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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Accessories > Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow > Owner Review by joe schaffer

Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow

Owner Review
by Joe Schaffer

November 24, 2021

NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
AGE: 73
HOME:  Bay Area, California USA

   I frequent California's central Sierras, camping year around with a goal to match my age in nights out each year; often solo. Summer trips typically last 5 to 10 days; 40 lb (18 kg), about half food related; about 5 mi (8 km) per hiking day. I winter camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg); a mile or so (1.5 km) on snowshinflatedoes, pulling a sled.

The Product: AXL Air Pillow
        Web site:

Manufacturer specs:
    Weight: 1.6 oz (45 g)
    Packed size: 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 x 2 in (10 x 6 x 5 cm)
    Inflated size: 16 x 10 x 4 in (41 x 25 x 10 cm)

    Offset I-Beam construction reduces weight and provides consistent stability
    Ergonomic thickness and shape for customizable sleep position
    Built-in advanced heat reflective technology
    Antimicrobial treatment inside the pillow prevents microorganism growth
    Four-way stretch nylon's soft-touch provides comfort
    Fits in pillow pocket of Big Agnes sleeping bags
    Stuff sack - included
    Low-profile, single port, two-way valve
MSRP: US $39.95

    Weight: 1 5/8 oz (47 g)
    Packed size: 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/4 in (14 x 9 x 3 cm)
    Inflated size: 16 x 10 x 3 1/2 in (40 x 25 x 9 cm)
Stuff sack:
    Weight: 1/8 oz (5 g)

    The slightly stretchy AXL air pillow fills in two breaths, with one port for both inlet and outlet. A valve flap on the inside of the port keeps air from escaping during inflation; and has a very small tab to push that then does allow air back out for deflation and adjustment. An outside, much heavier primary plug maintains airtightness
. Deflation requires a very gentle depression of the tab (which can also be accomplished by inserting the tang on the plug) while compressing the pillow. An internal restraint (I-beam) on each side of the pillow at about the middle; and three more in the center maintain shape when inflated, so it does not expand like a balloon. Either side can be up; the other side (from the valve) has no attachments or logo. The shape is somewhat rectangular, with a deep indent on one edge. The product comes in a stuff sack with cord loop closure and grosgrain handle.

. Jul 12-22, 2021: Emigrant Wilderness, California, USA. 10 nights (3 with pillow), 24 mi (39 km) mostly trail; leave weight 42 lb (19 kg); 40-90 F (4-32 C); 7,200-9,000 ft (2,200-2,700 m); 7 camps.

    2. Aug 4-9, 2021: Stanislaus National Forest, California, USA. 5 nights, 17 mi (27 km) mostly trail; leave weight 40 lb (18 kg); 50-80 F (10-27 C); 5,900-8,000 ft (1,800-2,400 m); 4 camps.

3. Aug 17-27, 2021: Emigrant & Yosemite. 10 nights, 39 mi (63 km) trail + 9 mi (14 km) XC; leave weight 43 lb (20 kg), return 31 lb (14 kg); 40-80 F (4-27 C); 7,000-9,200 ft (2,100-2,800 m); 9 camps.

    4. Sep 16-26, 2021: Emigrant Wilderness. 10 nights, 45 mi (72 km) trail + 5 mi (8 km) XC; leave weight 42 lb (19 kg), return 30 lb (13.6 kg); 35-70 F (2-21 C); 7,000-9,300 ft (2,100-2,800 m); 9 camps.

    5. Oct 13-18, 2021: Emigrant Wilderness. 5 nights, 14 mi (22 km) trail + 3 mi (5 km) XC; leave weight 43 lb (20 kg), return 37 lb (17 kg); 32-60 F (0-16 C); 6,000-8,000 ft (1,800-2,400 m); 4 camps.

6. Nov 2-5, 2021: Emigrant Wilderness. 3 nights, 13 mi (21 km); leave weight 43 lb (20 kg), return 39 lb (18 kg); 32-50 F (0-10 C); 7,200-9,200 ft (2,200-2,800 m); 3

Field use: 40 nights

This pillow is the lightest and tiniest-packing pillow I've yet to come across. It's easy to inflate; easy to adjust; and adds a high degree of comfort.

    Like probably about everyone else, I've always used clothes as a pillow--tidy them in a bag and stick it under the mattress. Yes, that works very well. Unless it's colder than anticipated and I have to wear all my clothes. This pillow isn't thick enough to offer maximum comfort all by itself, but I don't need as many clothes under the mattress. Or if I don't have any clothes left, the pillow provides a great deal more comfort than having no pillow at all. When it is that cold and I have to sleep without a pillow, grumpiness generally attends morning as I scold myself for packing too lightly. Now including the pillow I leave the car an ounce-and-three-quarters (52 gm) heavier, but I greet every morning with greater delight.

    AXL material is slightly stretchy. I wouldn't have expected that to matter, but using it I find indeed it does. I like a firm but not hard pillow, and the delicate elasticity in the AXL provides for me quite the right amount of pressure compliance. I've had air pillows that make my head feel like it's bouncing around. The stretch in the material provides a 'shock absorber' effect that modulates air compression. The stretch and the deep dimples keep my head from skidding around, which also helps minimize a pillow's penchant for squirting out.

    Under most circumstances I slip a wool shirt over the mattress as I don't like sleeping directly on nylon fabric. Most often I'm using a blanket or a sleeping bag as a blanket, and my cheek (about the only exposed skin) much prefers the feel of wool over nylon. Sandwiching the pillow between shirt and mattress keeps it in place throughout the night. A couple nights I had to wear the shirt and the pillow squirmed a bit. I found the pillow not cold even on those chilly nights of direct-face contact, causing me to believe the heat-reflective claim is not just the marketing blether I might have assumed it to be.

    This is my second AXL. The first one had a blowout after one night. I think that occurred because I didn't expel enough air when I packed it, and getting compressed in the backpack forced a seam to rupture. I'd blown up the new pillow a few times and then couldn't get enough air to stay in before plugging the port. Discussion with exceedingly polite customer service brought me to the (duh) realization that I'd not been gentle enough in depressing the tab. I'd pushed the retaining 'pin' through the holding slot, allowing the inner flap to fall away, though in the woods I couldn't see it inside the pillow anywhere. CS sent me a new one. While I was waiting for it I
held the pillow up to a strong light and found the paripatetic flap in a distant corner. Somewhat to my surprise I managed to maneuver the flap back in place. Now that I understand how easily it will come out, I've been careful enough to avoid a repeat. I'm usually really careful with my stuff and I'm dumbfounded at how I managed to cause the issue. Of course I didn't read directions or view the video; and I never noticed how delicate the inner flap structure is. My fingers may be more akin to bludgeons than surgical instruments, but it does take an extremely light touch for me to depress the tab without pushing the immediately adjacent pin through its slot.

    Full deflation requires its own special care. The inner flap is extremely effective at sealing the port, and the more air pressure against it the tighter it holds. I can't manage to roll or fold the pillow and keep a finger on the tab. Nor can I manipulate the tang on the plug into the slot of the valve port, which if I could would then keep the flap open. The process that does work for me is to bunch it up in my hands with the port facing up, where I can get an index finger on the tab with nine other fingers squeezing the bunch. This feels brutally cave-mannish to me, but so far is the only way I've found to get almost all of the air out. The pillow fits very easily into the rather generously sized stuff sack.

    Why the stuff sack has a grosgrain handle eludes my comprehension. It probably adds an entire gram! And if I were of a mind to hang the bag on the outside of the pack (which I would never do anyway), the cord loop closure provides ample accommodation for that. If pretty soon I don't find a reason for the handle, an unlovely end becomes its future.

    Yeah, it's silly expensive for a delicate item not built for durability. But how many really useful backpacking products cost less? This is the perfect purchase for Aunt Hilda to give her backpacking kin. It won't break her bank, and she can know the happy recipient probably hasn't splurged on one and will be thoroughly delighted to get it.

    a) light
    b) packs tiny
    c) easy to inflate
    d) comfortable
    e) requires
gentle-touch deflation


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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Accessories > Big Agnes AXL Air Pillow > Owner Review by joe schaffer

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