I’m done with using Big Agnes Air Core sleeping pads- after three of those pads developed valve failures over the past several years of backpacking.
I made the move up to an air mattress in order to avoid the debilitating pain that I experienced with various length and models of Thermarests.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been superbly comfortable sleeping with Big Agnes. I have two bad shoulders, one of which has been tagged for a complete replacement in one to three years.
I received my first Big Agnes from my friend Chris while I was blogging complaints about wincing shoulder pain on my 2007 AT thru hike. The pad was pure heaven, until several weeks later when I noticed that it required additional air. Eventually I was waking up on a flat mattresses that I blew up and dove back into sleep, only to repeat the process several times a night. Again. And again.
Customer service from Big Agnes has been great, and I received replacement pads with no argument. I was told it was an extremely rare situation to have the leak come out of the valve itself, but later on my 2010 PCT thru hike the exact same situation happened with TWO other brand new pads. I might add that I also spent too much unproductive time trying to patch each of the mattresses, and was shocked when I determined that each failure was from the valve, a problem that was impossible to repair by the user. The valves on the Big Agneses protrude from the mattress. May be after months of use, the stress on a 200 plus pound guy takes its toll?
I just purchased an Exped Downmat from Four Dog Stove. Exped is a Swiss company that is sold in the U.S. Total weight of the short version ( with stuff sack) is 1 pound 7 ounces, the same weight as a full length mummy-cut Big Agnes Air Core.
I’ve used it only one night so far, but plan to take it on my upcoming thru-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail.
My first reaction was that the covering appears more substantial than the BA. The Downmat is black on top and grey on the bottom. The quality looks strong. The large diameter valves ( there are two) allow quicker inflation and deflation than the Big Agnes, which requires one to blow it up with your mouth and whatever lung power you have left at the end of a hard day on the trail. There are no threads on the valves, you just push down until they secure. It would be easy to monitor any buildup of dirt on the recess that you would clean it out with a damp cloth.
First you figure out how to blow it up. The fact that the unit is filled with down rather than synthetic insulation means that you keep out any additional moisture, namely water vapor from your lungs. Down would retain the moisture and eventually lose its insulative qualities. So, what you have here is an ingenious internal pump that you activate by first closing the valve that expels air and place both palms on the pump, which is at the edge of the mat. There is an outline of two hands that guides you. One of your palms covers the open valve, and you soon perfect the pumping technique. It took me about a minute to fill it up. When the initial inflation is complete, you explore with your fingers under the “integrated pump” words to find an internal one-way valve underneath. Squeeze it, and air is released back into the chamber and the edge of the pad fills out. Sleeping on the short mat required me to use a pillow that I placed off the head end of the mat, and I threw some extra clothes down at the foot. I liked that the outer two tubes are a bit bigger in diameter than the main tubes, helping keep me on the mat and not sliding off. The texture of the mat was also conducive to staying on the unit. There are also two tabs of the top that allow you to anchor fasteners that can hold your pillow in place.
Deflating is it much quicker than with the BA.
What I did not have the opportunity to experience was the additional warmth that this mat is said to provide, with an insulation value of R 5.9, and a range down to -11°F (according to the tag). I was sleeping indoors on a floor.
I’ll have a long -term report posted after the Long Trail hike. We’ll see how it holds up.
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