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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: "Pot hole" surface is not as comfortable as pads with smoother surfaces, bumpy side rails
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
The Big Agnes 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. Most of our testers found that the pad's "pot hole surface" wasn't as comfortable as similar pads with smooth surfaces. Our testers found it slightly less comfortable than the Best Buy award winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture, but its rectangular design gave it an edge over the Editors' Choice winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm.
The Q-Core is quite warm and is great for trips throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall. In winter, you may consider supplementing this pad with a foam one like the Best Buy winning Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL. Overall, the Q-Core SL is an excellent and versatile pad ready for adventures near the car or deep in the backcountry.
RELATED: Our complete review of men's sleeping pads
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
With 3.5 inches of plush comfort, you can sink into the Big Agnes Q-Core SL for a good night's sleep. Few of our testers loved the pothole surface, but everyone agreed that overall this pad was among the most comfortable.
Scoring at an 8/10, this pad will make any lonely bivy comfortable. This pad, along with the similar but heavier Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core, features a unique baffling design that solves the problems commonly found in pads with horizontal or vertical baffles. For example, the Nemo Astro Insulated is nearly as thick as this pad, but the horizontal baffles collapse near the edges and cause the pad to feel unstable. The Q-Core pads feel very stable even when deflated, which provides a more plush sleeping experience. The downside to the quilted design is that the surface of this pad isn't very flat. This issue was especially distracting for side sleepers because the potholes cause your body to roll into them.
This pad also has "rails" along the edges that aim to keep your body centered. Some backpackers (usually back sleepers) love these types of rails, which are also found on the REI AirRail 1.5, but they also prevent you from lining two pads up next to each other to create a larger flat surface.
Another drawback to the Q-Core SL is its slippery surface. This is a problem we've experienced with other Big Agnes pads, such as the Big Agnes Air Core, and it can be detrimental for people that toss and turn a lot because you can easily slip off the pad! If you buy this pad and find that this issue plagues you, it is very easy and effective to put a few strips of SeamGrip along the ridges of the top and bottom of the pad. The rubbery texture of the SeamGrip will increase friction and keep the pad under you.
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 winter worthy Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. Compared with other pads of similar comfort and warmth, the Q-Core is relatively light.
The pad is sufficiently warm for most winter applications. Our testers felt that the XTherm was slightly warmer, but not but too much. You can put a foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite on top of the pad to increase both comfort and warmth.
The Q-Core SL does not maintain a noteworthy packed size. It is larger than the highest performing winter weight sleeping pad, and about the same size as other pads that are comparably comfortable.
Based on our experience, 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.
The Q-Core SL is an excellent pad for year-round adventures. We have friends who have used this pad for years and laud its comfort and warmth. Comfort driven backpacking and winter camping are the best applications for this pad.
Like all top-tier pads, the Q-Core SL is pricey, but it is also comfortable and warm so you get what you pay for. However, it is slightly more expensive than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season, which scored higher and is a little bit warmer. The comparative downside of the All Season is that it sounds like you're sleeping on tin foil, whereas the Q-Core SL is a bit quieter.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SL is a top scoring pad with a tried and true design. It strikes a great balance between comfort and weight. Back sleepers will probably find this pad more comfortable than side sleepers because of the lack of a smooth surface. Overall, this was one of our favorite pads to sleep on and maintains an excellent balance of features.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core
Big Agnes Air Core
— Jeremy Bauman
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 17, 2016
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