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Big Agnes REM Air Core mummy pad
[Originally written for BackpackGearTest.org, this review was current at the time it was written but should now be considered out-of-date. It is likely this product has been improved based on test results such as those reported here and experiences from other users. It is also possible that this product no longer exists or has been superseded by products produced at a later time. This page is included for historical purposes as an example of a gear testing report I had submitted.
Only minor updates such as email addresses, links, and formatting have been made as necessary to accommodate inclusion of an older report into this web site.]
Field Test Report
Web site: http://www.bigagnes.com/
I have been hiking and backpacking extensively since 1989. Weekends frequently find me in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Longer trips I've taken include (but are not limited to) such diverse locations as Copper Canyon, Mexico; Annapurnas, Nepal; Olympic Mountains, Washington; Austrian Alps; Paria Canyon, UT and AZ; and a 1999 thruhike of the Appalachian Trail.
Item(s): REM Air Core mummy pad - long
Acquired: May 2002 as an adjunct test to the ongoing Horse Thief test
I became familiar with Big Agnes as a result of my participation on the BackpackGearTest list. Big Agnes is one of the few sleeping bag and pad manufacturers taking a lead with the concept of lightening bags by eliminating the mostly useless insulation that traditionally gets compressed under the hiker while sleeping.
The Big Agnes sleep system comprises an integrated sleeping bag and pad. The mummy shaped top bag has a sleeve on the bottom to accommodate the mummy shaped pads offered by Big Agnes. Please see the Zirkel report for information on the sleeping bag.
The REM Air Core Mummy pad is a true air mattress with only enough internal structure to keep the air in six long baffled columns. Unlike self-inflating open cell foam pads, this pad requires you to blow up the pad. True to the documentation, it is easily inflated in about two minutes. Firmness is determined by how much air you blow in. Because there is no internal foam, the pad packs suprisingly small. It is shaped to exactly fit into the mummy shaped sleeve on the bottom of the Zirkel bag. Because it is essentially one large air chamber, it only provides limited insulation from the ground.
The pad came with a heavy coated nylon stuff sack and includes a repair kit.
While many lightweight backpackers tend to go with short sleeping pads to save weight, given the integrated nature of the bag and the pad, it is necessary that the matching pad and bag be used to optimize performance.
The 78" long pad is generously cut for my frame and could easily accommodate taller and/or larger people.
The REM Air Core pad has become my pad of choice for hiking in temperatures above freezing. Coming from an already fairly luxurious full-length Thermarest LE, I find I sleep equally well on the REM Air Core pad. The weight savings (15 oz.) over the Thermarest makes the pad an attractive option for those hiking in warm weather.
[The following information is provided as a service to those that would otherwise be curious. According to their web site, Big Agnes does not recommend the REM Air Core pads for use in temperatures below freezing.]
I believe with a thin closed cell foam pad, cut to size, the REM Air Core pad may prove to be a lighter option than my full-length Thermarest LE for cool spring and fall hiking with limited nights in the 20 to 32 degree range.
I do NOT recommend the REM Air Core Pad for winter hiking in very low temperatures. I have serious concerns about ice buildup in the pad due to the introduction of warm moist air into the pad each time it is inflated. I do expect moisture to accumulate in the pad over time and use of a pad with such a buildup in such cold temperatures could result in damaging ice forming inside the pad. Additionally, ice buildup could prevent the pad from inflating properly should moisture build up and then freeze after deflation.
Recommendation for Big Agnes' consideration:
Questions for other REM Air Core pad users:
Long Term ReportTest Locales: Medford, MA (north of Boston); Long Trail, VT; Trail Days in Damascus, VA; a couple of spots along the Appalachian Trail in NY and PA; and a thruhike of the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway.
Date: December 15, 2002
The pad has continued to be my bag of choice for three season hiking. The 2.5" thickness is the most supportive pad I've used.
First of all, a reminder that I tend to be "cold" sleeper. I found that his pad performs quite well in temperatures near freezing. If the ground is warmer, then the pad was sufficient for me without additional insulation. If the ground is cold but the air is warm, I would want additional insulation available.
As part of my testing, I purposefully wanted to push the rating of the pad and see if it could be made to work in lower temperatures. While the pad is only rated to 32 degrees (0 c), I have successfully used the pad in temperatures well below freezing by using a closed cell foam pad on top of the REM Air Core pad. In general, I have just put the pad inside the bag, but I would recommend that one cut to size could be used in the sleeve with the Air Core Pad. With the combination of pads, it is necessary to put the closed cell pad on top. Otherwise, the circulation of air within the Air Core pad is still too great to prevent the loss of the warm air.
On at least one night with the combination of pads, the temperature dipped below 20 (-7 c). I had no problems inflating or deflating the pad in those conditions.
Like with any inflatable pad, the likelihood of leaks can affect how you use the pad. I generally take care when setting up camp , to clear out anything sharp which can cause punctures. With the integrated sleeping bag, there was often another layer of fabric to help protect the pad. There were a couple of times, however, when I used the pad as the first layer, either on the ground or in shelters. The materials used seem to be durable and I had no problems with any puncture leaks.
Over the summer though, I did become aware of a tiny leak in the pad. It was so small, I only started to be aware of it when I could no longer make it through the night before I "bottomed out". I started having to wake up in the early morning hours to give the pad just one puff of air to reinflate it. This one puff easily got me through the rest of the night.
Initial tests (listening, feeling, submersion, soapy water, etc.) to find the leak failed to disclose the location. I continued using the pad knowing that the leak was very slowly getting worse over time. Eventually, the soapy water test found the leak near the valve. It was impossible to see except when the soapy water was being brushed over it.
It was not any sort of misuse or puncture leak and may have been present when I got the pad. Like I said, it was a tiny leak and took a long time before it got bad enough that I realized it was there, and even longer before a leak test could find it.
Using the repair kit, I brushed on some of the cement and didn't even bother with a patch. After just a couple of more uses, the repair seems to be holding. If it comes back, I'll use a bit of the extra material to fully cover the leak area.
Given the nature of the leak, Big Agnes indicated that type of leak could be difficult to repair and is willing to replace the pad if the repair does not hold.
Additional testing expected:
The northeast has experienced an unusually cold and snowy autumn. Weekend backpacks planned for November were cancelled when temperatures were forecasted to be below freezing all day and into the teens and single digits (negative teens celcius) at night. These temperatures are more representative of January temperatures when I would normally be using winter gear, not three season gear.
I have continually been frustrated by my inability to get out there and use the the pad since mid-October.
I am, however, planning on taking the pad with me on a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand. I'm hoping to spend plenty of time backpacking there and expect to supplement this report with an addendum upon my return.
Pluses or minuses:I'm not sure if this is a plus or minus, but this came up often enough that I thought I would mention it:
The REM Air Core pad has become my pad of choice for hiking in temperatures above freezing. Coming from an already fairly luxurious full-length Thermarest LE, I find I sleep equally well on the REM Air Core pad. The weight savings (15 oz. / 425 g) over the Thermarest makes the pad an attractive option for those hiking in warm weather.
[This information is provided as a service to those that would otherwise be curious. According to their web site, Big Agnes does not recommend the REM Air Core pads for use in temperatures below freezing.]
With a closed cell foam pad, I will continue to use the REM Air Core pad as a lighter option than my full-length Thermarest LE for cool spring and fall hiking with limited nights in the 20 to 32 degree (-7 to 0 c) range.
Last updated, July 10, 2010.
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