Since our testing period last fall with the Q-Core SLX Insulated pad, Big Agnes gave it some updates. The new pad is lime green in color and features PrimaLoft Silver insulation with a heat reflective barrier to trap and reflect body heat, and it boasts an R-value of 3.2. There are some updates to the valve, too — it features a micro-air adjustment button so you can adjust the amount of air going in/out. The two versions are shown below; the new model is pictured first in green.
Note that until we've finished testing the updated model, the review to follow only tells our experience with last year's pad.
Hands-On Review of the Q-Core SLX Insulated
The Q-Core SLX is an excellent balance of warmth, weight, comfort, and durability. It doesn't put all of its eggs in one basket; instead, this pad performs decently in all areas. While all of our testers enjoyed using the Q-Core SLX, it lacked the wow factor that typically associates itself with award winners.
We hope you like Martian Smores because this thing is a big green marshmello of plush padding. Large side rails helped keep us on the pad even though some really bad night terrors.
The quilted baffle design of the Q-Core SLX offers over four inches of plush, insulated comfort. The laminated quilt pattern creates a trough with large edges, which help keep you centered when squirming around in the middle of the night looking for the chocolate bars. While the four plus inches of loft may seem excessive, it was an excellent barrier between our bodies and the ground. Even with minimal site clearing, we felt absolutely no debris or bumps under the pad.
If you are a side sleeper and hate having to have a pad pumped up to the point of being rigid the Q-Core SLX is a great solution. This was the thickest lightweight pad we tested and let us run low pressure and still kept us from bottoming out.
The Q-Core SLX is plush and nearly double the thickness of other inflatable pads. This thickness did come with one downside. While pads with tight baffles and narrow channels have almost eliminated the annoying bounce felt in early sleeping pads, the Q-Core SLX still has a bit of the annoying bounciness when shifting around. It is nothing compared to early inflatable sleeping pads, and a far cry from the dangerously bouncy inflatable mattresses your relatives pull out of the garage when you come to visit but, the bounce is present. The upside of the massive air volume contained in the Q-Core SLX is that we could barely feel the ground, even when kneeling on the pad.
Compared to pads without side rails, the Q-Core SLX did help contain us. When rolling around in a sleeping bag these rails helped keep us centered and made sleeping feel a bit more effortless than with some pads.
Weight and Packed Size
Our regular length (20x72) Q-Core SLX weighed in at 18.2 ounces. The claimed weight on the BA website was 16 ounces, which is a bit lighter than the story our scale told. We did measure the weight with a stuff sack and included patch kit, so perhaps their weights omit these items. Either way, the Q-Core SLX is fantastically light for how well it performs.
The 4x7.5 inch packed size is pretty reasonable considering how big this pad is when it's inflated. On a recent bikepacking trip around flagstaff, we were able to stuff the Q-Core SLX and our Western Mountaineering 30 degree sleeping bag into a small 5-liter bike seat pack. We were impressed with how packable the Q-Core SLX was. The ripstop material, while not incredibly thin, was pliable enough to allow stuffing the pad instead of rolling, which made filling every nook and cranny pretty easy. Some pads are just too stiff to allow for this.
at 18.3 ounces on our scale (Patch kit included) we felt like this was a great compromise considering how comfortable and warm we were using this pad.
What kind of gear testers would we be if we didn't spend a few nights shivering, just to test the limits of each sleeping pad!? If you're expecting frosty nights, either supplement this pad with your old clapped out Z-Rest or pick a pad with a beefier R-value. We spent an absolutely frigid and windy night out around Humphreys Peak in Arizona. This was enough to know the limits of the Q-Core SLX lie right around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which our bones started to ache with cold. It's also important to note that on that night, we had a 30 degree Western Mountaineering sleeping bag that doesn't handle frigid nights well either. A beefier sleeping bag or warm pad might have done the trick.
Our first night out with the Q-Core SLX was an open bivy after a long day in the bike saddle. The huge lofty pad requires a LOT of air to fill up. If you feel like the Q-Core is for you check out the avaliable pump sacks to save yourself a long inflation time.
Ease of Inflation
Expect a solid two minutes to get the Q-Core SLX from packed to pumped; the massive volume just takes time to inflate. There isn't an included pump sack, but we would prefer to have one, as several minutes of deep breathing would even get Laird Hamilton light-headed. We tested the inflation time of the Q-Core SLX with the Exped Schnozzle pump sack since it was the only one at our disposal, and it took about a minute and a half, and we didn't even feel slightly vertiginous.
The dual valve system of the Q-Core SLX has a generic sized deflate valve, and a jumbo inflate valve. We had to attach the generic Schnozzle to the deflate valve, and once the pad was mostly filled, we closed the deflate valve and finished the pad off using lung power. Even doing this convoluted inflation method still proved to be quicker than lung power alone. Long story short, if you get this sleeping pad, you will likely want to purchase the proprietary pump sack.
The Exped Schnozzle pumpsack worked great with the Q-Core SLX and greatly decreased the inflation time.
During the previous cycle of testing with the same model, we managed to pop the lamination on the inside of one baffle. This didn't result in any air leakage, and we were still able to use the pad. We also accept some of the responsibility as we were pumping the pad up to use as a floaty… Other than this event, we haven't experienced any adverse events or leakage. After having this pad inflated in our house for several days, it had barely lost any air and was still firm. We've found that most pads lose some air, especially if left inflated for days.
The valve system feels chunky and durable compared to bargain pad systems.
The Q-Core SLX isn't an incredibly affordable sleeping pad, but it does deliver the goods. This is a classic, "You get what you pay for" scenario. The trough design and four inches of padding make for an extremely comfortable pad, and the material used is light and durable. Overall, this is a quality sleeping pad that costs a pretty penny.
The Q-Core SLX is an excellent sleeping pad. While the regular size may be a bit narrow for some, there are plenty of sizing options to accommodate wider shoulders. The weight, comfort, and warmth are all on point, but the overall package lags behind some of the ultralight yet high performing offerings on the market currently.