Intrepid campers buying their very first swag always ask me, “What makes a good swag?” Simple. Above all, it’s gotta be waterproof. Trying to sleep under a rainy night sky when you and your swag are soaked through is fun for about 3 seconds - then you swear off camping forever.
Swags are not waterproof straight out of the box. They must first be seasoned, or, waterproofed before your first camping trip. Until you know how to waterproof a swag properly, it’s only potentially waterproof. Use it unseasoned, and you’re definitely getting wet.
Here’s my concise guide to seasoning your new swag for decades of wet-weather camping comfort.
Why You Need To Waterproof A Swag
A good quality canvas swag will be advertised as waterproof - when seasoned. Swags are constructed from cotton or poly-cotton canvas designed specifically for this application. When the fabric gets wet it swells, closing the tiny gaps in the weave, therefore, preventing water ingress.
Swags vary in their capacity to resist water. Swags with fabrics rated 800mm to 1000mm are considered waterproof. I advise people to seek out fabrics rated 1500mm and above - and most will have additional waterproof coatings. Even if you buy the very best swag, you must first season/waterproof your swag or it will leak at the seams.
When a canvas swag is new, the holes made by the needles when stitching the seams are larger than the thread passing through them. These holes allow significant leaks and must be closed. To close these holes, we need to soak the swag in water. When the fabric gets wet, it swells and closes the tiny gaps in the weave. This prevents water ingress.
What You Will Need To Waterproof Your Swag
Here’s a list of the few things you’ll need. Complete the whole process three times - twice to ensure complete soaking - with the third being a leak test.
You’ll be setting up your swag and soaking the entire swag in water (not the mattress). You will need an appropriate space such as your backyard, grassy courtyard or equivalent.
You will need a garden hose. A bucket of water or spray bottle is impractical. Without a hose, you’ll need to soak it in a large tub or bath.
2 or 3 sunny days for ideal drying (weather dependent)
Drying your swag completely following its soaking is a very important part of the process. Drying time will vary depending on the weather and the size of your swag. If there’s no direct sunlight and wind, I’ll avoid seasoning a swag until the weather improves. Drying indoors or undercover is OK if you have no choice. But make sure there’s good ventilation. Use a fan to keep air circulating.
The time required will vary depending on the size and complexity of your swag. I allow an hour for the process, not including drying time.
4-Steps For Waterproofing A Swag
The key to the seasoning process is being thorough. Thorough soaking and thorough drying, ensuring you repeat the process three times.
Follow these four steps to season your swag.
1. Set up Your Swag
Set up your swag completely as per instructions on a flat surface. If your swag has poles and guy ropes, use only 80% tension on the guy ropes, so it has the correct shape, but the seams aren’t overly stretched.
Remove the mattress, and place it in a dry place for packing up later. Remove any loose dirt and debris from the manufacturing process. Open any flaps so you have good access to the seams, inside and out.
2. Soak Your Swag
Use your hose to soak your swag with cold water. If you have a nozzle with a shower setting, this is ideal. If your hose nozzle is jet only, remove the nozzle and just use the hose pressure. Don’t use a jet setting, high pressure, or hot water, as it may damage or remove factory coatings.
When you commence soaking, you’ll notice the water is being repelled. You need to continue until the canvas no longer repels the water. Focus on the seams and joins, and soak for 5 to 10 minutes, inside and out. Make sure you leave no part unsoaked.
If your swag cover or swag bag is made from canvas, you should season it (soak it) as well.
3. Dry Your Swag
Allow your swag to dry in the direct sunlight and breeze. It must remain set up as per the design to encourage shape retention. Make sure you get your swag dry before you repeat the process - and especially before you pack it up.
Packing away a wet swag encourages mould that can be very destructive on canvas products.
4. Repeat the Process
Repeat the entire process, ensuring complete soaking and drying. On the third time around, you’re soaking is more about assessing it for any leaks or missed spots. Dry completely, then pack away.
- If you don’t have a backyard, ask a friend who does. Or do the soaking in a bathtub, and drying on a balcony or bathroom floor where there’s drainage.
- If you have the chance, test your swag at home during a spell of moderate rain.
- You can rectify any stubborn leaks with a wax canvas seam sealer. I won’t use them unless necessary, and I carry one with me in my camping kit - so should you in case of any future water penetration. It’s great for most canvas products.
- On a hot Aussie summer's day, you can complete the entire process in one day.
Final Words On How To Waterproof A Swag
I’m still surprised at how often new swag campers omit, forget, or were never informed about this simple process. Seasoning your swag is critical for a dry night’s sleep under a rainy sky. Season your swag correctly, and you’ll never worry about a wet camp again.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.