Gear Review: Big Anges Air Core Sleeping Pad and Therm-A-Rest Trail Lite Sleeping Pads

Trail Lite (left) and Air Core + cat (for scaling)
With so many sleeping pads out there, it's tough to choose. It took me a good year before I decided to bother upgrading from my cheap solid foam pad (like this one), but boy am I glad I did! My first sleeping pad was the Therm-A-Rest Women's Trail Lite. For this review, I'm pitting it against the latest addition to my gear closet - the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core. Find out which one comes out on top! 

Does the Job - Therm-A-Rest Women's Trail Lite

I've had this pad for years; it was my first real backpacking sleeping pad. It's been used on everything from climbing trips to my living room floor for house guests. Unlike the Air Core, the Trail Lite is a women's specific pad. According to industry experts, women's specific pads are made with more insulation in the torso and foot area because that's where women get coldest. Though, having more insulation around your core seems like a good idea regardless of gender. I do still feel like I get cold sleeping on this pad, and feel like most of the heat I lose is through my hips.

The 28-ounce pad is 1.5" thick and 20"x66" when inflated; it's a little too short for my 68" tall frame. The pad is not available in different lengths, though other Therm-A-Rest pads are. When rolled for storage, the Trail Lite packs down to 5"x28". The Trail Lite easily straps to the outside of my pack, but rarely fits inside with my other gear. This isn't usually a problem unless it's raining.

The Trail Lite rolled up after a long, wet night!
The Trail Lite isn't waterproof; while sleeping in a leaky tent, the pad got completely soaked. Keeping a sleeping bag dry is important, and this was a problem for me. The Z-Lite stayed dry in the same leaky tent, but isn't nearly insulated enough for me.

As far as inflation is concerned, the pad is supposed to be self-inflating and for the most part, it is. Over the years, it's worn out a bit and takes longer to inflate. The pad comes with a stuff sack, but no patch kit.

Pwns the Job - Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Pad

This pad came to me thanks to a contest through Moosejaw on twitter. I've taken it out this spring in temperatures close to freezing and given to visiting friends to sleep on. The specs state that it's a three season pad with PrimaLoft insulation and should be comfortable down to 15ºF. I stayed warm on it in 35º-40º temperatures; I didn't feel heat loss through specific areas of my body. I could definitely have used a warmer sleeping bag that night, though!

The 26 ounce Air Core pad is 2.5" thick and 20"x78" when inflated. I love feeling like I have plenty of room at either end before my head and feet start dropping off the pad. It's also available in 66" (22 ounces) and 72" (24 ounces) lengths. The best part - it packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle! It easily slipped into a pocket on my pack. The other best part - it's waterproof! Water beads up and slides off the pad. And one more best part - it comes with a patch kit that fits into a small pocket in the stuff sack.

The Air Core inflated and ready for a night in the woods.
The only real negative I've found is the inflation valve. It took me a few tries to get the valve completely open; it has two independently operating pieces to make sure it stays closed when inflated. It took a few minutes to inflate, and I found myself a little dizzy after 20 big breaths! But once it was inflated, it was a dream to sleep on.

The Bottom Line? There are a bunch of different sleeping pads out there all with different features. But as someone who gets cold easily, is taller than the average girl, and likes to save space, I've definitely got a favorite between these two. The Big Agnes Air Core Insulated Pad will be coming with me on my next trip for sure!

As a note, if you have an inflatable sleeping pad, take care to make sure you don't puncture it. Leaks can be a pain. Always carry a patch kit, and I always store the pad in the stuff sack to keep it safe. It's also important to store self-inflating pads with the valve open. This prevents the materials from compressing over time. 

I bought both of these pads with my own hard-earned cash, and as always, the opinions expressed here are my own. Do you have a sleeping pad you recommend? Do you have experience with either of these pads? Tell me in the comments!

Comments

J said…
Oooh. I have a Thermarest pad that does the job... mostly... but I wouldn't mind something a little thicker, as a side sleeper. And the packability! So small! Awesome.
Sarah said…
I also have both types of air mattesses. A Thermarest Basecamp and NeoAir. I thought the Basecamp was great until I got a chance to steal my husband's NeoAir. I like that the inflatable ones are a little cushier than the foam ones though I have them same problem with blowing them up that I get lightheaded.

Also, I find that once I blow it up it'll deflate a bit due to the air cooling so I'll blow it up when I get to camp then top it off before going to bed.
Katie said…
oooh, the NeoAir looks amazing! it's the same width as both of the pads I have and agree that an extra inch on either side might be nice! I don't usually roll off mine, but can see how 20" might not be wide enough.

and great advice about topping it off! I'm going to try that next time.
Elizabeth said…
Thanks for the review, Katie. I pay special attention to yours because you are sympathetic to the needs of the tall girls. I'm a cold sleeper too, and having a pad that insulates well is definitely a priority for me.
Katie said…
Glad this was helpful, Elizabeth! I find most women's specific pads are short, and I'm not convinced they're really worth limiting yourself to. The Air Core is well insulated all around, and that's what I was looking for.
Another tip for the Insulated Air Core - if you find yourself using it into the summer months and staying too warm because of it's insulation and low temperature rating, just flip it over so that the top insulated part of the pad is on the ground and the uninsulated bottom is now the side you are sleeping on. This will let the air inside the pad and underneath your body be a little cooler. Great sleeping pad for sure!
Katie said…
that's great advice Chris, thanks!
Sarah said…
I also have both types of air mattesses. A Thermarest Basecamp and NeoAir. I thought the Basecamp was great until I got a chance to steal my husband's NeoAir. I like that the inflatable ones are a little cushier than the foam ones though I have them same problem with blowing them up that I get lightheaded.

Also, I find that once I blow it up it'll deflate a bit due to the air cooling so I'll blow it up when I get to camp then top it off before going to bed.