You’re heading out to conquer the Australian Outback. You’ve been dreaming of this camping trip your entire life, and it’s finally coming up. There’s just one thing you aren’t so sure about: sleeping in a swag.
I totally get it. I’m not really an outdoorsy girl, or a camper at all, but when I lived in Australia on my working holiday I was determined to take in the rugged landscapes of the vast outback the correct way: camping.
Wouldn’t you love to sleep beneath the sapphire skies of the Australian outback? Wake up each morning to an endless stretch of ochre, a sea of rust and gold?
A landscape so vast, it’s like the earth’s very soul.
Ok, okay… I’ll stop getting so poetic. But to have an authentic Australian experience, you have to boldly go where there isn’t anywhere else to sleep but on the ground.
Is Sleeping in a Swag in Australia Scary?
This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series.
The answer kind of depends, but I was really curious about sleeping in a swag before my big Australian camping trip. Here are the most frequently asked questions I get about swag camping.
Hopefully it gives you better insight into what your trip will be like!
What is a swag sleeping bag?
Basically, a swag is like a fancy sleeping bag. As you can see, the outside is a tough canvas material. Inside, there is a thin mattress. You put your sleeping bag inside the canvas and on top of the mattress, then zip yourself in like a bug in a rug for a good night’s sleep.
Swags come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and price points. Some are entirely canvas, while others have polyethylene, plastic, or rubber on the bottom to help keep the moisture out. Some might come with the mattress inside, while others you would need to purchase it separately.
They don’t usually come with a pillow, which is fine cause I slept without one for the entirety of my ten-week outback road trip.
Each night, I just put my sweater on top of my small daypack and that worked. In the grand scheme of things, it was pretty comfortable.
What is the history of sleeping in a swag in Australia?
Back in the day, Aussies used to carry their personal belongings in a bundle called a “swag.” These were usually rural workers or “swagmen” who roamed the countryside in search of work. They’d roll up their swags, which had a blanket, some clothes, and basic cooking equipment inside, and stop from town to town, hoping to land a position.
The swagman was seen as this adventurous, independent, and self-reliant figure. He’s a true blue Aussie, a real man’s man. Kind of like John Wayne and the old west are to Americans. Because of this, sleeping in a swag, and the swag itself, became a symbol of outback and bush culture, even making its way into literature, music, and movies.
With My Swag All on My Shoulder – the Seekers
When first we left old England’s shores
Such yarns as we were told
As how folks in Australia
Could pick up lumps of gold
So when we got to Melbourne Town
We were ready soon to slip
And get even with the captain
We scuttled from the ship
With my swag all on my shoulder
Black billy in my hand
I traveled the bush of Australia
Like a true-born native man
Fast forward to today, and swags are still used by campers, bushwalkers, and adventurers as a portable sleeping option. And with all the new features like waterproof canvas, mosquito netting, and foam mattresses, there’s a swag to suit everyone’s needs!
It’s pretty cool how something so simple can become such a big part of our unique Aussie culture.
What is it like sleeping in a swag in the Outback?
Sleeping in a swag is actually pretty comfy. As the weeks of my outback camping trip went on, I became more and more experienced with swag sleeping and began to look forward to burrowing down into my nest each evening for a good night’s sleep. The small mattress inside is surprisingly comfortable. If you pick a good spot on the ground, you will wake up rested and without any aches or pains.
I had a terrible back injury about 10 days before my trip (I couldn’t stand up straight or walk properly) and I actually think sleeping in a swag helped my recovery along. The firmness of the ground almost reset my back.
As far as safety or security goes, the swag zipped up tightly, so I could make sure I didn’t have any visitors in the evening. It was pretty chilly when I went, so snakes and spiders weren’t too mobile anyway…and it also didn’t get too hot. In the morning, you roll your swag up and secure it with straps, just to make sure nothing else gets cozy in it during the day while you’re gone.
This step is essential. Leaving it undone is a recipe for company.
Even if you do camp when it’s warmer, the commotion of a campsite tends to keep unwanted animals away anyway.
Should I buy an Australian swag?
Whether or not you need to buy an Australian swag depends on the kind of trip you will be taking. If you are traveling on a tour, the company will typically provide a swag for you. On all the tours I took, from Darwin to Broome, Broome to Perth, Perth to Adelaide, and Adelaide to Alice Springs via Uluru, I was given a swag. I just had to bring my own sleeping bag to put inside.
On each tour, our guide put a piece of duct tape on our swag and we wrote our name on it so we used the same one for the entire trip. This way, we could just leave our sleeping bags rolled up inside until the last day.
If you are doing a smaller tour, or camping in the outback with friends, it’s a good idea to buy your own swag. While you might prefer tent camping most of the time, having the option to lie in a swag when the weather is clear and look up at the Milky Way is always a great idea.
Where to Buy an Aussie Swag Bedroll
The kind you buy depends on your budget and comfort preferences. You can buy a swag that looks a bit like a tent for one person off Amazon. This is the kind my tour guides had, as they spent months on end leading tours and “living” in their swags. The top part opens up with netting, so you can see the night sky. It still rolls up pretty small for daytime storage.
If you want a smaller, more classic Aussie bedroll like the swagman’s had, you can purchase from a local supplier, like Mr. Swagman once you’re on the ground in Australia. This company has lots of different options, like tarps and swags for pets as well.
Lots of local Aussie retailers sell swags, like Bunnings and Anaconda, which you can find even in more regional areas. If you want secondhand, pop into a Vinnie’s or Salvo’s and sometimes they have them, too.
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