Sleeping in the backcountry isn’t always easy, but a good pad makes a huge difference. The AXL from Big Agnes is designed to provide a great night’s sleep at the lowest possible pack size and weight. How did it do? This is my review.
As suggested, the AXL is an ultra-light, insulated sleeping pad built from a new for 2018, patent pending, nylon. The materials is internally woven with high tenacity yarn for enhanced tear strength and durability, while being coated with a water and air proof layer. The pad is air chamber based, with a variety of thin, interspersed baffles that create a series of spring like, emerald shaped pads. Internally, there is a combination of Primaloft Silver, a fibrous insulation, paired with a reflective mylar layer that bounces body heat back at the user for warmth. The pad inflates via a high air flow one way valve, with a handy button in the center for quick deflation. As tested, the 20″ x 72″ pad weighs just 11.9 oz, is 3.75″ thick, packs down to the size of a thick water bottle, and includes a stuff sack and patch kit. The pad comes in several variants, including wide and short version in both rectangular and mummy shapes. As tested, the Insulated AXL retails for 179.95
What I liked
Given the pad comes in at 3.75″ thick, it’s little surprise that the AXL is quite comfy. Truthfully though, the comfort comes less from the thickness and more from the battles These meticulously crafted seams create a quilted surface that essentially act like a series of air springs, absorbing the shape of the sleeper and distributing the weight across the surface of the pad. This creates a surprisingly uniform feel, while doing a great job of eliminating any pressure points, especially for back and stomach sleepers. Side sleepers are able to deflate the pad a bit further, allowing the shoulders and hips to sink into that luscious 3.75″ depth, straightening up the spine and neck, assuming the accompanying pillow is up to the task of supporting the skull. After sleeping on the AXL, I found myself free of soreness or stiffness (pretty rare for me), and I was able to easily sleep throughout the entire night without tossing or turning too much.
The included valve is quite nice and very simple to use. You basically just open the protective cover, and blow in. It is a one way valve, so no air escapes in between breaths, reducing the overall effort needed to inflate it. This also allows the pad to be inflated to a rather stiff, firm state, which creates a great support surface for back sleepers. Alternatively, some air can be let out to create a softer, squishier mattress like consistency. This is done easily by pressing the small button located in the center of the valve, which can be gently pressed to let out a slow stream of air for fine tuning, or it can pressed deeper to dump air out of the pad rather quickly.
All in all, the pad inflates in about 2 minutes or so, depending on your lung capacity. It is a bit dizzying to pump up if you’re in a hurry due to the considerable amount of volume the pad holds. Thankfully, the pad doesn’t provide any resistance or push back, so it’s not too bad overall. On the flip side, the pad can be deflated in about 30 seconds by simply laying on the mattress and depressing the dump valve. Squeezing the final bubbles of air out to get the minimal pack size takes a little more work, but a 3 minute pack-up time isn’t impossible. An accessory is available to inflate the pad without blowing into it, the Pumphouse Ultra, but that costs extra and brings a small amount of additional weight along with it, about 3 ounces. Still, I’d recommend it as it doubles as a stuff sack and makes this process of inflation much more enjoyable.
I was quite impressed with the pack weight and size of the AXL. Rolling it up, I found that it took up a minuscule amount of pack space, especially when considering the thickness and size of the pad when inflated. It’s almost comical watching it deflated into basically nothing. It weighs just about 12 ounces, making it one of the lightest pads I’ve ever tested. When completely deflated and rolled, it’s about 3″ by 5″, and folded it comes in at about 3″ x 8 x 8″. This allows me to stuff the pad into just about any compartment of my pack that I want, usually fitting between my back and my sleeping bag in my pack, essentially taking up no room at all.
So far, durability has been fine. The materials are impressively thin, so punctures from sharp objects will be a concern, as with any pad, but it does include a well rounded patch kit that’s easy enough to use in the field. I’ve not noticed any signs of wear, tearing baffles, or any leaks, so this new material BA has come up with certainly seems to be hold up despite it’s impressively thin structure. Still, I would recommend avoiding direct contact with the ground, especially with rocks or sticks, just in case. This is very much an inside the tent kind of pad.
The materials are nice and smooth to the touch too. This is great for quilt sleepers who make direct contact with the material. Also, the valve stays out of the way and is relatively flat, tucking neatly under most decent sized pillows, so it isn’t likely to cause any issues either.
What I didn’t like
This pad is quite noisy. It creates a sound that I can only describe as rubbing my hands along a grippy balloon. Any time I moved or rolled over, it produced a rather distinct and pronounced rubbery noise that bothered and even woke up my sleep mate on several occasions. I’ve tried it on several different surfaces and with various materials against it, and much of the sound seems to come from inside the pad, so laying a sheet over it or using a full coverage sleeping bag only helps a little. Campers outside my tent didn’t notice the noise, thankfully. If camping solo, it’s no issue. However, if you pair with a light sleeper, it can cause some problems, especially if you do lots of rolling in the night.
The pad, despite having two forms of insulation inside, isn’t terribly warm. I’ve found it adequate down to about 50 degrees, but anything below that if you’re a cold sleeper will be chilly. The material itself feels quite warm thanks to the insulation below it, but the baffles seem to not be insulated. So, air seeps in between these gaps. If you’re sensitive to chills, cold temperatures with this pad will not work. It can be used in colder conditions when paired with a thin foam pad over-top, however. Considering the weight of the pad, this is still a viable lightweight winter option when used this way.
It’s a bit slippery when used in a tent. Choose a flat camp spot when using this pad or add some seam grip dots to the bottom to make it stay in place.
Weight and price generally have an inverse relationship, and that’s true here. It’s one of the lightest, but also one of the more expensive pads on the market.
The AXL Insulated Sleeping Pad from Big Agnes is exceptionally lightweight and packable. It takes up such a tiny amount of space and weight that it’s hard to argue it’s viability for long distance backpacking. It barely takes up any space in my backpack, and at just about 12 ounces, it’s one of the lightest, smallest pads I’ve ever tested. It’s also one of the more comfortable, with it’s quilt like patterns and luscious thickness providing a huge amount of cushioning that’s much appreciated after a long day on the trail. It’s certainly a shame that it is so noisy, and the insulation really doesn’t cut it in colder conditions. However, when high mileage in fair weather is the target, it’s a great option for those who don’t mind spending a bit extra on the lightest, plushest available. Time will tell with durability, and I’ll update accordingly. So far, it’s a pad that I can easily recommend, but perhaps only to those for which noise isn’t a concern.
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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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