Gear Review: Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress

Insulated Air Mattress
Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress
$180, 20×72 inches rectangular, 13 oz. (including its stuff sack)
Sizes: 20×66, 20×72, 25×72, and 25×78 inches rectangular and 20×72 mummy

As air mattresses have continued getting lighter, more compact, and more comfortable, one would think a limit has been reached on how small they can get before sacrificing real comfort. But Big Agnes has raised that bar again—or lowered it, if you will—with the AXL Air. For four nights backpacking the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in May, and several spring nights camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, I slept like a baby on this plush air mattress, while it all but disappeared inside my pack on the trail. I’ve tested and own many air mats, and I don’t think there’s another I’d now carry instead for three-season backpacking. Here’s why.

The AXL stands alone by a few measures. Very few backcountry air mats weigh less than a pound, and even fewer come in as low as 12 ounces (without its one-ounce stuff sack)—and I haven’t found one under a pound that’s as comfortable as the AXL. Rolled up, the 20×72 rectangular size measures 3×6.5 inches (8x17cm)—the size of a liter bottle; the 20×72 mummy and 20×66 rectangular are both under 11 ounces.


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Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress top end.
Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress top end.

All sizes of the AXL Air measure 3.75 inches thick along the outer tubes and a deluxe 3.25 inches thick throughout the air mat’s interior tubes—fatter than other air mats that compete for weight, and as thick as some that are several ounces heavier—giving it elevated side walls that help keep you on the mattress. Similar to other air mats with its dimensions, it takes 23 to 24 strong breaths to inflate and it doesn’t deflate any faster or slower than comparably sized, single-valve mats. When deflating it, insert the tab end of the valve cap into the valve to hold it open. (Tip: After opening the valve to deflate any air mat, fold it up like an accordion and lie or sit on it to force most of the air out faster, before rolling it up.)


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Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress valve.
Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Mattress valve.

While Big Agnes doesn’t give its air mats an R-value, the PrimaLoft Silver insulation and a heat-reflective Mylar layer trap heat efficiently enough to use the AXL in typical three-season temperatures, probably down to around freezing (but not on frozen ground). The ripstop nylon shell fabric is made with a high-tenacity yarn, a high-filament count, and aviation-grade lamination to increase tear strength and durability. According to Big Agnes, aviation-grade lamination is a TPU application that adds durability to the random ripstop nylon. It is lightweight, abrasion resistant, has high elasticity and helps to shed dirt and oil.

My AXL sustained a tiny hole early on my third trip with it, backpacking for four days in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and I couldn’t locate the hole to patch it in the field. I repaired it later, at home. The takeaway: Like a lot of air mats, this one is susceptible to punctures.

Another plus: The AXL doesn’t make loud crunching noises when you roll around on it, like the insulation used in some air mats. An antimicrobial treatment inside the mat prevents the growth of microorganisms that can gradually degrade the material.


Big Agnes claims the Insulated AXL Air is the most comfortable and lightest ultralight, three-season pad on the market. Comparing it with the many air mats I’ve reviewed (now forming a sizable pile in my gear room), I have to agree.

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See all of my reviews of air mattresses, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear at The Big Outside. See also my related articles “Pro Tips For Buying Sleeping Bags” and “10 Pro Tips For Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza


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