Wood or metal? Buy or build? Commercial or domestic? Double or triple? And where to buy?
Bunk beds play a key role in your guest’s stay and can affect your reviews to a great extent. Therefore, it’s vital to choose the right ones for your hostel.
This guide covers everything you need to know to choose and buy your ideal bunk beds.
Hostel Bunk Beds - Which To Choose?
Buy vs. Build
Many hostel owners have a do-it-yourself mentality. I’m no other. You might even have a friend who’s a carpenter who could build your bunk beds for you easily. So, why not build them yourself, you ask?
While I do recommend doing many things on your own, building your own bunks is NOT one of them.
There are 3 primary reasons for that:
- 1) Opportunity costs
Opportunity costs are the costs incurred by not enjoying the benefit associated with an alternative choice. In other words, you could spend your time on other things (e.g. marketing) instead of spending your time and effort on building your own bunks.
Your time as a hostel owner is precious. Part of the transition to a business owner is to realize that something isn’t “free” as long as you invest your time on it!
- 2) Actual costs
While I know some hostel owners who’ve built their own bunk beds and claim to have saved money by doing so, none of them were able to deliver any numbers on their asserted savings. It seems like they were so focused on building their own beds that they didn’t do the math afterward to see if it was really worth the effort.
Truth be told, building your own bunks is oftentimes even more expensive than buying them. Big companies have the tools and systems in place that allow them to manufacture high-quality beds at minimal costs.
- 3) Laws & regulations
If you consider getting your hands dirty, be aware of the many regulations on the safety for a commercial bunk bed.
If you don’t comply with all these rules, you can easily come into conflict with the law. That means you
- a) risk getting a fine,
- b) risk a forced closure, and
- c) risk personal liability (!) in cases of accidents, fire, etc.
Disclosure: I’m not a lawyer and this is no legal advice.
We’re not talking about 2 or 3 basic safety rules. We’re talking about 20-pages full of specifications.
Therefore, if you still plan to build your own bunks, be sure to make yourself familiar with all the applicable laws and regulations. The following links can be a good starting point. No guarantee for completeness.
It’s safer and often cheaper to buy bunk beds rather than to make them yourself. Therefore, I recommend buying bunk beds.
Strength & Durability:
The primary difference between commercial and domestic bunks is their sturdiness. Commercial bunk beds are strength tested and must withstand huge pressure where domestic beds would simply collapse and fold.
The main reason is that domestic bunks are often made for kids and don’t take into account drunk overweight adults in their design. Good quality bunk beds bear up to 500 lbs (~230 Kg) per bed.
As an example, commercial metal bunks are typically twice as thick and consequently twice as heavy. That entails an enormous amount of additional sturdiness and prevents them from tilting. Some even have the option to bolt them to the floor.
Weldings of domestic metal beds are typically the first thing to fail. In commercial bunks, the additional thickness allows two metals to fuse together without melting away the actual steel.
Hence, commercial metal bunks are typically more than twice as strong as domestic ones; especially along the railings.
We all have experienced squeaky beds in hostels that wake up everyone in the room as soon as someone turns in their sleep. This is especially the case with domestic metal bunks.
Commercial bunk bed manufacturers know about this issue and take it into account when making construction plans. Hence, the “squeaky issue” is prevented altogether.
I stopped counting how many online reviews I came across that talk about the “squeaky issue”. Hence, investing in commercial bunk beds can even lead to better reviews which in turn bring you more bookings.
Of course, higher quality has a price tag attached. However, just because the initial investment for domestic bunk beds is lower, it doesn’t mean that they’re overall cheaper. Let’s put on the business glasses to get to the bottom of this statement.
Since commercial bunk beds are more sturdy, you have to replace them less often. Therefore, it can be more cost-effective to make a higher initial investment by purchasing commercial bunks instead of buying domestic ones more regularly.
However, in the end, you’ll have to do the math yourself.
Commercial bunk beds tend to have a longer warranty and are typically designed to meet all legal requirements across various continents.
Furthermore, they often provide better service and offer custom designs.
What do others do?
At TheHostelHelper, I believe in copying successful concepts rather than reinventing the wheel. Therefore, let’s take a closer look together on what the most successful hostels do.
- Higher strength and durability
- Less noisy
- Used by 70% of the top 40 hostels
- Higher initial investment (approx. 1.5-2x times the price of the cheapest available domestic bed)
And here comes the beauty of being your own boss into play: It’s your hostel and you are completely free to choose whatever YOU think fits best. There’s no right or wrong. There’s only a solution that fits your hostel either more or less good.
That said, here’s what I would do if I were to start a hostel from scratch in 2019.
I believe there’s a good reason for the existence of commercial bunk beds. They last longer, have more safety features, and are designed for the needs of your hostel.
Commercial bunk beds belong to the category where short-term sacrifice is rewarded with long-term benefits. Therefore, I recommend you join the bigger group of successful hostels and plan a slightly bigger budget for commercial bunk beds. It seems to be worth it.
Metal vs. Wood
Let’s dive into a more controversial topic: Should you buy wooden bunk beds or are metal ones the better choice?
I’ve personally experienced several discussions about this topic that ended up with two offended parties. As if there is THE right answer to the question.
Again, there’s no right or wrong. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You’re free to choose whatever YOU like best.
Let’s take the same approach as above, go through the pros and cons, and see what the top hostels worldwide do before we come to a conclusion.
Strength & Durability:
The material itself doesn’t make the crucial difference when it comes to durability and strength; it’s rather the design. If you bank on commercial bunk beds, they should last a minimum of 10 up to 30 years (depending on the intensity of use).
Besides that, wood tends to expand and contract as humidity rises and falls. So if you’re in a tropical area, it can lead to gaps and crevices more easily.
At the same time wood tends to be easier to refurbish: If it looks worn out, you can sand it down and refinish it. And you probably have to do that earlier as with metal bunks, because some travelers tend to carve messages and names into wooden beds.
Metal bunk beds are lighter than wood because they’re hollow. They’re also more suitable to disassemble more often in case you’d like to change the setup of your rooms.
That’s the reason why many hostel owners choose easy-to-install metal bunk beds for bottlenecks (e.g. overbookings).
In addition, metal bunk beds take less place since the metal frame is smaller. This, in turn, can make the room look bigger.
However, if you plan to keep your beds at the same place, wood is typically more flexible because you can easily install things like privacy curtains and bed lights with the help of a screwdriver.
If you want to do the same on metal beds, it’s going to take a little more effort.
While commercial manufacturers consider noise in their bed design, metal bunk beds still tend to squeak sometimes. This can be partly reduced by adding additional rubber washer underneath the bolts and using the good old cure-all WD40.
But no matter what you do, wood absorbs noise much better.
The nightmare of most hostel owners: hairy, bloodthirsty bed bugs.
Ask 100 hostel owners with metal beds why they’ve chosen metal and 80% will tell you that they wanted to reduce the risk of bed bugs. Years of building your reputation and good reviews can be ruined with one single bed bug invasion.
But do metal bunks really prevent bed bugs?
First and foremost: There’s no such thing as a bed bug proof bed. And don’t let any manufacturer tell you otherwise. Bed bugs like to sip warm blood and they don’t care if they have to walk across metal or wood to get their juice.
That said, metal comes with some properties that can help prevent bed bugs.
Since wood is a natural resource, it tends to breath depending on the humidity. With enough time, this can lead to crevices which are the perfect place for bed bugs and their eggs.
Eggs are a huge problem since they lay dormant for up to one year and bed bugs spray only kills live bugs – not eggs!
Commercial metal bunk beds are typically completely sealed so that bed bugs can’t find a way inside. Furthermore, their smooth surface tends to deter some bed bugs from getting up the bed frame.
Bed bugs like warmth. Hence, metal and its cool nature are less fancied by the tiny beasts than warmer wood. The same holds true for other uninvited guests like termites and rodents.
For more information, check out my guide about how to prevent bed bugs.
Design & Appeal:
While wood definitely has its drawbacks when it comes to bed bugs, there’s one area where metal beds can’t keep up with: design & appeal.
Even though beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, most people prefer wooden beds. Just look around you.
- What is your bed at home made of?
- What about your family’s beds?
- And your friend’s beds?
There’s a reason for that.
Wood is warmer, cozier, looks more natural, is softer, and gives us a homey feeling. It just looks more like “furniture” and also smells better. Moreover, it’s easier to add style and personality to a bed with a wooden frame.
Cool metal on the other side can remind us of a jail or military barracks. That’s super important to note when you plan the design of your rooms.
Make sure when using metal bunk beds that your blankets, sheets, walls, etc. have a warmer color to compensate for the metal. You can also use white metal beds instead of black ones.
With only a few exceptions, metal bunk beds tend to be the cheaper ones and tend to have comparable prices. Whereas wooden bunk beds come in a variety of wood species and with a greater price range; especially when it comes to designer beds.
What do others do?
As you can see in the chart above, even the top 40 hostels worldwide have mixed opinions about this topic. 45% use metal beds, 38% use wooden beds and the remaining 18% use a mixture of both.
Let’s quickly summarize what we’ve learned.
- Easier to adjust for additional features
- More appealing
- Tend to be more pricey
- Higher likelihood for bed bugs
- Tend to be cheaper
- More bed bug resistant
- Easier to move
- Less appealing
As a large low-budget hostel, I’d stick to metal frames. They are cheaper, take less space, can prevent bed bugs and are overall more efficient. There’s a reason they are used in the military. Especially if you’re in a tropical climate zone or if your area is known for bed bugs, I recommend to play it safe by choosing metal bunk beds.
If you aim to establish a higher-priced hostel and you want to “wow” your guests in every possible way, wooden bunk beds can be a great way to achieve that. Their design knows no limits and allows for a more personal and homey atmosphere.
Lastly, if you’re just starting out with your first hostel and you’re undecided about which niche to conquer, I’d start with the cheaper metal bunks and play it safe. Just make sure to compensate for the cool metal with warm colors.
Double vs. Triple
In case you’re unfamiliar with triple bunk beds, it’s basically just three bunks on top of each other instead of two.
I’ve personally seen this only once before and had tons of thoughts, ideas, and questions- for an obvious reason:
By using triple bunk beds instead of doubles you can easily add 50% (!) more beds in the same space. That’s huge.
However, this model comes with three drawbacks by design:
- 1) Lower Practicability
If you’re a seasoned hostel owner, you know too well that it takes more effort and time to put new sheets on the upper bunk compared to the bottom one, right? Now imagine changing the bedding on a third one… Sure it can be done, but your cleaning staff won’t be dancing with joy.
- 2) Lower Safety
It might sound prude to stress the safety aspect of a bunk bed. After all, how many people this clumsy will you come across throughout your lifetime?
Truth be told, it happens all the time. And if you’re already in business, you know what crazy things happen in a hostel.
To this day, there are 5 recorded deaths of people falling from a bunk bed. Hitting their head on a hard surface caused lethal head injuries. And I almost increased this number to a six – no joke.
When I was 6 years old, I was playing with a friend on the top bunk. For whatever reason, we thought it would be cool to strip the ladder and lay it on the ground in front of the bunk bed in my room.
As it had to happen, I fell off head first and hit the metal hook with the back of my head. It looked something like this:
I only have a vague recollection of that day since I was unconscious for quite some time. My mother found me in a pool of blood and sped to the hospital where I had an emergency operation.
The doctor said I was super lucky. If the hole in my head would have been slightly deeper, I’d have lost my life that day – caused by a SEEMINGLY HARMLESS BUNK BED!!
As long as I live, I will carry an inch long scar (~2.5 cm) on the back of my head.
The thing is, triple bunk beds inevitably come with an even higher drop height which greatly increases the risk of injuries. Being a former engineer, I learned early on that the acceleration of gravity is an exponential function:
The additional distance doesn’t increase the danger linearly, but exponentially! That’s the reason why even the lightest shampoo bottle hurts so bad when it falls out of your hands and lands on your big toe in the shower.
Moreover, some guests seem to fear the height.
- 3) Less Comfortable
Especially when you’re located in a hot climate, the difference in room temperature from the bottom to the top is huge. Hence, if you don’t have a proper air-conditioning in place, your guests on the top might have a harder time enjoying a good night’s sleep at your hostel.
What do others do?
Let’s see what the top 40 hostels worldwide do.
Nope, this is no mistake. None of the top 40 hostels worldwide uses triple bunk beds.
I don’t recommend using triple bunk beds despite the increase in overall capacity. I feel like using them in hostels is a sign of placing profit over comfort and a positive guest experience.
Furthermore, if any severe accident were to happen and your hostel just slightly contributed to it, prepare yourself for a lawsuit.
That said, I absolutely do think there is a place for triple bunk beds: In my opinion, they are a great opportunity for military, homeless shelter (better a triple bunk bed than no place to sleep) and in cases of severe natural catastrophes where millions of people need to be evacuated and only little space is available.
But I wouldn’t use them for paying guests. But hey, it’s your hostel and your choice. Use what works best for YOU!
By now you should have made up your mind on the bunk bed model you would like to use. There are only two remaining questions:
- How many bunk beds should you buy?
- And where can you buy them?
Let’s dive into it.
Hostel Bunk Beds - How Many To Buy?
If you’re a seasoned hostel owner, feel free to skip that part. You’ve probably collected a wide range of your own valuable experiences on the topic.
For aspiring hostel owners: If you’re unsure how many bunk beds fit in your rooms, here’s an easy way to calculate it.
As a rule of thumb, plan 110 square feet (~10 square meters) for the first bunk bed and 55 sqft (5 sqm) for every additional bunk bed.
- 1 bunk bed = 110 sqft (10 sqm) = 2 beds
- 2 bunk beds = 165 sqft (15 sqm) = 4 beds
- 3 bunk beds = 220 sqft (20 sqm) = 6 beds
This includes enough space for the bunks itself, lockers and a walkway. Of course, there are other factors involved like the arrangement of doors and windows, the size of your bunks, other furniture, etc.
However, this is a good starting point to prevent any bad reviews from claustrophobic guests. Depending on your area and the cultural background of your guest, feel free to make small adjustments.
Example: People in Japan are often used to sleep in smaller rooms. Therefore, if most of your guests are from Japan, it could be an option to increase the bed density. On the other side, European travelers typically have grown accustomed to bigger rooms. Here, it makes sense to either increase the available space or stick to the recommended numbers.
Hostel Bunk Beds - Where To Buy?
The following list contains SOLELY suppliers that I know that
- a) have been used by other hostel owners and
- b) they were absolutely satisfied and recommend it.
Please note that I do NOT have any relationship or whatsoever with the following companies. In other words: I do not receive any compensation for my recommendations.
Metal Bunk Bed Suppliers
- Designs are made to comply with all safety standards
- Worldwide delivery: all EU countries + Canada + USA + Australia + China + other countries on request!
- But no shipping of mattresses outside the EU
- Prices depend on the actual number of beds and refer to the bed bunk without a mattress
Wooden Bunk Bed Supplier
Lastly, what about IKEA?
I know first-hand how tempting it can be to buy your bunk beds at IKEA. After all, you can get them for less than 200 bucks.
I’ve personally used IKEA for a lot of furniture in my flat and I’m satisfied with the quality you get even for small budgets. However, IKEA bunk beds are not designed to meet the requirements of a hostel. They are simply not strong enough as many hostel owners – who couldn’t resist – can confirm.
In my opinion, running a hostel comes with many pitfalls already. Bunk beds shouldn’t be on your agenda of problems to solve. Therefore, I recommend you stick to good quality commercial bunk beds.
The same holds true for bunk beds from eBay and Alibaba. On these two websites, you’ll find even cheaper ones. Be aware that some of them do NOT meet all legal requirements for bunk beds!
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
Wood or metal bunk beds?
What do you prefer to use in your hostel and why?
Share your opinion in the comment section below!