Australian camping – The Swag

In Australia, a ‘swag’ is a portable sleeping unit. They were originally a bundle of belongings rolled up to be carried by a foot traveler in ‘the bush’. These days they are a popular alternative to tents for camping.


Before motor transport was common, foot travel over long distances was essential to agriculture in the Australian bush. Swags have been carried by shearers, miners, farmer etc. some of whom were called ‘swagmen’. In other countries swags are sometimes called ‘backpack beds’, ‘cowboy bedrolls’ or just ‘bedrolls’.


Modern swags have become more like a combination of a small bed and a tent. They are made of waterproof canvas and are usually insect proof. Most swags include a foam mattress, pillow and sleeping bag.

Beach dog

When rolled up, swags are relatively lightweight and compact, making them ideal for storage and transport. They are usually quick and easy to setup and pack up.


Swags today are designed to be both rugged and comfortable, and are marketed towards people travelling by vehicle. Most of them are too heavy and bulky to be carried long distances on foot.


While bushwalkers and hikers use mostly conventional lightweight tents and sleeping bags, smaller swags are sometimes carried on motorcycles.