How To Choose A Swag
There’s nothing that gives you the same feeling of freedom as sleeping in a swag — just throw it in the back of the car and you’re basically ready to go. To set it up, just roll it out and within the space of about three minutes you’ve set up camp for the night.
While a tent is a perfectly respectable mode of camping, there’s a heap more setup and pack down time required. Then there’s mattresses, bedding and everything else that goes into making yourself comfortable.
Swag camping is a quintessentially Australian way of camping too. Anyone who’s ever listened to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ will know that ‘swagging’ goes back a fair way in this country — they were even invented here.
It started back in the 1800s when seasonal workers would move from farm to farm for work. They’d sleep outside, where they’d lay out a piece of canvas and a blanket to keep warm. When it was time to move on, they’d roll it all up and head off — their swag and billy (for cooking) was often everything these workers owned.
While swags have come a long way since, they do still manage to conjure the ruggedness and appreciation for the bare essentials of their origins.
The benefits of swag camping
There are plenty of benefits to using a swag, and while it’s true that they can be bulkier than a tent, the benefits can far outweigh any negatives provided you’ve got a vehicle to transport it in.
Ease of use
As we touched on above, one of the key benefits to using a swag comes down to how easy they are to use. Because they come with a mattress, the only thing you need to worry about is a sleeping bag and maybe a pillow for extra comfort. What’s more, to set up, you literally roll out your swag, connect one, two or three poles (depending on what type of swag you have) and you’re ready to go.
Because a swag is made from thicker materials such as canvas, PVC, polyester and polycotton, they provide much better insulation than tents will — so you’ll be cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Swags tolerate greater punishment than tents. You can quite literally throw them in the back of a ute or roll them out over rough ground without doing any damage.
Swags can be used in a whole range of scenarios. They’re great for traditional camping trips, but they’ll also double up as a mattress if you want to sleep in your ute, van or 4X4. What’s more, because they’re so easy to set up they’re great for impromptu getaways.
Choosing the right swag for you
When it comes down to choosing a swag, there are a few things you'll want to look at to make sure you get the right swag for you. Let's take a look at a few points to consider.
Size and weight
Most swags will be one of three sizes: single, king single or double. And within each size category, there'll be a bit of variance between each brand and model. Usually, when deciding on which size is best for you, it comes down to a trade off between comfort and size.
Bigger swags that have more headroom, capacity to store bags and denser mattresses will take up more space when they're rolled up and will also usually weigh more. Consider what matters most for your situation to make sure you get the best swag for your needs.
If you plan to combine hiking and camping, weight should be a serious consideration. The lightest swag in our Dune range is the 4WD Boundary Single Swag, which comes in at 4.3kg, making it a realistic proposition to carry around.
If you're looking at a swag for more than one person, it's also worth weighing up whether you'd prefer a double swag or two singles. While a double will take up less room overall, they can be quite long when rolled and won’t easily fit into all cars. Double swags can also be very cosy with two adults inside, so weigh up how much room you need to get a good night's sleep.
Because swags are usually used for camping with a vehicle, there may not be any need to have room for bags and gear inside the swag. However, some swags do feature compartments at the top and bottom which can be handy for storing shoes, clothes and other essentials, so it's worth having a think about what you need to have with you and what can be kept in the car or outside.
Unlike tents, swags are made of thick fabric, making them tougher and better insulated than a tent. However, the type of fabric the swag is made from will impact how it performs in different conditions.
Traditionally, most swags were made from waxed cotton canvas (aka oilskin). Oilskin is extremely durable, waterproof and breathable, but it is also heavy and requires regular treatments to retain its effectiveness.
Some modern swags are still made from cotton, these provide great breathability, insulation and waterproofing but they can be heavier than other materials and need to be weathered before their first use and then every few years to ensure they stay waterproof.
Weathering a swag is a straightforward process and is basically just wetting and drying the swag a few times to make sure the stitching seals properly. This is as simple as laying your swag out in the yard and hosing it down. Let it dry (properly) and repeat. Pay particular attention to the seams, making sure you get them good and wet - they need to swell before shrinking with the rest of the fabric to eliminate pinholes around the stitching.
Many swags now use PVC or polyester for the floor section. This provides great protection against moisture and is also very durable and fast drying. But these materials don't have the same breathability as cotton or canvas so can cause condensation to form inside the swag in some conditions.
Arguably the best of both worlds, polycotton (a blend of polyester and cotton fibres) is probably the most common material used to make swags today. Polycotton combines the benefits of both fabrics in that it's lighter, hardier and dries faster than cotton while being more breathable than polyester.
Ripstop canvas is a polycotton canvas that provides an even greater durability to weight ratio. Weaving a grid of thicker, stronger thread through the canvas, produces a relatively light, but very strong material that results in a hardy swag that will go the distance without being too big and heavy.
When considering different canvases of a swag, it's important to note the weight or grade of the canvas, which is indicated by the gsm (grams per square metre). If you've ever looked to purchase a new quilt, this is a term you might be familiar with.
The majority of swags fall into the range of 320-360gsm; however, some of the heavier swags boast 540gsm, so that's something to keep in mind when searching for your next swag. As a general rule of thumb, a higher gsm swag is more waterproof and able to handle stronger winds, whereas a lower gsm fabric is lighter and less durable than a higher gsm fabric.
Swags have come a long way from their early days and are now made in a range of shapes. These generally fit into three categories:
- Envelope shaped swags: These use no poles whatsoever and lie flat on the ground. They have the benefit of having virtually no setup - just roll it out and crawl in! However, because they have no poles, the canvas lies directly on your body (including your face if you need to close the swag) which some people can find uncomfortable.
- Apex swags: One step up from an envelope swag, these swags have a pole - or rope to tie to an anchor point - at one end. Apex swags are light and super simple to set up but have the added benefit of giving you a bit more room to move.
- Dome swags: The most sophisticated of the bunch, dome swags use poles to create more space inside and are often spacious enough to sit up and get changed in. The shape of the poles and the taught fabric also helps to direct rain off the swag, so they often stand up better in bad weather.
More often than not, they will also feature mesh panels to provide ventilation in hot weather and keep insects out. The trade off is dome swags will often be bigger when rolled up and are usually more expensive than simpler swags.
Because they give you the ability to set up and pack down your camp quickly and easily, swags can enable you to get out into nature more often. Whether you're into fishing, hiking, 4x4ing or just getting away from it all, a swag lets you pick up and go whenever you feel like it. What's more, you'll stay cosy and dry while you're at it. Happy camping!