Although we are very committed to the type of bed and mattress that goes into our minivan, there are so many choices in products for bedding that even we are having a hard time trying to decide what to recommend for our minivan camper conversion. But rest assured we are looking for the best products to suit the purpose.

We suspect that many people will simply use sleeping bags, but even so, it’s always a good idea to have something else on the upholstery material of the bed, if for no other reason than simply keep it clean. No matter how “clean” you think you are when you go to bed, just the natural oils from your skin will eventually transfer to whatever you touch. And if it is warm when you are sleeping, you are bound to sweat to a certain extent.  Depending on the type of upholstery fabric you choose, it could be stiff and scratchy, which also might be uncomfortable. In warmer weather, you might prefer to sleep on a sheet, which tends to be cooler. In cooler weather, you may prefer to have a soft blanket under you, which tends to be warmer.

We have a couple of flannel quilts that make good mattress pads over air mattresses, and they also add a certain level of comfort over foam filled cushions, especially those like dinette seats usually have, with decorative buttons sewed into the upholstery or welting around the edges. Foam cushions don’t really need buttons, as the buttons were originally intended to keep layered fillers, such as cotton batting, in place. Solid foam doesn’t move inside cushions, and it will stay in place on its own, without any help, and any buttons you see on those types of cushions are for decoration only. Still, if you happen to land on one during the night, it can be like sleeping on a rock!

And welting today is usually made of a plastic rope-type material, over which matching fabric is wrapped and then it is sewn into all the corner seams on some cushions, just to make nice crisp edges. Chances are good that you will feel them when sleeping on them at night.  That’s why you need a mattress topper of some kind, and more than just a sheet.

Also, it’s not like the reclining couch/bed we designed for our minivan camper is going to be constantly made up as a bed, although it could be.  But many people will choose to convert it to the couch position for daytime use. A heavy quilt that looks nice with the rest of the furnishings is OK, as it can also help to protect the fabric on the cushions from normal wear and soiling. But anything heavy, like one of those “egg crate” or “contour foam” type foam toppers is not going to work as a day cover, and neither will it fold up concisely. So then it becomes a matter of how and where to store it, and may be a case of “over-kill”. There’s not going to be any “extra” storage for things like that in a minivan.

This is why we highly recommend deciding on what kind of a mattress is going to be most comfortable for you in its natural cushion form, without having to add heavy toppers to it later. You need to spend whatever it takes to get it. And surprisingly it doesn’t have to be a fortune! If you check the price of ordinary mattresses, they aren’t cheap! But we were able to buy the three cushions for our reclining couch/bed design for under $170. That came after some research to see what would work for us.

We decided that we could both deal with the same density in cushions for a mattress as well as a couch. If you and a partner have total opposite needs, then simply divide the couch in half, and order six cushions… a set of three for each half. That way you both have what you want. The only stipulation is to agree on a thickness, so that neither the couch nor the bed will look funny with one side “looking” different than the other!

Three considerations when buying foam cushions for your minivan bed…

(1) Your own comfort HAS to come first. Some people with very straight backs can sleep on a hard surface and be comfortable. Others, who have some natural (or otherwise) curvature to their spines may need something they can sink into and support their body more evenly. Choose wisely. If unsure, it may be better to start with a more dense foam, and add a “contour foam” topper to it if necessary. If you start with something too soft, there is little you can do to make it stiffer.

(2) For something that serves as a couch AND a bed, density has to be taken into consideration. When you are laying down, your weight is distributed more evenly across the entire length of the bed. But when you are sitting, a smaller portion of your body is going to be putting weight on one particular part of one cushion. Therefore, you need a type of foam that is a compromise between a more dense “sitting” type foam, and a less dense “sleeping” mattress type foam. If in doubt about what kind you should get, talk to someone who knows foam, like a customer service rep at The Foam Factory. They can help you with your decision.

(3) Most foams break down over time, and are rated in “years of normal use”. Many RV companies get a bad reputation for cheap foam in their cushions, because they try to save a few bucks over a great many units that they produce. It doesn’t have to be that way. When choosing the foam YOU want, you can specify what grade of foam YOU want, in (1) thickness, (2) density or composition (some are made with more than one type of foam as the core), and (3) life span in normal use.

When we ordered the foam for our own van, we looked at all three parameters, and decided that a 4-inch foam was a good compromise between support and allowing sufficient head room in a vehicle that is already limited. A thicker mattress is only going to sit you up higher and take away that head room. We looked at the density of that particular thickness of foam as opposed to the comfort, and then we looked at the longevity of the foam, which directly relates to it’s overall quality.  The we chose the best they had, with a 14-year life span. And the amazing thing is, it cost less than 10% more over the cost of the very cheapest foam they had. So again, don’t cut corners with comfort. The components of this van are not something that you are going to trade in when you trade vans! You will be keeping and using this couch/bed for a good long time, even if you switch to larger van later!  You can still modify the frame to work in a larger van, so buy cushions that will last! You can always change the covers on them if they wear out, but the foam should last for many years!

However, if you make use of the rear tent or even a side patio room for additional sleeping area, you may have a cot or air bed out there in addition to, or in place of, the bed in the van. If you are sleeping on an air mattress, they tend to be much colder. Scientists will probably say that compressing air generates heat, but I believe that is only true beyond a certain compression rate or pressure. The pressure in an air mattress never reaches such high levels, and has always felt to me like it goes the other way… becoming cooler. Also, as I have gotten older, I notice more that my joints hurt in the morning when I don’t use some kind of insulating pad between me and the air mattress. Without some insulation it’s not much different than sleeping on cold concrete… except that it is much softer. Still, you don’t have to get fancy, and many times just some sheets and blankets will do… OR the aforementioned sleeping bags for cooler weather.

And no matter where you sleep, in your minivan or on an air mattress in the tent, always consider the extremes of where you will be camping. Even in the desert Southwest, you can have temperature swings of 40 degrees or more between night and day. The elevation at which you might be can also make a huge difference. Depending on whether you use supplemental heat is going to make a difference in what kind of bedding you choose.

Always be prepared with the proper equipment. For sleeping bags, they are usually rated by temperature, as far as how cold it can get outside of it and still keep you comfortable. We recommend a sleeping bag that can be unzipped around the edges to open up into a full cover, and preferably one rated down to 20 degrees. Maybe you are thinking that you will never camp in weather that cold, but circumstances can change… literally overnight! A January day, even Arizona, may be 60-70 degrees while the sun is up, but nighttime temperatures can quickly fall below freezing, especially if you are over 2000 feet elevation! If you are out boon-docking without electricity and using your Mr. Buddy heater for warmth, remember, it’s only good for about 5 hours, unless you have it connected to a larger tank of propane!

So besides a quilt or mattress cover, a couple of sheets, and a couple of sleeping bags (it always pays to carry two, even if you camp alone), what else do you need? Let’s get real here… a minivan or tent is not something that you are going to invite other people into to show off how you live! Even if you leave the couch made into a bed most of the time, who is going to see it? And a better question… why would you need to impress them?

Still, if you feel a need to do that, a nice bedspread to match the interior of your van is sufficient. The couch/bed is 48-inches wide, or (as they say in the trade) a “3/4-size” bed. However, covers for a typical “full-size” (which is 54-inches wide) will work nicely. There will be just enough room on each side to tuck the edges in by the wheel wells, and the length will be just fine. If there are two of you along for the ride, and one or both is a “cover hog” then you might want to go to “queen-size” (60-inches wide) for sheets and blankets, just to have a little extra to roll up in. And if you each have your own sleeping bags, that will take care of most of the problems.

Beyond these suggestions, it’s up to each individual person based upon their own preferences. You can be as minimalistic or as fancy as you want to make it. The main thing, is… make it your own.

We could really use some ideas for this topic from our readers. Go to our blog and let us know what your preference is for sleeping gear, whether you use normal bedding or sleeping bags, and then we’ll try to provide some choices of products in the most popular lines.

Oh, and by the way, most online department store shopping, including Wal Mart, will allow you to have your items shipped to your local store for pick up. That saves you both shipping fees, and the worry of how to order things online and how to get them when you’re traveling. If you are close to a state border, you could even have it delivered to a store just over the line, and “maybe” save sales tax, too!  All you have to do is enter your local zip code or city/state, and the site will find the closest store for you. They will even send you an email when it arrives and can be picked up. It can’t get any easier!  Like Mikey used to say… try it… you’ll like it!

Thanks for your help. USA, LLC