Swag vs tent - which one do I choose?
A quality swag or tent makes getting away from it all super easy. Both are essential elements of your overnight camping and hiking pack, and understanding their pros and cons is necessary for making sure you get exactly what you need.
So, what will it be? A tent or maybe a swag? Let's look at swags first...
What is a swag?
Swags are compact sleeping spaces and beds designed to protect you from the elements when you're camping. They come with a mattress as a design feature and, when compared to tents, they're smaller, often more affordable and easier to erect.
Essentially, the compact nature of swags means they are designed to accommodate one-to-two people. They're also not as tall as tents, so they don't offer a lot of headroom. That means, if you're prone to claustrophobia or you sometimes feel uncomfortable when in small spaces, opting for a swag could be a mistake. A small tent, which will still be larger than a swag, might be a better choice for you.
Swags are constructed from heavier fabrics than tents - like cotton, PVC, polyester or poly-cotton - providing a good measure of water-resistance and making them popular with people who have direct vehicle access to their campsite. Mattress thickness also plays a role in determining the overall weight of your swag. The thicker the mattress, the greater insulation against the colder ground, but the heavier the swag roll.
Due to their weight and bulk - even when packed down - hikers tend to gravitate to tents instead, which are much lighter and pack more conveniently, making them less of an issue on long treks and placing less strain on your back too. As a general rule, bigger swags with more head and leg room are heavier.
In the case of double swags (two-person swags), they can be too big to fit in small or medium passenger cars, which means you'd need to consider getting a roof rack fitted to your vehicle.
Different types of swags come in varying shapes, and the choice really comes down to personal preference. You can choose between a simple envelope shape, where the canvas sits over your face (again, avoid this option if you don't like tight spaces), or ones with poles that includes one vertical apex pole at the end or dome-shaped pole. You can also choose between a swag that has entrances from one or both sides, or via the top.
The verdict on swags
If you're camping alone or with another person, and you don't need much space, swags are the ideal option. Their breathability, construction and versatility make them suited to slightly milder and more consistent weather conditions but there are also water-resistant swags too.
If maintained properly, a quality swag will give you years of reliable use, so choosing a quality swag is paramount. For more expert advice on which is the right swag for you, check out our helpful buying guide. We've also put together a great guide on how to choose a swag.
What is a tent?
As opposed to swags, there are different types of tents for varying weather conditions and camping environments, and you can find a range of tents for one-person camping right up to the larger tents that can easily fit 12 people.
Knowing how many people you'll typically want to accommodate, how long you're camping for, and how long it takes to erect the tent will help you decide which one is right for you.
There are tents big enough for large families, and there are tents light enough to carry on your back while hiking, but the most popular tent designs are ridge and dome tents. The difference between the two: ridge tents are triangular and provide a really simple sleeping shelter (ideal for people who only camp for short periods of time), while dome tents give you more headroom, and are designed to withstand harsher weather conditions. Dome tents are also really easy to erect and pack down, which is great for hiking and backpacking, especially when you're going for a longer time.
Dome tents are available in three types:
- Geodesic - exceptional in extreme weather and for hiking
- Cabin - designed to accommodate lots of people, which is ideal for families
- Teepee - popular at festivals because they're simple and easy to set up.
You can also purchase tents that pop-up within minutes to take the ease of setting up and packing down to the next level.
The verdict on tents
Tents are the smarter choice for families or people camping in groups. They are also better than a swag for campers who prefer a little extra room in their shelter.
Given tents come in a range of sizes and are made from quality, lightweight materials, they provide you with excellent protection from a wider range of weather conditions. As opposed to swags, the ease of setting up and packing down a tent needs to be taken into account, as does their ongoing maintenance.
Single and two-person tents are considerably lighter, and more compact than their counterpart swags, so if hiking and trekking is your thing, you'll definitely get better value from a tent than a swag.
The wrap up on swags and tents
Nothing beats escaping the daily grind and heading off on a camping trip. Personal preference - weighed up against understanding the basics of what you'll be doing when you're camping, how many people will be with you and how much weight you're prepared to carry around - are the main factors that go into answering the question: tent or swag?
Whichever decision you make, investing in a quality swag or tent can give you decades of comfortable camping, so it's worth spending a bit more if you intend to use it regularly.