Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $40 - $70 | Compare prices at 8 resellers
Pros: Lightweight, small, affordable, includes stuff sack and repair kit.
Cons: Slippery surface, long inflation time, minimal insulation.
Best Uses: Budget backpacking.
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
The Big Agnes Air Core is the least expensive inflatable sleeping pad weve tested. Get it if you want the cheapest compact inflatable pad. Otherwise, the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite is a better buy because it's cheaper, warmer, and more durable. Also, with Big Agnes you definitely slip off the pad in the middle of the night.
Want to upgrade? Go for the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, the best, all-purpose backpacking pad on the market. Go for a closed cell pad if you need something really durable. We recommend the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL if space is a concern and the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite if its not.
If youre 5 6 or under check out our Women's Sleeping Pad Review. And finally, if comfort is top priority get yourself a Car Camping Mattress. These luxurious portable beds turn roots and rocks into plush, heavenly clouds.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Big Agnes Air Core is shockingly compact for its weight. At 22 ounces, its moderately light, reasonably comfortable, and is the cheapest inflatable pad weve tested. This pad is a great value for a first backpacking pad.
We found the surface material to be incredibly slick. This made sleeping nearly as wild as a Slip n Slide, so be aware of the fact that you might end up on the ground next to the pad. We also found ourselves exhausted and impatient with the laborious inflation process; the Air Core doesnt self-inflate. The inflation valve was the worst tested but still functional. Furthermore, the vertical tubing and lack of foam make for a surprisingly unstable and bouncy experience. The tubular construction is not the best for laying your head on. Finally, a lack of foam means the pad is not warm and if it goes flat youll be on the ground with no cushioning.
The Air Core is a summer backpacking pad. Its large open construction allows air to move about when you do (which greatly reduces its R-value). Other pads use internal baffles to slow airflow (Therma-a-Rest NeoAir) or adhere synthetic insulation to the top of the pad (Nemo Astro Insulated and Exped Syn Mat).
Budget warm weather backpacking.
I spent two months living out of a tent with someone who had this pad. They found the slippery material to be highly problematic because the pad would continually escape from underneath them. We highly recommend adding several strips of silicone seam sealant Seam Grip or SilNet to both sides of the pad. This will make it much less slippery.
The Insulated Q-Core, $120, is slightly warmer, more durable, and heavier.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SL is lighter, $140.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SL Mummy, $160, is shaped for your mummy sleeping bag
Inexpensive, light, and small but only comfortable if you can stay on the pad.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 24, 2015
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