Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated Sleeping Pad Review: Our Detailed Field Test

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Ultralight air pads often fall short when it comes to a comfortable night’s sleep. The Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated may be our new favorite solution!
Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Introduction
Not all air pads are created equal. The Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated’s extra thick and uniquely shaped sleeping surface doubles down on trailside comfort.



The Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated

– Price: $149-$199
– Weight: 1.2 lbs/0.54kg (regular), 1.3lbs/0.59kg (regular long)1.5lbs/0.68kg (regular wide), 1.6lbs/0.72kg (long wide)
– R-Value: 4.2
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 3.5”/183cm x 51cm x 9cm (regular), 78” x 20” x 3.5”/ 198cm x 51cm x 9cm (regular long), 72” x 25” 3.5”/ 183cm x 64cm x 9cm (regular wide), 78” x 25” x 3.5”/ 198cm x 64cm x 9cm (long wide)
– Packed Size: 8” x 4.5”/ 20cm x 11cm(regular), 8” x 5”/ 20cm x 13cm (regular long), 8” x 5”/ 20cm x 13cm (regular wide), 8.5” x 5.5”/ 22cm x 14cm (long wide)
– Pad Type: Air
– What we like: Price, comfort, warmth, durability
– What we don’t: Not the lightest or most compact




The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - TWA Verdict
We’ve been fans of Big Agnes’ body-hugging pads for years. The Rapide maintains the uniquely shaped sleeping surface while adding a healthy dose of synthetic insulation.

We recently purchased the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated, a lightweight backpacking pad that’s been keeping our buns toasty in the backwoods for the past several months. 

Big Agnes set out to do the impossible with the Rapide SL: Make a pad that’s extra durable, extra comfortable, and extra warm, and then somehow manage to keep it within the coveted “ultralight” category that discerning backpackers demand. After some thorough field testing with the Rapide, we’re convinced they’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. 

Of course this wouldn’t be the first time the folks at Big Agnes have left us pleasantly surprised. The brand has built its reputation on building products that are innovative, durable, and purpose-built. We’ve spent many a night in the woods enjoying products like their outstanding Lost Ranger 3-in-1 sleeping bag and game-changing Copper Spur backpacking tent, so expectations were high for Big Agnes’ take on the ultralight insulated mattress.

We had some stiff competition in this year’s sleeping pad field test when it came to lightweight pads, but the Rapide SL Insulated consistently impressed our testers in one important way: This is a remarkably comfortable place to sleep, especially for an air-filled pad. But that’s just one of the many aspects we evaluate in our sleeping pads…

Let’s take a closer look at all the details of the Rapide SL!




Detailed Evaluation Of The Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated

Our field testing of the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated included a mix of backpacking and car camping, and we even threw a few overnight motorcycle trips into the mix for good measure. Our goal here is to put the pad through all the most common use cases our readers will encounter, and to gather as much first-hand information as possible on everything from comfort and warmth to user-friendliness and value for the money. 

Comfort

As you’d probably guess, comfort was a consistent highlight of our time with the Rapide SL, receiving unanimous praise from our testers. While we’d normally be the first to say that all air-filled pads are more or less identical in this regard, the unique shape of the Rapide gives it a notable edge over the competition. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Comfort
Unlike most sleeping pads which taper off around the edges, the Rapide uses extra tall 4” chambers to keep your body centered on the pad.

The design is the same as the Big Agnes Q-Core we’ve been using for years, and works as well as ever: The center of the pad is a bit thicker than the competition at around 3.5”, but the outer edges of the pad (which Big Agnes calls the “rails”) are even taller by about another inch. 

This unique shape helps to keep your body centered on the middle of the pad throughout the night, and also feels a bit like you’re being “hugged” by the pad as you sleep. It’s just what the doctor ordered when you’re ready to bed down for a chilly night, and we love the sensation of being swaddled by our mattress. 

This extra-thick and extra-plush design translated to comfortable sleep for our testers, regardless of whether they spent the night on their back or sides. We’ll also note that due to the extra volume of air inside the pad, there’s much more adjustability on offer to fine-tune the firmness to your liking. 

Weight And Packed Size

The one place our testers consistently docked the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated was on weight and packability, with weight being the most common complaint. This is still a thoroughly ultralight pad at just 1.1 lbs in a size regular, mind you, but compared to the competition from brands like Thermarest and Nemo, it does add on a few extra ounces. 

With that being said, we also felt that the added weight was a welcome tradeoff in the case of the Rapide. Big Agnes could have doubled down on the “ultralight” aspects of the pad, but we felt that would have stripped the Rapide of what made it special in the first place: Comfort and durability. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Weight and Packed Size
The Rapide SL packs down a little fatter than other ultralights in our testing, but it’s still plenty light and compact for backpacking duty.

We’ll dive into the durability aspect a bit more down below, but as far as comfort goes, we felt that the extra thickness and unique shape of the Rapide were well worth adding 5-6 ounces to our total pack weight. As far as packability goes, the Rapide rolls up a bit “fatter” than the competition by about an inch, but in terms of total packed volume, it’s either on par or nearly identical to most alternatives in the category. 

Insulation

Insulation was another place we found fanfare in the Rapide. This pad sports an R-value of 4.2, which makes it a suitable companion for cold-weather camping in all but the coldest conditions. If there were snow on the ground we’d likely opt for the added warmth of an additional foam pad, but aside from that we’re confident this pad will work year-round for 99% of campers. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Insulation
The Rapide SL gets its four-season R-value from a combination of reflective film and Primaloft synthetic insulation.

Big Agnes specs the Rapide with a two-tier approach to insulation. In the center of the pad, there’s a thin reflective layer designed to keep body heat away from the cold ground. Between that layer and the face of the pad, there’s additional Primaloft synthetic insulation worked into the baffles, which boosts the warmth even further while also minimizing any crinkling or noisiness from the reflective sheet according to our testers. 

The Rapide went toe-to-toe with other similarly-rated ultralights in our testing like the Nemo Tensor and Thermarest NeoAir on chilly nights, but it’s also a joy to use in the dead of summer. As long as we paired it with an appropriately-rated sleeping bag,  the Rapide never felt “too warm” when the weather was good. 

Ease Of Use

For the most part we found the Rapide to be just as user-friendly as any modern backpacking pad. Big Agnes uses separate ports for inflating and deflating the pad, which keeps things simple when setting up your sleep system. We also loved that this design minimized any accidental deflating of the pad, which is common on pads using a two-in-one valve that can be accidentally opened when removing a pump sack. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Ease of Use
Big Agnes’ separate intake and deflation valves prevent accidental discharges whether you’re using the included pump sack or good ol’ fashioned lung power.

Speaking of pump sacks, the one place our testers felt the Rapide could use improvement was definitely a more user-friendly pump sack. The sack supplied by Big Agnes is impressively durable, but uses a large open-mouth design that can be challenging to trap air inside of. This was easily our least-favorite pump sack of the sleeping pads we tested this year, which is a shame because it could easily be the best with a little reshaping. 

Durability 

Our testers all felt that durability was a major highlight of the Big Agnes Rapide, so much so that it got voted “toughest overall” in our recent sleeping pad field test. Both the top and bottom of the Rapide are made from the same heavy-duty double ripstop nylon, which outclassed other notoriously durable options like the Thermarest Neoair by a healthy margin. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Durability
Big Agnes specs the Rapide SL Insulated with a highly-durable double-ripstop nylon, which was the toughest feeling material overall in our recent air pad field test.

All other aspects of the pad feel just as durable as the fabric, including the valves, lamination, and the aforementioned stuff sack. All that focus on durability may add a few ounces to the overall package, but again our testers agreed they were happy to take a minor weight penalty in exchange for a pad that felt built to go the distance. 

Value

You’d think a pad this durable, warm, and packable would cost an arm and a leg, but value is actually yet another highlight of the Rapide. Both regular and long sizes retail for just $150, which is an outstanding deal compared to insulated ultralights from other premium brands. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - Value
There’s some stout competition out there for backpacking pads. The Rapide SL stands out for its comfort and durability, but isn’t quite as light or packable as some alternatives.

Versatility has always been a hallmark of value for us, and the fact that the Rapide SL Insulated is warm enough for year-round use, yet light and packable enough for summer backpacking adds serious bang for your buck. Add to that the fact that it’s above average in both comfort and durability, and the Rapide is easily one of the best deals going on the market today. 

Sure, there are slightly lighter and more packable options out there, but they all compromise somewhere, be it comfort, durability, or cost. Truth be told, most don’t mind carrying a few extra ounces in the name of a good night’s sleep, so unless you’ve got ambitious goals for pack size and weight, you just can’t go wrong here. 

What We Like

Versatility is the name of the game with the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated In, and the fact that it delivers year-round comfort without sacrificing much (if anything) in terms of performance is a big bonus for us. This pad is every bit as innovative and capable as any other premium option on the market, yet also happens to sell for $20-$50 less than most of its competitors. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - What We Like
The Rapide SL is arguably the most comfortable backpacking pad we’ve used to date, with plenty of volume left over for fine-tuning firmness.

We’ll also note that while the Rapide is impressively affordable, it’s by no means cheaply made. This is among the most durable air pads we’ve ever tested, and we expect it to last longer than most with less need for careful handling to avoid punctures as well. 

What We Don’t Like

All things considered, this is a tough pad to criticize. Sure, it’s a tad heavier and bulkier than some, but it’s also more enjoyable to sleep on and more durable as well. That’ll be a welcome tradeoff for most of us, but there’s also no denying that there are lighter and more packable alternatives out there like the Nemo Tensor that we tested alongside. 

Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated - What We Dont Like
The included pump sack is tough as nails, but adds weight and isn’t particularly user-friendly.

Apart from that, our only gripe here is the included stuff sack. We appreciate Big Agnes including one, and we appreciate that they made it so rugged as well, but its large open-mouth design was easily our least favorite in testing. 

Alternatives: 

  • Nemo Tensor Ultralight Insulated: If you’re looking for a fast and light pad that still delivers cold-weather performance, the Tensor is the pad to beat. 
  • Thermarest Neoair Xlite NXT: A smart middle ground between the Tensor and the Rapide in terms of durability and packability.
  • Klymit Insulated Static V: Lacks the refinement of the more premium options above, but delivers serious warmth and functionality for under $100.

The Bottom Line

By the end of our time with the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated, we all agreed that this was the kind of pad we’d recommend to anyone and everyone. It’s extra tough, extra comfortable, and also happens to cost less money than most of the insulated “ultralight” options on the market. 

There are lighter and smaller pads out there, but we feel most campers will prefer toting a few extra grams throughout the day in exchange for better sleep at night. If you’re looking for a year-round mattress that’s built to last for years, the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated is a clear winner as far as we’re concerned. 

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