I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into purchasing the Big Agnes Air Core Pad. At the time, I was mostly looking to buy a new sleeping bag, the Horse Thief SL. When the Air Core was recommended as a good fit for the Horse Thief’s integrated bag/pad system, I decided to pick one up as well. I had been through about 5 or 6 different sleeping pad brands and styles in the past, and to my mind all sleeping pads were more or less the same.
The Air Core Pad proved me wrong.
Sleeping pad? More like inflatable mattress.
The day it arrived I remember thinking to myself, this isn’t a sleeping pad… this is an inflatable mattress. It rolled out of its stuff sack and everything about it reminded me of those cheap inflatable things you see people floating on in pools or at lakes (more on this later). I found the valve and started blowing it up, breath by breath – I felt kind of silly, truth be told. But once it was fully inflated, it started to become obvious that this was going to help change the way I think about sleeping in the outdoors.
The Air Core pad is made from durable 70D nylon and provides 2.5 inches of dream inducing padding. This thing is more comfortable than some couches I’ve slept on, and it weighs just 19 ounces and packs down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle.
Shines best in the “sleep system”
While I would not hesitate to recommend this pad as a stand alone product – to be used in traditional style, sitting under any sleeping bag – the real magic happens when you slide it into the built in sleeve of a Big Agnes sleeping bag to complete what they call the “sleep system.”
The little cocoon of comfort that the pad and bag create when integrated like this is hard to image till you actually sleep in it.
Room for improvement
As much as I love my Air Core, there is still room for improvement.
One gripe I have is the effort it takes to pack it up. While it’s relatively easy to inflate – Jess and I can get the job done in under 2 minutes (90 seconds if we’re racing) – it’s kind of a pain to deflate and then roll back up into its stuff sack. It takes a certain technique of folding it in half lengthwise, rolling it loosely several times to achieve maximum deflation, and then folding it into quarters and re-rolling it tightly so that it easily slides into the sack. Even after some practice, it can be a messy and frustrating event.
The other issue is that, like all “air” pads, it is possible that the pad will develop leaks. This is something I’ve grown to accept with sleeping pads over the years and the Air Core has been no different. In several summers of, what I would call, moderate use, the pad developed 2 leaks. The first was easy to spot (by inflating the pad and looking for bubbles while holding it under water) and patch with the included patch kit. But the second one I was never able to pinpoint and eventually had to toss the pad and purchase a new one.
All things considered, these gripes are a small price to pay for the comfortable nights the Air Core has provided.
Insulation and flotation?
The Air Core has a warmth comfort rating of 35 degrees. Big Agnes also produces an Insulated version made from Primaloft Eco that rates down to 15 degrees – this is the model I own. However, to increase warmth even further, such as on late fall or winter hikes, what I tend to do is bring along a simple closed cell pad (such as the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest) and use it under my Air Core.
In nicer weather, this pad presents an interesting and fun possibility. As mentioned above, everything about it seems to remind me of those air mattresses you see people using in pools and at lakes. So one day while on the Northville Placid Trail, I decided to see if it would keep me afloat. It did (although I imagine if you weigh much more than my 165 pounds it might not) and so I had a nice relaxing float around the lake.
While there is some room for improvement, the Air Core is the best sleeping pad I’ve owned. If there is another product out there that improves upon it significantly, I am not aware of it.
Extremely comfortable, especially when used in the Big Agnes sleep system. Lightweight and warm, it also packs up small. Includes a stuff sack and patch kit. You can take it for a float!
As with all “air” pads, leaks are a possibility. Takes some effort to blow it up before use, and even more effort to pack it away when done.
Where to buy:
- Amazon.com has some deals on various versions and models