Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Review 2018

  • Ultralight Backpacker
  • Wilderness Backpacker

Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Overview

Big Agnes: mountain mama or actual mountain? Who cares! Especially when the brand keeps putting out amazing gear like the Insulated AXL Air sleeping pad. The Insulated AXL Air brings comfort, low weight, and packability together in a new sleeping pad model that competes admirably in the highly competitive gear category.

The new Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air uses a quilted baffle design and a single flat valve, and packs down small. Weighing in at a mere 10.6 oz, the Insulated AXL Air is a lightweight backpacker’s total package when comfort is high on the priority list.

The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air pad has incredible qualities that almost make it the Premium Pick for the Ultralight Backpacker, which is currently the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. The Insulated AXL Air is lighter, cheaper, and arguably more comfortable, depending on the person. However, reports of durability keep cropping up, which has been an issue for Big Agnes. We haven’t seen any issues in our testing, but we can’t ignore the other reports of durability. Overall the Insulated AXL Air is up there with the best pads on the market.

You can’t backpack if you don’t sleep. Do your homework when picking the best sleep system for you, and check out our comprehensive Guide to Sleeping Pads. We’ll break down the sleeping pad category so you can catch the z’s you need to crush the miles ahead.

Read the full Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air review below.

Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 10.6 in oz. (301 g) Crazy light for an insulated sleeping pad. One of the best on the market.
Type Air Pad There is no foam in this pad, just insulating foil on the inside for warmth. This means it’s very light, but you need to fill it with air and it rolls around a bit more than a foam pad. More on sleeping pad inflation in our Guide.
R-Value/Temperature Rating 32 degrees F Decently insulated, but not as much as other air pads in this price range. We suggest using a solid quilt or sleeping bag to achieve this rating. Also, Big Agnes doesn’t use R-Value rating for this pad. More on sleeping pad R-Values in our Guide.
Shape Mummy (tested), Rectangle The pad is offered in mummy or rectangle, we tested the mummy. It’s a bit less tapered than other mummy pads, and works fine if light as possible is your goal. The rectangular pads come in multiple sizes, and are quite nice. More on sleeping pad shapes in our Guide.
Sizes Mummy, Regular, Regular Wide, Long Wide, Petite We tested the mummy pad. The rest of these are rectangular pads with increased lengths, or widths. Petite is typically for women or small men. Get the pad that fits you!
Thickness 3.75 in. (9.5 cm) to 3.25 in. (8 cm) The Insulated AXL air is a very thick pad. Despite that it doesn’t “bounce” very much, creating a truly comfortable sleeping experience.
Length 72 in. (182 cm) Standard length for a mummy pad. Anyone over six feet should size up.
Width 20 in. (50 cm), tapers Standard width for a mummy pad. If you want to be more comfortable opt for the 25-inch width.
Packed Size 3 x 6.5 in. (7.6 x 16.5 cm) Quite small, but not tiny. This pad packs down a bit wider than other pads, so it’s less of a tube shape. Still very packable. More on sleeping pad packed size in our Guide.
Baffle Type Quilted The baffles are like a quilted mattress, or like egg-shells, and keep you from slipping or moving around too much. Big Agnes did well with this design. More on sleeping pad baffle types in our Guide.
Valve Type Flat Valve Flat valves are the way the industry is headed. This pad has a single valve that doesn’t lose air when inflating, and can be pulled open to deflate easily. More on sleeping pad valve types in our Guide.
Material Type/Thickness Random Ripstop Nylon, PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Big Agnes has a proprietary random ripstop pattern that is pretty durable, though there are reported issues of these pads leaking. Primaloft Silver insulation is used inside the pad to protect against cold. More on sleeping pad materials and Denier in our Guide.
Manufacturer Warranty Limited Lifetime Technically this pad has a limited lifetime warranty, but sleeping pads are often refused by outdoor brands. If the failed part is a valve or seam, send it in for a replacement. If you placed the delicate pad on sharp rocks and it ripped, it’s on you.
Retail Price $179.99 A high price for a top-of-the-line pad. You’re paying for weight and comfort. (Price is for a Regular-sized pad).

Gear Review of the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air

Origins: Easing You In

Big Agnes is taking over my life. It started with one sleeping pad. Then a second pad. Then a tent. Then a second tent. It’s getting out of hand, but Big Agnes just gets me. And this was all before I tested gear!

I received the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air a few weeks before a 5-day trek of the North Lake-South Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. I had been planning the trip for months, and the idea of taking an untested sleeping pad on a five day/four night hike at high elevation with high-mileage days was the stuff of nightmares. (Pro Tip: Don’t try this at home.) But I knew I needed to put this pad to the test, and this trip would do the trick.

Since I didn’t have much time to shake down the Insulated AXL Air before hiking the Loop, I decided to try it on an overnight at a local peak I know well to ease some of the new gear anxiety.

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Nothing like blowing up a new pad — all the hopes and fears of a good night’s sleep!

A group of friends (and a dog!) accompanied me to Mount Piños in Los Padres National Forest for a mellow hike into the Chumash Wilderness. Temperatures were in the 40s that night and the skies were clear as crystal. Most of us slept out under the astounding blanket of stars.

I was snug as a bug and stoked the next morning after a surprisingly restful night’s sleep. After a successful maiden voyage in the local forest, I felt better about taking the Insulated AXL Air into the High Sierra.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

A group of four (including myself) stepped off from the North Lake Piute Pass Trailhead bound for South Lake some 55 miles away. Stuffed into a small area of my pack, along came the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air.

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The Eastern Sierras are breathtaking.

We crested 11,243-foot Piute Pass. This was the first of three passes above 11,000 feet we would hike over the next five days, and some people were already feeling the altitude and fatigue of hiking in the alpine.

After another long stretch through the gorgeous Humphrey’s Basin, we arrived at our first destination and camp at Hutchison Meadow. We were exhausted after a full day of walking 12 miles in cold wind. The camp on Piute Creek was beautiful and we settled in quickly.

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Exhausted, and ready for sleep. Will the pad provide?

Around the dinner circle we checked in and consensus was that this hike was already kicking our butts. Wearily, we dispersed to our respective tents. An overcast night meant mild temperatures, and I slept like a rock thanks to the butt-kicking, my Western Mountaineering SummerLite, and the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air.

Two of us got a head-start on the next day, and met up with the rest of the group for lunch. The other two hikers, a couple, had been entertaining the idea of turning around and returning to the trailhead. They decided to throw in the towel, and while I respected their decision, I was disappointed to lose some great trail companions.

Mallory and I continued on for three more nights through some of the best scenery the Sierra has to offer, but it did not come without a struggle. We climbed to almost 12,000 feet two more times and backpacked the 55 total miles in four days instead of the original five. We were wrecked.

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Big smiles at Bishop Pass. That’s what wrecked looks like, right?

Aside from my awesome hiking partner, one of the few things that made this challenging hike bearable was the Insulated AXL Air. Even on the hardest days of marching up high passes, sliding onto the AXL at the end of the day was a treat. The quilted top offers comfort unlike many of my vertical channel pads, and is light years ahead of closed-cell pads. After three luxurious night’s sleeps in low temperatures over four intense days of hiking, this was the moment I knew Big Agnes had done it again.

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The construction of the Insulated AXL Air was all about comfort. I have never slept so well.

Digging Deeper

The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is designed (as most of Big Agnes’s line) with low weight and comfort in mind. The AXL uses an ultralight random ripstop nylon fabric for weight savings and solid durability for the weight. Despite the smooth face of the fabric, my sleeping bag did not slide around much and I stayed put most of the night. The larger outer rails of the pad also kept me in place and I never rolled onto the ground.

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The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air’s deep quilted baffles and slightly raised edges keep you centered and comfy.

Big Agnes uses PrimaLoft Silver insulation laminated with Mylar to reflect body heat back at the hiker — a complex process that simply boosts the overall warmth. The Mylar made some noise when I changed positions, but nowhere near as much as some of the other competitors in this weight class, which make you sound like a raccoon stuck in a potato chip bag. I was impressed by the insulating power of the AXL. Even though temperatures at McClure meadow dipped to a frosty 24°F and my Western Mountaineering SummerLite  is only rated to 32°F, my side touching the sleeping pad was always warm.

The Insulated AXL Air’s inflate/deflate valve is large and flat. This makes folding the pad tightly way easier and reduces the breakage risk versus a stem valve. The one way, wide mouth valve also makes inflation, deflation, and fine-tuned firmness adjustments quick and simple. A small tab on the valve cover acts to hold open the valve for hands-free deflation while you boil water for breakfast.

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Flat valves are in! The Insulated AXL Air has a single, two-way flat valve that works well.

I tested a regular mummy model of the AXL which measures a standard 20×72 inches (that tapers at the feet), and the AXL comes in an array of sizes in the rectangular shape as well. I enjoyed the mummy’s 1.3 oz weight savings over the regular rectangular as I felt stable while asleep and didn’t mind the standard torso width. I prefer a 25-inch-width pad, but I also like being able to pack extra whiskey: a tradeoff I am willing to make.

Comfort 

If I have to give this sample unit back, there’ll be hell! I slept better in all positions on the Insulated AXL Air than on any pad I’ve owned, Big Agnes or otherwise. The flatter, more supportive dimpled top felt more like a real mattress and is a game changer.

Durability 

I was very skeptical of the AXL’s durability upon initial inspection. The ultralight fabric and some complaints from other users about frequent holes made it even more difficult to commit to this pad somewhat blindly on a strenuous hike in the Sierra. The AXL stood up to dog nails and a rough tent floor beautifully with no apparent leakage. In my experience, it performed very well.

As a rule, though, remember that an inflatable pad is always a moment away from puncture, an ultralight one especially. Improper use will result in a hole, and you will be bummed. Luckily Big Agnes includes a patch kit (most high-end pad-makers do), so you can repair in the field or at home.

Big-Agnes-Insulated-AXL-Air-Review-parts
The Insulated AXL Air material is thin, and comes with a protective case and repair kit.

Inflation and Deflation 

Inflation and deflation on the Insulated AXL Air is quick and simple. The single valve is large and easy to use. No complaints besides the usual high-altitude wheezing and light-headed-ness that embarrasses all of us at some point.

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Inhale, exhale. The flat valve lets you take your mouth off the valve while inhaling, which is a major step up. Still takes time though.

Also, for those who hate blowing up a pad themselves, Big Agnes sells a stuff sack that inflates it for you, called the Pumphouse Ultra. This has become fairly common among higher-end pads.

Packability 

The Insulated AXL Air packs down pretty small, but not as small as some other lightweight pads, like the NEMO Tensor and Exped Synmat Hyperlite, two other pads I use. The resulting Nalgene-sized bundle slides easily into the crevices inside your pack thanks to the slick stuff sack fabric.

Big-Agnes-Insulated-AXL-Air-Review-size-comparison
The Insulated AXL Air packs up to roughly the size of a 32-ounce Nalgene. That’s quite small, but not the smallest out there.

Grievances

I have one major grievance and one minor grievance with the Insulated AXL Air.

First and most major is the crinkle factor. It still hasn’t been perfected. Though the AXL is less disruptive than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite or the NEMO Tensor, it still makes sound when you move around. My hiking partner and I were lucky to have camped near running water as the white noise helped neutralize the sound.

The minor grievance is with the oft-forgotten stuff sack. Inflatable sleeping pads come with patch kits. Most of the time, the stuff sack has a smaller internal pouch which holds the patch kit. The Insulated AXL Air missed the memo, and the patch kit is free floating in the stuff sack. I will lose that patch kit so fast it’ll pop your Chacos right off.

Final Word

Ultralight, comfortable as heck, and perfect for 3-season adventures, the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is one of our top picks for those looking to sleep like royalty in the backcountry.

Where to Buy Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air

We tested the mummy-style Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air sleeping pad. The Insulated AXL Air is also offered in a rectangular version, and that version has standard width and length, a wide version, a long wide version, and a petite version. If you are large, small, or want a wider pad, consider one of these options.

Big Agnes also makes the AXL Air pad, which is an un-insulated version. The mummy pad weighs a whopping 9.6 oz, and is also offered in a Rectangular wide version. While this pad has all the same features, we much prefer an insulated pad, especially when the weight difference is roughly two ounces. If you must go absolutely light as possible and only camp in warm climates, the regular AXL Air may be right for you.

Compare Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air prices below.

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Sebastian Cancino

Sebastian lives for the outdoors. He devotes his energy to camping, hiking, and backpacking with his friends in the mountains of Southern California, and you'll frequently find him volunteering on the trails of Los Padres National Forest. His favorite trek was his thru-hike of the Big SEKI Loop in Sequioa-Kings Canyon National Park, and he hopes to complete more long hikes in the future. Sebastian works at Patagonia, and is here to provide objective views on the industry’s best gear from all brands. Peek on his Instagram to see where his latest adventures are taking him.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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