Inflation, deflation and packing

Inflation techniques for the permaflate have developed very slowly, advances ocurring generally as a result of trying something new to make things easier in a state of exhaustion, in the dark, after climbing a mountain and putting up the tent. Bear with us over a few more similar trips.

With normal airbeds, the long permaflate included, there is not much else you can do than try to get your head close to the multiple inflation points, not always easy in a small tent, and blow the airbed up.

With the ultra-light and slippery short permaflate sheath, pushing tubes in and out of the sheath takes a few seconds whether they are inflated or deflated. This has produced a major assembly change. Rather than inflate an airbed, you unroll the bundle, pull out the deflated tubes, blow them up and stopper all of them, and push them back in the sheath. To deflate and pack up, remove the partially deflated tubes, push the stack of fully deflated tubes back into one of the three divisions of the sheath, fold over the other two divisions and roll up the result.

Since the short tubes are 1200 millimetres long, the easiest way to inflate them, in daylight or by feel in the dark, is on your feet outside the tent, wild or wet weather excepted. There is a technique for fast inflation, involving slipping the tips of both thumbnails under the edge of the inflation hole surround, so you can hold the tube against your mouth, without touching the back of it. This allows you to instantly blow a flat tube as fast as you can puff the air in. You can still choose captive stoppers fastened near the inflation hole, or loose stoppers in the anorak pocket. Captive stoppers reduce major mistakes, but as I continue living with the system the speed and general handiness of the loose stoppers is winning me over. If showing-off is the aim, I can inflate a tube with two breaths, but three is more comfortable. An inflated tube hanging from the hand defies conventional airbed wisdom. It is under no external pressure or constraint, and is losing air very slowly indeed. Count to five before you put in the stopper if you don't believe me. The 'Read me First' paragraph on screwing in the stopper follows.

There is a 'knack' to putting in most airbed stoppers and the permaflate is no exception. If you were inserting a tight cork into a wine bottle, you would have no luck until you twisted the cork as you pushed it in. Twist the permaflate bung as you push it in, so you are 'screwing' it into the hole. If you want it easier still, moisten the bung. The bung should steadily insert as it is screwed in. Once you start to worry how you are ever going to get it out again (unscrew or lever side-to-side with the fingers) the bung is definitely in far enough, and will resist sleeping or sitting pressures for weeks if required.

This is a close-up of a captive bung in the 9 mm inflation hole. The cord anchor in the bung has been upgraded to prevent the so far theoretical possibility of being pulled out of the bung by an accidental tug. Two polyester cords are inserted in the bung. Non-captive bungs are still available if you prefer.

When you have a pile of six squashy inflated and firmly stoppered tubes, push two tubes (one or two at a time) into each airbed sheath division with the stopper ends inserted last. If a pair of tubes will not insert, they are blown up too hard, so let a little air out of one or both. The tubes will naturally stack 'up and down' in the divisions, and you want them side by side. When all six are inserted put the result down on the tent floor with the sewn-on top section underneath, and give it a few pats with the hand. The six tubes will settle side by side, and an airbed magically appears. If any tubes are still sticking out, push them in and close the three velcro tabs at the end to keep them that way. Turn the airbed over so the sewn-on top section is uppermost. As the airbed settles flat, you will notice it appears to be inflated harder than the squashy individual tubes would suggest.

You can then pack the pillow and buttock support compartments with clothes, compression bags, socks etc. The pillow can be fairly loosely packed, but the buttock support needs to be firm, as it will be under compression pressure all night. You should sleep well, particularly if you follow the 'warm sleeping' hints in the Colour Supplement.

Deflation is best done sitting on a folded sleeping bag beside the airbed inside the tent. Remove all six stoppers and allow them to vent for a minute or two, sweep your hand down the three divisions from closed tube end to open end, which will get rid of most of the air, then pull all six tubes out. The ends of each tube may have a few crumples, so settle these back in their original 'layflat' creases. Once the tubes are flat in their original creases you can pile up three or four, and once more sweep air out with your hand. When you have a stack of six flat tubes in their proper creases, with no crumples and the stopper holes all at the same end, slide the stack of six into a division in the sheath, stopper holes last. Fold the empty divisions over the full one, then turn over the bottom few inches of the covered tube stack being careful to vent air from this first fold. The fold can then be rolled over and over, removing all remaining air from the tube stack until the stopper holes are reached. Don't lose the folded package - it's pretty small.

Since all the tubes in the roll are flat and in their original creases, the permaflate can be stored indefinitely in this form. Self-inflating mattresses should be stored fully inflated with the stopper open, which assumes a great deal of spare space is available at your headquarters.

Rinsing out

Any mouth-inflated airbed slowly fills with moisture, and the colder conditions are, the faster this happens. We have not yet seen a Thought Police campaign on the incredible risks of inflating other people's airbeds, but anything is possible. Not only does moisture build up, but after a while musty smells may appear as something or other starts growing in the friendly environment.

By holding the inflation hole of a permaflate tube to the cold tap, you can run in about half a litre of water, swill it round the inside, then roll the tube up to expel all but a teaspoonful. This takes about two minutes a tube, and clears out the nasties. As far as we know, no other airbed design allows rinsing out.