Let’s face it, Z-folds work a treat for sleeping, but they are hellish bulky. When you pack for a family of five or more, chances are that the mattresses take up half the available space. Most people have experimented with the blow-up balloon type, which pack lekker small and flat, but it doesn’t take long before everyone’s had enough of broken or forgotten pumps and that sinking feeling when a mattress is punctured. It’s only a matter of time.
Somewhere in the middle of the bulk versus reliability debate is the self-inflating mattress. For car-camping purposes, we’re not talking about the lightweight hiking versions. Instead of blowing air in to finish off the inflation, the Carma Quip Rough’it works on a different principle. It inflates to its own optimum; and, when you’re done, you push the air OUT of a solid mattress, saving lots of packing space.
It’s manufactured in a small factory in Durbanville in the Cape, by owners Carina and Marius La Kock. They were river guides for many years, so know about products which can withstand lots of use and abuse. They used every mattress type out there before making their own version in 2006, which was then tested extensively for three years before production began in 2009. The latest version, launched in May 2016, has seen a few functional improvements. It’s less of a boxy shape than before, and uses a new double-strengthened single seam to weld a top layer of PVC-backed 600D camouflage-pattern woven polyester to a bottom layer of 550gsm non-slip PVC. So the exterior is waterproof and inside is a high-density foam mattress, as before
It’s pretty easy to use. Simply remove the rolled-up mattress from its carry bag, unclip the heavy-duty securing straps, and remove the nylon plug − which has been moved from the middle to the right-hand side, to make it easier to use. In two minutes or so, the mattress unfolds itself, and in goes the plug. Reversing the process takes more technique. Unplug, and (starting from the opposite end) make the first few rolls as tight as possible, using the knees to compress the middle of the mattress. Put in the plug when you’re done, have the straps ready to clip in place, and it’s ready to go back in the bag.
I found it very comfortable. The top fabric layer doesn’t stick to your skin, as would exposed PVC. Its contours conform pretty well to the bony parts, yet there is still plenty of high-density foam between you and the cold ground. The Rough’it is appreciably warmer to use than a blow-up mattress because of the internal foam, although a blanket or fitted sheet on the top will add comfort and insulation.
Three sizes are available. We tested the medium, suited to persons up to 120kg. It is 1.95 metres long, 65cm wide and 6cm thick, which seems plenty. The rolled-up diameter is 22cm, and it weighs 3.5kg. The small (1.9m x 60cm x 5cm) packs to a 19cm diameter and is suitable for people up to 100kg; the large (packs to 25cm diameter) is for the big guys of 120kg plus (2.0m x 70cm x 7cm). For the quality, the price is right: Small, R950; medium, R1100, large R1250.
The Rough’it feels like it will last a lifetime of regular camping use if the care instructions are followed. It needs to be stored unrolled, for example. Punctures make little difference, as the foam inside provides the loft. It has a four-year warranty (double the previous two years) and the construction materials should last far longer than that. Cheerier colours might make it feel less military-spec. You do want to be able to find your mattress at night…
I cannot imagine a self-inflating mattress better suited to overland travel. It may not be the lightest or tiniest, but if comfort and durability are concerns, then this is the business.
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By Angus Boswell