by Aaron Ambuske May 30, 2019 4 min read

We wanted a better camping mattress. Easier said than done. 

The Hest product story started with an idea to improve sleeping outdoors. I was fed up with sleeping on air mattresses, since they popped, were cold, made lots of noise and created motion during sleeping and really weren’t that supportive and comfortable. Having spent my career developing products, I got excited about the challenge of developing a more comfortable sleep system for the outdoors. This started as a mission to improve my sleep and my family’s sleep, but after seeing the benefits in my family and hearing more people forgoing camping to sleep at home, this became a mission to get more people outdoors enjoying the special experiences created at a campsite with friends and family.

The development process started with foam. From my experience developing products, I often start with known solutions to achieve a goal and look for opportunities to combine multiple known technologies to create a unique combination to achieve a new and improved experience. I knew foam was effective at creating a wonderful sleeping surface from my experience with my home mattress, so I started learning about foam and buying foam to test. I went to boat upholstery stores in Seattle to buy foam, and I bought foam on Amazon for testing. After testing different foam, I started to better understand what I wanted- a minimum thickness of foam to create a supportive and comfortable surface which also compressed down to store when not in use.

Early product sketches of the Hest Camping Mattress


My real breakthrough with foam happened in spring of 2018 when I attended the trade show hosted by the International Sleep Products Association in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had spent my career attending trade shows to learn about materials and industries, and this was the perfect opportunity to learn from the specialists. At the ISPA trade show, I walked the floor and learned more about foam than I ever knew before and most importantly, I met specialists in their field and was able to present my challenges and ask for their recommendations. I learned about polyurethane foam, memory foam, latex foam, foam densities, foam IFDs, etc. I left the trade show with a stack of business cards and new enthusiasm to find an optimum foam combination for an outdoor mattress.

At the same time as the foam development, I was brainstorming and researching options to create a base for the sleep system. My goals were to find a structure to create a stable and solid base for the foam. The structure should create a flat platform and also collapse for storage and transport of the foam. It was also desirable that the structure would have enough mass and stiffness to compress the foam for storage.

Dropstitch design for the Hest Camping Mattress


Our family has purchased an inflatable standup paddleboard, and I was intrigued by the drop stitch construction used for the standup paddleboard. By strain locking thousands of polyester threads between two flat surfaces, this construction was able to achieve a solid surface with a minimum air pressure. I found a drop stitch base for testing on Amazon. It was a floor of a kayak and allowed me to test the concept with foam. These initial tests were exciting and held a lot of potential for creating a base from a drop stitch structure, so I started searching for a supplier and specialists in the drop stitch construction.

Through a connection in the outdoor industry, I was introduced to a drop stitch supplier. I booked a trip to the supplier to learn more about the construction, design requirements and capabilities of the manufacturing process. After my initial trip, I was able to design a base for the sleep system and start testing prototypes from the supplier.

In addition to the foam and base, I wanted to find the best fabric for the sleep system. I was really excited for the opportunity to have a sleep surface with breathable and stretchy fabric. With existing air mattresses, the top surface has to be airtight, and this creates a stiff and harsh surface for sleeping. There have been attempts to minimize this with air mattresses, but I saw the opportunity to create an entirely new experience outdoors with a new fabric over foam.

 

We tested countless fabrics for the Hest Camping Mattress


The initial prototypes used fabric from the local fabric store, but the big discovery occurred at the Outdoor Retailer trade show. Meeting with fabric specialists, they recommended fabrics for the sleep system and sent samples for prototyping. These were fabrics from technical apparel and backpacks. The fabric for the top surface comes from technical apparel and has optimized stretch for the foam and is breathable and durable for the outdoor environment.

With many of the parts coming together from reliable suppliers and specialists in their industry, the prototyping process sped up and more people were getting involved. The testing was shifting to methods to attach and detach the foam from the base. The foam cover construction was now a focus to create a pattern to allow the foam to come out of the cover for washing the cover and optimize the use of the fabric. The foam development was very exciting and uncomfortable nights on prototypes were turning into deep sleep and morning stoke with the progress. Attention was going into the entire experience, so we developed a bag to transport the mattress and pump.

We now have the Hest Sleep System. It has been incredibly rewarding to have more people using the sleep system and enjoying the benefits of a good night’s sleep in the outdoors. We hope you experience and same and most importantly, spend more time outdoors at the campsite with your friends and family!

The Final Hest Camping Mattress prototype.


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