Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad: lightweight luxury
Big Agnes’ Q-Core SLX sleeping pad is one of the company’s lightest insulated pads to date. It’s also luxuriously thick. We take one to the desert Southwest and along the Colorado Trail to see how we sleep…
The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad is a reboot and reissue of their former Q-Core SL (short for Super Light) inflatable air mattress. In the interim, the company have made several improvements including a thicker and more burly aviation-grade TPU lamination bottom fabric, offset I-beams, an all-new air valve, and ‘micro’ air-pressure adjustment. For folks who love the plush comfort Big Agnes is known for, these should all be welcome changes.
I’ve tried a number of sleeping mats in the past, ranging from the bare bone, closed cell foam variety to more luxurious air models. Big Agnes’ Q-Core SLX definitely falls in the latter’s category. Measuring around 3in thick, it resembles a beach lilo, albeit it without the weight. At 538g (19oz), including its bag, I’d classify the Q-Core SLX as one for the ‘lightweight’ rather than ‘diehard ultralight’ bikepacker. But factor in its reflective insulation and overall thickness, and I expect anyone who values a thick pad will consider those extra hundred grams or so well spent. Aimed at 3-season use, Big Agnes considers it good down to temperatures as low as 15f/-9c; I took mine down to around 23f/-5c in a and it certainly felt more than adequate. In fact, over the course of a few months, the Q-Core SLX has probably helped keep me comfortable and warm for 60 nights or so – both in the warmer climes of various cacti-mined locales in the desert Southwest for the Stagecoach 400, as well as the cooler, higher elevations of the Colorado Trail.
My initial impressions were two-fold. Firstly, the Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad felt like it took an age to blow up — or at least, 25 full and ponderous breaths. And secondly, I slept incredibly well once I’d done so, no matter how lumpy and uneven the terrain. As a welcome sie perk, the shoulder injury that occasionally plagues my nights when I sleep on my side rarely bothered me.
In terms of overall shape, the Q-Core SLX features outer chambers that are raised a touch above the central ones, to subtly help cup you within the pad. Together with vertical and lateral pad construction, along with its quilted finish, it’s a design that I found provides both support and comfort, once the best air pressure is found. If you’re a side sleeper, I expect you’ll get on well with it, as it’s unlikely your hips will get cold or sore. And I can report that unlike some mattresses, sleeping on the Q-Core won’t keep your camping neighbours awake – there’s no squeaking or crumpling sounds to be heard. Within, the Q-Core SLX boasts Antimicrobial treatment inside the pad prevents to prevent microorganism growth from all that laboured breath.
As for inflation, there are two valves; the larger is one-way, with a micro air pressure adjust button to allow fine tuning. With a pad this thick, I found it important to the pressure just right, otherwise it felt a little bouncy. The smaller, secondary valve takes care of deflation. Compared to the self-inflating mattresses that were once so popular, air can be expunged so much more quickly and efficiently – my only quibble is that I found its positioning sometimes meant I trapped pockets air in the end of the pad while I was rolling it up. But once you’ve developed the right technique to iron out any lingering air pockets, the end result is a relatively thin tube that fits nicely in the likes of an Anything Cage or Manything Cage. Small detail, but the bag that the mattress comes in is hardwearing and roomy enough that it’s not a complete pain to squeeze in.
Materials-wise, the Q-Core SLX is made from what Big Agnes consider to be ‘durable superlight, double nylon rip-stop fabric, backed with an aviation grade lamination.’ The pad comes with a repair kit included, which is just as well, as mine eventually developed a slow puncture. Given my sometimes lackadaisical choices in desert camping spots, I expect I’m more to blame than the mattress. It later developed a puncture in Colorado but again, it proved easy enough to repair. In other regards, it’s held up well.
Lastly, a note to minimal tarp or ‘mid users. Given the Q-Core’s thickness, your sleeping bag might brush against the sidewalls, depending on how close they are to your feet. It’s not a major issue, but one for taller campers to be aware of. Even in the standard length that I tried – 6ft (183cm) – it’s a longer pad than usual, so tended to creep over my groundsheet when sleeping out under the starts, especially if I was camped on a less than level spot. And also note that because it’s so thick, you’ll need to place your pillow on the pad itself, rather than trying to build one up above it, as I often do with thinner pads.
Prices range from $160 for the 20x66in (51x168cm) version, all the way up to $250 for the 40x72in (102x183cm) double, with three lengths on offer. In between, there are two 25in (63.5cm) wide models too.
- Weight: 19oz (538g, inc bag)
- Model test: Q-Core SLX
- Price: $170
- Place of manufacture: China
- Contact: BigAgnes.com
I’d consider the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad to be amongst the most comfortable air mattresses I’ve tried, particularly over lumpy, uneven ground. It’s a relatively lightweight model that I’d consider to be especially good for side sleepers – it certainly helped keep my hips warm and a shoulder injury from bothering my sleep. Although I often begrudge the time it takes to inflate it, the knowledge that it promises an especially deep sleep certainly helps make up for the extra effort involved. Over the course of a couple of months of regular desert and mountain use, mine suffered from two slow punctures. Thankfully the Q-Core SLX is so thick that it wasn’t a real problem and both were easily repaired. Those who favour tarps should be aware that its generous 3 inches of height may cause your sleeping bag to press against the fabric of more minimal, low-slung shelters, particularly for tall campers. Otherwise, there’s no reason why the Q-Core SLX shouldn’t offer you an especially deep sleep after a long day in the saddle, especially for anyone who favours a little extra luxury when they bed down for the night.
With thanks to Michael Dammer for additional photos.