Pliable, four-way stretch nylon fabric gives the Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow a little cushion, making it a little more comfortable than other ultralight camping pillows we've tested — but not by much. It's still comprised of a thin bladder filled with air, resulting in exceptional marks for weight and packed size, but significantly lower scores for comfort. This pillow is well-crafted and employs high-grade materials, but it will never be as comfortable as pillows that include padding and softer fabrics. In short, this pillow is perfect for backpackers chiefly concerned about weight and packed volume.
Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, small packed size, easy to use
Cons: Less comfortable than other models, can be punctured, noisy
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We used this pillow in the deep woods of Alabama and the pine forests of Mount Rainier National Park. We also tried to use it for some shut-eye on the long plane rides in between. In the end, we feel we have a pretty good idea of how well this pillow performs and what kind of adventurist it's best suited for. If you're looking for a pillow that's super lightweight, you're in the right place.
Comfort isn't its strong suit, but the AXL Air Pillow isn't necessarily trying to be the best in this metric. Its entire design focuses on minimizing weight and packed size. That said, we still needed to rate this pillow for comfort, and our score wasn't very high. This pillow's use of stretch nylon does bump up its comfort rating a bit over similar inflatable pillows we have tested. The face fabric is softer and more pliable, allowing it to stretch and mold under the weight of our heads. This is a nice touch, but it is still no match for more plush pillows we tested.
This type of pillow requires the user to determine its level of fill (air). Breathing into a pillow is not difficult. However, getting the same, desired level of air each time the pillow is used is a little more challenging. We did find ourselves tweaking the pillow a bit each night to find that sweet spot. Additionally, once we zeroed in on our comfort level, we were still very aware that we were sleeping on a blow-up pillow throughout the night. It's a little noisy, firm and unforgiving, and lacks softer, appealing fabrics. For a little relief, we often wrapped the pillow in a spare fleece or down jacket.
This pillow is a real lightweight — and that is a compliment. Coming in with a packed weight of 1.8 ounces, the AXL Air Pillow crushes nearly all of its competitors, causing many ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers to drool. It's up for consideration on long treks, like the PCT or AT, where everything carried is scrutinized down to the ounce, and where lack of weight trumps lack of comfort.
Ease of Use
An average of three large puffs fills the AXL Air Pillow. This pillow is easy to use. Inflating and deflating is a breeze, by way of its large valve, which is designed to sit flush against the fabric. The valve incorporates an inner open/close flapper mechanism which opens from the pressure of incoming air and then slaps shut to hold in the air until the locking top snaps into place. To deflate, push down on the flapper with a finger.
We really liked the Air Pillow's slightly over-sized stuff sack, which made packing it up very easy. Additionally, when removing the pillow for the first time, we were very pleased to find a repair kit, complete with instructions, two stick-on patches, and a replacement flapper valve. The manufacturer also states that the interior of the pillow contains an antimicrobial treatment. We can't speak to how well that works, but we at least like the thought, since we're filling this pillow continuously with breath and, unavoidably, small amounts of saliva. One thing we didn't like about the Air Pillow is its tendency to slip and slide inside our sleeping bag.
TheAXL packs up so small that it can easily get lost in your pack, despite its bright red color. Scoring extremely high marks in this metric, it has one of the smallest packed sizes we've ever seen, making it perfect for adventures where space is limited. The thing we liked about this pillow's packed size is that we were able to place easily into our pocket, luggage, or backpack. Exceptional here.
Designed to accommodate both back- and side-sleepers, the AXL Air Pillow provides above-average support. It's center fabrics are vulcanized together, creating an I-Beam shape, designed to cradle the sleepy heads of all types of snoozers. By nature, inflatable pillows score well in this metric. The air inside the pillow has nowhere to go, creating a decent amount of support. However, it's important to note that this support is the most comfortable support. The pillows we liked the best had above-average support and above-average comfort.
In the end, it all depends on who is buying this pillow to determine its true value. Adventurists specifically desiring lightweight and small packed size will like this pillow, while those who want soft and comfortable will not. Overall, when compared to our metrics, and the general outdoor consumer, we feel more people will lean more toward comfort. Based on our tests and personal opinions, we feel the AXL Air Pillow doesn't have as much value when price is pitted against our scores.
In the realm of trekking, backpacking, and thru-hiking, the Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow stands out as a legitimate choice in camping pillows. To the average backpacker, who is not as consumed with weight and packed volume, there are better, more comfortable options available that still weigh in ounces. This pillow is well-made from quality materials. Its use for stretch nylon makes it a tad more comfortable than other inflatable pillows.
— Jason Wanlass