The Big Agnes Third Degree Foam Pad is an ultra-durable and lightweight closed-cell foam pad. This mat is slightly bulkier and more complicated to use than the competing Therm-a-Rest ZLite, but also a little less expensive. This is a perfectly adequate camping mat for those on a budget and anyone who doesn’t want to deal with a delicate inflatable mat.
The Big Agnes Third Degree Foam Pad is a closed-cell foam sleeping mat that doesn’t require inflation. The benefits of a foam pad over an inflatable mat are that foam is more durable, versatile, and easy to use, but the drawbacks are that it is bulkier and less comfortable. The Third Degree comes in several sizes: Regular (72 inches long), Short (48 inches long), and a Seat (12 inches long). The Short and Seat models are less expensive and lighter weight than the Regular (The Seat only costs $20), so a customer can buy only the amount of foam that they plan to use.
The size Regular Third Degree weighs 12.5 ounces, which is about the same as the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat (12.6 oz) and the NeoAir Xlite (12 oz). This means the Third Degree is one of the lightest models in our test, so if weight is all that matters, this is an option that should be considered. Since it is not inflatable is is bulkier and offers less cushion than either of those other two models, but it is much less expensive and can withstand more of a beating. During our test period we found that the low weight of this pad was barely noticeable as an addition to our pack on overnight trips.
Unfortunately, the Third Degree is the largest and bulkiest sleeping pad that we tested, so it is the most cumbersome to carry. It rolls into a 6×20 inch package whereas the size Regular Therm-a-Rest ZLite accordion folds into a 20x5x5.5 in package that is slightly more compact and easy to deal with. We brought the Third degree along on overnights by rolling it and lashing it to the outside of a backpack, which was cumbersome to attach and bothersome when taking the pack on and off and when resting it on the ground. It also made hiking through tight trees difficult. This pad is light enough that is is barely noticeable as weight on the back, but it does increase the size of the load.
For a half-inch-thick sleeping mat, the Third Degree is surprisingly comfortable. The bottom of the pad has a tire-tread pattern which provides cushion as well as a non-slip sleeping surface. The mat is firm and thin, but our testers overall approved of the feel of this mat. Side-sleepers with sensitive hips will most likely not enjoy this firm, thin surface and will want something with more cushion. The Third Degree lacks the plush comfort of the inflatable Nemo Tensor and NeoAir Xlite.
Big Agnes does not test their sleeping pads for R-value, so this value is not listed for the Third Degree. R-value is a measurement of how well an object resists the flow of conductive heat, which in this case means how well a sleeping pad insulates between a person and the ground. The lack of this standard rating makes it more difficult to compare the warmth of this pad against other brands. The Third Degree is constructed from two layers of foam, and the top layer has small holes cut into it that help trap warm air above the bottom layer of foam. This provides more insulation than a regular flat piece of foam would.
In our experience, this pad does provide some insulation from the ground, but it is less than half an inch thick, so it does not provide a lot of insulation. We found the ZLite, the NeoAir, and the ProLite to all be warmer than the Third Degree. Overall it is adequate for summer and warm weather camping, but would not be warm enough for three-season or high altitude trips or as the only thing between a sleeper and snow.
This flat piece of foam can never pop or leak, so it has zero durability concerns. Even if it ripped, it would still function as a sleeping surface. During our testing we carted the Third Degree around into the backcountry, lugged it on multiple car camping trips, and used it for yoga and stretching at home—something we would never do on an inflatable pad. Though it was too bulky and unwieldy to be our go-to backpacking pad, we used this one more than any of the other sleeping mats in our test. Why? Because it is so durable it is useful for more than one purpose. Where other sleeping mats that we love, like the NeoAir Xlite or the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat, are perfect comfortable mattresses when deep in the backcountry, the Third Degree can be used for more than just sleeping and those mats cannot. It is comfortable as a stretching/workout mat, works well as a seat even when sitting on sharp, pointy rocks, and we can toss it in the back of the car with a mountain of other gear and no regard for its safety.
This pad does come in handy as a second layer underneath inflatable pads. It protects an air-construction pad from popping or abrasion and provides additional insulation from snow. Like the Therm-a-Rest ZLite, we think the Third Degree functions well as a waterproof, indestructable second layer underneath a high R-value inflatable pad when winter camping or mountaineering and there is no fear of damage if it comes in contact with ice tools or crampon points.
Ease of Use
It doesn’t get much easier than rolling up a foam mat. With the Third Degree there is no inflating or squeezing out all the air so it can roll up and fit in a tight stuff sack. We did find the accordian fold of the Therm-a-rest ZLite to be a little easier to deal with than rolling up the Third Degree, but rolling this thing takes mere seconds. The only difficult thing about this sleeping pad is finding a way to attach it to the outside of a backpack when heading on an overnight.