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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Big Agnes Dual Core Pad > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Big Agnes Dual Core
Insulated Air Mattress
Test Report Series
Initial Report: April 11, 2007
Field Report: June 15, 2007
Long Term Report: August 23, 2007
The Dual Core ready to turn a rock slab into a restfull abode!
I live outside a small town in northeast Alabama. I also enjoy hunting, fishing, canoeing, and most other outdoor activities. Backpacking is my favorite pastime. I consider myself a knowledgeable backpacker but I am not an expert. I enjoy hiking with my friends and family or solo. I limit my hiking to areas fairly close to home, usually within a day's drive of home. I hike throughout the year and actually hike the least in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3 season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water. I usually sleep in a hammock and cook with an alcohol stove. My backpacking trips are usually 2, 3 or 4 days in length.
April 11, 2007
Product Arrival and Description
The Dual Core arrived on April 4, 2007. It was folded in half and rolled up inside the provided stuff sack. Here is the pad in its stuff sack with a 16.9 oz (500 ml) water bottle for size comparison. The stuff sack has a pocket in the lid in which the repair kit is located. I didn't notice it right away and was wondering why my pad did not come with a repair kit. As for the pad itself, it is rated to 0 F (-18 C) which is not bad for an air mattress. I say air mattress, only as a reference to a few air mattresses I have tried over the years without any insulation. All I can say is that if the pad is good down to 0 F (-18 C), I am impressed. Fortunately, I have never camped a 0 F (-18 C) and don't plan to anytime soon.
Big Agnes provides the following product design features.
• 2.5" thick, 3+ season Air Core pad insulated with PrimaLoft insulation and hi-density foam.
• Full length 2.5" thick pads available in multiple lengths and shapes are lightweight and pack smaller than a self-inflating pad.
• Packs down to a compact size ranging from 5" x 13" to 7" x 13" depending on model.
• 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.
• I-beam construction makes inflation quick and easy.
• Durable 70 denier hexagonal nylon rip-stop top and 70 denier nylon bottom with an internal polyurethane coating for waterproofness.
• Durable, water repellent (DWR) external coating sheds water and stains.
• PrimaLoft features a silicone treatment which serves as an anti-microbial within the pad.
• Exclusive: Non-breakable, EZ-Flate brass valve for easy closure.
• Use a closed cell foam pad with any of our Air Core Pads for extra insulation, especially when camping on frozen ground, snow or cold rock. The foam pad provides a barrier against the cold from the ground.
• REM Dual Core Pads come with a stuff sack, repair kit, and a 100% guarantee.
• Storage: We recommend storing the Dual Core pad flat, unrolled and uninflated with the valve open so moisture may escape.
• Dual Core pads are semi self inflating and require some inflation by users.
Before reporting on my first nights usage, I want to convey my initial impressions, and the fact that my initial impression was a bit off even after some initial testing. I am mainly referring to the information on the website that states "Dual Core pads are semi self inflating and require some inflation by users". When I first unrolled the pad from the stuff sack I was expecting it to start inflating more than I observed. Basically, I barely heard some air rushing in for a few seconds and it inflated enough to see it move a little, but not enough to get excited about. I then went about inflating it by mouth which took about 4 minutes and 25 breaths. I then rolled it back up and immediately tried it again. This time I heard a more audible sucking noise for about 10 seconds and the pad seemed to inflate a tad more but I was still not impressed. After giving it a few more minutes I shut the valve and laid flat on my back on the pad on my hardwood floor. I could not feel any of the inflated part holding my weight off the floor. It felt more like I was lying on a nice thick towel.
Skip ahead to the first nights usage. I unrolled the pad inside my tent at 9:30 PM and at around 34 F (1.1 C). I heard the whoosh of air going in for about the same 10 seconds as before. I went to work inflating the pad but being on my hands and knees on the cold tent floor was not super fun so I soon exited the tent too finished the job standing up. Back inside the tent I slid the pad inside the Lost Ranger pad sleeve and climbed in as I was cool and ready to get in the sleeping bag. I went to sleep almost immediately and contribute the Dual Core for this success as I usually don't fall asleep that fast when sleeping on the ground. It dropped down to 24 F (-4 C) before I had to pack up and leave. My feet got a little chilly but at no time did the pad feel cold under me. Actually it did feel cold if I moved off the spot I was on but this lasted only a few seconds as my body warmed the new spot. I came home and put the pad away uninflated, fully flat and with the valve open as the storage instructions recommend.
My next experiment was taking the pad down to pal-mill holler (Powell-Mill Hollow for the less educated) for a few photos. I noticed that when I rolled it up for packing, it seemed to have a little more air in it than I was expecting. Upon arriving at the creek I unpacked it and I laid the pad out on a slab of limestone above the creek for photographing. As it was getting dark fast I did not piddle around waiting for it to semi self inflate but instead went right to work blowing it up. After the photos I rolled it back up, took it back home and put it back in storages as recommended.
While the above is an accurate description of my experiences, as I was preparing to do this report I wondered how I could more accurately report on just how much the pad self inflates. I finally thought of rolling the pad onto a PVC pipe. I completely flattened the pad with the pipe and then waited 1 hour for it to re-inflate before sealing the valve. I figured this was a fair estimation of someone arriving in camp and pulling out the pad first thing before setting up camp. Waiting more than an hour might result in slightly more self inflation but is unrealistic in the field unless I arrive at camp very early. Anyways, after 1 hour I rolled the pad onto the PVC pipe which pushed all the air to the end. I then measured the resulting length which was 22 in (56 cm) and divided by the total length (78 in/198 cm) to come up with about 28 percent. As can be seen in the photo this is quite a bit of air.
Test Location and Conditions
the pad semi self inflates about 28 percent
June 15, 2007
My hike in late April of 31 miles (50 km) was in the Savage Gulf Wilderness Area in southeastern Tennessee. The temperatures were warm during the day, reaching the mid 80's (around 30 C). Overnight temperatures were cool but not cold, with a low of 43 F (6 C) on the second night. We saw showers the first day but after that, the trip remained pretty much cloud free. The trails down in the gulf are pretty rough but the trails around the rim are fairly easy. The trails near the rim but leading down into the gulf (or out depending on my direction of travel) were the roughest. In fact, any rougher and I would think twice before returning.
Field Test Results
To be honest, I went into this test wondering if any ground based sleeping system could rival the comfort of my hammocking experiences, and I can truly say, the Big Agnes sleep system is up to the challenge. I feel that the Dual Core air mattress is the major reason the system works so well. In fact, I don't remember ever sleeping as well as I did the two nights spent in the Savage Gulf Wilderness Area. The roominess of the bag combined with the comfort of the thick Dual Core air mattress is almost impossible to beat, save sleeping in my own bed with the comforts of central heating and cooling. Now for the particulars of the trip.
The first night was spent in Hobbs Cabin which is a rustic log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, some 10 miles from the trailhead parking lot. We hiked the 10 miles in under 4 hours, so I was one tired puppy when we reached the cabin. After a quick supper I was ready for some serious sleep and was in bed by 9 PM and asleep shortly thereafter. This is slightly amazing to me as I have experienced similar conditions on the floors of shelters along the Appalachian Trail and was not very comfortable.
The bunks in the cabin are only 20 inches (51 cm) wide so the Dual Core air mattress was too wide until inflated. Keep in mind, the Dual Core air mattress is 20 inches (51 cm) wide when inflated but a lot wider than that when it is not. After inflating it barely fit the bed and slightly rubbed wall the bunk was built against and the post on the outside section that supported the top bunk. It only dropped to 51 F (11 C) this night but I was not overly hot in the 15 F (- 9 C) rated Lost Ranger. The pad did its job keeping my back side toasty warm. I only woke up once around midnight and took a moonlit stroll around the surrounding campsite. I then slept soundly from around 1 AM until just before daylight at around 6 AM.
The second night was spent at East Collins Campsite. No cabin this time so I used my hammock for my shelter. I was actually more exhausted upon reaching this campsite than on the previous night due to the strenuous hiking all day. We covered about the same distance as the previous day in around 10 hours as apposed to the 4 hours the first day which tells a little about how tough the trail was.
Anyways, after another quick supper by headlamp I was ready to turn in by 9 PM. I woke up once around 11 PM for a quick nature call but other than that I slept like a rock all night, waking just once more at around 4 AM to zip my bag up a little more. It did get a little cooler this night as it dropped down to 43 F (6 C). Even though by early morning I was cool enough to need to zip the upper zipper of my sleeping bag completely up, I never felt cool at all on the pad. The pictures below were taken by a friend early the next morning. The first photo shows how the inflated pad kept my hammock more spread out than just throwing a normal sleeping bag inside. The second photo show me all bundled up for the early morning chill.
Packing and Other Issues
I used a 2950 cu in (51 L) pack for this trip so space was at a premium. However, with the Dual Core air mattress in its stuff sack and the Lost Ranger in its stuff sack (both inside my pack), I still had room for all my food and gear inside the pack. It was a tight fit but the fact that the Dual Core air mattress was not on the outside contributed to this. Normally, I am either using a closed cell foam pad stored outside my pack or just using a sleeping bag over my hammock and not even carrying a pad. My pack weight for the trip started at 23 lb (10.4 kg) with a fanny pack (worn in front) carrying around 3 lb (1.4 kg) more. I stored the Dual Core air mattress in the bottom of the pack along with the Lost Ranger.
I did not have any real issues on this trip with the Dual Core air mattress. It worked perfectly and I experienced no air leakage or valve problems. I did have more trouble inflating it than normal but this was due to the fact that I was just recovering from a major cold. When I started to inflate the mattress I made it to about 5 breaths before having a major coughing fit. I rested and took a sip of water and continued but it happened again. It probably ended up taking me at least 30 breaths and a good 20 minutes to get it inflated due to my coughing fits and shortness of breath. As I reported in my Initial Report, I can normally inflate the mattress in about 4 minutes and 25 breaths.
Long Term Report
August 23, 2007
Testing Locations and Conditions
I used the Dual Core on a three day, 27 mi (43 km) backpacking trip in the Cohutta Wilderness in Georgia in early July. On this hike the elevation was around 800 ft (244 m) at the river and we topped several ridges, the highest at around 2600 ft (792 m). The overnight low temperatures were 66 F (19 C) and 61 F (16 C). It rained on the second night.
Long Term Test Results
On the hike in the Cohutta Wilderness I found the Dual Core worked, but perhaps it worked too well. In such warm temperatures, a non insulated pad such as the regular Air Core rated to 35 F (2 C) would have been a more logical pad choice. But as I was still testing the Dual Core, there wasn't really any choice. The Lost Ranger 15 F (-9 C) bag was also more then needed but I managed to sleep fairly well both nights.
Adding to the warm bag and pad, we turned in early each night, shortly after sundown when the temperatures were still around 75 F (24 C) or so. As the overnight temperatures dropped things got better, but even in the coolest early morning temperatures, I was warmer than I preferred. It helped that I was sleeping in my hammock without a bug netting and thus was able to get more ventilation than I do in a tent. I started out with the bag unzipped but laid loosely over me to keep any bugs away. This worked fine as I was not overly warm and did not get any insect bites. On both nights I was able to rest much better after midnight when the temperatures dropped enough to actually need some cover. The Lost Ranger and Dual Core was still a little more than I needed on the first night at 66 F (19 C) but when it dropped down to 61 (16 C) on the second night it actually felt good. I still did not zip the bag and any breezes that slipped in felt good.
One good think on this trip as apposed to the last one was the fact that I didn't have a cold. I was able to blow up the Dual Core without having a coughing fit or having to rest so much. However, to prevent getting light headed, I did take short breaks after several puffs.
After the hike in the Cohutta Wilderness summer arrived with a vengeance and I have limited my hiking to late evening walks down to the local swimming hole. The lows for the past month and a half have been the upper 70s F (25 C) and even low 80s F (28 C) and with daytime temperatures over 100 F (38 C) for 14 consecutive days and almost that hot the rest of the time, I basically gave up any serious hiking.
Long Term Durability
I have used the Dual Core in a tent, on a wood bunk and in my hammock, and so far have encountered absolutely no problems.
In using the Dual Core down to 24 F (-4.4 C) and as warm as 66 F (19 C) I have little to fuss about. My feet got a little cool on the coldest night but I think this may have been due to the roominess in my sleeping bag and not from using the Dual Cores itself. Yes, it was warmer than I needed on the warmest nights, but my biggest complaint in using the Lost Ranger and Dual Core is that I now need (OK want) a light weight winter solo tent to take full advantage of the system. I will still use my hammock when the temperatures soar but the Dual Core will be my first choice when I need to sleep in the ground. The most positive thing about the Dual Core is that I no longer dread sleeping on the ground, something that with my other pads I pretty much avoided at all cost.
This concludes my reporting on the Dual Core. I wish to extend my thanks to Big Agnes and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test this pad.
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