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Hands-on Gear Review
Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated Review
Cons: Lightweight material isn't very durable
Bottom line: A great three-season pad that doesn't weigh you down or sacrifice comfort.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a new take on the company's popular former Insulated Q-Core and Q-Core SL models. The SLX is lighter, more packable, and has an updated valve for easier inflation and deflation. Weighing just 16 ounces in the regular length, this pad sheds 4.5 ounces from the past SL model and 9.5 ounces from the Insulated Q-Core. The SLX earned relatively high scores and is an excellent pad for backpackers, climbers, and anyone who wants one pad for pretty much any three season activity. It scored pretty similarly to the Therm-a-Rest XLite Max SV that is easier to inflate but retails for $20 more. For the same price, you can buy the Best Buy for Ultralight Therm-a-Rest XLite that weighs 4 ounces less and has a comparable warmth rating. Continue reading to see how the new SLX improves upon the older Q-Core model and how it stacks up against the rest of the pads we reviewed.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a terrific pad that was the absolute favorite of one of our testers. It maintains a good balance of features and will be great for most uses aside from ultralight thru-hiking.
Inflatable to about three inches thick, the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX features a quilt-like baffle system. When compared with thinner pads, the thickness of the SLX ensures that pine cones and rocks aren't as likely to become uncomfortable pressure points. This is a key feature anytime you're heading into the backcountry and away from ideal tent pads. The vertical and lateral support prevents the edge collapse issues common with horizontal baffles. Slightly thicker edge act like bumpers and keep you centered. As we noted in the REI AirRail 1.5 review, back sleepers tend to appreciate this feature more than side sleepers.
The SLX has a quilted surface with many small pits and valleys that create pressure points or cause your body to roll into them. Most of our testers preferred smooth surfaced pads such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture, or Exped SynMat 7. Deflating the SLX a tad reduces the pressure points but causes the pad to feel quite bouncy when rolling over or moving your feet. Overall, the benefits of the pad's thick surface and stable edges won out earning this pad an 8/10 for comfort.
At a manageable 16 ounces, this pad is light enough for most adventures. Thru-hiking ounce counters will likely opt for lighter options like the Therm-a-Rest XLite or a foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, but most testers found this pad anything but heavy. The Q-Core SLX in a regular size sheds 4.5 ounces from the previous Q-Core SL. When packed, it consumes just more than a liter of your packs volume. If this pad's weight to features seems right up your alley, you should be sure to take a look at the Therm-a-Rest XLite Max SV, which weighs the same but scored slightly higher.
Big Agnes designed this pad to be used for a full three seasons in temperatures down to 15º F. For comparison, it is about as warm as the Exped Synmat Hyperlite or Nemo Astro Insulated. We didn't have the opportunity to use it in snow, but found it sufficiently warm while backpacking in Colorado in temperatures below freezing. If you love this pad's features and are concerned that it may not be warm enough for your next snow camping adventure, simply supplement it with a foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite and sleep warmly.
Ease of Inflation
Many pad manufacturers have been upping their game when it comes to valves and Big Agnes is no acceptation. An easy to use one way inflation valve fitted adjacent to a larger deflation valve were a breeze to use. The button on the one way valve makes fine tuning the pad's thickens a cinch—just be careful to pop open the correct valve or else you'll surprise yourself in the middle of the night and need to re-inflate your whole pad!
Big Agnes claims that the SLX is 25% more tear resistant than the previous version that we found to be moderately durable. While we didn't experience any tearing, we did manage to create a small puncture after using the pad directly on the ground. The included patch kit had everything we needed for a field repair. When inflating the pad as thick as possible for use as a flotation device, we managed to pop a baffle along the edge the pad making it look like it had a growth. Avoid aggressive inflation and you likely won't have this issue. With all of that said, if you treat this pad with care, there is no reason it won't last years.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a great pad for nearly all activities. We enjoyed using it for backpacking, peak bagging, and car camping. A lightweight and packable design makes it ready for nearly any adventure. If you're trying to save as much weight as possible, other options like the Sea to Summit UltraLight or Exped Synmat Hyperlite will peak your interest. We also like floating around on this pad!
Priced at $160, this pad isn't a fantastic deal, but many will find it worth the price. You could save $40 by purchasing the Therm-a-Rest Evolite.
The SLX is Big Agnes' improvement of the popular Q-Core SL pad with a little bit more X-factor. The main advantage is the reduced weight and packed size and the improved valves. If you liked the past iteration, then you're sure to love this new pad. It's comfortable, moderately lightweight, and easy to inflate. Buy this pad if you love plush surfaces and don't mind the bounciness that comes with being three inches off the ground. Overall, the SLX is one of the highest performing pads we tested and is ready for your next adventure.
— Jeremy Bauman
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