I recently had my first recent section hike of the Appalachian Trail. A portion of the trail (over 70 miles) passes through the Smoky Mountains and section hikers are required to make reservations and sleep in the shelters. I’m primarily a hammock camper, so I did not have a sleeping pad and borrowed one from one of my fellow hikers. While I was grateful for his generosity, I quickly learned a few valuable lessons. First, I need to purchase a thicker pad for the occasions I need to use one. The second lesson I learned was it needed to be comfortable. The final lesson is that using the top quilt I use in the hammock has some challenges when using a sleeping pad. After lots of research, trying several different makes and models at the local REI store, I finally purchased the Big Agnes Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad in a Wide Regular size. (https://www.rei.com/rei-garage/product/169362/big-agnes-air-core-ultra-sleeping-pad-wide)
Here are the basic details according to the package: the measurements of the pad are 25” x 72”, the thickness is a maximum of 3.5”, stored (rolled) size is 4” x 8.5”, and the weight is 23 oz. According to the package, this model is for “warm weather” and to be used above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. It includes a storage bag, a spare inflation valve, and a small patch kit. After several naps inside and one overnight use in the back yard, here are my initial impressions of Big Agnes Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad.
There are quite a few things I like about this pad. This pad is comfortable! I primarily sleep on my side and this pad allowed me to sleep on my side without feeling the ground through the pad. It is long and wide enough for me to sleep comfortably with worrying about rolling off. I can lie in a more normal sleeping position instead of being pencil straight due to the 25” width. The pad deflates quickly allowing for quick folding and storage when packing up. I used to hate trying to squeeze all the air out of an inflatable pad and that is not a problem with this one. The reason is there are separate openings for inflation (one way valve) and deflation (just a hole without a valve). For the size and thickness of the inflated pad, I think the stored (deflated) size and weight are more than appropriate – especially for the size and price. I purchased this pad on sale at REI for just under $60 including free shipping with an additional 20% off coupon I received in my email. It is easy to deflate this pad slightly for a “softer feel” while using it by using the one way valve on the inflation hole and using a VERY light touch.
There are a few things I don’t like about this pad. Because of the volume, it does take quite a few full breaths (30 or so) to inflate. Take your time or you will feel light headed. I found that breathing normal (inhaling through nose and exhaling into the pad) worked best for me, although it still took a few minutes. On the model I purchased the storage bag is not designed to assist with inflation as some of the other Big Agnes models, although I think all the new (2020) versions come with one. This would be a great improvement in my opinion. I wish it was rated for just a few degrees lower. According to their website, the R rating is only 1.4 for the new and improved Air Core Ultra 2 (https://www.bigagnes.com/Air-Core-Ultra_2). I should have done more research and may end up purchasing the insulated version of this pad.
While this sleeping pad isn’t absolutely quiet, I didn’t find it especially noisy. It is definitely NOT “chip bag crinkly” like some of the other models I have tested. I didn’t find this sleeping bad especially slippery, either. But I did cheat a little. Since I was at home, I inserted the sleeping bag into a spare sleeping bag liner I had in my gear bin. I don’t know if I would carry this extra weight on a long trip, but it seemed to work well at home to reduce movement noise and slipperiness of the pad.
On my last top quilt and ground pad experience, I had issues with the top quilt wanting to wander off during the night. To assist keeping the top quilt from slipping off the pad, I also purchased a set of ground pad attachment kit from Hammock Gear (https://hammockgear.com/ground-pad-attachment-kit/). It’s basically a set of mitten hooks on adjustable shock cord loops that go around your pad and attaches to your top quilt. They worked brilliantly and cost a $2.99 for a set of three. It was well worth the money since I did not have any of the items to make these at home. If you have the right materials, it would be very easy to make a set. I HIGHLY suggest using something like this if you have a top quilt instead of a sleeping bag.
Am I overall pleased with my purchase? Yes. It is not the lightest, warmest, or least expensive sleeping pad on the market, but it will allow me to sleep comfortably on my side, with my top quilt, while not breaking the bank or being too heavy for my personal pack weight. I will pack it on trips that I know it will be used and look forward to being comfortable and having quality sleep when using it.
Here are the pictures from the item I actually received.