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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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