Swags as camp bedding

Swags and a comfortable nights sleep

For the vehicle based traveller or camper, the swag has long been the best option as a sleeping platform.  Basically a canvas sack containing your blankets and a thin mattress, it is simply rolled up when stored and unrolled again when needed. 

After years of camping, I have found the swag, if I am travelling alone, to be the easiest and most comfortable way of achieving a good night’s sleep, no matter the weather.  Swags now though, are no longer just the roll of canvas thrown onto the ground.  Most have a two or three hoop system that effectively turns the swag into a cross between a small tent and a cocoon.  This has the advantage of keeping the canvas away from your body.

Traditionally you would roll your swag onto the ground, crawl in, pull the canvas and blankets over your head and settle in for the night.  This was fine if the weather was cold but it could become extremely hot and uncomfortable otherwise.  If it was too warm to have the canvas over your head, you would pull it back so you were exposed to the elements.  This meant you would attract the attention of mosquitoes and other undesirable creepy crawlies.

The next step in swag evolution was the insect free mesh.  This was sewn into the swag so the canvas could be pulled back, leaving you covered with only the insect proof mesh.  This was an improvement but having that mesh sitting against your body could become annoying.

Now swags usually have two or three hoops; one at each end and, sometimes, one in the middle.  The two ends are pegged, keeping the hoops upright and the canvas taut.  The base of the swag is also pegged.  The top layer of canvas unzips revealing a layer of insect proof mesh.  This unzips also allowing access to the swag.  The mattresses provided are usually top quality, insulated and quite thick.  A quality sleeping bag and pillow are all that is required to ensure good night sleep.

Most will allow the canvas behind your head to be unzipped to let the air circulate, along with the canvas at your feet.  The model I have allows both the canvas and the mesh to be unzipped at the head of the swag, which can be another access point.  I have these two sections unzipped in all but the coldest weather.

The canvas is an excellent insulator against the cold.  Combined with the insulated mattress you are unlikely to feel any cold seeping in beneath you.  In the warmer weather, the entire canvas covering can be unzipped and you can sleep underneath the stars with only the mesh between you and them.  You could unzip the mesh too, but here in South Australia, this would mean mosquitoes and spiders – and I don’t like either.

Although this type of swag takes a little longer to set up than the traditional swag, the effort is worth it and the time still negligible when compared to the time taken to put up a tent.

The only negative in camping with swags is the storage space they occupy.  Once rolled up, they demand a fair bit of room in your vehicle and in your shed at home.  This is not a problem if you are travelling alone, but two or three people all with swags will take some planning in the transportation department.  Of course, if you have a ‘ute’ as is often the case here in Australia, this is not going to be an issue.

Swags are also ideal if a number of one night stops are planned, due to their ease of setting up.  They are also easy to erect in the dark if necessary.

If you are a regular outback or bush traveller, or a camper who likes to go it alone, then a swag is by far and away the simplest accommodation option.  A quality swag will keep you warm and dry in the cold weather and provides an insect proof shelter in the warmer weather.  A well eared rest is virtually guaranteed.