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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Big Agnes Dual Core Pad > Test Report by Andrew Buskov


Dual Core FrontBig Agnes Dual Core
Big Agnes' 3+ Season Insulated Air Mattress
Andrew Buskov

Initial Report - April 5, 2007
Field Report - June 18, 2007
Long Term Report - August 20, 2007

Tester Biographical Information

Name: Andrew Buskov
Age: 32
Gender: Male
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight: 216 lbs (99 kg)
Email: Rescue(at)Corridor9(dot)net
City, State Zip Madisonville, Kentucky  USA

Backpacking Background:

I started backpacking and quickly became hooked on the outdoors, hiking various environments from the green mountains of the Appalachians to the barren desert of Arizona. I enjoy the solitude of deep backcountry and prefer colder weather and snow, but global warming is making that tougher all the time. I’m usually a moderate weight hiker, but as an Emergency Medical Technician I’m trained to be prepared, so my pack usually weighs between 30 to 40 lbs (13 and 18 kg) while soloing, to 60 lbs (27 kg) when leading. Additional information about the author can be found at http://www.corridor9.net.

Product Information:

Dual Core with Lost Ranger
Item: Big Agnes Dual Core
Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Website http://www.bigagnes.com
Year of Manufacture: 2007
MSRP: $99.95
Actual Weight: Regular / 2 lb 7 oz (1.11kg)
Listed Weight: Regular / 2 lb 6 oz (1.08 kg)
Color: Plum / Black
Styles Available: Rectangular & Mummy
Size Tested: 20" x 72" x 2.5" (51 x 183 x 6.4 cm)

Product Overview:

{Paraphrased from Website}
The Big Agnes Dual Core is big Agnes' Air Core pad on Steroids. They have taken their tried and true Air Core inflatable mattress and turned it into a 3+ season pad by infusing it with PrimaLoft insulation and hi-density foam. This combination allows for an air pad that works well into the 0 F (-18 C) temperature range. It is constructed of a 70 denier hexagonal nylon rip-stop top, and a 70 denier nylon bottom with a polyurethane coating in an I-beam fashion which proves to be much stronger than typical welded-through construction. In addition to the beefed up construction of the Dual Core pad, the valve is just as hefty. It is primarily made of brass for easy closure. However, the thing that strikes me is the EZ-Flate construction which I'll elaborate on in depth below.

{From Packaging and Website}
Some of the additional features that are found in the Dual Core are:
  • Unique construction technique prevents the insulation from shifting inside the air chambers.
  • The I-beam construction technique is functionally superior to the typical welded-through construction of other air mats. Die cut holes in each I-beam allow air to flow freely between chambers giving constant support and comfort.
  • PrimaLoft features a silicone treatment which serves as an anti-microbial within the pad.
  • Exclusive Non-breakable, EZ-Flate brass valve for easy closure
  • Dual Core pads are semi self inflating and require some inflation by users.

Initial Impression:

This item arrived in good condition, complete, and very neatly packaged within its stuffsack. Included in the packaging was a stuffsack, repair kit, and Big Agnes Catalog. Also included in the package was a Big Agnes Lost Ranger sleeping bag that will be used during the test in conjunction with the Dual Core.

Compressed Front and Side

As usual, one of the first things I did when opening the package was to get initial weights and measurements before inflating the Dual Core for use. After getting all pertinent information I couldn't help but unroll everything, inflate the Dual Core pad, mate the Dual Core with the Lost Ranger and hop in. This is the first time I've used an air mattress other than a self-inflating, open-cell foam style, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I immediately noticed a level of comfort I had not previously been privy to. Having a full 2.5 in (6.4 cm) worth of padding provided me with the opportunity to test this pad at different inflation levels. Ultimately I figured out that I like a bit of spongy feel in my pad as opposed to one that is fully inflated, but I'm sure that this will change with varying field conditions.

While I was lying on the pad, I could feel how comfortable it was compared to my other pads. When rolling onto my side on my other mattress I would have points in my shoulder and hips that I could feel contacting the ground. After a while it simply wasn't comfortable to lie like this and I was forced onto my back again. Because I have a mild case of acid reflux, sleeping on my back isn't the most comfortable position for me, but my options were limited before now. Now I have the option to lie however I want and still feel the comfort that I desire.

ValveI liked the fact that the mattress was constructed of heavy material. I've always been hesitant about carrying an air mattress into the field due to the possibility of puncturing the pad accidentally. I've had visions of cheaply constructed pool floats developing a leak or splitting at the seams and quickly deflating. I have to admit that I'm still hesitant, but I'm also much more confident now that I've had the ability to closely inspect the Dual Core. It looks very well constructed and the fabric that is used actually feels thicker than some of  the materials I've had on other inflatable pads. I can only hope that the Dual Core stands up to as much abuse as my other pads have. I also like the valve that is on the mattress. As you can see in the picture above, the valve is constructed of brass with a gray and black plastic piece covering it. The black piece moves with the brass valve, but the gray plastic piece rotates freely. This allows me to maintain pressure with my lips while closing the valve and still not have the plastic scraping on my teeth while I'm rotating it.

I always thought that an air mattress like the Dual Core would be considerably heavier than my thin self inflating one, but after checking my specs this does not seem to be the case. As a matter of fact I was quite shocked when I went back to properly weight my other full size pad. It turns out that the Big Agnes Dual Core air mattress is only 2 oz (57 g) heavier than my other mattress. As far as packed size, this mattress packs down to relatively the same size as my half-length, self-inflating, open-cell foam pad being only 2 inches longer.

Self Inflating?One of the things that I didn't understand was the term "semi self inflating". When I read this on the website I figured that the foam in the pad would help inflate the mattress roughly half-way. As you can see by the picture on the right, this isn't so. I opened the valve, let this pad inflate as much as possible over 4 hours, then closed the valve and tried it out. I could hardly tell the mattress was there and the only cushion I could feel was from the foam pad beneath my carpeting. There was so little air actually in the pad that even with me lying on my back trying to apply as much surface area to the Dual Core as possible, I was unable to make the mattress "bubble" at all. 

I'm definitely looking forward to getting out in the field with this mattress to see exactly what I've been missing.

I would like to thank Big Agnes and Backpackgeartest.org for allowing me to test this air mattress.

Field Report - June 18, 2007

Field Locations:

I've had the opportunity to test this pad a total of four nights so far. Two nights were in the Pennyrile State Forest about 45 minutes south of here. The area has an elevation between 400 -700 ft (122 - 213 m). The second place I used the sleeping bag was in the South Cumberland Recreational area in southern Tennessee. Elevation change is a bit more pronounced here since it's basically a big gouge in the earth. The highest elevation is around 1800 ft (549 m) while the bottom of the canyon tops out at roughly 980 ft (299 m). While there was a bit of precipitation during the hike, it was merely a trace amount and the night was dry.  I was able to use both a tent, and bunks in a cabin.

Performance:

As with the Big Agnes Lost Ranger, I've been exceptionally pleased with the Dual Core pad as well. I didn't know exactly what to expect when I began testing this pad as I've never slept on pad of this type before. However, I'm now hooked, and think that I'll be getting another Big Agnes pad for my summer excursions.

As this pad it designed to be mated with all regular sized rectangular Big Agnes sleeping bags, the length when using with the sleeping bag was just right. As I stated in my Lost Ranger report, I like my bag a bit tight as opposed to having a lot of extra fabric shuffling around and having a pad that conforms to the bag is a nice addition as well. At no time during the night did I feel like I was slipping off the mattress since it's quite hard to do this without rolling completely out of my sleeping bag. Also, because of the fabric used on the top of the pad, I was able to lay on the pad without having sliding around when not in my sleeping bag.

Because I was able to adjust the volume of air within the pad I never felt the ground through the pad. My shoulders didn't hurt when I rolled over, and my hips weren't feeling any pain while I was lying on my side. Because I do a good deal of my sleeping on my stomach, I was expecting to have my face contorted. but because the pad didn't include an integrated pillow, I was able to lay with my face down and not have my neck twisted out of shape. This is a definite plus for me. Now that I think about it, the only time I felt the ground was when I deflated the pad to pack it for hiking. I distinctly remember feeling my butt hit the ground as I was sitting on the pad and how uncomfortable it would have been to lay there without an air mattress that night.

Since the Dual Core mattress is insulated it kept me nice and cozy all night long. The lowest temperature that I tested the pad to so far has been roughly 40 F (4 C). I even felt a bit warm when lying on this pad in those temperatures. I remember tossing my sleeping bag open to vent some and still feeling the warmth from the pad radiating up my back. While I haven't felt uncomfortable with this pad yet because of temperature, I have felt a bit warm and am sure that this pad will be better suited to late fall or early spring.

The mattress holds up very well and even though I've slept on a number of twigs and rocky areas, I have yet to develop a hole in it. There are no scratches or scrapes on it that give me cause for concern and the seams still appear nice and tight. None of the sections appear to be bulging out more than any other, and the valve still holds in the volume of air really well. I still don't feel comfortable using it as a seat around camp though, especially not without any sort of protection, but his may change as I continue to get used to how much abuse this pad will be able to take.

This pad is still easy to pack taking up only a few more cubic inches than my self-inflating mattress. Deflating the mattress is easy and only takes a few seconds to roll up. After placing it in the included stuffsack, it remains air tight and doesn't expand throughout the day. Although it takes up little room in my pack I have found that it stuffs into crevasses very well when packing. I had over stuffed my pack due to the bad weather that we were supposed to be having and found that I could shift the pad into little spaces inside my pack with ease.

Long Term Report - August 20, 2007

Field Locations:

Unfortunately with this extreme heat wave we've been having the last month, anything but day trips were out of the question. I was only able to use this pad on one night during the Long Term phase. The location was the Pennyrile State Forest and the elevation for the area is between 400 -700 ft (122 - 213 m) with slow rolling hills and steep cliffs in some areas. The temperature was roughly 85 F (29 C). There was very little precipitation and the humidity was high.

Performance:

This test has really made me think about a number of factors when backpacking. When I first started backpacking I thought that the standard self-inflating air pad was the best thing since sliced bread. Then when short pads came out helping to limit the needed space and some weight, I was even more pleased. I'd had a number of preconceived notions about air mattresses from the start; they'll bust if I lay them on anything but the cleanest ground, they will leak air, I'll be buying a new one every few months because of tiny holes, they're too bulky and too heavy. Needless to say, I was a self proclaimed expert on air mattresses even though I'd never used one in the field, never laid on one in a store, and quite honestly never even been exposed to them.

I must admit though... all my preconceived notions about them turned out to be nothing more than stumbling blocks on a road to pure comfort when hiking and camping. To paraphrase, I was dumb for not trying one of these out a long time ago. This air mattress is wonderful! Over the life of the test I was well refreshed after a nights sleep rather than being tired and worn out. My knees and shoulders never once hurt from rocks, twigs, or even from resting on the hard ground that can be felt through a self-inflating pad.

While the weight of this air mattress is slightly heavier than my regular sized self-inflating mattress, I have to remember that this is rated down to 0 F (-18 C). When taking that into consideration, along with the extra comfort level, the extra weight is well worth it. In addition, this mattress packs down just as compact as my other self-inflating pad, and is only a bit bulkier than the short self-inflating pad that I have. The only thing that those air pads have over this mattress is the fact that they are self-inflating. It generally takes me between 2 and 3 minutes to inflate this mattress fully. This isn't much time when talking about a nights worth of comfort in my opinion.

The integration with Big Agnes sleeping bags is classic in my opinion. Having the mattress inside a pocket attached to the sleeping bag keeps the user from sliding off the mattress, and helps keep the bag in a "front up" position so the zipper stays on the side. This is great since I hate waking up in the middle of the night with the zipper underneath me. It also allows the pad to slide with the user when camping on hills.

Big Agnes sleeping bags have no insulation in the back, they use the insulation of the air mattress to keep weight down. Because of this there is only a thin layer of fabric along the back portion of the bag. Even thought I had the top of the sleeping bag pulled back, and was only laying on the pad, I was still dripping with sweat because of the heat retention that this air mattress provided. Let me say that testing a 0 F (-18 C) air mattress in 85 F (29 C) weather was not fun at all. For me, I'm probably not going to use this insulated mattress above 55 F (13 C). I'd love to get my hands on a standard Big Agnes mattress for the summer though.

In all, this air mattress is well designed, and well constructed. I've not seen any shifting of the down inside the mattress, there are no holes or leaks, and the fabric is still in wonderful condition even though I've used it on the bare ground a couple of times. I'm very happy with the way this mattress retains heat in cold weather as well as providing a comfortable platform throughout the night.

I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Big Agnes for allowing me to participate in this test series.

Read more reviews of Big Agnes gear
Read more gear reviews by Andrew Buskov

Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Big Agnes Dual Core Pad > Test Report by Andrew Buskov



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