I slept the entire length of the Appalachian Trail on a Thermarest Z-lite foam pad. And while I love that little stretch of foam, it taught me some things about what to look for in sleep comfort on the trail.
During the last couple months of my thru-hike in November and December, the cold was the pressing issue. While Zach was sleeping a few inches up on an inflatable Thermarest NeoAir Xlite, I was essentially hugging the cold winter earth.
So, when we decided we were going to hike in Scotland in September, I thought it was time to try something new. I wanted an inflatable mattress.
The Big Agnes Air Core mattress has been treating me well ever since.
This is a newer model of the Air Core series, and based on the reviews I’ve read and my own experiences, it seems like Big Agnes has taken a design full of dysfunction, and worked out all the kinks with the Ultra.
Here are the basics.
I am 5”3 (162 cm) and I’m using the Insulated Air Core Regular 20 X 72, and it is more than enough. I probably could have gone a little bit smaller, but a little extra wiggle room never hurt anybody.
21 oz (596 g) for the Regular.
- The biggest issue I had with Zach’s NeoAir Xlite was that it is so easy to roll off it. With the Air Core Ultra, the cells run vertical as opposed to horizontal with the NeoAir, and the outer two cells are larger than the inside ones. These keep you hugged in and comfortable, like on a normal mattress. No rolling off as you move in the night
- Easy to inflate and deflate. The one-way inflation valve means you don’t have to bust your lungs or walk away light headed from blowing the thing up. The way it traps the air you’ve already blown in makes a difference with how quickly it goes up too. Then, open the out valve and it lets loose like a balloon. Very different from how Zach has to squeak all the stubborn air out of his NeoAir as he rolls it up. The Air Core Ultra deflates with minimum effort.
- Compactability. I love how so many people on the internet compare their rolled up Air Core Ultras to Fosters beer cans (maybe because I’m using an Australian server?). But that’s perfectly accurate. It may be a bit heavier than a Z-lite foam pad, but it takes up WAY less room when it’s stored away.
- Durability. I assume some of the extra ounces on the Ultra are from the new ‘double rip-stop’ feature. And while I don’t know exactly what that is, I do know that my pad does not leak. The material is thin, but sturdy and while I would never tempt fate by not checking the surface I’m laying it on for sharp objects, I do not feel overly concerned that it will be punctured. Furthermore, while Zach and I were living in our van in Queensland, the pad would stay inflated for over a week before I needed to add any more air. Ain’t no pressure leaking outta this baby.
But even if something came up, it comes with a repair kit.
- Going back to the issue of staying warm, I slept like a swaddled, warm baby on the chilly Scottish nights last September. Big Agnes doesn’t utilize R-Value* distinctions, so instead the Ultra is rated to 15°. This rating is a promise that it will keep you warm from 15° F (-9° C) and up. Which means it was plenty for temperature lows of 45° – 50° F, (7° – 10° C) on my trek in Scotland. It is a three-season sleeping mat. I have yet to test it in colder temperatures.
I recommend this pad to backpackers and otherwise. It is light and compact for travel, and when blown up it is comfortable and reliable.
P.S. Here’s some more fun photos from Zach’s sunset photo shoot. (Also, the yellow is his Thermarest NeoAir for comparison)