As previously discussed, I had the opportunity to test drive the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Peak AC pad over 21 days on the John Muir Trail this past September. I was initially very excited about this pad--It was insulated, had a claimed r-value that was higher than my Neoair, as well as every other pad that I've comfortably slept on during 3-season camping in the past. When our pads arrived in the mail, we enjoyed the bonus of having both of them being lighter than the manufacturer's specs. My men's pad weighed only 10.8oz and my girlfriend's women's pad weighed 11.4oz.
However, almost immediately we began dealing with problems with both durability and warmth. I must preface this post by saying that my experiences are purely anecdotal, and hardly backed by science. If anything, I hope to give you an idea of my personal frustrations with the pad, and provide a warning of the potential horrible experience once MAY encounter when buying this pad. Perhaps your experiences with the pad greatly differ from my own, and you greatly enjoy the pad. I, however, through direct observation and comparison with other pads, personally find that 1) the Peak AC suffers from manufacturing defects that cause durability to suffer and 2) the pad is not properly rated with an R-value of 2.5-4.4
I was pairing my men's Peak AC with a Golite Ultra 20, and my girlfriend was pairing her women's Peak AC with a custom smaller sized Nunatak Alpinist mummy bag (Same down fill weight of an alpinist, but scaled down to a sub-alpinist's dimensions). On numerous occasions in the past, we've comfortably used our quilts and sleeping bags down to the low 30's, when respectively paired with a neoair (r-value 2.5) and a older orange thermarest prolite (r-value 2.2) Needless to say, because of prior testing we were under the impression that the sleeping system and clothes we brought on our JMT hike were more than adequate for the occasional but expected 30 degree lows we were to encounter. The only things we changed from our usual 3-season setup were our sleeping pads. We opted for Peak AC's because of their higher R-values and lower weights over our regular pads.
Due to an extremely hectic summer, I didn't have the opportunity to properly test our pads in the outdoors before taking them along on the JMT. Amateur mistake...I know. When the pads first arrived in the mail, I merely opened them up, inspected them, and covered the bottoms with silicone strips for grip. We had both slept on Big Agnes Aircore pads in the past, and knew that these style pads worked well for us, so comfort was not an issue. I inflated the pads in my apartment and left them in an inflated state over a couple nights. When they seemed to hold air just fine, I packed them up in their original box, and forgot about them.
Fast forward a month and my girlfriend and I are in Yosemite's backpacker campground,getting ready to sleep and start our JMT hike the following morning. This was the first time the pads were actually used. Around 9pm my girlfriend tells me her pad feels a little flat. I assure here it's normal, and that the air inside the pad has since cooled down, thus the pad needs a bit of a boost. She re-inflates it as much as human-powered lungs will allow, and quickly falls back asleep. Around 3am I wake up to her fiddling with the pad. Annoyed, she whispers "My butt's on the ground." I agree to switch pads with her, as my own pad still felt firm and fine. I re-inflate her pad until it was extremely firm and ensure that the valve is both free from obstructions and is properly tightened. I wake up at 6am, with her pad again partially deflated underneath me. I think to myself, what a crappy way to start our trip. The pad was clearly shot, and we both agreed it wasn't worth the time or effort to locate and patch the leak...this was likely a manufacturing defect and not one caused by carelessness. We delay our JMT start waiting for the Yosemite Curry Village gear shop to open, where we picked up a Women's Thermarest prolite (16oz, R-value of 2.8)as a replacement. It was a Sunday, so the Yosemite Valley Post Office was closed. Due to the neurotic gram counting mindset that this website has indoctrinated into me, I found that the most frustrating part of the ordeal was no so much having to pay for another pad, but the fact that we had to carry this P.O.E. P.O.S dud another couple of days to Tuolumne Meadows before we could mail it back to our home for warranty/RMA claims on a later date. Ugh.
I had previously read on blogs that many others have faced unexplained leaks in their Peak AC's (e.g. http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/further-issues-with-the-poe-peak-elite-ac-sleeping-mat/) Seems like a handful of TGO hikers had similar problems. I had hoped these were isolated events restricted to only the first batch of Peak AC's produced. However, the following thread alone speaks of many who are suffering from leaks due to what appears to be shoddy construction.(http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=53948) Through all my forum and blog reading, and Personal Messages with other hikers, I can think of about 10 cases of Peak AC's magically losing air. I'm generally really good about clearing campsites of debris, and being careful with UL gear. Furthermore, I've never suffered a hole in any of my other camping mats, including my Neoair (~ 30 nights of use) It appears to me that Pacific Outdoor Equipment either isn't properly sealing their pads during construction, or the material they've chose does not permit an airtight seal. It's noteworthy to mention that we suffered our leak the first night of our trip, when the inside of my tent was still 100% clean (no trail dirt, rocks, or other stuff that gets picked up as the days go by), and the pads had not seen any prior usage. Strangely, the durability issues seem to also be quite hit or miss. My girlfriend's pad died before seeing any use, yet my own men's peak AC held air the entire length of the trip. That's not to say that I was not extremely worried throughout the trip that my pad would also start leaking. Personally, I find the weight savings not worth the gamble, as I often fell asleep thinking that I was resting on a time bomb waiting to ruin my trip.
When we swapped out my girlfriend's pad at Curry Village for a women's prolite, I was a bit reluctant because the 2.8 r-value on her replacement pad would have been lower overall when compared to the Peak AC. However, her pad suffering a failure and our subsequent replacement with a prolite turned out to be a hidden blessing. Why? Simply because I never remained warm for an entire night on my Peak AC. Her replacement pad saved me about halfway through our trip.
Our JMT hike started out with fairly mild temperatures that got progressively colder as we got closer to the end of Sept. When we started our trip, night time lows were consistently in the mid to low 40's. As the trip drew closer to its end, we found night time lows and mornings frequently being around freezing. From the very beginning, I felt that the pad was inadequate.
My layering system consisted of a fleece beanie, Icebreaker 200wt merino wool long johns (top and bottom), montbell dynamo windpants, BPL cocoon hooded insulated pullover, and a Marmot Essence rain jacket. Paired with a neoair and golite ultra20, this standard type setup has easily defeated nights in the high 30's - low 40's on my previous weekend pursuits. With the addition of a gossamer gear 1/8"th thinlight and down pants, I've gone as low as 20 degrees. More so, my dinners were consistently packed with 700+ calories, and tanked with fats.
Yet from the very beginning, I found myself waking up cold around 2-3am, struggling to fall back asleep. These nights were only around 45 degrees. For the first time in my backcountry experience, I could actually feel the coldness of the pad and ground underneath me, sucking away what precious little heat I had. Tired and frustrated, I cursed the fact that I was using a quilt. Yet, such blasphemy was unfounded as quilts had served me so well in all my prior trips. Surely they could not be the source of my suffering.
In reality, I had mistakenly bought into the so called "bio-mapped insulation" hype that was proving to be a joke. Yes, the torso section was warmer than my legs, but even then, I was still cold. Mind you, I even was wearing my BPL synthetic cocoon pullover. The coverage of the insulated section also proved to be problematic. Now, I'm not very tall, standing only at 5'9", but I found my hips/butt not covered by the bio-mapping. Some nights I slept with my hands under my butt to warmup that region, while other nights I slept with my pillow off the mat so that I could scoot my entire body upwards towards the insulated area. The warmest nights were when I literally curled up into a fetal ball. The R-value of the insulated area claims to be 4.4, yet I had never felt this cold with my neoair whose r-value is marketed merely 2.5. POE claims to use reflective radiant heat technology to boost the lower end of the r-value up to 2.5, yet I see no evidence of this. It's simply an airpad with insulation in the torso. There is no visible silver material, and no internal baffling to trap dead airspace. Last I checked, an uninsulated Big Agnes aircore of the same style only has a r-value of 1.0. How POE determined that their radiant heat technology (if any is used) could boost the uninsulated portion of the pad from 1.0 to 2.5 is beyond me.
In my experience, the pad would not warm up. You know that sensation when you leave your tent to take a pee (or roll over to use your pee bottle)and you return to a cold pad?It usually takes about 10 mins, but your pad re-warms up and all is well. However, with the Peak AC, the pad would never re-warm up. It was just cold cold dead air.
Now, I'm sure some are thinking that there is a flaw in my sleeping/clothing system or diet to explain my perceptions, or that I'm merely a cold sleeper. Hell, I began to think the same for the majority of my trip. However, halfway through the trip, I had simply had enough...the cold was interfering with my ability to rest and recover for the next day's mileage. I asked my girlfriend if she were willing to switch pads with me, so that I could try out her women's prolite to see if it would remedy the problem. We figured that her sleeping bag was overly-warm for the current conditions, and could offset any inadequacies my men's POE Peak AC put forth. She reluctantly agreed.
This is the part of the story where I tell you that everything ended happily ever after...because it did. The first night I used her pad, I wore only longjohns and was overheating. No fleece cap, no BPL cocoon hoody, no rain gear etc. The night was 40 degrees and I was toasty in my Golite Ultra 20. All prior expectations returned once again. This is also the night where I became extremely angry at Pacific Outdoor Equipment, yearning to return home to write a scathing review of how their crappy customer service supports even crappier products. I went from restless cold nights on a 2.5-4.4 r-value rated "insulated pad" to sleeping comfortably on a 2.8 value pad with more warmth to spare. The few times I got slightly chilly were on those nights were we woke up to frosted condensation on our tent fly, but that was expected. Meanwhile my girlfriend attested to feeling coldspots, even through her overkill sleeping bag. This was a feeling she had not previously experienced when she was sleeping on the prolite.
I can go on and on about how dislike this pad, the company, and how I'm already dreading the warranty process for the leaking women's peak ac (apparently another member was denied a replacement for their brand new but leaking Peak AC; the company instead choosing to repair the pad)but I think you get the picture. The pad looked great on paper, but proved to be a miserable experience for my girlfriend and I. While my men's pad held air, it was inadequate in warmth. I choose now to look at the pad as a very light 1-season pad, that will be reserved for the dead of summer where temps aren't expected to be drop below 50. I had sold my Neoair because I believed it to be redundant upon acquisition of the Peak AC. I am an idiot. I now wish I still had it. If you thought the Neoair's r-value was overstated, then you'll have an awesome time trying to stay warm on the Peak AC.
This experience has done one thing for me though...it's solidified my allegiance to thermarest and cascade designs. I look forward to the release of the NeoAir X-Therm and X-lite in 2012(http://www.thegearcaster.com/the_gearcaster/2011/07/therm-a-rest-neoair-gets-warmer-and-lighter.html) and will pick up a synmat UL7 in the meantime to hold me over for my fall trips.
I hope this is helpful to someone out there, but again, I'm curious to hear of other's experiences.