How to pick between top or bottom bunk?
October 6, 2008 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Is top or bottom bunk better?

I'm starting an environmental conservation program in Massachusetts. For the next 10 months I'll be sharing a bunkhouse with 16 other program members.

Bunks are either metal or wood frame (not sure) and the kind with rubber mattresses like at camp.

I'm arriving a bit earlier than everyone, so assuming I have first dibs on any bed, which would be better? Top? Bottom? Top next to a wall? Bottom next to a wall?

Ideas for decorating, privacy, minimizing the effects of bunk-mate's movements, or making a fort are VERY welcome!
posted by Etta Hollis to Home & Garden (73 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's easier to make a fort with the bottom one.
posted by stavrogin at 4:07 PM on October 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bottom, next to a wall. You can hang towels and sheets from the upper bunk supports for privacy.
posted by gnutron at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2008

This is completely up to you, but I think the general consensus (as much as one can be had on a question based purely on personal preference) is bottom is better. Easier to get in and out of.
posted by MadamM at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom is better.

I recently stayed at a couple of hostels in Honduras, so had a chance to think about this. Bottom is better because

a) Easier to leave bed and go to the bathroom

b) Easier to leave bed for any reason

c) Depending on the bed, climbing up to the top can hurt your feet (ladder rungs are hard and narrow)

d) It's easier to lay out your clothes and things on the bottom bunk and get to them easily. Store your things on top of the bed on the top bunk, and they'll be hard to see and reach when you're standing on the floor.

Just my $0.02.

Enjoy your program!
posted by toomuchkatherine at 4:09 PM on October 6, 2008

I found that bottom bunks tended to get dirty from people basically stepping on them to get to the top bunk, but I suppose that depends on whether there's a ladder or not (and possibly whether you're living with spacey 11-year-old kids). I've never had a top bunk.

Being next to a wall is nice for the privacy it gives you.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:14 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom is easier to climb in, and you also kinda end up owning the under-the-bed space. At camp, people tended to prefer it. I still pick the top because it is more fun to be high up, plus I like looking up at the roof and not feeling like someone else's bed is on top of me.
posted by salvia at 4:15 PM on October 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bottom, but do a careful survey of the lighting during the day. The bottom bunk can be a bit like a cavern if it's not near the window.
posted by smackfu at 4:15 PM on October 6, 2008

Depends on whether you're sharing with a bedwetter...

seriously though, I usually chose bottom bunk. Like others have said, easier to leave to pee etc and climbing up sucks. I would also choose being against a wall, though I am a classic coccooner so my bed is ALWAYS against a wall.
posted by gwenlister at 4:16 PM on October 6, 2008

Data point:

My roommate and I bunked our beds in college. He had psoriasis, which he never took care of. He also never washed his sheets, and it often looked like his bed had its own snowy microclimate.

I had the top bunk.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:16 PM on October 6, 2008

Top, for serious. Unless you enjoy risking scalping yourself anytime you sit up too quickly in bed.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:21 PM on October 6, 2008

A lot of it depends on ceiling height. I like to be able to sit up in bed, which you can't do in many bottom bunks.
Near a wall is better, too.
posted by emd3737 at 4:21 PM on October 6, 2008


But I've fallen off, so I'm biased.
posted by tmcw at 4:26 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Top. Sleeping under someone else is creepy.
posted by rokusan at 4:30 PM on October 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

bottom. drape a towel/blanket from the top bunk to make it into a cave and you're golden.
posted by ewingpatriarch at 4:31 PM on October 6, 2008

Oh, this is so sad. I spent most of my childhood in the top bunk, so part of me wants to scream "TOP BUNK!". But recently I spent a week at a lumber camp for a retreat, and I'm now heavier and creakier and I have to moan "bottom bunk"*

* I'd moan "bottom bunk" in really small letters the way the cool mefites do, but I don't know how to do that. Can someone tell me how to do that?
posted by acrasis at 4:31 PM on October 6, 2008

Top bunk if you go to bed earlier / wake up later than your bunkmate. Nobody wants someone clambering all over them trying to get into bed.

(Acrasis, you want to type the word "small" enclosed with <>'s, "bottom bunk", then the word "/small" enclosed with <>'s.)
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:37 PM on October 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I had top bunk in college. I liked it, but I'm pretty small. Definitely private, unless you're rooming with a bunch of really tall people. Make sure you're next to a wall; it makes the bed difficult to make, but it'll feel more secure and cozy.

Also, I would prefer to put my head through a drop ceiling than into a bedframe. And I agree with rokusan -- sleeping under someone is creepy.
posted by giraffe at 4:40 PM on October 6, 2008

On top you can forget about everybody.

On bottom, you always know someone is there.
posted by plexi at 4:43 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

i was always a top bunk girl at summer camp: there was a nice ledge for my stuff, it was kind of cozy, i could see out the window...but i often hit my head on the corner of the roof. i think i would still pick top.
posted by janepanic at 4:49 PM on October 6, 2008

Top. Less risk of being awakened by the person above getting in or out of bed.
posted by jclovebrew at 5:00 PM on October 6, 2008

posted by AwkwardPause at 5:01 PM on October 6, 2008

posted by clearly at 5:16 PM on October 6, 2008

This is a decision you have to make for yourself, and no amount of outside opinion will change the one true answer for you. And even if it seems like these answers are helping, it is only superficial and is not getting to the deep personal solution you need.
  • Are you a tea person, or a coffee person?
  • Are you a morning person or an evening person?
  • Do you prefer action, or calm?
  • Are you better with the big picture or the details?
  • Are you a mountain person or a forest person?
  • Are you a collard green person, or a reconstituted fish stick person?
Answer these questions, look deep within, and the answer to "top or bottom bunk" will be revealed to you.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:16 PM on October 6, 2008 [8 favorites]

10 months of living in a bunkhouse is going to make you appreciate a bottom bunk. Surely there will be times when you want just a tad bit of privacy or a chance to curl up and shut the world out, reading a book. Someone can always pop their head over the top of your upper bunk- it is like being that guy who perennially has his door open in college- but you can drape sheets around your bottom bunk or even hang curtains and the whole world will go away.
posted by arnicae at 5:22 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom for handy access to stuff on the floor and a hurt skull when you sit up.

Top for being able to pretend you're in a single bed and added difficulty whenever you're getting out and in.

Elvis/Beatles, John/Paul, cat/dog, pick your favourite.
posted by twirlypen at 5:22 PM on October 6, 2008

I prefer the top bunk, but if you want to make a fort/pseudo-curtains around your bed, bottom would be easier to do that. Sleeping under someone has always weirded me out, though, and somehow the top bunk always feels a little more secluded. Definitely be near the wall.
posted by you zombitch at 5:23 PM on October 6, 2008

Yeah bottom always depressed me and made me feel claustrophobic. I preferred the bathroom complications of top to always having someone above me. But, honestly, for privacy you may want to look into the woods or lesser-used parts of the dining hall. If camp taught me anything, it's that your cabin the worst place to be alone.
posted by dame at 5:42 PM on October 6, 2008

When I was a kid, I preferred the bottom bunk until the night my brother went to bed in the top bunk with an upset stomach.
posted by notyou at 6:20 PM on October 6, 2008

Anectdotally: I have a bunk bed in my bedroom (I used to share a room, but then saw the advantage of having a second bed in my room just before I was about to ditch the second bed). I always sleep on the bottom bunk, mostly for the reasons listed above, but I can't believe that nobody has mentioned how much of a pain in the arse it is to make the top bunk (unless you're 2 metres tall). Definitely go for the wall to minimise noise etc. The top bunk is a pain in the butt, to climb up and make up and go to the bathroom and everything else (you always feel like you're making so much noise, especially climbing up in the middle of the night). You get used to the not sitting up so fast. You might bump your head twice in the first week and then very rarely after that (and if there are low ceilings in the cabin then you'll have the same problem regardless of whether you're on the top or bottom).

You also mention that you'll be sharing with 16 others...does that mean there will be a spare bed? Maybe you could dump your stuff across the top and bottom, and hope that nobody takes a particular liking to you so that you don't need to make the choice. =)
posted by cholly at 6:30 PM on October 6, 2008


Hey, are you coming to SCA in Hawley?
posted by Framer at 6:45 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom just for the sheer convenience of the the bathroom access.
posted by mmascolino at 6:56 PM on October 6, 2008

The bottom bunk is noisier, if the person in the top bunk moves around a lot. If you're a light sleeper, that might be a big factor.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:57 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom, so when the guy on top starts snoring you can kick.
posted by dmd at 7:11 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always preferred top-corner. I went to camp somewhere Very Sandy, so a bottom bunk meant Sandy Bed Time.

Top corner with window ledge==excellence. But, as you can see, this is a very personal thing. Top bunks also sometimes have rafters for hiding/hanging stuff from, depending on the locale.
posted by that girl at 7:27 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom, I bruised a bone in my foot hopping off the top bunk at camp and it ached for months.
posted by TungstenChef at 7:33 PM on October 6, 2008

Bottom (although the 'Fletch in Porridge' datapoint disagrees with me on this one).
posted by djgh at 7:50 PM on October 6, 2008

A top bunk will position you further away from the smell of feet at the end of the day.
posted by demon666 at 7:51 PM on October 6, 2008

TOP! My goodness, I cannot believe the number of responses here shouting bottom. You have your entire life to sleep in a regular bed on the floor, have the convenience of easily going to the bathroom, not climb a ladder.. The reason why I always chose the top was because it was cool, fun, and different. I find it way more private than the bottom since most people aren't going to be peering over the top.

Edward: I'm afraid of heights.
Vivian: You are? So how come you rented the penthouse?
Edward: It's the best.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 8:35 PM on October 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

If my story doesn't solve your have got some problems.

My freshman year roommate and I decided to bunk our bunkable beds so that we could save space (for what...I don't know). He took the top, I took the bottom; it might have been a totally arbitrary decision.

I woke up every morning at 7:40 and stumbled into my calc class. I'd come back home immediately so I could get more sleep in. I loved sleep after class. I'd lay down in bed, and there would be this nice cool spot near the pillow. Putting my head there used to help me fall asleep fast. I never understood why it was nice and chilly, but who cares...I wanted to sleep.

One morning, I came back early because it was test day and I finished early. I came back to my room to get some sleep and I figured out the origin of the cool spot. My roommate was sitting on my bed, naked, after his shower.

Oh my god.

I unbunked the beds and washed the sheets IMMEDIATELY.

The moral of this story is: If your bed is accessible to a wet ass, it will be made wet by an ass.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:31 PM on October 6, 2008 [20 favorites]

Great question. I prefer bottom because of that sense of safeness it gives. While most people have said it feels cavernous or claustrophobic, I'd like to think of the closed in space as cozy :)
posted by saxamo at 9:35 PM on October 6, 2008

If you are on the bottom bunk you hear every creaky noise from the top bunk. Go to Walmart and get some good foam, orange hunter earplugs rated at 29db.
posted by mecran01 at 9:38 PM on October 6, 2008

Two more considerations:

1) Is there a ladder? Is it creaky or possible poorly built? I've stayed at places with no ladder and they were OK but you do need to step on the lower bunk which can feel a bit wrong when there's someone sleeping in it. And if the ladder is creaky or makes noise when you use it, it's really annoying to use it when you're the only one awake and trying to keep the noise down. Given that, if offered the choice between the person being woken or the person doing the waking, I'd always be the jerk. Because they are never as considerate to you.

2) Are there lockers? When I've stayed at hostels with bunk beds, the upper bunk had a nice bedside table on the top of the locker. OTOH, the lower bed can get stuff out of the locker without getting out of bed. Different strokes.
posted by smackfu at 9:41 PM on October 6, 2008

Don't be mislead by all the people suggesting bottom - they are Wrong. Top is the way to go if you value privacy: For example, people will mess up your bottom bunk by using it as a sofa when you're not there. Nobody is going to bother you on a top bunk.

Also, do you prefer emacs or vi?
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:34 PM on October 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Top. Fewer incursions by unwelcome guests. and vi.
posted by beerbajay at 5:12 AM on October 7, 2008

Bottom bunk is more practical. But the top bunk is more fun. You're sleeping near the ceiling, soooo cool!! Weeeee!
posted by ian1977 at 5:15 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Top all the way! Next to a window if possible.
posted by TedW at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2008

Top. You probably don't have a bathroom right next to you anyway.
posted by katrielalex at 6:54 AM on October 7, 2008

Top. If there are rafters, you can hang stuff from them!
posted by MissSquare at 7:13 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Pallas Athena at 7:39 AM on October 7, 2008

The great thing about being on the bottom bunk is that you can reach up with your toes and poke the mattress between the slats on the top bunk. If you aim for right around the middle of the bed, you can be like, "I'm poking your butt," and the other dude's like, "AAGH STOP THAT." So yes, I vote for the bottom bunk.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2008 [10 favorites]

If you should be swayed by the arguments that one may bonk one´s head upon waking from a lower bunk, do check the upper bunk for inconveniently placed rafters that will conk you in the head first thing in the morning. It´s hard to remember not to hit your head when you are not fully awake.
posted by yohko at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2008

It depends on the gross-ness of the ceiling, of course! If it's a spiderwebby, dusty affair, bottom.

If it's decently clean and won't squick you out to be near, top. Top is more private.
posted by InfinateJane at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2008

The nearer you are to the ceiling, the warmer you're going to be. With Fall rapidly approaching...
posted by Orb2069 at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2008

Wonderful answers! Thank you all.
And yes, I will be in Hawley with the SCA.
posted by Etta Hollis at 7:15 PM on October 7, 2008

posted by blue_beetle at 1:51 PM on October 8, 2008

As a regular hosteler, yes, bottom for sure. FORE SURE.
posted by nitsuj at 2:17 PM on October 8, 2008

"[A]n environmental conservation program in Massachusetts." So you'll live in a bunk house situated in the middle of a forest, right? Remember one thing: Zombies can't bend their knees. Bottom.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:47 PM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

At this count, I have top by three over bottom, with a few saying why each one is better under certain circumstances, and a couple "depends on the roof/ceiling" answers.

I'd want top for the privacy and the cool, "Hey, I'm up high!" factor.
posted by misha at 3:17 PM on October 8, 2008

It really depends on the architecture of the room.

The best shared room I've ever had was a flat in London, double height ceilings, with 3 sets of bunk beds. Everyone used the bottom beds for sofas, and they were always full of stuff. One of the guys tied vertical pieces of wood to the bedposts, going almost all the way to the ceiling and hung curtains around the top bed. Heavy curtains. The rest copied him, and the top beds were the best spot in the whole house.

One of the worst shared rooms I have stayed in was at a NGO's headquarters in Chiapas. I got top, but the ceilings were so low I could not sit up straight, it was dark, and condensation from my breath would form on the ceiling 20 inches from my nose, and freezing drops of stinky breath would fall in my eyes once in a while.
posted by dirty lies at 4:19 PM on October 8, 2008

Bottom's best right up till everyone wants to do the hand in a bowl of warm water experiment on the person in the top bunk, who'll pee right into your bunk.

Top. Bring some large bungee cords to hook around the supports and run along the bed. That's the bumpers that'll keep you in bed all night. Bring a bottle of wd40 for the creaks. And bring a bowl, and a way to warm water, and ...
posted by jwells at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2008

Seems to me that it is obviously the top. But, maybe you make a deal with your bunk bed mate to switch every so often so as not to miss out on all the greatness that is the other choice.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:31 PM on October 8, 2008

I like the top bunk because it makes me feel superior to the person on the bottom.
posted by forallmankind at 6:34 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The kid in me wants to say top.

But the sensible adult in me - who has been stuck in a top bunk in a hostel, with people flashing lights on and off - says bottom, bottom, bottom. Seriously a lot more privacy (with the towels around, etc) and peace.
posted by jb at 6:54 PM on October 8, 2008

At camp I always chose top bunk. The bottom bunk always turned into a couch, and I don't like people to be all up in my sheets.
posted by phunniemee at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2008

Wall. Top. vi.
posted by dejah420 at 9:47 PM on October 8, 2008

Top. So much cooler. (By which I mean hey! I'm sleeping way up high!)
posted by desuetude at 6:23 AM on October 9, 2008

I had the bottom bunk in college. A 350 lb neighbor who was not well acquainted with the shower used to visit uninvited and sit on my bed as well as my pillow, and his scent would linger for hours. I found that in general, you'll have people sitting on your bed should you take the bottom bunk.
posted by nevercalm at 9:25 AM on October 9, 2008

Top. That is, unless you think you'll enjoy constantly worrying about the top bunk crashing down and flattening you.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:38 AM on October 9, 2008

Bottom, because you get the storage beneath.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:42 AM on October 9, 2008

Top, no question, though I've had both berths and there is good and bad with both. During finals one year myself and two friends tripled ourselves to cram for the exams of the classes we had barely attended since returning from Fort Lauderdale on Spring Break. We did a triple bunk. You could not sit up in either of the top two, but if you had the very top one you could write study notes on the ceiling and just lay there in comfort studying them.
posted by Rafaelloello at 2:44 PM on October 9, 2008

Oh and on decorating, you can do a lot more with the bottom one. I had these sheets in college that were a forest scene and I took the flat sheet and pinned it up to cover the underside of the the top bunk and had it hang down the wall. So with my fitted sheet on the mattress I had all three closed sides in the same pattern.
posted by Rafaelloello at 2:56 PM on October 9, 2008

It's like sleeping in a tent, and deciding who sleeps next to the door zipper: do you feel more uncomfortable having someone walk over you in the middle of the night when they have to run out to pee, or do you feel more uncomfortable having to do that yourself to someone else?
posted by roombythelake at 5:30 PM on October 9, 2008

At camp I always preferred the top. Made me feel like I was the queen of all I surveyed. Plus, it was easier to hide if I wanted to take a nap and didn't want to be bothered by anyone (especially if I was in a fight with my best friend -- which happened a lot at camp because her constant boy craziness got on my nerves)... if you're in the bottom bunk, you can't really escape view and when the room is filled with people -- you can look like a jerk if you ignore them. Top bunk it's easier to be a loner without anyone taking it personally.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:07 PM on October 10, 2008

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