When you're traveling, every inch of suitcase space and every ounce of weight matters. The ideal hair dryer to take with you is as small and light as possible—ideally with a fold-up handle to fit into an even smaller space. However, there are tradeoffs to consider as hair dryers this small are liable to be underpowered and somewhat flimsy. We didn't find nearly as many recommendations for travel hair dryers as we did for salon hair dryers and cheap hair dryers that are full-sized, but a few good choices do emerge.
At the top of the list is the Revlon Perfect Heat Fast Dry Compact Dryer (Est. $15). Though small enough for travel, it offers many of the features you'd expect to see on a full-sized dryer. The 1,875-watt dryer has both ceramic coating and tourmaline technology for even heat distribution, as well as the all-important cold shot button for setting a style and improving shine. It also has additional features that are important specifically for travel, including a folding handle and a dual-voltage switch, so you can use it in countries that use different outlet voltages. On the downside, it has only two settings, high and low, so you can't combine high speed with low heat.
Good Housekeeping names the Revlon Perfect Heat as the runner-up in its June 2013 test of travel hair dryers, describing it as "quiet, fast, and easy to use." Editors also note that their consumer testers found the dryer comfortable to hold and say it left their hair smooth and shiny. Reviewers at Amazon.com tend to back up these claims. In over 140 reviews, the product earns an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5. Owners love its small size and weight, folding handle, and dual-voltage switch. Most also say it's quite powerful for its size, without being harsh on hair.
On the down side, we saw quite a few complaints about this hair dryer's reliability. Several owners say it simply quit working after anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. Others complain that it gets uncomfortably warm to hold and use. Reviewers also gripe about the Revlon's limited power settings and the design of the on/off switch, which many users find really difficult to grip. But, while these issues might make most think twice about using the Revlon Perfect Heat as their primary home hair dryer, they aren't outside the norm of what we spotted for any travel hair dryer, at a price of less than $15, it's cheap enough to be a great alternative for those who want an occasional use dryer strictly for travel.
We also found a couple of other travel hair dryers with generally positive reviews, but also some drawbacks to consider. For example, the Conair Cord-Keeper Compact Styler (Est. $25) earns an overall rating of 7.9 out of 10 in a survey of users at TotalBeauty.com, 4.3 stars out of 5 among BestBuy.com users, and 3.9 stars out of 5 at Amazon.com. What owners at all sites love most about this dryer is the "cord keeper" feature, which keeps the cord snugly tucked up and out of the way when it's not in use. They also say the 1,875-watt dryer is a convenient size for travel and packs enough power to dry hair quickly, while its ionic technology fights frizz effectively.
However, while we didn't see this reflected elsewhere, this dryer had many complaints at Amazon.com about its reliability—and in some cases, its safety as well. We found several reviews saying that the Conair shorted out, resulting in a broken dryer at best and a fire at worst. This is concerning, but we didn't note similar comments at other user review sites, and the Cord Keeper has not been the subject of any recalls that we could find.
Another product that's worthy of a mention is the Conair Minipro Tourmaline Ceramic Styler (Est. $15). This amazingly lightweight hair dryer—just 0.6 pounds—was the top pick in Good Housekeeping's tests and also earned a recommendation from Lucky magazine, as well as generally positive feedback at Amazon.com -- 4.2 stars based on more than 525 reviews. It would easily have been our Best Reviewed pick in this category if not for one problem: it appears that Conair no longer makes it. As of this writing, it's still available at Amazon.com, but it's not clear how long that will last.