Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Intrepid Bedding

The final configuration.

The final configuration. No, that black cord doesn’t stay there – it’s used when lowering the top and pulls the canvas sides inward.

Among the things that I cannot leave well enough alone in the Four Wheel Grandby is bedding. New for last year’s 2015 model was a slightly softer mattress foam, 3″ thick. This works well for many, and once the support platform is pulled out to increase available width, the three assembled foam sections match a queen-size bed. Four Wheel encloses them in zippered cloth cases, with a heavy vinyl underside on the main mattress in order to avoid any chance of the wooden pull-out platform’s forward edge doing any damage to it when it’s shoved to the front for daytime use.

On the boring side, I’ve got some spine anomalies going on. Too many rave parties, I’m sure. A fairly taut hammock would be the perfect approach about now, but that’s not going to happen here, so I’ve found that I need a mattress with some sag. In fact, about the time most folks would roll slowly out of a bed groaning with pain saying, “Ughh, this mattress is shot!”, that would be the signal that it might be ready for me before too long. Just knock a slat or two out of the center of the bed frame, and it’s usable.

So bedding is just that simple – except for me, of course. What fun is it unless you can make it needlessly complex? In this case, what Four Wheel calls the “push bar” in front lays across the bed when the roof is down, and it’s hinged to the front lift panels, an articulated pair of composite rectangles that position and keep the roof exactly where its needs to be at any given time. The hinge for the lift panels is about 7″ above the bed platform, and with the long push bar, lift panels with aluminum framing, and a bracket sandwiched between the lowered ceiling and the mattress, the space to add a mattress topper or other contraption is pretty limited. There’s no way to use the 7″.  I’m guessing up to 1-1/2″ is available over the standard mattress, but the center of any addition must be very easily compressed to near-zero when the push bar rests on it. A blanket can take up a surprising amount of that space, and even the gooshiest pillow(s) must be stowed elsewhere. Odds are, if you add a thin memory foam topper, you’ll have to fold and stow the blanket below when you break camp. And it makes no difference how soft that topper feels to hand – the total surface area available overwhelms any attempt to compress it. Violate the “extra” available gap, and you’ll find the exterior latches in front grabbing for air, and the weather seal gasketing around the rim not engaging. But all of this is moot – a memory foam topper above a foam mattress this firm will not cut it for me. The topper will not allow enough sag.

With the front of the roof lowered, you can see the push bar resting on the mattress, but the lift panels are hidden as they lay flat on top of the bedding.

With the front of the roof lowered, you can see the push bar resting on the mattress, but the lift panels are almost hidden as they lay flat on top of the bedding.

The second complexity is temperature adaptability. I find that I’m sweating one month and freezing the next, since I must move across various locations with varying elevations and weather conditions. I envisioned only two approaches to choose between: conventional bedding or sleeping bags. I haven’t had much luck with sleeping bags when it comes to temperatures that are too warm to sleep with any significant cover, yet too cool to sleep completely uncovered. My limited experience with sleeping bags, mostly unpleasant, tends to throw my bias toward using some form of sheets and blankets. The “in-between” temperatures are the problem.

With the entire roof down, the clearance to the ceiling looks big, but that's deceiving since the lift panel assembly takes up considerable space way up there.

With the entire roof down, the clearance to the ceiling looks big, but that’s deceiving since the lift panel assembly takes up considerable space way up there.

The third complexity is bedding durability. I haven’t found sleeping bags to be suitable for constant use in varying temperature conditions. Liners would help decrease launderings that sleeping bags are not well suited for, but I can’t see laying out big bucks for something that smells and no longer zips up after 6-12 months of constant use. Sleeping bags are far superior for temporary outings in primitive conditions, but seem to me ill-suited as day-in, day-out bedding in a pop-up truck camper that’s in constant service.

The fourth complexity is a mix of laziness and dust. That’s practically self-explanatory. A sleeping bag is easy to unroll and toss on top of the FWC’s mattress, and a mild nuisance to roll back up and place on seating for travel. There’s an appeal in that. But, well, they get grunky, and there’s the ever-abundant dust. Not all laundromats can handle something that bulky, and open-air drying time can be exorbitant. I’m not about to lay it across a dusty vehicle hood, and most practices assume a dry, sunny desert location with something nearby to tie a clothesline to, and stout enough to survive a wet, heavy bag.

The FWC’s furnishings themselves are all easily cleaned. Lacking carpeting, all surfaces can be either wiped clean or laundered. Drapes unsnap, and all foam coverings unzip for removal. I found that I prefer to try to protect the bedding from dust, using sheets that I already have. When my thoughts began to circle around some form of inflatable sleeping pad on top of the mattress, a sheet over that would keep that reasonably clean as well. Then instead of wrestling foam inserts in and out of rather tight-fitting zippered covers, it’d be easier to gather a couple of sheets and a pillowcase, and head for the laundromat. Sheets are expendable, fitted covers are not.

Inflatable sleeping pad? I’ve slept on an air mattress and found it workable but not optimum. By the time I get enough air in it so I don’t ever bottom out on a hard floor, the overall air pressure is too high for pain-free sleep. And those round tubes of air leave something to be desired. This called for an extensive search as to modern possibilities, and one highly-recommended possibility was the Exped Megamat 10. It and its thinner sibling, the Megamat 7.5 are air mattresses with an open cell foam as a base inside. No one explains it further than saying that it’s very comfortable, but I antied up the big bucks, ordered one from REI, and tried it out.

Actually, when it arrived, I opened the intake air valve and laid it out for a day, per instructions. The interior foam is supposed to slowly expand and take on its original profile, which takes the mat up somewhere toward its final thickness on foam pressure alone. But after three days, it was up at just one small point in the middle and still flat as a pancake everywhere else. No good. An email to Exped created no response, and I made the long trek to Phoenix to trade it in on a replacement. That one was markedly better after three days, but puzzled, I called Exped this time and talked to a very helpful guy who said that it should come up somewhere around just 60% on its own, and that actually sleeping on it would greatly help the process. Once it’s had a chance to recover from the prolonged tight roll-up, it will remain more responsive when unrolled for use the next time. At a luxurious 30″ wide and 77.5″ long, it’s too big and heavy for backpack use, and it’s best to store it unrolled, otherwise it reputedly needs about an hour to get the foam back into action.

The Four Wheel Grandby’s bed platform is just 77″ wide, but the pad’s half-inch of extra length proved to be inconsequential. My misgivings about its comfort and suitability for my purposes pretty much melted away when I added some air with its included little air pump, a small attachment that you plug into the intake valve and squish with your hands or place on a flat surface and press down on. I fell asleep on it while meditating on its perceived lack of separate air chambers, which made me decide that I had to find a way to make this thing work despite its added 4″ thickness. I tried it on top of the FWC’s mattress, and then directly on the bed platform, and could detect no difference in comfort.

At the end of the Exped are two valves, fill and exhaust. Here the pump is attached. It's a simple foam-filled affair with a one-way valve for intake. Press the pump flat with the palm(s) of your hand and release to allow more air in. It doesn't take much work to get the pressure I need, and the pad holds air, possibly for a few days. I'll find out just how long on the road.

At the end of the Exped are two valves, fill and exhaust. Here the pump is attached. It’s a simple foam-filled affair with a one-way valve for intake. Press the pump flat with the palm(s) of your hand and release to allow more air in. It doesn’t take much work to get the pressure I need, and the pad holds air well, possibly for a few days. I’ll find out just how long on the road.

Since there’s something in me that grates at the mere thought of chucking a brand new mattress made of excellent quality foam, I examined whether I should lay the pad on top and open its exhaust air valve when I needed to lower the roof for travel, or use the pad directly on the platform and somehow store the mattress in the unfortunate event that I could one day be unable to use the camper any more. As a test, I opened the valve and lowered the roof onto the full sandwich, and the result was that the remaining foam inside was still way too stiff to allow the roof to lock down in position. Though extremely soft to the touch, it’s just too much acreage to overcome. So, I calculated the cost to store the mattress foam in the local rental place, since I knew from past experience that really durable foam could cost $300 and up. But storing it would be over $400 per year, and I emailed Four Wheel for a ballpark replacement cost just to see what would be involved in this cut-to-shape item. That came back as a mere $125, which turned my dilemma into a no-brainer, financially speaking.

Further, I found that when the Exped sleeping pad was placed forward directly on the platform, and the platform was left “narrow” in its day-use position, the two narrow mattress extensions that normally turn it into a queen when the platform was pulled out wide fit against the Exped like a glove, providing an excellent and durable approach when climbing up into bed. I suddenly had a wide cushioned edge area that could take a beating when clambering up, saving the more delicate Exped from getting squished and twisted while I was maneuvering around. The Exped is still, after all, an air mattress despite its “self-inflating” label. I couldn’t ask for a better setup. Still pressurized to my soft, saggy doughball liking, the roof lowered and locked just fine, since the original mattress was 3″ thick while the Exped was 4″, happily giving way for that push bar and the lift panels on top of it. Good stuff.

Here the Exped pad is fully forward, and with the sheets on, it's hard to tell the dividing line between the pad and the matress extensions to the rear. There's no gap at all, nor is it too tight a fit.

Here the Exped pad is fully forward, and with the sheets on, it’s hard to tell the dividing line between the pad and the mattress extensions to the rear. There’s no gap at all, nor is it too tight a fit. You can climb up onto the extensions and just roll or flop onto the comfy pad.

Getting the big, heavy mattress out was a clumsy affair, but the fabric cover with vinyl underside came off fairly easily and folded for stowage in the Defiant. That may be difficult to match in the distant future, as fashions change. I cut a piece out of the foam to place atop the Defiant’s tired couch cushions, and it works commendably despite technically being too soft for use as seating. (A fitted sheet was already in use to slow wear on the couch, and adding the extra layer of foam didn’t complicate anything.) The rest is now headed for the local landfill.

How will this arrangement work in the long run? Will the Exped survive repeated contact with the forward roof mechanisms during the jiggling movements of travel? We’ll see. In the meantime, it still appears usable enough without any added air pressure at all, good enough to gimp along with should repair or replacement become necessary. That in itself is a relief, since my dislike of time “wasted” sleeping is matched only by my insistence upon wasting that time atop something that doesn’t hurt. Assuming care as gentle as possible (no pets and no abuse), I recommend the Megamat 7.5 or 10 for very comfortable sleeping if you need to stay away from hard mattresses.

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12 thoughts on “Intrepid Bedding

  1. JudyMae on said:

    “What fun is it unless you can make it needlessly complex?” Must be an engineer thing. I tell people that my husband, also an engineer, works on the premise that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess. Love that you share your thought process work us. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy the places you can now get to with Intrepid.

    • JudyMae on said:

      *with us. Believe it or not, I proofread my comment. Guess I need to up the power on my reading glasses.

    • Well JudyMae, I was just a product designer, so I could make problems needless complex, but not being an engineer, could not solve them. 😉 Tortuous as it is, that thought process usually but not always gets to a final solution with no unhappy surprises down the line, which is the goal. I prefer trying to anticipate pros and cons prior to laying out cash, but sometimes, you just have to wing it and hope for the best. Perfectionist tendencies help with sorting through approaches, but are their own punishment when a deadline looms and the fine tuning really needs to end! Somebody, stop me!

      • I won’t be stopping you anytime soon…. So I too have complex back issues and am on a continual search for the next best thing. I do think I have the bedding mastered for me though. Last year I bought a king size fuzzy blanket when they were on spring clearance. I think I payed less than $10.00. I folded it in half and sewed it across the bottom and measured up the side , oh about knee high and sewed it to that point. It then becomes my light weather sleeping bag. I love that I can get my feet out easily if they are HOT as they often are but I don’t spend a lot of time fighting with the blanket. I also carry a lightweight blanket that I can use over it if the weather requires. I store it in an extra pillow sham to prop up on in bed. Anything more than that the furnace is on!! Best of all the sack washes and drys easily! I am quite happy with it…..the mattress is another chapter in the story yet to come…..

  2. wedlearl on said:

    Sent from Samsung tablet

    • Technology is often not all it’s cracked up to be, and the ads make it seem so breezy and easy. I’ve corrected one word and accidentally deleted the entire paragraph, myself. Many times. What did you want to say, Wedlearl?

  3. Mary Adachi on said:

    As an over the road truck driver, even with heat and a/c, the temps vary widely. I did put a memory foam 4″ topper on the truck mattress, since no worry about folding roofs.
    I added a fleece blanket (actually just a 2 yard piece of fleece from the fabric dept. )under the top sheet, ditched the top sheet totally, and just use a quilt on top. I got the quilt during Macy’s summer sake, one of those sheets/pillowcases/quilts combos they sell for students, it’s more medium weight, not horribly heavy.
    If it’s a little chilly, a sheet on TOP of the quilt will add about 10°, or if it’s really cold, a thicker fleecy blanket on top of the quilt. Most of my shopping is discount stores, tho. With a 75′ long tractor-trailer, parking can be at a premium. Another good place to find sheets, etc are Tuesday Morning stores.
    Your setup seems very workable.
    Aloha!

    • Sounds like the key word is much the same as with clothing: layers! Thanks for the tips, Mary. I’m still in a last-minute debate over whether to pack one blanket or two, since I can hide one, but must keep a second folded on a bench. One blanket and a sheet can take me down to 50, when the onboard furnace must come into play if I stick with one. Adventure!

  4. Linda Sand on said:

    The thing I remember about inflatable mattresses is to watch your altitude. You don’t want the mattress to expand beyond its seams limits. As to temperature variables you might want that fleece under you on some nights to insulate you from the cold air in the mattress. But, I love the way your pieces parts fit together to make something wonderful!

    • Good point, Linda! I’m only a few hundred feet above sea level now, so maybe I’ll vent it a little as a precaution before I head for Prescott. I’m counting on the Megamat’s 9.5 R-value to do its job at the outset, as many winter outdoorsy types seem to want at least 5. Should that fail, I may slap a sheet of double-sided Reflectix onto the platform to try to reflect body heat back up through the air gap. If anything, I suspect it may be uncomfortably warm on warmer nights. I’d like to say that I planned everything to fit together so nicely, but it’s blind luck, which is even better. Less work. For the curious, I just found a comparative listing of various pads’ R-values here.

  5. I commend you on your choice of mattress, it looks so comfortable, and in the manner in which you solved your problem.

    I was also going to mention the overinflating danger. I too use self-inflating mattresses in my truck sleeping arrangement, and I have to remember to open the valves whenever I will be changing elevation or if the truck will be in the sun at all. Those poor things have gotten pretty stressed when I parked the truck in the sun and forgot to open them up. It’s a pain, actually, to keep having to do this as you have to get the pressure right again at night for sleep. I would go to foam only if there was not the possibility that I would want to take off on some backpacking overnight and take the inflatables along.

    As for warmth, remember that one can take layering to extreme if needed. In sub-freezing weather in the truck with no heat, I wear a t-shirt, zip-neck thin long sleeve fleece, down sweater with zip, fleece neck thing, down hat, fleece hood on top of that if it’s needed, and use my 2 summerweight bags one on top of the other (again, backpacking equipment). I normally start the night feeling cold, then warm up later and have to take layers off. So far, these layers have made it easy to adjust the insulation I need on the fly and to make bathroom breaks not so chilly.

    I am envious of your furnace. 🙂

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