Saturday, January 15, 2011

P.O.E. Peak Elite AC

I awoke before the sunlight and peaked my head out from under my quilt and tarp to see if anyone else was rustling about.  I heard a bit of snoring and pulled the quilt back over to block out what little light there was.  After a couple more hours of dreaming I was awaken by my travel mates packing up and getting started on the first morning of our tour.

Just a few weeks earlier I was standing on the concrete floor of the Sand's Convention Center having a conversation with Aaron James, Global Sales Manager at Pacific Outdoor Equipment in Bozeman, MT.  I was casually flipping my way through P.O.E.'s 2011 product catalog on a slow Friday morning of the annual Interbike show.

I stopped midway through the catalog on the page where the Peak Elite AC rested.  

The specifications touted a sub-1lb. pad for my 6'2" frame with an R-Value of 2.5-4.4.  At the mere mention of my interest in the pad Aaron began digging around in a duffel.  He emerged with a rolled up Peak Elite AC.  I began looking it over and before I got far he offered it to me for evaluation.

Immediately I noticed the elongated hexagon shape on the surface of the pad.  Aaron began explaining the principles of BIO-mapped insulation and how they laminate material into these areas to create more warmth around key areas of the body.

I've been waiting months for the Peak Elite AC to show up on P.O.E.'s site so that I might share my experience using the pad.  I am grateful to Aaron for allowing me the opportunity.

I've used my fair share of inflatables over the last couple years.  My experience started with the Exped 7.5

That experience ended abruptly in a park outside of Butte, MT.  Broken glass will shred ultralight air mats.  Prior to the end of the 7.5, I was never fully happy with the comfort.  I had many a cool night sleeping on it as it had no real insulation properties.  The claimed R-Value is 0.7.  The Exped 7.5 is truly a 1-Season summer pad.  It weighs in at a claimed 530g.

After my experience with the Exped I was on to a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core

The Big Agnes has a claimed weight of 770grams in the 20x78 mummy shape with a rating for 15F.  I have used the Big Agnes down to nights around the mid-20's.  I was quite cozy with the Big Agnes.  However, it was certainly heavier than what I wanted to carry for summer travel.  This is a great pad for late fall/early winter travel.  As I write this the Big Agnes pad I used is accompanying my brother on a winter tour down the Appalachian Mountains.  Which brings me to my forays into the non-insulated ultralight...

This past summer I decided to give a Gossamer Gear 1/8" evazote foam mat a try.

At roughly 125g for a 20x60 sheet this is by far, ultralight.  It rolled and packed neatly under my handlebars, I never needed to inflate it, and I never had to worry about rolling off of it.  It was however, not the most comfortable thing.  I rolled every hour just to keep my hips, back, and legs from going numb.  While I want to like this pad for all trip uses, it just doesn't provide enough comfort for a full night's sleep.  A short nap is a different story.  I'll likely be using an 1/8" evazote mat on future trips as a ground cloth that adds just a bit more insulation.   A large sheet 40"x84" weighs around 1/2lb, about the same as my Tyvek ground cloth, slightly more bulky, but also warmer.


On to the Peak Elite AC.

When I awoke the second time that first morning of our California Central Coast Tour the sun was already beginning to light the golden hills.  I had drifted into a deep sleep in those few hours, had a few unmemorable dreams, and apparently snored extremely loud.  It was easily the best night of sleep I've had in the outdoors that I can remember.  The Peak Elite AC never shifted and never lost air.

Photo courtesy of the Adventure Monkey

In addition to comfort, the Peak Elite AC packs down small enough to be strapped under my handlebars and out of my cables.  

Salmon Creek

After this trip I feel like I've found a great sleeping setup for bikepacking.  The Peak Elite AC had helped round out what I've been working on since early 2009.  I've never slept as comfortably on any trip as I did on the California Central Coast Tour.  Overnight temps hovered in the mid-40's-low 50's fahrenheit.  The air was cool and damp (very damp when we slept on the Pacific).

I have recommended this pad to several friends since using it for camping, touring, and racing.  I will continue to use it myself (trying to keep it away from glass) and give it a long term use and abuse experience in a variety of environments. 


  1. Thanks for the review Joe. I'd been looking on their website for some info but never found it. I guess I'll look again. I'd been using a different mat, but I still think this one is worth a shot.

  2. How do you find the width? Being 6'2" myself I always prefer the Long pads but there's the obvious weight penalty. I'd been considering the NeoAir to replace my older Prolite4, it's a lot wider at 25" for the L but weighs 19oz...

  3. Still have this pad!?

    I've been looking for a new pad to try this fall/winter/spring.

    Specifically one that will work with my down quilt and bivy.

    Was about to send you an email you about it. Indeed you should expect my email soon. Probably tomorrow or sunday.

    The key things I'm looking for are:

    1) a good valve like the exped that just gulps air

    1.5) durability around the valve... bivying means sliding over and sitting on the top of the mat... the exped valves are brilliant... but the big agness design couldn't hold up.

    2) a good taper like the big agnes... narrower and shorter is ok... even prefered... indeed it might be best to think of this as a torso matt as I will be using it with auto-shade / window shades in the snow.

    3) compact pack size... weight some too... but mostly compact so I can roll it into my bivy

    4) 3-4 r-value... it needn't be crazy because I will be using this with at least one autoshade, possibly two.

    In summary. I love my exped, don't even mind blowing it up... but it's to wide and thick to use in my bivy with my down quilt.. no taper and it's thickness and width cause the down to become compressed and get cold spots... just not enough room for it in the bivy. Also... not insulated matt. I think ideally... I'd get another Exped model for the great valve design.

    Alternatively I love the warmth, compactness and size of the Big Agnes Aircore.... indeed everything... BUT its valve design. To hard to move air through and to week and exposed for bivying. Wish I could put the exped valves on it and I'd have almost the perfect matt. It could stand to be a little smaller... shorter, thinner, narrower to avoid taking up to much space in the bivy sack as well.

    Alternatively I might consider a Thermarest for their thinner thickness, partial self inflation and they come in good sizes including torso only... might make a good bivy bag.

    I also read something about a Zor model and some other ones on QBP if you have a recommendation.

    Use... As said I will be using this in my bivy with my down bag. I need to be able to open the valve, roll the whole bivy up... slide it into my wonderful e-vent waterproof stuff sack... and compress it small enough I can fit the whole getup on my aerobar betwen my drops and STI levers.... in 2-3 minutes.

    Inversely I need to be able to take it off my aerobar, unroll it... fluff it... blow it up... and be asleep in 3-5 minutes.

    I will of course have 1-2 accordian folding auto-shades under it... great for xtra R value, extremely light... protects the bivy and airmat... and infinitely useful for sitting on such as around the fire in the snow or when taking a seated break somewhere to keep from getting a cold butt.

    This is all to fit my new ride plan... more on that in email... but to cliff note it... I've decided that night riding is my new frontier.

    I want to be able to ride all night without a care in the world.

    My last trip I did two all nighters. I got pretty good at power napping and avoiding bonking at 2-4 AM... for me that's the only critical time. I also got pretty good at quick recoveries.

    (to be continued)

  4. (continued)

    The reason I'm doing this is just for the shere adventure and love of it. I like the challenges of staving off the psycholigical bonk that always seems to happen in the wee hours before the light starts to peak back into the sky.

    What's more I think it will allow me to squeak in even more miles on s24o and s48o rides. Specifically in that I can leave the night before after I get off work, ride all night... get home at 11am with crazy miles, power nap and be right back onto my regular schedule.

    The thing that initially drove it btw was the cold rainy days of my last trip. I got at least five full days of rain in 15. What happened was I learned to adapt and ride when the weather was nice regardless of the time of day. If I have a 24 hour window... or 36... of great weather in an otherwise crappy week of weather I want to be able to ride and enjoy more then just 12-15 of it.

    In short I need this kit to be KISS (keep it simple stupid) instant crash pad and stealth camp... If my eyes are getting droopy and I see a place and opportunity to get some shuteye... then I want to be able to prep my bed without waking up my brain so I can be asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

    Likewise I want to be able to roll out of bed when I wake up and be riding and on the bike within minutes.

    p.s. been loving my aerobars on my fargo more and more. Starting to think... what if I upgraded to a much nicer... and lighter carbon aero bar. Then what if I did away with the drops and put on my carbon monkey light. Would I have enough hand positions?? It would certainly be infinitely lighter and it would be even easier to hang my bivy roll.

    The obvious idea is as always "less stuff. more freedom.".... but "stuff" is not regulated to physical stuff alone here. It can also mean the mental and time stuff required to string a tarp or setup camp.

    Then again... I love my drop bars... so maybe I'll keep them and when I wear out the STI shifters I'll try Apex... with a mountain double.

    FYI, it's amazing how awesome the cable doublers and STI have worked... singletrack quick and dreamy shifting and braking.