Doing something a little differently today. Recently been working on building my hiking/camping/backpacking inventory since my little guy enjoys the outdoors so much. All of my previous camping experience was base camping, and after the old Coleman air mattress bit the dust back in the spring I chose to look into sleeping pads.
I found a great deal at Riversports Outfitters on a 2010 model Therm-A-Rest TrailLite mattress.
In addition to that we bought my son a Big Agnes Little Red sleeping bag for his birthday. Big Agnes bags have this amazing concept of incorporating a sleeping pad sleeve into the bottom of the bag. See more about it here. For his sleeping bag, we purchased an Insulated Air Core pad.
These are the two bags I will be comparing today in this entry.
20" wide x 72" long x 1.5" thick
R-value is 3.8 (manufacturer claimed)
weight is 2lb 0oz
Packed size is 21" long x 4.3" diameter
Materials: 150 Denier Polyester & brass valve
Retail Value: $69.95 Amount Paid: $55.95
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core
20" wide x 72" long x 2.5" thick
R-value is 4.1 (manufacturer claimed)
weight is 24oz
Packed size is 9" long x 4.5" diameter
Materials: 50 Denier Ripstop Nylon
Manual Inflation (lungs or accessory)
Retail Value: $74.95 Amount Paid: $55.95
So far I have used the TrailLite on three camping trips and in the living room with my son three times. I also purchased a fitted sheet for the TrailLite that makes the surface much more comfortable to sleep directly on. This is also very useful when mated to one of the Therm-A-Rest comforters or Tech Blanket. More on that later, for now the comparison.
First of all these two pads differ in that one is self inflating and the other is a manual inflation pad. Both are insulated, the Big Agnes contains a synthetic insulation laminated to one side of the pad. This is the reason that some people refer to this as a "dual pad" or a "flip pad". Depending on the temperature you can either lay directly on the side with insulation, or flip it over and lay on the side without insulation. Either way, it shields the sleeper from the cold ground, but allows for customization per each user's comfort level.
The Therm-A-Rest feels extremely durable, although a bit bulky at times. This is due to the thick foam padding that attributes to its self inflating categorization. It comes complete a brass valve with a plastic coating. The entire setup feels well built and bullet proof. The 1.5" thickness also feels sufficient for sleeping on all but the most rough terrain.
The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core, while it does not feel as durable as the TrailLite still feels quite substantial. The brass valve does feel more robust than the TrailLite's version. It does not have that raft like feeling one would expect from an inflatable pad that is 2.5" thick. So far, my son has used it three times in the living room floor, and I have taken one nap on it. Not once has it lost air during use, and was very comfortable. This pad has the thickness to allow the user to sleep on their side and not worry about having their hipbone or shoulder touch the ground. Overall I am very pleased with this product, although I do have some question as to the validity of the claimed R-value of 4.1.
These are two completely different pads, and I expect to use them in different manners. The Big Agnes will be primarily used with my son's Little Red, but when he isn't using it I intend to use it when backpacking in temps as low as probably 30 degrees. I will use my TrailLite when the Big Agnes isn't available or when base camping in tandem with my cot. That is how I have used it camping so far, and it was an extremely comfortable setup.
Both are well built and comfortable pads. I highly recommend both of them, and don't believe either is a bad choice for somebody in the market for a new one. Just to further muddy the waters, I have been trying to locate an Exped Synmat for a comparison as well. I have also heard positive comments regarding the Exped pads, unfortunately they are not common in the US, are quite pricey, and don't have the lifetime warranty like the Big Agnes or Therm-A-Rest.