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Preview: Big Agnes AXL Air Pads || Finally, competition for the NeoAir

The AXL Air Pad and Insulated AXL Air Pad (photo) are new for Spring 2018 from Big Agnes. They are the first pads to rival and even surpass the specs of the NeoAir.

In addition to the new Tiger Wall UL tent, the other Big Agnes product that caught my attention at Outdoor Retailer was the AXL Air Pad. It’s new for spring 2018, and like the Tiger Wall is available exclusively from REI through May 31. It comes in two versions:

  • AXL Air ($140, 9.6 oz), for summer conditions and “warm” 3-season campsites; and,
  • Insulated AXL Air ($180, 11.9 oz), for 3-season conditions and mild winter weather.

Reigning champ: the NeoAir

The AXL is the first sleeping pad that truly competes with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite which since the late-2000’s has offered an unmatched combination of weight, warmth, and comfort. Some pads are lighter (e.g. a torso-length foam pad), but not nearly as warm or comfortable. Other pads can match or exceed the XLite’s warmth and comfort (e.g. Exped MegaMat 10), but are not in the same weight class.

The XLite version been my go-to for years, and I’ve put hundreds of nights on mine. Besides its price, the chief drawback of the NeoAir is that it crinkles like a potato chip bag. Occasionally, I have heard of and seen delamination issues, but I think the technology has improved with time; plus, there’s a solid warranty behind it.

Typical summer camp for me: sleeping under the stars with a quilt or mummy bag, and a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.

Insulated AXL Air

The Insulated AXL Air goes head-to-head with the NeoAir XLite. They both:

  • Weigh about 12 oz and cost about $175 for size Regular;
  • Have R-values of about 3; and,
  • Give the sensation of sleeping on a potato chip bag, although BA claims the AXL pad is “much quieter” than the NeoAir.

But in some respects the the AXL ups the ante:

  • It’s 50 percent thicker than the XLite (3.75-inch max height versus 2.5 inches);
  • The outer tubes are oversized, to better cradle the sleeper; and,
  • It should be more stable and even, since it has quilted construction, not horiontal baffles.

The Insulated AXL Air is available in five versions: one mummy-shaped in size Regular, and four rectangular versions with varying widths and heights.

To insulate the sleeper from the ground, the Insulated AXL Air relies on Primaloft Silver synthetic-fill insulation, which is laminated inside to a heat-reflective film. Big Agnes says that it can be inflated by mouth, although in consideration of the volume of air that it holds I might recommend the Big Agnes Pumphouse. I can inflate a 2.5-inch XLite with 13 breaths, so the the AXL will probably take about 20. When camping at 10,000 feet above sea level you might discover the downside to such a thick pad.

Damn, those weights are impressive. Even better: it’s 3.75 inches thick!

AXL Air

Meanwhile, the non-insulated AXL Air seems to be in a league of its own. A 3.75-inch thick pad for 9.6 oz in size Regular? Awesome. Currently, this niche is serviced only by delicate inflatable pool toys and by the Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad, which has an R-value of 0.7 and weighs 13.9 oz in size Regular.

The non-insulated AXL will struggle in non-summer conditions. To supplement its warmth, try:

  • Using an extra warm sleeping bag;
  • Layer it over a thin foam pad or extra gear, like a backpack; or,
  • Using it on soft ground that is less thermally conductive, instead of hard-packed ground.

The AXL Air will be available in fewer sizes than the insulated version, which is probably a good indication of BA’s sales forecasts.

The non-insulated AXL Air Pad is lighter and less expensive, and packs smaller than the insulated version.

Construction

Big Agnes sounds excited about the construction techniques used in the AXL pads. The lamination process uses aviation-grade technology, and the production and quality assurance processes are the same as those used for aviation and medical products. Durability should be good.

Spec comparison

How do the AXL Air and Insulated AXL Air compare to the longstanding reigning champ of 3-season ultralight sleeping pads, the NeoAir XLite?

Questions about the AXL Air Pads? Leave a comment. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll get it from Big Agnes.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

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29 Responses to Preview: Big Agnes AXL Air Pads || Finally, competition for the NeoAir

  1. ColoradoDrew February 6, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    Hey Andrew! As usual, stellar write-up. Do either of these new variations from BA sound like an annoying bag of Lay’s Potato Chips like the Therm-a-rest versions do? It’s my only irritation with the NeoAir.

    • Andrew Skurka February 6, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

      The AXL pads use mylar film, so it will sound similarly crinkly.

      • ColoradoDrew February 6, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

        Bummer! Thanks Andrew!

    • Andrew Skurka February 16, 2018 at 10:45 am #

      I have an update on this, according to the BA development team: “Our AXL pads are much quieter than NeoAir. Our lamination process is different than theirs and that helps to tone down the crinkle sound.”

      I can’t confirm it, but I would hope that a claim of “much quieter” would translate into noticeably less crinkly-ness, not just something measurable by a decibel reader.

      • Drew February 16, 2018 at 11:04 am #

        Oh NOW you have me intrigued to try it! I have a foam pad and don’t want to sacrifice weight for an inflatable – but also HATE the potato chip bag sound so never wanted to buy a NeoAir. This may be a good alternative if it’s quieter. Thanks for the follow-up, Andrew!

      • Brian Vinci February 17, 2018 at 2:25 pm #

        Do you think it is a competitor to the Xtherm in terms of warmth?

        • Andrew Skurka February 17, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

          The insulated version should be comparable to the XLite.

          BA has no answer to the XTherm. But, Therm-a-Rest has no answer to the non-insulated AXL Air, either.

  2. PaulK February 6, 2018 at 2:49 pm #

    I always thought of the exped synmat as a good competitor to the neoair. Similar specs, etc.

    • Andrew Skurka February 6, 2018 at 4:39 pm #

      Exped is close, but not quite there. And its distribution is not nearly as widespread.

      • Jack Brauer February 7, 2018 at 9:43 am #

        Just wondering why you think the Exped Synmat is not quite there? I was a Neoair user for years, and was forced to buy a Synmat when the Neoair developed a leak while on a long road trip. Turns out I actually like the Synmat better — basically because it’s more comfortable. The vertical tubes of the Synmat are more comfy than the horizontals on the Neoair, the side tubes are bulkier to keep you on the mat, and the surface is smoother and not crinkly. Also the inflation valve system is superior. Downside is that the warranty is only 2 years vs lifetime.

        Anyhow it’s nice to see a Big Agnes competitor in the mix too!

      • Tyler February 7, 2018 at 11:31 am #

        The Exped Synmat HL has an R-Value of 3.3 and weighs 12.3 oz. I think it’s fair to say that it’s “there” as far as specs go. I personally don’t like the Exped mummy cut, but if you do then it’s directly comparable to the the two pads in this blog post.

        Nice to have 3 very different design options at the same weight and warmth… Horizontal, vertical, or square type baffles. It seems everyone has their own preference on which is most comfortable.

      • John February 10, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

        I too have the synmat hyperlite. So much less noisy than the neoair and I like the feel of it better as well. Plus you can get a wide version of it at 14oz. As I’ve trimmed to more zpacks and other ul gear, I actually went to the wide as a “luxury” 2 oz. But to say its not there? Maybe if you had a strong preference of baffle direction. But weight is a push, shape is a push, and noise and feel hands down go to the exped. The axl is intriguing- but I want to see how many complaints there are on leaks before I invest. Maybe next Christmas.

  3. dizzy February 6, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

    How about the valves? I’m on my 4th neoair from busted valves (usually happens around 800 miles in on a pad), which is my main complaint with that pad. I’m also curious about how comfy it should be for side and belly sleepers, definitely looks better than a cutout pad like klymit, but that “lip” around the edges has me wondering. Thanks for the review btw.

    • Andrew Skurka February 6, 2018 at 4:37 pm #

      I’ve used a similar valve on a prototype SD pillow, and they’re awesome, much better than the conventional twist style on the Thermarest. It’s a flap over the hole that stays in place when there is pressure inside the mat. Imagine water inside a room — if the door is designed to swing into the room, the pressure of the door will keep it shut. But it’s a fairly big hole, about 1 inch in diameter. To release the pressure, stick your finger through the hole to break the seal.

  4. jorvack February 6, 2018 at 3:17 pm #

    I have been super happy with my Klymit inertia, the cut-outs providing significant insulation where the down fills in. How would you rate the V ULTRALITE SL?

    11.9 oz R 1.3 99.95 ?

    I had the Therma Neo for a few years but it had some leak issues, it was loud, and I found the beam construction bouncy.

  5. Justin February 6, 2018 at 5:50 pm #

    Great write-up, Andrew.

    The valve on this pad sounds similar to those of Exped mats. Are they comparable? In particular, for those who already own the Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag, would that likely work rather than having to buy a Big Agnes Pumphouse?

    • Andrew Skurka February 6, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

      They appear similar, but I’m not familiar enough with both to specify the differences.

  6. Colin McVey February 6, 2018 at 7:19 pm #

    Thanks for the write up!

    My only complaint with the NeoAir is that the sides aren’t supportive; roll off the center portion and you’ll collapse it or just slide off the side. As mine got quiet(er) after about 30 nights on it I’m otherwise pretty happy. I’d be very curious to see if this BA pad supports all the way across as I’m a side sleeper.

  7. Richie February 6, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

    I’m pretty sure the BA valves are the same size as the Exped. Not owned a ba pad though so maybe best to compare.

  8. Joshua McDowell February 7, 2018 at 10:05 am #

    Looks like a rip off of sea to summits line of sleeping pads.

  9. MarkL February 7, 2018 at 1:14 pm #

    I have an XTherm and the Seatosummit Insulated Ultralight. The S2S is a little heavier, but is stable, has a really solid, durable feel, is a little less crinkly (but still noisy), and the valve is fantasitc, especially paired with the Jet Stream pump. Unfortunately as a side sleeper and not exactly svelte, I’ve found it is not quite thick enough and I get some hip contact and soreness. I have been considering sacrificing the weight to get the Insulated Comfort Light. A better night’s sleep is probably worth a few ounces to me.

    Do you have a sense of whether the BA fabric is as durable as the Seatosummit? And do you know if the valve is compatible? It looks very similar.

    • @unnamedpeaks February 8, 2018 at 11:46 am #

      I have had two Xlite pads. One lasted one night before getting a leak, the other two. (I slept on a clean ground sheet). From what I can tell, I got unlucky as many people have been using the same pad for 2 years. I also hate the old style stem valve.

      At REI, to return the second one and try to figure out what to do, I watched a sales rep from Sea to Summit, who was there for a demo, jump up and down as hard as he could on the STS Insulated Ultralight with heavy mountaineering boots. He also poked a hole in a pad and patched it with the included sticker, reinflated it, and proceeded to jump up and down on it again. The STS is thick enough for me, and I can inflate it in 12 breaths, and it deflates completely instantly. I was sold, have used for two seasons and am happy with it.

      Both the BA and StS pads use a nylon with TPU lamination. The BA uses a 20 denier and the StS uses a 40 denier. They both use synthetic insulation laminated to a silver piece of mylar. The StS is 1.5″ wider, the BA is 1″ thicker. Given how similar they are, I can only assume the BA pads lighter weight would come at the cost of durability. I’ll give it a year and see what luck people have before I upgrade, but the 5 oz of weight savings sounds good.

  10. Kango February 10, 2018 at 12:56 am #

    For some reason my Neoair Xlite regular weighs 14.46oz or 410grams.

    I’d like to get something that is thicker and the larger outer baffles is great. This hits pretty much everything I want.

    • Andrew Skurka February 11, 2018 at 8:40 am #

      Are you sure it’s a Regular? 20 x 72?

      It’s such a precisely manufactured product that I’m surprised the weight would be off by 2.5 oz versus the spec. I can’t think of an explanation for that discrepancy. In fact, I’d call Therm-a-Rest and ask for an explanation. It just doesn’t seem right.

  11. Hunter February 11, 2018 at 1:07 am #

    Why wouldn’t they offer the insulated pad in a mummy shape? Bizarre decision if they truly want to compete with the neo air considering so many people have dialed in their kids around a mummy shaped sleeping pad already. Not to mention it would actually weigh less…I pre-ordered one and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

    • Andrew Skurka February 11, 2018 at 8:36 am #

      The Insulated AXL Air is available as a mummy, but just in one size: 20 x 72. It’s 10.6 oz.

      Refer to the third image from the top for a listing of available sizes and weights.

      • Hunter G Hall February 17, 2018 at 7:48 pm #

        I struggle to see the reasoning to buy the non-insulated version then, which weighs only 1oz less…

        • Andrew Skurka February 17, 2018 at 7:59 pm #

          1. Save $40.

          2. When nighttime temperatures are warm, maybe even mild for hot sleepers, the warmth of the insulated pad is a liability, not an advantage.

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