Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated Review
Cons: Lightweight material isn't very durable
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Big Agnes 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, but the strong performance throughout metrics does make it a strong contender.
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.
The Q-Core is plush and nearly double the thickness of other inflatable pads we tested. 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 in the Q-Core is that we could barely feel the ground, even when kneeling on the pad. To further boost the versatility of this pad, there are six sizing options of varying width and length to match your specific needs. We tested the 20 x 72, which was right on the mark for our 6 foot 175-pound tester.
Weight and Packed Size
Our regular length (20x72) Q-Core weighed in at 22.2 ounces, which is slightly heavier than previous versions of the same size, but that's about right on the mark, considering this version comes with a large pump sack. The claimed weight on the BA website was 18 ounces, which is a bit lighter than the story our scale told, but perhaps they measure without the pump sack, repair kit, and stuff sack. That said, the Q-Core is a decent weight 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 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.
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 a 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 30-32 degrees Fahrenheit below that 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.
We found chilly alpine summer nights to be absolutely pleasant while counting sheep on the Q-Core. We didn't get any middle of the night chill coming up from below as we have with some ultralight pads with almost no insulation, and with the right sleeping bag, shoulder seasons were also quite pleasant.
Ease of Inflation
The most notable update for the Q-Core was the addition of a pump sack. While it isn't a feathery light and easily deployed pump sack, it does make inflating this sleeping pad significantly easier than previous versions that omitted this feature. The huge baffles of the Q-Core require an absolute ton of air, and we previously found ourselves dreading the head rush that was sure to hit us while inflating the previous version.
The dual valve system feels quite solid and utilizes a no-leak inflation valve that saves you from losing any effort from unwanted backflow. This was helpful during the middle of the night adjustments made to how firm the pad was, either allowing us to trickle a bit of pressure out or add a puff or two depending on our needs. Additionally, the material this valve is made from feels like a dense compliant rubber rather than brittle plastic, which bodes well for durability and the likely scenario of someone stepping on the valve at some point.
During the previous testing cycle 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 even after testing multiple versions of this pad. 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. That said, even on the Big Agnes website, multiple people reported having issues with this pad holding air through the night.
While the Q-Core isn't the most expensive sleeping pad out there by far, it is still pretty pricey. We feel that the high comfort level and solid three-season usability make this pad a solid competitor and thus a decent value. If side sleeping is a must and thick plush padding can help you get a good night's sleep, the Q-Core should be on your shortlist of pads to consider.
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 does lag behind some of the ultralights yet high performing offerings on the market currently.
— Brian Martin
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