At the end of July I had an opportunity to “camp” in a cabin at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The cabins have platform beds, which the park concessionaire’s Website described as being
“… a firm, three-inch mattress on a bed frame or platform. They come as double, single or bunk beds. The beds are quite firm, so if you prefer something soft, we recommend you bring an air mattress or pad to place atop the platform bed’s mattress to add a cushioning. No bedding is included. Bring sleeping bags or bedding, or rent the Camper’s Package which includes sleeping bags.”
Added cushioning made a lot of sense to me, but presented a night-time dilemma: Although I still had a sleeping bag, I had long ago given away the Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad I bought many years ago.
Here’s how I solved my need for a cushy bed.
“Camp Bed” Bunking
Discussion with the staff at the REI outdoor gear store near my home convinced me that a “camp bed” was just what I needed for a good night’s sleep.
While the store carries a wide variety of camp beds and sleeping pads, I was told that either the 2.5” or 3.5” REI Self-Inflating Camp Bed should be ideal for use for a platform bed like the one I’d be spending the night on in Lassen. The slimmer of those two beds costs $89.50, the “fatter” runs $119.00 to $129.00, plus tax.
Here’s how the REI Camp Bed works.
Rent or Buy?
“Fatter” meant “better” to me, but I debated whether it was worth the money to buy a camp bed since I’d only be using it one night during my stay in Lassen before spending the next four nights sleeping in a “real bed” at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.
While there are similar “rustic” cabins for rent in a state parks near my home, I had no plans for bunking there any time soon. A purchased camp bed could end up unused and gathering dust in a closet, and then unneeded when I was either wheeled off to “The Old Folks Home” or went into that eternal end-of-life sleep under, rather than over, ground.
So instead of buying a camp bed, I decided to save money and rent the 3.5” “Regular” (72” long x 25” wide) model from REI.
Although I would only sleep on the camp bed for a single night, my Lassen trip would last six days. So I’d needed to pick up the bed from REI two days before I left and return it the day after I got back. The 9-day camp bed rental cost $40—no charge for the pickup and return days, $10 for the first day and $5/day for the next six days.
Unfortunately, REI doesn’t have a “rent-to-buy” program for camp beds, but at least I’d increased the odds of sleeping well in my Manzanita Lake “Camping Cabin.” And by renting instead buying, I probably would save enough money to pay for the gas my car would burn up driving to and from Lassen.
Camping gear available for rent varies between REI locations. Although you can purchase clothing and other goods from REI’s Website, you’ll have to either phone or visit an REI store to arrange gear rental.
To avoid the possibility that my phone order to rent a camp bed might get misplaced, I went to the REI store about 15 minutes’ drive from my home. My first visit to set up the rental was about six or seven weeks before my trip, but the REI computer system wouldn’t let me reserve a camp bed that far in advance. So I returned to the store about three weeks later, paid the $40 rental fee up-front, and was given a receipt and copy of the rental agreement.
“Test Driving” My Camp Bed
Since I’d picked up my REI Camp Bed two day’s before leaving for Lassen, I was able to take it for a “test drive,” just to make sure it worked. And it did. Sort of.
After pulling the bed out of its stuff sack, I carefully opened the valves on opposite corners of one end of the bed. I had expected that the bed would self-inflate with a big “Whoosh!” and immediately pop-up to its full 3.5” thickness.
No such luck.
After waiting about 10 minutes, I grabbed a tape measure and found that the camp bed was only about 2” thick.
Assuming that like the proverbial “watched pot” that never boils, a “watched self-inflating camp bed” never inflates, I went off to have lunch. But when I returned 45 minutes later, the camp bed still hadn’t expanded to more than 2” thick.
After verifying that I’d been given the 3.5” camp bed instead of the 2.5” model, and failing to finding an answer to the not-quite-as-self-inflated-as-it-should-have-been problem on the REI Website, I phoned the REI store.
“That camp bed that you rented to me won’t fully inflate,” I told the REI store clerk.
“Blow into the valves to firm it up,” he said.
“Uh, okay, I’ll try that,” I responded.
Click. Put down the phone. Blow into valve. Oops! Close one valve, blow into the other, dummy, so the air you’re huffing and puffing into the bed doesn’t escape as fast as you blow it in.
Well, that worked. And deflating the camp bed and getting it back into the stuff sack was a breeze.
The next day I arrived at Manzanita Lake about 5 pm, spent an hour or so checking into my cabin, unloading the car, and taking a stroll down to the lake.
The sun was getting lower in the sky, and since the cabins have no electricity and sit in a shady grove of trees, soon the only light I’d have would come from the cabin’s single battery-powered lantern and the flashlight I’d brought from home.
So setting up the camp bed and my sleeping bag while I could still see what I was doing made sense even though I didn’t plan to hit the sack for another three hours or more.
With just a little extra effort, I got the camp bed to inflate to its full upright thickness, and I locked the valves to make sure the air wouldn’t seep out while I was asleep. (Some REI Camp Bed purchasers have complained that the valves leak, but I didn’t experience that problem.)
My 30” wide sleeping bag hung over the sides of the narrower 25” wide “Regular” size REI 3.5” Camp Bed. (Unfortunately, REI doesn’t appear to rent the 29” wide camp beds).
If I turned over in my sleeping bag with its outer nylon covering, it and I would slide off the camp bed. Although I made a “soft landing” on the platform bed’s mattress instead of falling in the other direction and onto the cabin floor, having to get out the sleeping bag, re-arrange it on top of the camp bed, and then climb back into the bag, was annoying.
The Bottom (of the Camp Bed) Line
There’s no question that using the REI Self-Inflating Camp Bed gave me a firmer foundation for sleeping than I would have had by putting my sleeping bag directly on top of the my cabin’s platform bed mattress.
But periodically sliding off the camp bed in the middle of the night was irritating. If the sides of the platform bed had been higher, the bunk narrower, if I’d been sleeping atop a camp cot which would have “cradled” me and my sleeping bag, or if I had the 29” wide camp bed, I might have stayed in one place as I slept.
Overall, I’m glad I rented the REI Camp Bed. And, if I regularly went car or tent camping, or stayed in a “camping cabin” like the ones at Manzanita Lake, I ‘d consider buying one. However, the customer complaints about the REI Camp Beds leaking air would prompt me to investigate other camp bed and air mattress options before making a final decision on which to purchase.
(Tales Told From The Road publisher Dick Jordan stayed at Manzanita Lake Cabins and Drakesbad Guest Ranch as a guest of the Lassen Volcanic National Park concessionaire. Click here to read more about visiting the park.)