Camping swags: A buyers guide

By: David Cook, Photography by: David Cook

Basic accommodation in the bush can be as simple as a few folds of canvas or an elaborate structure with a frame and supports.

Camping swags: A buyers guide
Swags are a personal choice, not just on whether you choose to use one or not, but if you do, the style, size and model to use

Given the comforts of a camper trailer, you may wonder why you’d need a swag, but if you plan to travel to remote regions, they free you up to leave your wheeled bed parked and head forth to explore.

Swags are canvas sleeping pods and were originally (and in their most basic forms) no more than canvas pockets in which to sleep, with a few flaps to protect your head.

Evolutionary pressures have since taken over and swags can now be much more sophisticated and comfy. However, with "sophistication and comfort" comes complexity, so look not just at what you get by way of features, but also the length of set-up and pack up and factors such as size and weight.

Swags are a personal choice, not just on whether you choose to use one or not, but if you do, the style, size and model to use. They are limited in size, so can seem fine at a glance but some people feel claustrophobic once inside, especially over a period of up to eight hours.

For many, however, they are the only way to sleep when in the bush.


Swags are usually made from canvas and require appropriate care to ensure their longevity and functionality.

Canvas needs to be "seasoned" for it to be waterproof. This involves wetting your swag two or three times and allowing it to dry so the stitching swells to seal the needle holes. You need to remove bird droppings, sap and other nasties as quickly as possible to maintain the canvas’ waterproofing, and avoid using aerosol sprays in or around them. Wash canvas only in lukewarm water.

If they do become wet, dry the canvas as soon as possible to avoid mould developing, as this will also destroy the waterproofing. You can pack up wet canvas for travel if you intend to have it out again that night, but storing it in the garage for a month will present a problem.

Heavier-weight canvas is strong and durable, but it weighs more and is less pliable to move and fold.

Modern swags have hoops to hold the canvas clear of you and to create a domed shape so water runs off. Be aware that fibreglass hoops can delaminate and snap and aluminium ones can bend.

Check the quality of zips, insect screens and the mattress. The latter should be thick and dense enough to provide some comfort and to insulate you from the ground. If you like the swag but doubt the mattress, you can always throw in one that’s self-inflating


Swags come in various shapes, from singles through to king sizes, but be aware that descriptive terms rarely match the exact sizings of their standard bed equivalents. If you’re a big bloke, look for larger sizes and, if you sleep on your side, ensure there’s enough vertical room to allow for it.

If you like a domed swag, consider those with enough vertical room (at one end at least) for you to sit upright so you can get dressed or change clothes in comfort.

Access is another issue. Domed swags with hoops sometimes limit access inside especially if your joints are old and your muscles a little stiffer.


Condensation resulting in dampness or ice forming on the inside walls of the swag can occur in cold weather. You can still be cosy and warm inside but it’s smart to avoid this if possible. Vents will help.

All good swags should have insect screening to keep out the unwanted things that fly, crawl or slither. Finer mesh limits airflow compared to coarser varieties but will keep out smaller bities such as midges. It’s a choice only you can make.

A pocket or two on the inside is handy for keys, glasses, mobile phones and other small items.


Swags should be quick and easy to set-up and pack away, otherwise you might as well take a small dome tent. If there are too many pegs and ropes and other bits start to think critically about what you’re getting.

Be aware that swags rarely fit back into the packaging they came in. Experience will improve your technique, but look for a generous carry bag to make it easier until you get to that stage.

All of the measurements for the "Size (rolled)" published in our round-up were taken after the swags were tested, and are not the sizes supplied from the factory, as no matter how much we improve on packing, we never get them in as tight as they come.

As I’ve said above, choosing a swag is a personal thing. Try them out in the store and have the assistant set it up and pack it up for you, as well. Lay in it, close the flaps and give some thought as to how it will perform when it’s pouring outside. Suffering with claustrophobia all night is no fun but, if you get it right, a swag will come in handy for side trips along rough tracks, or the nights when a friend or two wants to join you on your journey, or for when the kids have grown and no longer want to sleep inside with mum and dad.

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Check out the full feature in issue #90 July 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.