But you don’t have to put up with it. There’s nothing that says you have to sacrifice a good night’s sleep for a mobile lifestyle. After all, we selected mobile nomadic homes as our form of travel so we could travel with our beds.
So, what can you do?
We hosted a YouTube Live event over the weekend presenting on this topic. We’ve edited the video down to just under 30 minutes (as opposed to the over 1 hour long archive) that goes into detail on this topic, including sharing our own personal mattress journey.
The Challenge: Odd Bed Sizes
The difficulty with replacing your mattress, is that so many RVs and boats come with odd shaped and sized beds. It’s part of designing a smaller space. This can range from shorter lengths, rounded or angled corners, V-berths, hinges for storage access, to just downright unique shapes.
So in many cases, you can’t just walk into a standard mattress store and have something delivered. But never fear, you have options!
Here’s some ideas:
- Mattress Topper: A mattress topper can sometimes make all the difference in the world. Order a size slightly larger than your mattress size, and then use an electric knife, serrated knife or scissors to trim it to fit. You can find mattress toppers in many department stores, on Amazon, on Overstock.com or on speciality online stores. They come in all sorts of materials & density from egg crate, latex and memory foam to best suit your desires.
Modifying a Solid Mattress: With an electric knife, it’s fairly easy to adjust a foam or latex mattress to fit. You can also find affordable options at the above listed places.
- Upgraded RV Mattresses: Some RV sizes are fairly standardized (short Queen, rounded corners) and there are some mattress makers who stock these unique sizes. You can find them on Mattress Insider, Amazon and Denver Mattress.
- Custom Made Mattresses: There are several shops that can make you a mattress to fit your dimensions. Mattress Insider is one that reaches out to the RVing and boating communities.
- Building your Own: You can also find individual layers to build your own mattress. Similar to just getting a topper, you’d acquire different layers of density to create your ideal sleep nest.
- Adjusting Your Bed Size: In some layouts, it may not be a big deal to adjust the bed platform to be a normal sized mattress to give you more options.
Froli: Most RVs and boats provide a platform to put a mattress on. If you prefer a box spring feel under your mattress, the Froli Sleep System is highly regarded. The unique interlocking springs can be put together to fit just about any shape of space under a custom mattress.
The Challenge: Standard Size Bed
Many larger sized RVs and aft cabin yachts come with standard household mattress sizes which make replacement MUCH easier. You can just walk into a mattress store and get what you want. This is definitely a consideration to keep in mind when selecting your RV or boat if you want to keep your options open.
But there are some considerations to pay careful attention to:
Height: While you may not need to worry about length & width, do keep in mind the space above your mattress. Do you have a cabinet, drawer or closet doors that open above the mattress, lower head room or does your sleep space convert (such as a drop down bed from the ceiling)? Know what your ideal maximum height is so you can still keep your stateroom’s functionality.
- Weight: Many household mattresses can be quite heavy – which may be a concern in a mobile living space. You should definitely keep in mind your available cargo capacity and not exceed it. And of course, weight can also impact your fuel economy. But you might also have storage under your bed that you need access to – and a heavier or non-flexible mattress may hinder that. Or perhaps your bed folds up during the day, and the mechanism has a weight limit.
Aside from just walking into a mattress store and picking out a mattress (which can often be the most expensive option), there are lots of online options that are significantly cheaper. But of course, you can’t try them before you buy.
There’s been a trend in online mattress manufacturers who will send you their mattress to try for 100 days. If you don’t like it, they’ll arrange to pick it up (and attempt to donate it) and send you a full refund. This is very handy for nomads, as the mattress is delivered to your door compressed, and then picked up wherever you happen to be when your trial ends.
For a great overview and reviews of some of the options out there, we recommend checking out Sleepopolis – they do a great job of covering the options. There’s a lot of options out there!
- Altitude: A lot of RVers and boaters select the Sleep Number beds – these are adjustable air mattresses usually with a foam topper of some sort. For sleep partners who have different preferences for firmness, this can be a relationship-saver. The mattresses are also super light and easy to move around. However, do be aware if you get a household model, that if you’re RVing in mountains that you deflate the mattress first. There’s been a few cases of the air chambers popping with changes in altitude (some of the RVing models apparently have a relief valve to prevent this) and at the very least your firmness is likely to change with altitude changes.
- Ventilation & Condensation: Many RV and Boat mattresses are put directly onto a platform. It’s recommended that you create some sort of ventilation under the mattresses for airflow to prevent mold and mildew. RVs and boats don’t tend to be temperature regulated all the time like a house and may be more subject to condensation and moisture. We’ve heard of everything being used from a product called HyperVent made for this purpose, low pile carpet, anti-slip mats to the Froli system mentioned before.
Nomads & the Pea: Our Mattress Journey
Before hitting the road, I had a TempurPedic classic mattress that I loved (and Chris grew to appreciate too after we met). Chris had a fairly standard innerspring mattress setup.
Our sleep challenges are:
- We’re not exactly tiny people
- We fall asleep curled up together in the center of the bed with a cat draped over us, and then tend to roll to our sides in the middle of the night
In our years of technomadic living, we’ve had 3 different RVs and now a boat too. Here’s what our bedding solutions have been in each:
First Years: Trailer Living
Our first two RVs were super tiny travel trailers (a 16′ T@B teardrop and a 17′ Oliver Travel Trailer). Both has double beds that also converted to dinettes. We used the foam cushions of the dinettes as our base layer, and got high density 3-4″ memory foam toppers as our bed. When in dinette mode, the foam rolled up for storage tucked under the table.
Quite honestly, these were some of our best sleeping foundations ever.
When shopping for our motorhome / bus conversion, we specifically were looking for a standard queen size bed that was also a walk-around (we were tired of crawling over each other – it was fun for our first few years of dating… but…). We wanted the option to choose any mattress we wanted.
We actually ended up trying several mattress solutions, here’s the saga:
2011 – 2013 Topper:
It turned out, the high density RV mattress that came with our bus was pretty alright. So we ordered in a ventilated memory foam mattress topper for it. That served us well for a couple of years, until the topper started to split.
2013 – 2015 Knock off Mattress:
We decided it was time for a “big nomad” mattress. We walked across the street from our RV park and tried everything on the floor out. We both loved the gel infused memory foam by Corscicana. Unfortunately, after several months the center started to show a “dip” in the middle that was getting quite annoying.
2015-2016 Mattress by Trial:
As we were approaching our major bus renovations in the summer of 2015, Lippert Components reached out to offer us a Denver Euro Top RV Mattress to try out. Since we would be rebuilding our mattress platform while upgrading our fresh water tanks (which sit underneath) and replacing our mattress anyway – we decided “what the heck?”. Well, that mattress starting having the center dipping problems after just a few weeks. Denver Mattress did replace it for us, but it too started to show signs of dipping pretty quickly. Our friends the Snowmads tried out the same mattress and loved theirs, but we can’t give it our stamp of approval.
(Incidentally, the Microfiber Sheets from the Denver Mattress RV Collection they included have become our favorites! We liked them so much, we purchased a set for our boat!).
At this point, we decided to try some of the online mattress options with a 100-day trial.
Try 1: Leesa ($840) – In January 2016, we had a Leesa delivered after reading and viewing lots of reviews. We initially really liked it, but it turned out to be too firm for our tastes. It’s apparently much more suited for smaller framed folks than us. Still, high quality and great customer service (picked up within 24 hours of requesting it, and refund immediately applied), we’d give them a thumbs up anyway. (The link above should give you a $100 discount, and us a $50 referral fee.)
Try 2: Purple ($999)– In May 2016 we decided to be bold and order something weird and unusual to replace the Leesa – a Purple. While we’ve heard from many who love theirs, we honestly just couldn’t like it. As best we can describe it, the ‘purple grid’ on top is just way too noticeable. While the mattress did seem to reduce pressure points, we woke up most mornings feeling like we were peeling ourselves off a waffle iron. We were beyond anxious to get this swapped out before the 100-days were up.
Try 3 & Our Winner: Helix ($995) –
In August 2016 we ordered a Helix.
They have you enter in your body dimensions, sleep preferences and any sleeping issues you have – and then they custom make you a mattress with different densities of foam, micro-coils and latex (either a best-blend between two partners, or with two different sides). It was love at first sleep, and we decided to keep it after the 100-day trial and is our current mattress of choice for the bus. (The link should give you a $50 discount, and us an Amazon gift card.)
We originally set off looking for a boat with an aft cabin, which tended to have standard Queen sized beds. But, we ended up with a front V-Berth queen bed – which put us in the weird shaped mattress category. Plus we have a low ceiling which limits our mattress height.
The previous owner had actually installed a dual zone Sleep Number, cramming it up into the front V. We honestly tried to give it a fair shot, after hearing so many glowing reports. But since we both tend to like the same firmness and have a strong preference for foam beds – it just wasn’t cutting it. And to make matters worse, we weren’t snuggling as much because of the “crack” between the two air chambers being right in the middle of the bed (not good for newlyweds!).
While we love our Helix in the bus, we didn’t want to spend a $1000 just to chop it up. We were considering contacting Mattress Insider to get a quote for a custom order, or just go with a cheaper foam mattress off Amazon and cutting it down. We then happened to be in a Big Lots department store and they had a Zeopedic memory foam mattress setup for $399 that we both liked, so decided to give it a try.
I attempted to find an electric knife too (the recommended way to trim a foam mattress), but was unsuccessful. So, I though to myself – “It’s just hacking off two corners.. I can handle it with scissors!”
Yeah yeah yeah, all you experienced boaters know where this is going…
You see, it’s not not just hacking off two corners. Boats are very 3-dimensional, and it’s more like a bowl shape in the front of the boat. It took me several hours of carving the bottom of the mattress to fit. It would have been a LOT easier with an electric knife, but we are lacking a 24/7 knife store at our marina.
We’ve now been sleeping on the hacked Zeopedic for about 2 months, and can say – we love it so far. We’ll see how long it holds up over time.
So, there you have it – everything we have to share about mattresses for RVs and boats.
What’s your mattress solution?