The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is one of the lightest inflatable pads on the market, and at 3.75 inches thick, it's also one of the most comfortable. The "Light is Right" mantra has gotten our testers in and out of plenty of trouble over the years, and we're suckers for anything that won't weigh us down or take up too much space in our packs. The AXL packs down to slightly larger than a beer can, and the rectangular version we tested weighs a scant 12.9oz. For long-distance hikers, fast packers and or folks on a long bike ride, this pad is a good choice, but when colder weather is in the forecast, we prefer the warmer Editors' Choice Award-winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm.
Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Ultralight, thick
Cons: Not warm, bouncy
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
While getting top marks in weight and packability, the AXL falls short in warmth and durability when compared to offerings from Therm-a-Rest and the REI Co-op Flash All-season Insulated. Interestingly, the Flash and the AXL receive the same overall score. The Flash is heavier, warmer, and more durable than the AXL, but takes up almost twice as much space in your pack. It also weighs almost 9 oz more.
This pad is a very plush 3.75 inches. Side sleepers didn't experience any "bottoming out" at their hips, while back sleepers appreciated the raised side rails that helped cradle them on the pad. The side rails also helped to alleviate edge collapse so we could take advantage of the full 20-inch girth of this pad. Our testers slept soundlessly on the AXL. Its Mylar reflective laminate is quiet compared to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm, a crinkly pad with a very loud (and effectively warm) reflective layer with hundreds of baffled chambers to prevent cold air circulation. The hexagonal baffles create some pressure points, and side by side, most of our testers preferred the smoother horizontal baffles of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir series. When fully inflated, the NeoAir pads feel firmer, and we preferred this over the bouncy feeling of the AXL.
Weight and Packed Sized
Our rectangular AXL pad weighs 12.9oz, and a mummy shaped version is available that weighs even less. When packed away in its stuff sack, it's smaller than the Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight, and it stuffs away into its sack much more easily. When deflated, this pad is thin and supple and rolls or folds up with little resistance. Though we're tempted to stuff this pad into the bottom of our packs the way we would a sleeping bag, because the shell material is so thin, we always recommend using the included stuff sack to preserve the pad and your quality of sleep.
Big Agnes calls the AXL a 3-season pad, so don't expect this pad to keep you warm on top of snow or other frozen surfaces. If you're a warm sleeper and you don't mind owning an additional warmer pad, this pad's undisclosed R-value should not be an issue. While this pad has a small amount of Primaloft Silver insulation, it's not as warm as high R-value pads like the Exped DownMat 9 and the REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated.
Ease of Inflation
This pad is thick and takes a lot of air to inflate, about 25-30 breaths. Fortunately, the one-way valve is one of the best we encountered, offering little resistance to the air blowing in, and holding airtight, even when the pad is nearly maxed out. The REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated takes fewer breaths, but its valve is harder to blow into. The Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight also takes less air to inflate, but our testers found they had to awkwardly pinch the valve to get air in. For deflating, the valve cover has a pull tab you can insert into the air hole and prevent the valve from closing. It's one of our favorite features since it keeps the valve open while you roll up and stuff the pad away. The Flash solves this issue with a heavier two valve system, and the Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight has the same design as the AXL valve with a shorter pull tab that doesn't work as well.
Durability is often the compromise we make when choosing ultralight equipment, and this pad is no exception. The AXL uses a ripstop nylon made from a high filament yarn that Big Agnes claims to increase tear strength by 25% while simultaneously decreasing material weight. While it's definitely very light, the material is unnervingly thin compared the 70 denier nylon material on the bottom of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm. As much as we love the functionality of the one-way valve, it's flimsy compared to the Therm-a-Rest screw-on valves, and if the valve flap gets damaged, we're not confident that the valve cover could hold the air in this pad with the weight of a person on it. To help keep this pad going, Big Agnes has included an antimicrobial treatment on the inside of the pad to keep it from deteriorating from gross mouth bacteria, and they include the all-important repair kit. If you value your sleep, always carry a repair kit for your inflatable pad.
The AXL is best for fast packing or alpine light (alpine climbing in the Sierra in the summer) or any situation that requires the lightest kit you can manage. This pad is very comfortable, even at a lightweight, so it will appeal to long distance hikers who will log months on a sleeping pad. Because this pad is very thin, we recommend a lightweight ground tarp. For snow and winter camping situations, choose a pad with a high R-Value such as the REI Co-op Flash All Season Insulated or the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm.
Light is right, but in the case of the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air, it ain't cheap. This ultralight pad will set you back $180. Worth it? If you're pounding out multiple 25 mile days in a row like the average thru-hiker, then absolutely. The inflatable Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight is a wallet-friendly $55, while weighing only 5oz more. However, it is thinner and significantly less comfortable. If you're very good at sleeping (i.e. young and psyched), you might be ok laying night after night on the bargain pad, but our seasoned testers recommend biting the bullet and going with the more comfortable and lighter weight AXL.
For long days and warm nights, this pad is a favorite of several testers. For those who want to save weight and space while slumbering in comfort, the AXL belongs in the pad quiver, but this pad isn't appropriate for cold conditions. If you only want to own one pad, we recommend the heavier but warmer Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm or the less expensive REI Flash All-Season Insulated.
— Matt Bento