Swagging across the country with Outback Swags

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So what is Swagging?

Swag Tent
On the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota

Swagging is to travel with one’s personal belongings in a bundle, and that is what I did from New Jersey to Southern California with my Outback Swags Pioneer Tent keeping me comfortable all the way.

Photograph of a swagman, c. 1901

Swag tents are not very common here in the US but have a long history in the Australian outback.  Swagmen were primarily transient workers who traveled the outback in search of work, carrying their shelter and belongings rolled on their backs. Traditionally the swag was little more than a bedroll.

Luckily for me, I did not have to carry my kit on my back, I had a Subaru Outback to do the work for me.

The Subie

The mission was to pick up a the car in New Jersey and see some of what the country has to offer while camping my way back to California.  The Pioneer Swag was shipped to NJ where I was to fly in and meet it.  I wanted to take a test run at setting it up, but it is such a simple design it really was not needed.

First night along a creek in PA.

The first night in the swag was a warm and humid night (as most on this trip would end up being) so it was great to be able to have the top open to allow airflow but when it started to rain in the middle of the night it was easy to just reach up and close the top.  Along with the No-see-um mesh being great for ventilation it also allow great views of the stars.

Outback Swag-2
The full no-see-um mesh top allows great views of the stars floating above Rabbit Valley CO.

Passing through the midwest brought some wild weather with substantial winds, rain, and even a few nearby tornados. While my tarp and jetboil struggled to keep me dry and warm my dinner,  the 12oz ripstop canvas  of the Pioneer Swag shrugged the weather off like nothing.  I was unable to get a picture during the night so you will just have to settle for this post storm sunrise along the Missouri River.

Outback Swag-4
On the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota

When deployed it is 7 feet long and 36 inches wide, giving more than enough room for my sleeping bag, along with space for the next day’s clothes without feeling crowded There are also two pockets, one on each side that help to keep smaller gear like my book, a water bottle, headlamp and car keys out of the way but easy to find.

Outback Swag-5
Outback Swags Pioneer with Sierra Designs Sleeping Bag

Since your sleeping bag and pillow stay inside the swag, set up is quick and simple.

Animation courtesy of Outback Swags

Simply unroll the swag, clip the poles, and guy the ends.  That’s it.  The straps are sewn to the foot of the tent, so they don’t get lost and are right where you need them when you roll it back up.  At the head of the tent there is a long narrow pocket to store the poles, but I found there was no need to remove them from their position, just pop the ends out and roll it up with them in place.

Now my biggest complaint with most tents is that they are almost impossible to get  back into their storage bags.  The bag for the Pioneer Tent is the perfect fit.  Big enough that you can get the swag in easily, but not so big that there is wasted material.

Pioneer tent with pad, Sierra Designs 30 degree sleeping bag, and Hyperlight pillow rolled and stored in the bag.

Since this road trip I have had 3 more nights in the swag, and the more I use it, the more I enjoy it.  There are a couple of things I would like to see in future versions though. When I got the rain in PA, it was still nearly 80 degrees with almost no wind.  It would have been nice to have a window similar to what is on the head of the tent at the foot to give a little extra airflow with the top closed.  I would also like to see a second zipper pull on the bag.  I like to be able to pull from both ends of the zipper and meet in the middle  when closed.  It seems easier to get the zippers closed when they are done this way, and gives you a backup if one of the zippers should fail.

Outback Swag-3
The gravel was deceptive, solid rock was hidden below at my camp in WY, but the Subie rim worked perfect.
Outback Swag-1
Rabbit Valley, CO.
Mmmm Big Bear Coffee Roasters
Corned beef hash on the Skottle in Angelus Oaks, Ca


Sadly, Outback Swags seems to have gone out of business. I still love mine and use it regularly. If they have indeed gone out of business I would recommend looking at the very similar Canvas Swag made by Kodiak Canvas. Kodiak Canvas makes high-quality tents that will last a lifetime, I am sure you won’t be disappointed. They are available from Amazon

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4 thoughts on “Swagging across the country with Outback Swags”

  1. Liked your trip photo log showing different elements dealt with swag, ie sand, rock, wind, humidity, etc. Great suggestions that manufacturer should implement. I also prefer double zips in everything, especially, when traveling. It is pretty much “required,” even when one way zippers are sturdy as small debris may dislodge zipper “teeth.” I also prefer two way air flow for venting or drying out if anything became wet inside. I am looking for equipment for group fishing excursions.

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