At Home Sleeping Comfort in The Back of A Truck
Many climbers have love affairs with their camper shells and trucks; with painstaking attention devoted to sleeping platform systems, gear storage strategies and electrical power provisions to bring comfort and convenience to the crag for extended stays. Although conversion vans are the undisputed kings of comfort, many climbers still require the higher ground clearance of trucks or just aren’t found in #vanlife.
Camper truck sleeping systems tend to follow the frugal climber DIY mindset. Using sleeping pads and bags already in possession is the cheapest strategy, but even dirtbags may desire improved comfort since carrying weight isn’t a factor. Using properly sized bouldering crash pads is also a no-cost alternative to a mattress, but many are uncomfortably firm. With careful shopping, foam dorm-style mattresses or mattress toppers with standard bedding accessories are other affordable and popular options that can vastly improve comfort. This strategy works for me, but I found that the mattress toppers break down quickly, both in cushioning and cleanliness. Dust, moisture, and mold infiltrate the foam, and I often resort to a more confining sleeping bag due to the lack of warmth of standard comforters.
Looking for a big upgrade in comfort, some of the new kits from Therm-a-Rest caught my eye to create the “Ultimate Camping Truck Bed.” The vehicle of choice for this project is my 2014 Toyota Tacoma Long Bed with a raised plywood sleeping platform and high rise camper shell.
I forced a few mandates reflecting my experience with the realities of #trucklife: the system could not take up too much of the valuable living space between the raised sleeping platform and the ceiling of the camper shell. Most climbers’ truck setups equally value gear storage space underneath the platform and living space above it, so a reasonable total thickness was important to avoid compromising either. Ease of cleaning was high on the list as camper shells are rarely dustproof, and climbing destinations often require travel across dusty environments. Lastly, waterproofing the foam was a must; condensation, spills, and humidity exacted heavy tolls on any form of foam I have used in the back of my trucks.
Here’s what I found to meet all of my requirements:
- 2 x MondoKing 3D Mattress size L, 5 pounds, 9 ounces each w/stuff sack MSRP $179.95
- Synergy Coupler, 1 pound w/stuff sack MSRP $49.95
- Vela Double Quilt 35, 2 pounds, 5 ounces w/stuff sack MSRP $279.95
- 2 x Compressible Pillow size M, 9.5 ounces each MSRP $26.95
The pair of 77-inch long, large sized Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3Ds barely fit on the platform under the camper shell; the door applied some pressure to the mattresses to close. The Synergy Coupler kept the two 25-inch wide mattresses squarely and tightly aligned with each other as well as webbing loops on the side mated with snap loops on the perimeter on the Vela Double Quilt 35. The Compressible Pillows completed the Therm-a-Rest ensemble.
The Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D mattresses were a little thick at 4 inches (my goal was 3 inches), but they delivered the highest level of camp comfort, immediately quelling any misgivings about losing an inch of the vertical real estate. The encapsulated urethane foam combined with the trapped air provided comfort that rivaled my high-end home mattress and ended worries of water and dirt contamination. The self-inflating design used two valves to draw air in as it expanded from its compressed state. Side sleeping never caused any of the usual shoulder and hip soreness and resultant awakenings I have become accustomed to when using sleeping pads. The MondoKing 3D mattresses boasted an 11.4 R-value, so cold emanating from underneath was never perceptible down to the 40-degree lows that I experienced while testing.
The Therm-a-Rest Synergy Coupler performed its duties without notice, and the two mattresses never separated. The brushed polyester sleeping surface, while not luxuriously soft, provided more next to skin comfort than nylon.
The Therm-a-Rest Vela Double Quilt 35’s Nikwax 650-fill power hydrophobic down, ThermaCapture radiant seams, and full side baffles delivered comfortable warmth down to the mid-40s, as long as I was wearing long base layers and a wool beanie. I found comfort down to 40 degrees by also wearing a puffy to sleep. The toe box had an elasticized “pocket” for feet, eliminating exposed feet in the middle of the night. The quilt provided the same freedom of movement as sleeping in a bed, but sleeping with the camper door or windows open in breezy conditions allowed drafts to sneak in the top, even if the quilt was attached to the mattresses. This weakness of quilt systems presented challenges when conditions favored condensation. In milder conditions, I preferred leaving the quilt unattached for a freer feeling and more venting options. The 20 D polyester taffeta lining was extremely soft and comfortable against the bare skin, and the 20 D ripstop polyester DWR outer shell beaded up both errant spills and condensation drips. A small snap closure pocket at the top of the quilt was handy for wallets and phones.
The medium-sized Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillows, which compacted down to a third of their size, proved fairly comfortable, albeit small for my tastes. The upcycled urethane foam filling provided good resiliency, but I would have preferred more filling in each pillow; I had to stack both for proper height and support as a side sleeper. The brushed polyester facing felt warm and soft against the skin.
After three months of testing, the only wear visible is a small hole in the Synergy Coupler due to constant rubbing against a metal edge on the camper shell door from daily commutes on rough dirt roads. All items cleaned up nicely; the mattresses hand washed, the coupler tossed in the normal laundry, and the quilt and pillows treated like down sleeping bags. Compressing and rolling the mattresses back into their included stuff sacks proved extremely difficult, which was frustrating when expanding gear storage to the top of the sleeping platform for travel. I wound up ditching the included stuff sacks and going with straps. The rolled mattresses are still quite bulky, eating up valuable truck space, and Therm-a-Rest recommends storing the mattresses uncompressed, which can cause the same issue at home.
I can confidently state that the Therm-a-Rest Mondo King 3D mattresses, Synergy Coupler, Vela Double Quilt 35, and Compressible Pillows provided the best sleeping environment ever to grace my truck bed. I have slept as soundly as I do in my home bed down to the 40s, without waking up due to soreness caused by ground pressure. The quilt provided the freedom to move and far more venting options in milder temperatures. At a total cost of $744 for the double setup, it represented a sizeable investment. While less expensive alternatives abound, they have not proven to be as durable and end up needing replacements over time, and thus adding a continued cost to the setup. The other advantage of a kit like this is it easily transfers to tent camping or use in places other than the back of the truck as needed. Again, that’s a little trickier with the cheaper DYI back-of-truck sleeping setups.