Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Moderately light, compact, and comfortable.
Cons: "Pot hole" surface is not as comfortable as the mostly flat NeoAir series, slippery surface, bumpy side rails, low quality mesh stuff sack.
Best Uses: Backpacking and camping.
The Q-Core SL is a high quality lightly insulated sleeping pad that scores near the top of the pack in our ratings. It's moderately lightweight, reasonably warm, compact, and reasonably comfortable. Our testers found that the pad's "pot hole surface" wasn't as comfortable as Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir series. That's the pad's largest drawback. Even so, it's still a Top Five finisher.
Check out our Backpacking Sleeping Pad Review to compare all of the models tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Q-Core SL weighs 19.5 ounces on our scale. This is 7 ounces more than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and 4 ounces more than the deep winter worthy Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. Thus, the pad is moderately light, but not impressively light.
It packs down to a moderate size, but is still larger than the NeoAir XTherm.
We haven't tested the pad over the long-term, i.e. multiple years. However, based on our experience testing more than 30 pads and dozens of fabrics used in the outdoor industry we suspect that the pad offers average durability. The only concern we have lies with the dimple-like surface design; surface complexity increases the difficulty of repair. That is, a smoother, flatter surface is generally easier to patch. So, that could be potential drawback if the pad were to tear in or along one of the dimples.
Originally we decided not to include the Q-Core series in our sleeping pad reviews because we didn't think they competed at a high level. After a while, however, we read a bunch of other reviews online that raved about the pads' comfort, read Big Agnes' description of the Q-Core as "the most comfortable pads on the planet," and we decided to test them (this and the Insulated Q-Core). But our testers were largely disappointed with their comfort. We expected the pads to be considerably more comfortable than they are. Here are the two primary problems we've found:
(1) One tester described the top as a "pot hole surface." There are big holes all over the pad!! They collect dirt and adventure grime and are not as comfortable to lay your head on directly as flatter surfaces, such as Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir series pads. Several testers went head-to-head with the Q-Core SL, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, and [Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Season]] on a backcountry ski expedition in Greenland. Their conclusion after a month on the pads: "Though the Big Agnes pad was the thickest, we all agreed that its baffles were a bit uncomfortable. We could always feel them, whereas the surface of the Therm-a-Rest pads was much more smooth and even."
It's also important to note that there are "rails" along the edges that aim to keep your body centered. We really dislike these because they prevent you from fully utilizing all of the surface area. Also, they prevent you from lining two pads up next to each other to create a larger flat surface; spooning with someone else or using a double wide sleeping bag is a pain at best with the Q-Core series. This eliminates the pad from consideration for use on fast and light winter trips where weight is the absolute top concern, i.e. where you share a Feathered Friends Spoonbill sleeping bag with another person-- the rails push you away from the other person to such an extent that the Spoonbill is neither comfortable nor thermally efficient.
(2) The next most significant drawback to the Q-Core SL is its slippery surface. This is a problem we've experienced with other Big Agnes pads, such as their Air Core, and it's detrimental for people that toss and turn a lot because you can easily slip off the pad. This is readily apparent when comparing various pads side-by-side. If you feel motivated you can lay strips of SeamGrip on the flatter parts to the pad to create more friction between you and the pad and between the pad and the ground.
The pad is sufficiently warm for most winter applications. Our testers felt that the XTherm was slightly warmer, but not but too much. BUT, we haven't yet used the pad in very cold conditions, like -20 F.
The pad comes with a very low quality mesh stuff sack that's basically worthless. Mesh!? It doesn't protect the pad from dirt or grime and it ripped within the first week of testing. C'mon Big Agnes!
Winter camping and backpacking.
Like all top-tier pads, the Q-Core SL is pricey. If it were more comfortable we would think it a better value.
The Q-Core SL is almost the best lightweight pads we've tested. If it were more comfortable and a bit lighter it might be closer to #1.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Insulated Q-Core, $120, is slightly warmer, more durable, and heavier.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SL Mummy, $160, is shaped for your mummy sleeping bag.
Looking for a cheaper alternative? The Big Agnes Air Core, $50, 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.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: March 24, 2015
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