to sleep in your clothes. Another Kickstarter success, DU/ER is from a Canadian company that makes “high performance” denim. On the surface, the pants look like any other jeans, but the fabric, called L2X, is stretchy, helps regulate body temperature, and has moisture wicking properties – exactly what you want when you’re restricted into tight quarters. It feels more like sweatpants than 501s (no need to change into PJs). For guys, the seat gusset is designed to allow better moisture control and comfort than traditional jeans, so you won’t feel like you’re sitting in a sauna after a long flight. Because the pants are so flexible, you can also wear them while hiking, cycling, or climbing. For women, the company has a line called Dish.
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Noise cancelling earphones: Phiaton BT 100 NC ($100)
Some people fall asleep the instant their eyes shut. Those who need some help can find peace by slipping on a pair of noise cancelling earphones, like the affordable BT 100 NC from Phiaton. They’re comfortable to wear and easy to stow, and Bluetooth connectivity means you don’t have a tangle of wires to deal with (though an optional cable is also included). What to play? We like the campfire sounds from the Muji to Relax app (available for iOS and Android) to help lull us. The one knock against the BT 100 NC is that they may not have enough battery to last a super-long trip, but you can recharge them via USB. Read our hands on review here.
Pillow: The Travel Halo ($24), Studio Banana Things Ostrich Pillow Light ($21), or NapAnywhere ($59)
Anyone who has tried to sleep on a plane, train, or bus while sitting upright is aware how difficult it can be. A window seat can give you something to lean your head against, but that’s still an uncomfortable position. The Travel Halo looks silly on your head, but it does two important things well: It keeps your head from rolling to the sides, and it covers your eyes. There are plenty of head, neck, back, and even full-body pillows to choose from, but we like the Travel Halo because it’s easy to stash. Other options include the Ostrich Pillow Light – equally silly looking, but also fun and useful – and the NapAnywhere, a Kickstarter-funded, award-winning pillow that was invented by a doctor who suffered an accident that made it difficult for him to sleep while traveling.
Compression socks: Travelsox Soft Padding OTC ($35), Nike Elite Compression OTC ($50), or Smartwool PhD® Run ($50)
Some travel and health experts recommend wearing compression socks to reduce the chances of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which could happen when sitting for long periods without any movement. These compression socks from TravelSox also help eliminate odor and are quick drying, so you can wear them to stay healthy without stinking up the cabin. You can also pick up compression socks for running, like the Elite Compression OTC from Nike or PhD Run Graduated Compression Ultra Light from Smartwool.