Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know, a swag is an Australian type of one man tent made from heavy canvas. It’s similar to a bedroll and features in our unofficial Australian Anthem - Waltzing Matilda.
A few years ago when I really started to get into motorcycle touring I needed to make a choice about my sleeping options.
- Light camping/hiking tent
- Hammock/fly situation
Trawling the net and various forums I found that people asked this question a lot and each time I give a detailed outline on why I think the swag is the best option so I have made the call to just drop it all here so I can quickly copy and paste this link then go back to looking at pictures of funny cats.
The most useful feature of the swag is just how flexible and tough it is and how it provides adequate shelter in nearly all the situations that you will encounter when riding a motorcycle. It’s not the perfect solution to all needs and sometimes a tent or hammock arrangement would be more useful, but for me it’s the most flexible option and now I wouldn’t consider touring with anything else.
A hammock is super light and you don’t need flat ground to put it down but what you do need is two points the right distance apart to hang it off. This can be harder to find than you think. Most camp sites in Australia have been cleared of trees as they need to accommodate people with tents, caravans and importantly avoid the “widow makers” or gum trees that randomly drop limbs. Also if you are ever camping with a group, you will have to hang your hammock away from the group and camp fire and most importantly the beer/whisky. Importantly, the place where you are likely to find the trees to hang your hammock will be in the uncleared scrub which can contain a whole bunch of nasties such as spiders and snakes which you don’t really want to be dealing with in the middle of the night or the first thing in the morning.
- Light and small
- Easy to pack up
- Can be used on uneven ground
- Nowhere to place your gear such as boots or jacket
- Limited use in traditional campsites
- Usually needs to be set up away from friends/campfire if you are with a group.
Wrap up: Useful if you are solo traveling on the road or a “just in case” item to include on a bike if you think may have a night on the road.
Tent and sleeping mat
Most people swear by a tent. Now if you are planning on staying more than a few nights a tent is the way to go. That said, even the most simple tent will take longer to setup compared to a swag. Further still the size (and usually the colour of the tent) makes them stand out. This is perfect if you are pitching at Everest Basecamp. Not so much if you are trying to squat camp on the side of the road or the back paddock of a farmer. Tents also tend to be pretty rigid when packed down. This can make them tricky to tie down onto a bike if you don’t have a rack or a sissybar to strap to.
- The most waterproof option
- More room for gear
- If you get rained out you have a decent and comfortable shelter option for as long as you want.
- The size can make squat camping hard.
- Needs a larger cleared area.
- Can be hard to tie down to a bike.
- Stands out
- Takes more time to set up and pull down
- Can be difficult to use on hard, uneven or sloped ground.
Wrap up: Useful if you are staying for more than one night, if you think the weather will be bad or you plan to stay at the more commercial camping areas.
For me the main advantage of swag is how versatile it can be. If you just need a quick place to rest, rolling out a swag takes seconds. If you need a bit more space or it looks like rain you can find a way to pitch it into a larger structure as most swags come with poles. Swags also make great little seats to sit on when you winding down at the end of the night. As they are so easy to set up you really only need to make camp seconds before you want to sleep. With a tent you need to be prepared much sooner. Likewise with packing up in the morning. It takes seconds not minutes to roll a swag. Once again this is useful if you are squat camping or in the more likely situation, you have slept in and just need to hit the road quickly.
People will always complain about the size of a swag compared to a tent and sleeping mat. An easy solution around this is to remove the foam mattress that comes stock with the swag and replace it with a hiking inflatable mattress or your ex-girlfriend’s yoga mat. This will reduce the size of the roll considerably.
If you are planning on a quick overnight stay out of town, what are the essentials you take on a motorcycle trip? A spare teeshirt, sleeping bag, woollen blanket (depending on weather), toothbrush and bottle of whisky? With a swag you safely place all of these things into the canvas before you roll it. Now you only have one thing to tie to your motorcycle, not a tent, sleeping mat, backpack etc etc… Having only one thing tied to your bike improves handling and you can spend more time riding and less time worrying about your gear falling off the back.
- For short trips all of your essentials can be rolled into one swag
- Easy to make and break camp
- Can double as a seat around a fire
- Sturdy and durable
- Can be used on hard surfaces with no need for tent pegs
- Can be easily tied to a motorcycle without any need for racks
- Will never be as waterproof as a tent
- The lack of space may concern some people
- Expensive compared to cheap tents
Speaking of things falling off motorcycles… I was once riding late at night on the highway, perhaps riding a bit faster than I should have been. I was fully loaded with a bag and swag strapped to my adventura rack when I noticed my backend handling started to feel all off. I looked down thinking I must be losing tire pressure. Turns out my rack had shaken loose of the bike and was being dragged down the highway. My swag was dragged for at least 150 meters before I stopped. While some of the plastic base had worn through that was the only damage. A few strips of duct tape later and I was fine. 15,000 kms later and I’m still using my duct taped repaired swag.
Perhaps I am just too nostalgic but I also get a kick of the simplistic nature of swag and the old time Australian bushman vibe. When I try to explain the concept of a swag to people who are not Australian they just don’t get as excited about it as I do. “So it’s like a heavy bivvy tent” they ask. Well perhaps for me it’s more about keeping a part of Australian culture alive every time I need to sleep out. I guess for me that is worth something too.
On my trip I use a Darche swag. For your own Darche swag contact www.darche.com.au