You want to know the key difference between an RV mattress and your regular mattress?
No-one’s trying to tow your house down the street with you in it.
Thanks for coming to our TED talk…
OK, that was a touch facetious, perhaps. Pull up a chair and we’ll tell you the real difference.
No-one. Is trying. To tow your house down the street with you in it.
Really, that’s a bigger point than it might sound.
Here’s the thing.
We loooooove a good mattress. A good mattress can be huge, it can be thick, it can absorb our every care. A good mattress on our bed at home can be our happy place in more ways than one.
Breakfast in bed. Family snuggles of a Sunday morning. The two of you and the dog, looking up at you adoringly from the bottom of the bed. “How you doin’?” moments.
Late night comedy from the comfort of your bed. And of course, the wonder, the joy, the “everything on pause for another day” miracle of good sleep. Posture-maintaining, care-releasing, rejuvenating sleep.
There are three things to remember though.
Mattress-width, mattress-length and mattress-thickness.
At home, these are barely considerations when you compare them to everything a good mattress gives you. And, in case we didn’t mention this, nobody’s trying to tow your house, or even your bedroom, down the street with you in it.
Sure, you have to fit your chosen mattress in the room, and if you have comically low ceilings, you might have a height issue if you get a Snooze-A-Matic Dynamic Springfest, but basically, any bedroom you have will be big enough to let you have a comfortable mattress.
How big are the bedrooms in your RV?
Sure, there are some that are acceptably big, but there are also a lot of RVs out there where the rooms are smaller than some mattresses you’d have in your bedroom at home.
There are RVs where the rooms are oddly shaped. There are RVs that only come with bunk beds, which unless you’re embracing your Inner Child in a serious way (no judgment, by the way – you do you), you won’t have slept in since your Inner Child was also your Outer Child.
And mattresses on RVS have traditionally looked – and even more traditionally, felt – not quite right.
The reason for that is that they’ve been not quite right.
Some makers of RV mattresses will make their regulation mattresses in shorter forms for RVs. Or thinner forms. Or they’ll take some of the springs or gel or foam out of the mattress. Because they care.
More flippancy? Actually, no – this is the cold, hard fact of traditional RV mattresses. Manufacturers of course know that they need to sell RV mattresses on the same sorts of terms as they sell luxurious bedroom mattresses, so what you might see is the likes of a “Three-Quarter-Queen.”
That’s sales-speak for a Queen-sized mattress that’s been reduced in size to fit a typical RV bedroom – say from a standard 60” x 80” to something like 48” x 75”.
Or you’ll see labels that advertise a “Queen Short” – yes, that’s exactly what it is; a standard Queen mattress with, say, five inches chopped off the bottom of it.
What the hell gives, right?
The Hell Of Bad Mattresses
Partly, the mattress makers really are trying to be as helpful as possible, knowing that the requirements of an RV are in no way the same as the requirements of a static bedroom.
RV mattresses have to fit odd shapes, thinner shapes, shorter shapes. So, they make the mattresses to fit RV standards, rather than bedroom standards.
They even take into consideration the fact that in all likelihood, RV mattresses will need to bend, to be taken in and out of rooms on a much more regular basis than any bedroom mattress can reasonably expect.
All of which explains why if you’re tall, you might well end up with your legs dangling off the end of an RV mattress – or even worse, with them halfway up an RV bedroom wall.
It also explains why if you have the temerity to…y’know…have hips, you might spend many a night in an RV wishing you’d brought your climbing ropes to make sure you don’t fall out of bed butt first.
You Can Have My Springs When You Pry Them From My Cold, Dead Hands
All of which can be irritating enough. But when they come for the innards – the lovely, plush, springy, jellified, foamy things that actually make a mattress a mattress, rather than a tortilla wrap…then, most people would agree, they need to be stopped, and strapped a chair, and asked in a tone of desperate calm just what in tarnation they think they’re about.
Because they do, of course. They come for it. RV mattress makers are notorious for not only taking inches off the end, and inches off one side, but gutting their mattresses of all the good stuff in between the top and bottom.
They take the marshmallow out of the S’more, but still call it a S’more, and very clearly, they need to be given a stern stare, a time out and a dictionary of mattresses, showing them clearly that they’re meant to be comfortable.
Except of course, if you were to stop them, and strap them to a chair, and ask them in a tone of desperate calm just what in tarnation they think they’re about…they would tell you.
Y’know what they’d tell you?
They’d tell you that no-one’s trying to tow your house down the street with you in it.
The Apollo Factor
Essentially, when you’re in an RV, traditionally, physics has been against you ever getting a good night’s sleep. The reason is the same reason astronauts never took deluxe feather-topped queen mattresses on the Apollo flights.
As well as the fairly similar restrictions on space and maneuverability, the key issue with that plan is weight. Weight versus thrust as a function of fuel, in fact.
Whenever you’re in an RV, the engine has to pull every pound of weight that’s in the living quarters, whether it’s a built-in, bolted-together RV, or a towed travel-trailer.
Every pound of weight it carries burns more fuel, puts the engine under greater stress, and nudges the system overall towards jeopardy.
So, they take out as much of the cushioning middle as possible, to give you the best – and longest trip possible.
There’s an argument which says mattress designers who do this should be forced to take a trip in an RV with a group of friends and the mattresses they’ve designed before they’re allowed to sell them to the public.
There’s another argument which says that at least one of the group of friends will crack and real the spot where they buried the body on their return.
Hope, Springs And Light Foams
But don’t despair!
Faced with an increasingly enraged army of RV users (there are reputed to be 9 million in the US alone), RV mattress manufacturers are finally taking notice.
Lighter foams are coming in. Super-technical gels are being used to make mattresses as comfortable as ones you’d allow in your bedroom, but light enough for RV use.
The whole weight ratio debate is being re-thought, so that smarter use of construction materials is cutting the weight of modular units without compromising on strength or integrity, which means within certain financial limits, as God is your witness, you need never sleep squinky again!
The joy about this revolution in 21st century RV mattress making is that now it’s started, it doesn’t look like it’s due to stop any time soon. As more and more lighter, longer, wider, thicker mattresses are coming onto the market, in fact becoming more similar to the mattresses you have at home, RV owners are driving the revolution with a continual round of ‘What else ya got?’ thinking.
So, many of the top-end technologies are making their way into RV mattresses – motion isolation, pressure relief, memory foam. You name it, mattress designers are finally making mattresses that balance weight, size, and length with the notion that human beings might actually get a good night’s sleep on them.
RV engines, incidentally, appear not to be the delicate swooning flowers we thought they might be. With lighter foams and gels, they’re carrying their well-rested passengers just fine.
And RV owners are asking for RV-specific technologies now, like temperature regulation on top of motion isolation, to give you relief from your twitchy, restless legs after a day hiking trails, taking selfies with small, confused animals or running away from bears (depending on your level of trail adventuring).
The New Dawn
RV mattresses have traditionally been different from regular mattresses in every possible way designed to increase the sum of human misery – too short, too narrow, and too painfully thin.
There’s always been a logic to why they were that way. But this is the 21st century. Now, finally, RV mattresses are becoming more like regular mattresses, but with the additional technological advances that RV owners have been too sleepless to ever know they needed.