Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

State of the Intrepid – Bedding Mods

Kinda looks like one big mattress, but it isn't. You're looking towards the front of the truck.

Kinda looks like one big mattress, but it isn’t. You’re looking towards the front of the truck.

The FWC’s original equipment 3-piece queen-sized foam mattress is fine for most folks, but I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes on it. Still too firm, despite FWC’s recently having gone softer in durometer. I wound up yanking out the main section, replacing it with a “self-inflating” sleeping bag pad, an Exped MegaMat 10, which just happens to sleeve perfectly into the hole vacated by the original main foam piece when the bed platform is in its “tucked in” position. See, the basic bed platform can be expanded to full queen width by pulling out a sliding section that then overhangs part of the dining area. I don’t need that extra width, so mine stays narrower, and the single Megamat fits right into the vacated hole.

With the MegaMat yanked out of place, you can see the bed platform and height to the piano hinge, which all bedding should stay well below.

With the MegaMat yanked out of place, you can see the bed platform (light grey) and height to the piano hinge, which all bedding should stay well below.

I’ve found that I can’t trust user ravings about how great a particular mattress is, but I lucked out on this one. It’s basically a layer of open-cell foam inside an air mattress, and in my case, I run it with very little air pressure added. Heavenly, and more comfortable than a residential Sleep Number mattress I’ve had. Your mileage may vary. The Megamat is considered to be a “car camping” pad, since it’s heavier and less compact when rolled than a backpacking pad is. It is best stored open, not rolled, because of the foam inside.

That orange disk is the hand pump that comes with it. Once snapped onto the mattress' intake valve, it can be squeezed between two hands or smooshed against a table surface to pump air.

That orange disk is the hand pump that comes with it. Once snapped onto the mattress’ intake valve, it can be squeezed between two hands or smooshed against a table surface to pump air.

The only thing to keep in mind with it is to think when you travel. If you’re expecting to gain 2,000 feet of elevation, you’ll want to consider allowing air out of it at the day’s start to avoid blowing it out along the way. You’ll know when you’ve lost elevation as soon as you flop onto it at the end of the day. At the extra-low pressures I use, the fill and bleed valves at the head end of the mattress are very easy to get at and use, and the supplied pancake pump is highly preferable to blowing air in by mouth, which the valves are not suited for anyway. Technically, this inflatable mattress is 1/2-inch too long for the Grandby’s available interior width. Big deal. But it probably does make access to the valves more difficult at higher pressures, since the valves are then wedged firmly against the wall and the thing will resist bending the head up for access. It can certainly be done, but you’re likely to find it easier to simply yank the whole thing up and out of place to play with the valves. I just can get away with using such low pressures that the FWC’s roof push-bar and front folding panels do not cause objectionable interference issues when lowering the roof for travel – as far as I can tell so far. Using higher pressures to get comfortable would certainly require opening the MegaMat 10’s exhaust valve a few minutes before lowering the roof, then reinflating it with the hand pump after raising the roof again. A 3″ mattress (like the MegaMat 7.5) may not need this deflation, but the 4″ MegaMat 10 does. Given the huge surface area, even very low pressures can fight the roof coming down all the way. As I recall, the FWC’s standard firm foam is 3″ thick, so there’s your guide. Try the MegaMat 7.5 first in an FWC. The travel alternative of course is to leave pressure up and remove the mattress from the platform area entirely, perhaps draping it over the dining table area. Many complain of cold seeping through the camper platform’s wood base overnight, and have various suggestions about what to add to it. This is a non-issue with the Megamat 10, and probably its thinner brother, the 7.5. Whatever cold you feel will be related to your top covers of choice, not the mattress.

I had trouble with the first Megamat I had shipped from REI to me. Once unrolled, the foam core could not seem to recover its original thickness, or even start. This is a fuzzy area that Exped could do more to aid. The general advice was to simply unroll it and let it sit for a couple/three days. Didn’t help. I figured that mine was simply old stock, and had been tightly packed for too long to recover. I drove it to REI in Phoenix and they happily offered me another. We unrolled it in the store and let it set for a half-hour. Better, but much more time would be needed. The employee who actually owned one was not working that day, so I had to go on faith. I took it home, and a couple of unrewarding days later, I managed to get through to Exped USA to whine. I’d expected it to “self-inflate”, as that’s its category. Nope, the foam will take it up only a third of its full rated four-inch thickness. More of note, it helps to sleep on it a few times, though I figured that would slow the process. Nope. That did the trick, and it seems to not be publicized anywhere. You read it here first. My advice is to see if you can buy a quick customer return at a discount, since the problem is more likely to be impatience and lack of knowledge than anything else. Just don’t expect it to ward off pet claws.

Having been warned away from sleeping bags by the crazies at Two Happy Campers, I opted to wrap the Exped in one sheet and buffer the other pieces in another. I added a conventional foam pillow at the head and another under my knees (back’s screwed up). A flannel top sheet then goes over me, then an old L.L Bean and/or army blanket, as necessary. With flannel PJ’s or sweats, this combo is good for 45 degrees, probably less for a younger person who actually generates mammalian body heat. For me, there’s no point in outfitting for lower temperatures – 45 is the lowest I can breathe in for long hours asleep without feeling some lung issues coming on. Perhaps spray painting an entire car with aerosol spray cans inside a garage wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to do when I was an immortal 25 or so, d’ya think? Oh well. If it’s much over 80 degrees, you may as well delay going to bed as long as possible due to the platform’s high location. I figured the MegaMat’s insulation would make warm weather sleeping more of a problem than it actually is. Doesn’t feel that way – the Exped does not have that sweaty wrapped-in-plastic feel. It’s the stratified air itself. Open up more ventilation and watch another movie.

Considering how picky my bod is for sleeping surfaces and how precious a decent night’s sleep is to me, the Exped MegaMat quickly went from “overpriced air mattress” to “best dollar-value essential” practically overnight. It’s now on top of the standard residential mattress I’ve been sleeping on indoors for the last couple of months, too. For what you get, it’s a bargain.

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16 thoughts on “State of the Intrepid – Bedding Mods

  1. Linda Sand on said:

    I’m glad you fund a system that lets you actually sleep.

  2. Ahh, to be a bat, needing nothing more than a toe-hold to get a good sleep. . . This is one area where I think our evolutionary path went astray. But then again, think of all the people in the mattress industry that would be out of work if we all slept easily!

    Still sticking to that 10 lb. rule?? Do they give you a 10 lb. pull, push and lift before you leave the hospital so you know what it feels like? I’d probably need extra blood-pressure meds just waiting for that sternum to pop every time I did something more strenuous than turning the page of my latest book!

    • I used to ride a motorbike Greg, so I’ve had a taste of a bat’s diet. Not all it’s cracked up to be. We’ll have to agree to disagree on where we got off the proper evolutionary path. I’m actually not certain in detail, but it has something vaguely to do with the introduction of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as a supposedly viable breakfast material, and the cumulative genetic effect it has on breaking the spirit and hope of small children.

      Yup, I’m very careful. Has more to do with getting upright, pushing out of a chair etc than lifting or pushing objects. Since all that is automatic, it has to be un-learned for awhile. I remember sitting up in bed early on, and out of the corner of my eye, one of the nurses appears to come up over the counter of the nurses’ station to make a beeline for me. “Did I just see you use your arms to lift yourself up?” she said quietly, knowing the answer. The conversation was instructive and helpful, but just to make sure, ended in a warning as she walked away, kind of like a one-woman good-cop bad-cop. “Good,” she said, “‘Cause if I see you do that again, I’ll hurtcha. I’ll hurtcha baaad.” Which reminds me, it hurt to laugh only about half as much as it hurt to cough.

  3. Thanks for the gear review, your observations have helped me with my build, I had them put in on/off switches for the 12V and USB sockets. I realize now that it is very useful to be able to turn off the USB, no sense wasting power converting voltages when I’m not charging anything.

    I ended up with a tiny Optima, 48AH, because that is all that would fit under the hood of my truck. 😦

    And I found the first glitch, they did not put the windows far forward like I asked for, so now I have to redesign my interior and may end up losing storage space as the windows cut into where I wanted to build my storage shelves. 😦

    Other than that, it’s a great unit, I love the skylight I paid so much for, the light it lets in makes all the difference on a dark rainy day like today. I felt the need to turn on lights in the truck canopy during the day in the winter. And being able to stand up is fantastic!

    • You might do just fine with that Optima for quite awhile, since you aren’t much of a power hog. I have two 55s at the nose of the Defiant for lights, appliances, water pump etc and they’ve been plentious. I see a “fold” or crease line in your Tuffport photo which may be what dissuaded them to relocate the window, but a call to you would have been nice. Thanks for the link to your new website, showing a couple shots of the Tuffport as well as an extensive look at the truck bed shell or canopy setup you’ve been using up to now. Let me know when you’ve either got more Tuffport photos or show some buildout, and I’ll include the link in a freestanding post! Looks like an interesting rig, and one that may well outlast both of us!

      • I will eventually want solar, a fridge, and lithium batteries, that will require some major saving up of $.

        We discussed window placement at length, but when it came to installation, I suspect that someone had a brain fart and just centered them on the wall.

        I have a new post on the blog, you can see me pick up the camper and take it on its inaugural trip to a local beach for fish and chips.

        Do you think that Optima will do for light, fan, and recharging 2 laptops and 2 phones? I was wondering whether to pick up one flexible 100W solar panel and charge controller on my trip south this winter.

        • Holy mackerel, the Tuffport is much better suited for where you are and what you want out of a 2WD truck camper. Nice area, though seeing winter coats in the overcast photos already makes me squeamish, since snow and winter are no longer part of my vocabulary.

          I’m not much use on what size battery will do for what, since I don’t have a lot of trust in online guides and calculators. I tend to use devices longer than I figured I would, and batteries age until they no longer do the job you need them to. Calculators always seem to be for new batteries in great shape. The deeper the cycles, the shorter the lifespan. So, I go seat of the pants, add some fat in, and see how it works out in actual usage. Your only issue that makes it dicey is that “will it handle my devices?” is on top of “will it start my truck in the morning?” In other words, an “Oops” has potentially significant consequences. I would think that your Optima will handle it all, as long as you install and monitor a digital voltage readout, and swap for LED interior light(s).

          If you’re going to break camp and drive just about daily, your alternator should do. Should you stay planted, usage style and capacity elbow their way up front. It usually takes less overall power draw to keep a rechargeable device fully charged while in use, than to use it on its own battery and then recharge it later. So if you travel daily, you go ahead and drain the device, since you’ll have plenty of recharging power to bring it back on the road. Doing this same usage pattern while staying put doesn’t work as well since more power is used overall (from losses during device recharging) and your starter battery has no way of being replenished other than idling, which is an almost sacrificial way to recharge it.

          Should your camping style tend to leave you planted several days, I consider that solar becomes pretty much mandatory. It would not only limit battery discharge to nighttime hours, but have the capability to restore the starter battery to a working charge should you overdo it the previous night from all that wild partying you do. A 100W panel on a 48Ah battery should work nicely in most weather conditions, and certainly be better than nothing in the sky-soup you’ve got right now. If you keep your wiring reasonably short, a 12V nominal panel and PWM controller should do you okay and keep initial costs low. Unless you do daily driving or nearly so, I’d consider adding solar sooner than later, but that’s just because of my paranoia over not having a Plan B when the engine won’t turn over. That add-on jumper battery you have may make such scenarios of little concern.

  4. BTW, why do the 2 happy campers not recommend sleeping bags? That’s what I’ve used for years, but then again I’ve never gone away for more than 3 weeks at a time.

    • There was no specific why, except that they’d started out with them and they did not last (work out). They do not mention bedding on their blog, so they aren’t really recommending against sleeping bags so much as mentioning to me that they tried them and dumped them pretty quickly. They settled on a 2″ memory foam mattress pad, queen sheet set, and a comforter. They go out for months at a time as I do, and I had doubts about bags from the standpoint of temperature control in the desert, cleaning and drying, sweat and odor. I do not do well with waiting for wet insulation to dry out/unclump, balky zippers or even temperature problems because the bag is a little too heavy or too light for conditions. Wash locally, dry, put back into service in a few hours. If you have made them work for you, go with what you know.

      • Hi Doug,

        What did you mean exactly by the Tufport being more suited to where I am and what I want out of a 2WD truck camper? If you mean for hanging out in town without drawing attention, then it’s been great for that. I’m still amazed that I have a room I can walk around in on the back of my truck and the light is much nicer than what I get in my apartment.

        It’s off-gassing fumes like crazy right now, I hope this clears up by launch time.

        Yes, winter is on its way. It’s cool out, and we’re expecting a big storm off the Pacific tomorrow that has the utility company advising people to stock up on flashlight batteries and candles. Good time for me to have the new camper, it doesn’t leak! Even with the fan vent wide open and skylight cracked.

        I do have a plug in voltage readout for the battery and I should figure out what solar installation companies I can hit on my way south to get a panel and controller put in, since I often boondock for up to a week. The local one does not inspire confidence.

        I was planning on getting a duvet cover for the big rectangular sleeping bag that I have. That should help with laundry issues.

        Right now I’m making and discarding various plans for the bed/ couch. It needs to be easy enough to make into a couch every day.

        • Exactly, I was thinking of the Tufport as being more adaptable to wet/humid and cool/cold conditions. There’s no concern about going into storage wet, which the FWC should not do. OAH and CG are pretty good, and I expect loaded weight to be as well. I would expect fiberglass to hold up pretty well under bed flex, but that’s more up to detailing than material alone. Better at stealth, obviously. Ventilation in the warm desert could be iffy, and the taller profile an occasional issue. You’ll have to ask Tufport about off-gassing duration – there were just two resin types “in my day” and there are more now. Leave it as open as you can, obviously.

          I’m spectacularly lazy, and am often not up for the duration. Read, work, chores, hike, and nap during the day, so to me a convertible single space for all won’t work as well when I want to flop for an hour in the afternoon and then get back to the task at hand. Most people are more resolute, or set up a tarp and table outside to let the tasks be somewhat weather-dependent. I’m less enthralled with multitasking spaces than most folks, as I see most of them as requiring a commitment similar to an assembly line. I prefer more of an adaptable living space that needs little to no conversion. But that’s just a personal preference.

        • Solar installation is always a conundrum, since some outfits do well with improvising while others do not. For lack of any smarter response, what I’d do is contact the FWC dealer in Jackson WY, Salt Lake City UT, or Arvada CO. Mine in Prescott AZ is qualified as they do both solar and vehicle mods, but that’s pretty far south to go. Anyway, I thought you could call one of these dealers to ask if they do such installs, supply components or expect you to, or can refer you to a specialty shop/component source they trust in their area. I think Jackson WY would be my first inquiry, just from my remote impression of them and the town. It’s somewhere to start, up north. There are closer dealerships to you, but my gut feel about them is not as good.

  5. Welcome back, Doug.

    Don’t think me too weird, but your bed is what interests me most, for my own future design, of course. An air mattress is a big weight saver, but all I’ve encountered started leaking shortly after first use. One that can survive fulltime use is of great interest to me.

    Is the bed platform a solid/composite surface? I’m thinking an underlayment, not unlike what is underneath a typical house carpet, would not only create some insulation, but provide an extra layer of cushion. Just thinking out loud.

    Glad your engine rebuild was successful. Looking forward to future posts.

    ps. Not to question your fashion sense, but are those “meese” on your sheets, and what on earth are they doing to those poor trees? 🙂

    • Jim, I might be getting away with something on leakage since my back is happiest when this mattress is barely inflated and the foam is doing most of the work. So far, I have yet to add air for anything other than altitude changes, including 2-1/2 months here, stationary. I believe that the bed platform is plywood. I would think that foam carpeting underlayment might work well, but with the same caution as everything else including the factory mattresses and my setup. The goal is to prevent trapped moisture and mold/mildew between the platform and the bedding, which under high condensation conditions can come running down from the fabric sidewalls. In my case I left a roof vent open in the rain once. They advise occasionally positioning the bedding so the area gets a chance to air/dry out. The need is highly variable based on where you camp, but is worth a touch or check now and then no matter what.

      Yup, moose and pine trees, bears, and pine twigs with pine cones. Personally, in order to get a good night’s sleep, I find it best not to dwell on such mysteries.

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