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ProView – Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 + Insulated AXL Air Sleeping Pad

I’m a big guy that loves light gear and often times those two things don’t go together.  At 6’1”, 225 lbs (and being a side sleeper who actively rolls from side to side at night), I can easily become the guy that keeps people up at camp with my constant shifting around on a noisy insulated sleeping pad trying to get comfortable.  After testing the Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 Degree Down Sleeping Bag and AXL Air Insulated Pad in the high desert of Moab Utah, I may have just found a solution for that. 

Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 + Insulated AXL Air Sleeping Pad

Product Description: Big Agnes System bags with DownTek™ insulation offer a roomy, rectangle-shaped sleeping space with an integrated Flex Pad Sleeve on the bottom. With technical fabrics and construction, compressible insulation and tons of comfort features, these comfortable sleeping bags are designed to be lightweight enough for backpacking but cozy enough you'll want them in the campground too. The streamlined silhouette and Flow™ construction increase the thermal efficiency keeping you warm from head to toe. The Flex Pad Sleeve unites easily with your pad, and as you change positions over the course of the night, will keep you from rolling off your pad.

Price: Sleeping bag: MSRP: $269.95 - $319.95 Pad: MSRP: $159.95 - $249.95

  • Quality
    (5)
  • Features
    (4.5)
  • Fit
    (4)
  • Durability
    (4)

Summary

Big Agnes has created a sleep system with the Anvil Horn 15 and AXL Air Insulated that is both fully featured and extremely comfortable to sleep in when used within its limitation to temperature and environment. 

Overall
4.4

Pros

  • Build quality
  • Comfort Level
  • Thoughtful Features
  • Ease of Use

Cons

  • Temperature Rating

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Most of my testing took place in the high deserts of Moab, Utah just outside Canyonlands National Park.  I spent eight days this April testing the sleep system in varied conditions which ranged from 20 degrees to around 45 degrees Fahrenheit for nighttime sleeping. I used the gear to both cowboy camp and tent camp however for the purposes of this review most of the results are from my nights tent sleeping.  The weather was just too cold for anything else. 

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So a little bit about me. I currently reside in Denver, Colorado where I moved after about 11.5 years working as a Producer and Commercial Photographer in Los Angeles.  I specialize in travel, outdoor, and adventure lifestyle photography.  I spent most of my childhood summers exploring and camping with my family on road trips across the USA.  My parents being educators had their summers off and what better way to show my siblings and I the country than to explore it through car camping.  As a child, I was obsessed with stories of wilderness survival, camping, and exploring.  As an adult, I spent a year working as an Adventure Guide in South America leading tours which involved everything from rafting in the Amazon Jungle, to trekking in the Andes.   In 2015, I hiked 550 miles from France all the way across Spain on the Camino de Santiago documenting the journey. In 2018 I was named by The Dyrt as one of the Top 70 Outdoor Instagram accounts to follow which has made me feel entirely honored to be recognized by the outdoor industry in such a way.  Due to the nature of having to carry often larger weight because of my profession I have become obsessed with the idea of ultralight and lightweight travel and backpacking items.  When everything you need to live has to be carried on your back, each item needs to be tried and tested so you know it will perform how you need it.  One thing I have learned over the years is that each trip adventure that you go on calls for different gear.  When testing gear you try your best to match a variety of scenarios to give a more well-rounded review of the items being reviewed.  The days I spent with the items in this review allowed me to have that range of temperatures so I am confident with what I found based on the amount of time spent using them. 

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Fit/Comfort

I am a broad-shouldered and taller guy so finding a sleeping bag and pad that fits me can sometimes be a problem.  I would have to say from a fit and comfort perspective the Anvil Horn 15 is one of the most comfortable bags I have slept in due to its more rectangular design and spacious foot box.  Often times when I slip into a mummy style sleeping bag I feel like a sausage smashed into a casing that is too small, ready to burst at any moment, this was definitely not the case (no pun intended).  The free range hood I found to be very comfortable to sleep with. It was ready to be synched down if needed but open enough to let your head move around without constriction of the moment.

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My one note on fit is that personally, at 6’1” I feel like I could have fit better in the regular size bag as opposed to the long.  I did find that there was almost too much room in the foot box. In my backpacking tent, the length made it a little tricky as it would touch the walls of the tent and condensation would get on the bag (the DownTek insulation did help in this instance).  I know lots of people like to stuff a warm water bottle or their clothes for the next day in the foot box area as well, however, so if you are that type of person you would have plenty of room.  Overall, a big guy fits comfortable in this bag with no issues. 

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In terms of the AXL Air Insulated, I can honestly say that I have never felt as comfortable on a sleeping pad as I did on this one.  The center of the pad is a luxurious 3.25” and the outer edges measure 3.75” which functions to keep you nestled in the center and not rolling off the sides.  This pad coupled into the Flex Pad Sleeve of the Anvil Horn 15 worked extremely well together.  This was my first time using a sleep system like this and I would have to say it was quite comfortable and not once did I come close to slipping off. 

If had one note on the pad itself in the fit category it would be similar to the that of the sleeping bag.  I had a Long Wide pad which was luxurious no doubt, but I found slightly less practical in a backpacking tent as you essentially had the pad from wall to wall.  A regular wide would have been the perfect fit for me personally.

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Look/Style

I found this sleep system to be really aesthetically pleasing. The red zippers and the blue bag coupled with the red sleeping pad had a sharp look to it.  I found the more rectangular cut of the bag to be extremely appealing as well as the rectangular shape of the AXL Air.  I prefer this shape particularly in a sleeping pad as opposed to the mummy shape of other pads. 

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Features

One of the most impressive things about the Anvil Horn 15 was that I would consider this to be a fully featured bag with lots of bells and whistles that just make sense.  For starters the anti-snag, locking zipper with zipper garage I found to be very effective at being able to quickly adjust my zipper at night as needed.  The bag has interior feels quite nice against the skin and has fabric loops for a sleeping bag liner to attach as well as exterior loops to hang for drying or storing the bag.  In addition, one of my favorite features was the pillow barn which is a sleeve that you can tuck your pillow in to and it lives inside the hood of the bag.  Also, there is a pocket inside the bag to stuff your cell phone.  I think we can all relate to leaving our cell phones outside the bag with a full charge and waking up to a dead phone in the morning.  This little pocket I found to be such a simple but perfect addition to the bag.  I also believe it would be a good spot to tuck in a water filter at night so it does not freeze while backpacking in temperatures that might dip below freezing and ruin the filter. 

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My favorite feature of the AXL Air Insulated pad outside its comfort factor is that the plug that holds the valve snugly closed presses down inside itself to allow for easy deflation without any hassle at all.    

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I think at this point in the review it is important for me to talk about the Pumphouse Platinum Inflation Pump. When I first tested the AXL Air Insulated the task of blowing up such a large pad was daunting to me.  I felt like I was blowing and blowing and not really filling the pad up as effectively as I should be.  Enter the Pumphouse Platinum and that all changed.  This simple 1.2 oz. stuff sack and with a nozzle to deliver air into the pad changed everything.  At this weight, it was well worth the penalty to be able to blow up the pad so quickly.  In a pinch, it doubles as a stuff sack as well, although seeing as it is made from ultra-light ripstop nylon I personally wouldn’t want to put any extra stress on it by using it as a bag.  This addition made the whole system way easier to use and I would highly recommend owning one if you purchase this bag. 

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Weight/Packability

This category is one that is pretty important for me.  I am a firm believer that that lighter the pack the happier the journey.  The Anvil 15 Long weighs in at just around 2 lbs. 10 oz. which does make it a lightweight option for your everyday backpacker/weekend warrior type backpacker.  It would however not fall into what many would consider being an ultralight thru-hiking weight class. The 650 fill hydrophobic DownTek down is not as lightweight or compressible as some of the higher loft downs that ultra-light bags use. That being said I believe that this sleeping bag was not created for the long distance thru-hiker, so in that sense, it is a perfectly suited backpacking backpack for shorter multi-day or overnight trips into the backcountry.  In terms of the packability, I would also say it packs down to a respectable size in the stuff sack that is provided.  I do believe that with a compression stuff sack the bag could take up even less of a footprint in your pack.  However, for the purposes of this review, I wanted to use just what was provided with the original purpose. 

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The AXL Air Insulated packs down impressively small for a sleeping pad of its size.  Also, it comes in just shy of a 1lb., which puts it right on par with its ultra-light counterparts from other brands.   I was also able to fit the Pumphouse Platinum inside the stuff sack for the pad as well which I found convenient.  Overall, when paired with the Anvil Horn 15 I would say this makes for a very acceptable lightweight, compact option for any application outdoors. 

Function/Performance

This to me is going to be my most critical category of the review for a couple of reasons.  The first is that although I find the Anvil Horn and AXL Air Insulated to be one of the most comfortable systems I have ever, on almost every night that dipped below the mid 30’s in temperature, I slept cold.  To put this into perspective, I live in Denver, Colorado and sleep with my window open all year round next to my bed because I am an extremely warm sleeper.  I also keep a thermometer next to my bed (mostly because I’m a gear nerd and want to know these things) to check what the temps are in the mornings in my room when I wake up.  In the winter that temperature can easily be in the high 30’s and I am almost never cold.

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Now I am aware that that the rating of a sleeping bag is not something anyone should bet the farm on because so many things can factor into what actually makes a person cold and every human body sleeps differently. In the case of the Anvil, I would have to say that I found to be the temperature rating quite a bit off from the manufacturers rating.  Again, I feel like I want to reiterate that I think this bag is an excellent bag from a manufacturer that cares incredibly about their customer base but as a consumer buying the bag I would rate it more around a 25-degree bag or even 30-degree bag and that is with the AXL Air Insulated. On the night that hit 20 degrees for me, I was extremely cold, even when layered and sleeping on the insulated pad. 

In terms of performance on the AXL Air Insulated, I think that I have a similar critique.  Anything below the mid 30’s in temperature felt cold.  I didn’t feel like it was as insulated as I expected it to be in that situation.  Then again, in defense of this sleeping pad, I have to say that it is stated as a three season pad and anything below freezing in my book is winter temperatures making my criticism of the pad almost invalid.  I believe at mid 30’s and up this is probably one of the most comfortable and best-suited pads for backpacking on the market.  Again, this all goes back to knowing what gear to take, doing your research on what the weather is going to be like and choosing the right gear for the job.  In the future, I now know the comfort rating for me.  This sleeping pad will most definitely accompany me and be perfectly usable for 90% of the spring, summer and early fall activities I plan to use it for.  People who negatively review products without factoring in what the actual application for the product should be are doing a disservice as a reviewer.  I do feel like this sleeping pad is excellent if one can take into consideration its limitations as three season pad.

Durability/Construction

As with all Big Agnes products I find the quality to be top notch and their customer service to always be on top of it and impeccable.  From stitching to seam sealing Big Agnes stands by all the work and craftsmanship that they put into their products and it really does show.  I have been a very happy user of many of their products for many years and will continue to use them for this reason.  The only casualty I had during this review was that I burned a hole in my brand new Big Agnes Shovelhead jacket while making coffee, but it’s nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix.

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It would be remiss to mention that the material of the AXL Air Insulated is quite thin.  The night that I cowboy camped I definitely would not have felt comfortable placing the pad on the sandstone rock without a groundsheet of Tyvek or polycro beneath it.  I would handle the material more delicately as it is is an ultra-light piece of equipment.

The Final Word

Big Agnes has created a sleep system with the Anvil Horn 15 and AXL Air Insulated that is both fully featured and extremely comfortable to sleep in when used within its limitation to temperature and environment. 

I try not read any other reviews of gear when I am reviewing and testing them on my own as to not be influenced by others opinions, especially not professionals who know the limits and usage of gear they are using.  Not until now while I am writing this final paragraph have I read anything about these sleep systems.  It seems from what I have read in other reviews that there were some similar observations made about the temperature ratings on the system but it also seems, like I mentioned in this review, that many of these reviews were being written by people who didn’t exactly know how to use the Anvil Horn and AXL Air Insulated in the proper conditions to receive the maximum benefit of what they had purchased.  If the Anvil Horn’s rating was 25 degrees people would rethink 30-degree camping as three seasons then I think the public perception of this system would be much different.  I think this bag and sleeping pad together are exceptionally made, work well together as a system and truly make for a comfortable night sleep when used for the right temperature conditions.  I would recommend these to anyone that was looking for a versatile car camping and backpacking system for cool evenings in the high 30’s to warmer evenings in the mid 50’s. If you are truly taking the sleeping bag down to its 15-degree rating then I would recommend wearing layers and bundling up to feel comfortable.  All in all, taking into consideration all the aspects of my testing I was very pleased and would take this system out with me in those conditions as well without hesitation. 

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Luke Pearsall is a former Adventure Guide in South America where he led tours which included rafting, trekking, biking and overlanding all across the continent.  He currently works as a Commercial Photographer and Producer based in Denver, Colorado who specializes in outdoor, adventure and travel content creation.  He credits his love for adventure and camping to his parents who showed him the world through the open doors of a tent from the time he was a baby.  In 2018 Luke was named one of the “Top 70 Outdoor Instagram Accounts to Follow,” by The Dyrt online publication.  He is happiest when he is outdoors and believes in sharing that happiness through his work with others.

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