Friday, July 4, 2014

Gear Review: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Sleeping Pad

Sleeping Pad Review Air Core

Getting out in the wilderness is a lot more fun with a good night's sleep. Lord knows I've spent many a night tossing and turning, flopping around in my tent hoping to find a position that doesn't hurt my back and begging for the sandman to enter. The biggest factors in finding that sleep are warmth (in cooler temps) and comfort (year round.) I’ve been using the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core sleeping pad for the past year, and it hits the mark on both counts. I have the standard width mummy version, and this review will only be focusing on that model. They offer the pad in several other options - standard rectangular, long, wide, wide mummy, and two different short versions (48" or 66"). Overall, I've been plenty happy with this pad. Like any piece of gear, it has its pros and cons – it can’t be all things to all people. The pros far outweigh the few cons for my purposes, however. This is an air chamber pad requiring manual inflation (about 12-15 big breaths for me.)  I actually received my Air Core as a warranty replacement for an older Big Agnes air pad that developed a slow, minor leak in the valve housing. Not only was Big Agnes prompt to replace my old pad, they gave me an upgrade to the newer insulated version reviewed here. So, we can go ahead and get that part of the review out of the way – BA is a manufacturer that stands behind their gear and offers great customer service, in my experience. (For the record, I purchased the original pad and received the replacement as a regular consumer – I was not writing about gear at the time.)  So, let’s get down to business and talk specifics to see if this pad suits your needs. We'll cover the main specs, first:

SPECS (standard length mummy model)
Rolled Size: 4.5” x 10”
Inflated Size: 20” x 72” x 3.25”
Actual Weight: 1 lb., 5.3 oz. (w/o mesh sack & repair kit); 1 lb. 6.8 oz. (w/sack & repair kit)
R-Value: 4.1
Temp. Range: 15 degrees F

At almost a pound and a half with the mesh stuff sack and repair kit, this is not the lightest sleeping pad out there (BA lists the weight as 20 oz., very close to my scale’s reading for the pad alone). However, with the layer of synthetic Primaloft insulation embedded between the nylon layers, you end up with an excellent r-value of 4.1 and low temperature range of 15 degrees. That is pretty damn good for an air pad and worth a few extra ounces if you expect to use this pad in colder temperatures. The packed size is also very reasonable at roughly the size of a 32 oz. Nalgene.

Air Chamber Backpacking Sleeping Pad, Big Agnes
With 3.25" of height and Primaloft insulation, this pad has an impressive R-value of 4.1 and temp rating of 15 degrees.
sleeping bad I beam construction
Notice the larger chambers on each side
to help prevent rolling off the pad.
With 3.25” of height, the Insulated Air Core is pretty damn comfy. I’m roughly 200 lbs. at present, and I’m a side sleeper. This pad keeps me off the ground with ease. The vertical I-beam construction also employs slightly larger tubes at the outer edges to keep you from rolling to the sides. I can’t say I never wake up with a stiff back after using the Air Core, but that says more about my rickety back than this pad. It is not a miracle worker, and I certainly wake up feeling much better than when using my RidgeRest foam pad or even a poorly strung hammock. (I haven’t tried this pad in conjunction with a hammock yet, but I’ll update this post if that happens.) I should note that like any nylon pad, this guy is noisy. I also use a Big Agnes inflatable pillow, and if I don’t wrap the pillow with something (like a t-shirt or fleece), the squeaking of the two across one another is downright obnoxious. Again, the trick is to prepare for such realities, not to expect miracles. Plastic is noisy; we must deal with it.

valve on backpacking sleeping bad
Large valve for quick inflate/deflate
No air pad is as simple and convenient as a closed cell foam pad. However, this one has proven very easy to inflate and deflate. It takes me about 12-15 big breaths to inflate. I usually deflate by rolling from the bottom up towards the valve twice with the valve open, of course. The large valve gets the air out easily and quickly.

Thus far, the Insulated Air Core has shown no signs of leakage or any other problems. I should note that I also have a 60 lb. spoiled-rotten dog who frequently scratches her claws all over this pad trying to steal a spot, and this hasn’t presented a problem. The pad feels solid, and, as stated in the intro, Big Agnes seems to stand behind their products and offer excellent customer service in the event it’s needed.

Pros: Excellent insulation properties, packs fairly small, well-built, easy to inflate/deflate, solid comfort, Primaloft insulation can still offer insulation from ground if inflation is compromised by puncture, etc.
Cons: A tad heavy for gram weenies (especially if mostly used in warmer temps); noisy shell; like any air pad, it is more susceptible to failure than simple foam (but is way more comfy, too.)

Overall, I've been very happy with the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and have found no reason to let my eyes wander elsewhere.

WHERE TO BUY (no affiliation with sites below, offered only for convenience)

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