Sleeping Pads for Bike Touring: A Superlight Option for Side Sleepers

I’m a die-hard side sleeper, and no spring chicken, so a wafer thin Thermarest mat isn’t an option. After a long ride, fully loaded, having a fairly thick and plush pad is a must, no matter the weight penalty. And now you don’t have to have carry a 2 pound gigantic bundle in order to be comfortable…

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UPDATE: Check out our latest post with 6 new ultralight sleeping pads reviewed.

I have been sold on Big Agnes gear since I first stretched out the Air Core sleeping pad I got for my birthday 2 years ago. On our recent tour in Mexico and Central America I carried their Copper Spur UL3 tent, the Air Core Insulated sleeping pad and the Pitchpine SL sleeping bag. All of this gear was purchased based on reading solid reviews and being generally impressed by the feather-weight products in Big Agnes’ super and ultralight categories. Now that I am putting together an ultralight pannierless kit for an upcoming trip, I was glad to find that they have several new products that boast even lighter and smaller packages. Here are three tried and tested air chamber sleeping pads for bike touring (one non-Big Agnes). Two of which have a lot of road use from our recent tour.

Big Agnes Q-Core Sleeping Pad

The most interesting of the three is the Q-Core Super Light (SL) sleeping pad. It comes in several widths and lengths, in both rectangle and mummy. I chose the 20 x 78 x 3.25″ Mummy variation because of its packed size. It rolls nicely into a 3.5 x 11″ burrito-sized roll that can easily fit on a fork-mount cage or be strapped on to a rack. 

I had the opportunity to give it a go on our trip to Vermont and was very impressed. Because I’ve only used this pad a few times, I can’t vouch for its toughness, but it feels durable. I found the Q-Core to be even more comfortable than my Air Core. It seems slightly thicker and cozier. The dimpled, quilt style feels more plush, and the slightly loftier side rails keep you from rolling off of the pad. Some people complained when this pad was first released that it came up 2″ short of its claimed 20″ width. Mine actually measures slightly over 20″ when inflated, so I guess that was a kink that Big Agnes worked out. I can only hope that it holds up as well as my Air Core. Another plus for the Q-Core is the amount of time it takes to blow up. This could be attributable  to the mummy shape, but it seemed to take half of the time that I usually spend huffing and puffing my Air Core. My only complaint about this sleeping pad is the stuff sack. Mesh!? Not very durable or protective, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.

Model/Size: Q-Core SL / 20 x 78 x 3.5″ Mummy
Actual Packed Size (no compression): 3.5″ x 11.25″
Actual Weight (including stuff sack and repair kit): 538 grams (18.9 ounces)

Big Agnes Q-Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

The Q-Core has a nice ‘quilted’ dimple pattern that I found very comfortable.

Big Agnes Q-Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

At 78″ Long it fits my 6′ 1″ lanky frame with room to spare.

Big Agnes Q-Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

Rolls up loosely in a burrito bag and could be cinched much smaller. The only thing I don’t like is the mesh.

Big Agnes Q-Core Sleeping Pad - Bike Touring

With 35% less weight than my older Air Core, I am pretty stoked on the Q-Core for super lightweight traveling.

If you are interested in a detailed review of the Q-Core, check this out. Plus this guy’s beard is mesmerizing:

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core

I am briefly highlighting this pad because I have given it a thorough testing. Although it was slightly bulkier and heavier than I wanted, this is the pad I settled on for our Central American tour, and I have put in countless hours on it, in both ridiculously hot and fairly cold temperatures. I love this sleeping pad. I have honestly stated on several occasions that it’s more comfortable than most beds. However, it’s no superlight tiny packed roll like the new Q-Core. Never-the-less, it served me very well. Big Agnes has since re-worked the design slightly and the newest variation is a few ounces lighter and packs slightly smaller than its predecessor.

Model/Size: Insulated Air Core / 20 x 78 x 2.5″ Rectangle
Actual Packed Size: 5 x 9.25″
Actual Weight: 835 grams (29.4 oz)

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

This thing has been tested to the nth degree. These pads are tough.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

A fairly straightforward design that is very comfortable.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

The shell on this is fairly rugged and not too crinkly and loud like some of the Thermarest options.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core on Anything Cage - Bikepacking Sleeping Pad

Perfect fit for a fork-mounted Anything Cage.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

Significantly heavier than the Q-Core, but overall my biggest issue on tour was space and not weight.

Exped SynMat

My wife, Virginia, decided on this sleeping pad for our trip. I can vouch for it’s comfort and it’s durability, but other than that, I only included it here as a point of comparison. In my opinion, it’s heavier and slightly more noisy than the Big Agnes pads. Its only two benefits can be derived from its unique hand pump system. This system was designed to allow for mat inflation without filling the chambers with humidity from ones breath. I’m not really sure what advantage that ultimately provides. It also allows you to save your breath for more important things. Also, to let air out, you just op open the valve instead of having to lie and wait for the slower Big Agnes valve to expel all of its air. Despite those benefits, Gin is opting for a Big Agnes for our next tour. She finds the hand pump system to be a little awkward and more time consuming than the old fashioned Big Bad Wolf method.

Model/Size: SynMat / 20 x 72 x 2.8″ Rectangle
Actual Packed Size: 6.5 x 10″
Actual Weight: 886 grams (31.3 oz)

Exped - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

Virginia’s Exped Synmat has seen it’s fair share of use as well.

Exped - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

The shorter version still weighs more than the Big Agnes options.

Exped Synmat - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

A unique hand-pump design.

Exped Synmat - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

Stuffsacks get beat up inside panniers. I recommend duct-tape on places where a fair amount of rubbing occurs.

Exped - Bike Touring Sleeping Pads

Fairly bulky and heavy for the 72″ length.
  • zllekk

    Hello. I ve looked at alot of your gear and have pretty much the same gear list as you. Well adding some things like solar chargers, a bigger tent and more of a cold conditions sleeping setup. Plus a whole climbing rig. Stick to the new downmat from exped or the ul downmat. I ve used both of these all over the world and wouldn t leave home without the ul. the big agnes are a waste of time. The same could be said for the sleeping bags you use. I use a Marmot 0 degree bag. There are much better ul bags available better suited for these types of adventures you go on. It s easy to see that you are a biker first and a backcountry expert further down the line. You ve chosen excellent components for the bike and one would expect you to do the same in other areas of this evolution. Its sponsor time. Go get em.

  • Thanks for the comment. I haven’t done enough cold weather touring to warrant a 0 degree bag, yet :) The Big Agnes pads and sleeping bags have worked extremely well for me; no complaints at all…

  • zllekk

    I ve used all three of these and really don t understand the “they are working extremely well comment”. Doesn t add up. The r value is way to low to use anywhere other than pan am and california and they are just as loud as the others. Exped is the real deal and you just need more experience with them and there higher end pads. Just sayin keep a look out and try not to rep shitty gear too hard buddy. Lol

  • July Urschel

    Thanks, Logan! Although I’m not a cyclist; I LOVE camping. With school coming to an end, I’m chomping at the bit to get more time outdoors. I’ve been slowly building my gear arsenal, and I’m definitely gonna get one of these fancy, shmansy sleeping pads.

    BTW, I’m enjoying the blog; but missing you guys terribly!


  • Hi July! We’ll be coming to CLT in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know and maybe we can grab a beer or several…

  • Jan

    While cycling across America, my touring partner and I both started with Big Agnes pads. We were very careful with them, but both ended up with multiple slow leaks that patching never quite fixed. I switched to an Exped, and have been very pleased with it, no leaks/punctures (after 2 months of touring, a month long road trip, and many shorter camping excursions), and I actually vastly prefer the hand pump. Also, Exped has since developed a strange but highly effective bag based inflation system.

    Just wanted to share my positive experiences with Expeds!

  • Hi Jan, Thanks for your comments. Was it the older model Air Core? My friend had one that got a slow leak as well. I thought mine had one, but it turned out I just wasn’t putting enough elbow grease into the valve tightening…

  • Pingback: Minimalist Bike Touring Gear - Sleeping Bags, Tents - Pedaling Nowhere()

  • Mattheus

    Chill, dude. Go grind that ax somewhere else.

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