Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats

Mini-review for the 2011 Lightweight Inflatable Sleeping Pads State of the Market Report

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by Roger Caffin and Will Rietveld | 2011-08-23 00:00:00-06

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats - 1
Big Agnes Air Core (top) and Clearview (bottom).

Introduction

This mini-review is part of Part 2 of our survey of airmats. We have two Big Agnes mats here: the Insulated Air Core and the Clearview. Both are air core mats, but the first has synthetic insulation inside it to boost its R-value, while the latter is aimed very much at lightweight walkers and warm weather, and perhaps at the novice market as it is not expensive. Both are full-length mats, so their weights are not low.

Insulated Air Core

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats - 2

Length 152 cm / 59.8 in
Width 51 cm / 20.1 in
Thickness 8.0 cm / 3.1 in
Shape Mummy (also Rectangular)
Weight 516 g / 18.2 oz
R-Value 2.2 - 6.8
Drag Force 23/23 N
Insulation PrimaLoft eco: synthetic insulation
Inflation Blow
Larger Side Tubes Yes
Material 50d nylon diamond rip-stop top and bottom
Repair Kit Yes
Stuff Sack Yes
Price US$75

As noted in the table, this mat is available in both Mummy shape and Rectangular shape. The mat tested had a Mummy shape.

R-Value

The Insulated Air Core mat has big tubes, so it can be inflated to 68 mm thick (with a load on it), and deflated or loaded down to 25 mm thick. Such a wide range allows us to get a good picture of just how the R-value of a typical air core mat changes with thickness. Note that the top end values are not realistic of course: you will squash the mat well down below 68 mm! Also, slight body movements while sleeping will stir up the stratified air inside the tubes, which will add considerable cooling effect. Nonetheless, the layer of insulation on the inside of the mat does make a significant contribution to the warmth of this mat. A comparison with the Clearview (below) is instructive.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats - 3

Slipperiness

This is not a very 'grippy' mat: it could slide quite nicely. However, the large side tubes compensate somewhat for this. Will and Roger had different experiences here.

Comments by Will Rietveld

I tested the Air Core pad on three outdoor trips. The mummy length is adequately long for my 6-foot height, provided I use my backpack for a pillow at the head end. I tested it in temperatures down to -5.5 C (22 F) inside a tent and had no problems with being cold on the bottomside, so its insulation performs as expected. In spite of its insulation, Big Agnes calls it a three-season pad on their website (-9.5 C / 15 F). I did not find the pad to be particularly comfortable: I had some problems staying on the pad as I turned over during the night, and the pad slides around on some tent floors.

Overall, with its heavy 50 denier fabric, the pad seems overbuilt. I definitely want a warm four-season pad, but I want it lighter weight than this. Just because it's four-season doesn't mean it has to be bomber. At US$75, the cost is quite reasonable.

Comments by Roger Caffin

The biggest problem I found with the full-length mat I tested was blowing it up. It took a long time at the end of a hard day! I did not have as much trouble as Will with this mat sliding around because I attached it rather solidly to another full-length mat with tape loops, and my wife was sleeping on that mat. However, without that anchorage I think it would have been sliding around. Yes, I tried briefly without the tape loops, but quickly put the loops on to bring it under control and went to sleep.

It was comfortable and warm enough down to slightly sub-zero C (<32 F). The insulation layer inside it does work quite well. The full length is certainly nice to have on some cold nights. As Will mentions, it was not the lightest of the mats by any means, but it is also not really expensive.

Clearview

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats - 4

Length 165 cm / 65 in
Width 49 cm / 19.3 in
Thickness 5.9 cm / 2.3 in
Shape Rectangular (also Mummy)
Weight 400 g / 14.1 oz
R-Value 1.1 - 3.6
Drag Force 38/38 N
Insulation None
Inflation Blow
Larger Side Tubes No
Material Polyurethane (PU) film
Repair Kit No
Stuff Sack Yes, mesh
Price US$47.95

As noted in the table, this mat is available in both Mummy shape and Rectangular shape. The mat tested had a Rectangular shape.

R-Value

We believe the upper R-value of 3.6 is seriously misleading. That was recorded with the mat sitting still on a calm warm day. As a result, the air inside the mat tended to stratify, with the warm air at the top and the cold air below. The rest of the air in the mat was at an intermediate temperature. But, when you are sleeping on a mat you are not all that still: at the very least you are breathing all the time, and most people 'twitch' or move around a bit too. That disturbs the air inside the mat, causing it to mix a bit. Of course, nearly everyone turns over quite a few times in the night, even if they are not really conscious of doing so, and that really does stir the air up. We do not expect the R-value to exceed about 1.5 in real life. This caveat applies to all airmats with the same construction, of course.

Of real interest is the comparison between the Clearview here and the Insulated Air Core above. This was also discussed in the Part 2 root article.

Comments by Will Rietveld

I tested the mummy size Clearview in 2008 and published my review of it in September of that year. At the time I gave it a Recommended rating, because at 11.5 ounces it was then a standout, providing a lot of comfort for the weight. During the test period I did not have any problems with punctures, but I have had four punctures since then, and some were in the seams and around the valve, where they are difficult to patch. For a while I was bothered by "mystery leaks" that I could not find by immersing the pad in the bathtub at home, but the pad would go flat when I took it on a trip. One nice thing about the Clearview is it can be patched with most any adhesive or patching material.

However, time passes and technology advances, and now I would rate the Clearview as only Above Average. It's inexpensive and comfortable, but it's prone to punctures, even when used with reasonable care. The Clearview was an advancement in comfort when it came out, but now I would choose the Kooka Bay or Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pads instead because they are lighter and seem to be more durable.

Comments by Roger Caffin

My first reaction when I saw this was to label it a 'pool toy,' but that is a bit unfair as the typical pool toy is usually made of fragile PVC film instead of robust polyurethane film. It got poked around a bit during testing when I wanted to see just how much it could be compressed - the answer incidentally was 'quite a lot.' During the drag force testing it got mistreated a bit more, being pulled hard from two small spots on the leading edge while the PU film tended to stick to the silnylon fabric underneath. At one stage the mat was almost bouncing along (jerking might be more accurate) as it exhibited a lot of what is called 'stick-slip' behaviour. But it survived quite well.

Actually sleeping on it was only average. It lacks large side tubes so I found I could roll off it rather easily - although it did not slide out from under me. As with most other mats, having it not quite fully inflated is best as that spreads the load more. Fortunately I was not testing it in winter: it would have been more than a bit cold then I think. Even in the shoulder season it was not very warm. This is the sort of mat which is greatly improved by a layer of foam over the top. The mat gives the comfort and the foam gives the warmth.

I agree with Will's assessment, that it does not score very highly against some of the more recent mats, but it has the virtue of being quite cheap in comparison. With a bit of foam on top it is OK for most three-season use - which is what it is meant for. If you are doing a river trip in mid-summer, it could have other interesting uses of course. Just be careful you don't puncture it.


This is a mini-review in the 2011 Lightweight Airmats State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.

  • Part 1 covers the basics, testing methods, and lists all the mats in the survey.
  • Part 2 examines the actual mats, and the performance of each mat tested.

Disclosure: The manufacturers provided these products to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and they are owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review these products under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and Big Agnes Clearview Mats," by Roger Caffin and Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/big_agnes_air_core_clearview.html, 2011-08-23 00:00:00-06.

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