The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX utilizes welded I-Beams to create a lofty, quilted sleep surface that aims to provide more cushion, added lift, and in the end, a better night’s sleep. It’s big, fluffy, and insulated, but does it perform in the field? This is my review.
Starting with the numbers, the SLX brings an impressive 4.25″ of loft, with lengths and widths varying depending on the size you choose. As tested, the pads comes in at 16 oz, packs to about one liter in size, and has dimensions of 20″ x 72″, with petite, long, wide, and double wide options being available. The pad is constructed from an aviation grade (think parachute style) double rip-stop nylon with integrated “I” beam baffles that create a bubbly, compressible sleeping surface. Internally, the pad incorporates a heat reflective layer for insulation, and the nylon is TPU laminated for extra durability and to allow it actually hold air. There is a welded in one-way valve with a small button that allows small amounts of air to be release for fine tuning, or a wide port that can be pulled open to dump all of the air in seconds. As tested, regular sized pad retails for $159.95.
What I liked
Of course, one of the most important aspects of a sleeping pad is it’s comfort, and the Q-Core SLX doesn’t disappoint in this aspect. The huge amount of loft lifts the pad off the ground to the point that even large roots and rocks will usually go completely undetected. The quilted pattern across the surface does an excellent job of creating a cushioned feel, that actually allows the body to sink into the surface a bit, just like a real mattress should. These small bubbly baffles also distribute the body weight across the pad exceptionally well, allowing for a fabulous stomach or back sleep that’s even, consistent, and of adjustable firmness thanks to the tiny deflate button within the air valve. Sleeping on my back I was able to rest soundly without any soreness when I woke up, and stomach sleeping was the same. Side sleeping is also doable on the pad, but requires a much softer inflation to avoid too much soreness developing in the shoulders/hips. Thankfully, having over 4 inches of air to work with makes this quite viable. The pad feels less like an inflatable pad than almost any pad I’ve tested, with is a testament to it’s clever baffling design.
The packability of the pad is quite great. It packs down quite small with little effort at all, as once deflated it falls completely flat like a thin sheet of nylon, without any foam or insulation pushing it back up. This allows it to roll up or fold with no resistance, and without the need to lay on top of it to force the air out. Folding it, I was able to lump it down into a flat pad of fabric, easily sliding it into the back of my backpack against the spine, or even tucking it down into the gaps created by my sleeping bag, taking up practically no usable space. Rolled up, it’s about 4″ x 8″ when stored inside the included stuff sack.
The one way valve is a great feature. Blowing into the valve, no air is released between breaths, speeding up inflation and sparing the user of any wasted breaths. To use it, one simply opens the valve and blows in. The valve itself does the rest. Within the valve, a simple press of the small button lets out a tiny stream of air, great for making small adjustments, and pulling the large tab just above it dumps all of the air in the pad in a matter of about 3 seconds, making packing it up super fast. The valve sits flat too, happily slipping beneath a sleeping bag or pillow.
As far as noise goes, the SLX is on the quieter end of the spectrum for ultra light models. There are no crinkling or squeaking sounds, although rolling over will produce some noise as your clothing slides over the fabric and the baffles readjust to the new weight distribution, creating a small amount of sound. Overall, I never really noticed the noise of rolling over unless I paid attention, and other campers didn’t complain either.
The weight of the pad is also appreciable. At just around 1 lb (give or take depending on the size), it’s light enough for longer backpacking trips or short weekend warrior excursions.
Durability is middle of the road with decent resistance to abrasion and leaks. It’s certainly tough enough for long term use assuming it stays inside the tent, but a few journeys outside could result in minor leaks, like most pads. A small, easy to use patch kit is included, just in case. It’s certainly good enough, if nothing spectacular. Still a big improvement over the older design.
What I didn’t like
My biggest complaint with the pad is targeted squarely at the temperature rating. Despite being rated at 15 degrees, I could start to feel the cold creeping in even into the high 30’s. Below freezing, I found myself unable to sleep as any point that pressed hard against the pad, my calves, butt and shoulders, became quite cold, despite having a very warm sleeping bag. I was able to find some sleep by tucking clothing underneath my body for a little extra insulation, but that’s less than ideal. Anything less than 40 degrees, I would suggest pairing it with a foam pad. A 15 degree pad this is not.
The standard width is wide enough for most uses, but also slightly under spec. I found that while sleeping on my back, my arms wanted to slip off the pad and onto the ground. As the pad sits over 4″ off the ground, that’s also quite the distance for the arms to slump, which feels unnatural. Instead, I had to sleep with my arms crossed to keep them off of the cold floor. This will bother some people, including myself. Thankfully, Side sleeping was no problem, and stomach sleeping, with one arm up under my pillow and one down to my side, I was easily able to lay completely on the pad. So no issues there. Those who sleep primarily on the back may want to consider the wider model.
The thickness of the pad takes a lot of air to inflate and is a dizzying experience after a long climb or heavy miles. The newer model of “Pump House” allows the pad to be inflated quickly and rather effortlessly, and is highly recommended, but it will cost a bit extra.
The Q-Core SLX is a worthy successor to the Q-core SL. It’s actually wider, more comfortable, more durable, and it’s still light enough to be justifiable on any length trip. The baffled design both supports and cradles, producing a soft, comforting feel that still manages to keep the spine straight, without feeling like a pool toy. I quite like the one way valve, and being able to fine tune the air pressure without fussing with a finicky twist knob is easy to appreciate. Even better, the quick dump pull tab makes breaking down camp significantly faster than forcing air out of a tiny whole. The pad is a bit narrow for back sleepers, but wider models are available, but I was taken by surprise with its generous temperature rating. I personally couldn’t see using this pad below 45 degrees as I like to stay toasty warm, so for me I can only recommend it in warmer weather, unless you don’t mind supplementing it with a foam pad. Still, it’s an very comfortable pad that takes up minimal space at a fair weight. Those seeking something plush to smoothen out those rough patches should take a look.
Recommended, in mild weather conditions
For more information on Big Agnes and and their wide range of gear, check out their website, www.bigagnes.com
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I want to extend a huge thanks to Big Agnes for providing this product for review. We couldn’t do it without their help. Our full disclosure can be found here.
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