All of my friends with swags have an intimate connection to their canvas sanctuary. Camping is swag only – who needs a tent, right? But for a lot of us, the swag versus tent deliberation isn’t so cut and dry.
It’s a battle of pros and cons, weighing tent recommendations against our swag desires while considering the reality of camping practicalities. Make the wrong choice, and we face the risk of joyless, uncomfortable camping.
Modern swags can be very similar to small tents but there are also designs with obvious contrasts. One isn’t better than the other, and both have benefits and limitations relative to a litany of variables.
In this guide, we’ll discuss these variables so you’ll know which one is right for you.
What Is A Swag?
A traditional swag is a compact, sleep-anywhere portable canvas shelter that looks a little like a sleeping bag. They have an integral mattress, can be waterproof, and simply roll out on the ground for sleeping.
Their easy set-up is a key feature, yet they can be a little bulky and heavy. There are two basic swag designs, traditional, and dome which include the new poleless (no tent poles) air swag ideal for swift set-ups. Modern traditional swags offer double or single options and can be lightweight or heavy-duty, often made from strong ripstop canvas.
With dome swags, the emphasis is on space, with many looking more like tents than swags. There is a range of sizes with models suitable for hiking trips, car camping, bikers, road trippers, couples, and solo explorers. You can even get stretcher-mounted swags that keep you off the ground. Both swag types are available in single or double swags.
CampingAussie’s Daniel Blechynden is an Aussie swag expert. Check out his swag reviews and insights. While you're there, be sure to study his expert tent-buying guides.
How Are Swags & Tents Different?
Traditional swags range between $120 and $600. A quality swag, with appropriate features and sturdy materials for Aussie conditions, starts at around $300. Appropriate features and durability for Aussie conditions start at around $300. Domes start at $150 with premium air swags reaching the $800 mark. Classic dome tents start at $40 with premium models exceeding $1000.
A quality rooftop tent will cost more than $1500 and can exceed $3000. Stretcher/cot tents are becoming very popular with good-quality models made from heavy-duty materials starting between $300 and $400.
Ease Of Set-Up
Traditional swags roll out in seconds. There’s no faster set-up, especially in high winds and inclement weather. Dome swags are complex swags. Set-up is a little longer at two and 10 minutes. Dome tents are a popular tent design. Made from lightweight materials, setups can vary between two and ten minutes.The more pegs and guy ropes required the longer the set-up and pack-up. By and large, tents take a little longer. Pop-up tents are quick set-up tents but some models can be more unstable in high winds compared to the average tent.
Keep in mind that manufacturer set-up projections are a guide only, and set-up times are subject to differences in location, conditions, and user skill.
Premium dome and hiking tents are the ultimate in packability. Packing to the size of a small backpack, they weigh as little as 1.6kg. Quality swags are heavy and bulky relative to classic dome tents.
A lightweight single swag weighs around 8.5kg. A double tent swag can weigh as much as 22kg. The lightest and most compact swags are single biker swags weighing around 4.6kg with packed dimensions around 500mm L x 350mm DIA.
The primary keys to tent/swag comfort are a comfortable mattress, ventilation, bug screening, waterproofing, and space. In the premium market segment, both tents and swags have models that include all of these key criteria.
At the lower price points, there’s greater variation in key comfort features of swags and tents. I’ve found that dome swags have better comfort inclusions at lower to mid-price points.
For those who are uncomfortable on the ground, stretcher swags/tents and rooftop tents are ideal.
Why Use A Swag Vs A Tent and Vice Versa?
All campers are different when it comes to prioritising key camping practicalities and comforts. I have several swag and tent models, and sometimes, it’s a tough choice – do I take the swag or the tent?
At other times, there’s no deliberation at all – the best mode is apparent. Ultimately, it comes down to the tent and swag features, relative to the destination, duration, and prevailing weather. And of course, the mode of transport is critical. There are also times when we just feel like taking a swag or tent, and it’s great to have the choice.
When To Take A Tent
- If you want extra space to house gear under cover
- If you’re camping for more than a few days
- If you feel claustrophobic in tight enclosed spaces
- If you wish to sit upright inside
- If you’re hiking and travelling light
- If you want a larger mattress such as an inflatable mattress
- If you want to be off the wet ground with better protection from wildlife, a stretcher tent or rooftop tent is ideal.
- If you have neither tent nor swag, and you’re going on a one-off camping trip, or odd hiking trip, tents are far cheaper than than quality swags and common dome swags
- When there are two of you camping for an extended duration
- Take a premium waterproof tent if you’re expecting inclement weather
When To Take A Swag
- Take a traditional canvas swag whenever you want to sleep under the stars
- The average swag is brilliant for overnighters and weekends
- Road trips – car, motorbike, and 4WD
- Overnight beach camping
- When fast, easy set-up and pack-up are desirable
- When it’s particularly cold, quality swags are excellent for body heat retention
- Take a dome swag when you want excellent ventilation
- Take a dome swag when you’re expecting hot days and cold nights, such as in the desert
Final Words On Swags Versus Tents
The great thing about modern swag and small tent designs is that there’s a model from either that will cover your practical requirements and comfort demands.
If it’s space you need, I’d lean towards a tent. For hiking, a 1.6kg tent beats 6kg of swag. For the easiest of set-ups, ventilation, and romance of camping under the stars, nothing beats a swag. Check your budget, perhaps you’ve got room for both.
*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.