Review: Southern Cross Canvas Enclosed Swag

Camping (noun) Drive somewhere far from home and electricity, look for nature and build a temporary shelter. Cook on a folding table, or the ground. Sleep on the aforementioned ground, unwashed and wake with the sun.  A glorious, overnight picnic with a sliding scale of comfort.

If we’re unfolding the Oztent in the bush, a few minutes unfolding, unbagging, and banging of pegs is a sacred process. Just like the ritual of building the campfire; it’s part and parcel with a basecamp setup.

Spending a month at a time, on and off road in the Oztent, taught us something.

Comfort versus efficiency.

Rarely stopping for more than one night, our campsite leaned out to one of simplicity. Without using the awning on the Oztent – setup is almost like the advertisement, the tent was unfolded, clicked and pegged in 30 seconds. Give or take a few minutes to unlash from the roofrack, throw out the groundsheet, and find the hatchet to hammer in the aforementioned pegs.

Unpacking sleeping bags, pillows and releasing the mattresses to self-inflate became the slowest aspect of our setup. Tired and cold, there were some nights where it seemed slower.

We began to consider a swag.

Researching swags was difficult, as comfort is subjective. So it was up to a few key features that would help decide for us personally. Australian made was paramount for us. The evolution of the bedroll is one rooted in Australian camp culture, so an Australian sewn swag made sense for us. Secondly, we wanted minimal poles.

Given we had a few years of Oztenting in the Oztent RV3 under our belt, fiddly poles were not in our budget. We were not interested in feeling claustrophobic either. Neither of us had any experience with a swag, traditional or not. So we felt it prudent not to risk opting for traditional swag. Our experience in the warm outback and its adorning flies warned us against a bedroll for the time being also.

We needed a two person sized swag, of which there were many iterations. Anywhere from 1100mm to 1500mm wide.

Somewhat nervous about this decision, I opted to go with the majority and ordered a Burke and Wills XL sized Redgum. Big enough for two people, but not the largest ‘Double’ size. It boasted Australian construction, decades of reputation in the Australian camping community and only two hoop poles to negotiate.

Arriving aromatic and a rich stiff green, we were excited. However we learned it was no longer an Australian made swag. The company shifting in its manufacturing strategy. So we changed our mind on this emerald coloured burrito, and resumed our search.

After a more confident bout of research, our two contenders were the apex style AOS Bushman and the Southern Cross Canvas Enclosed. The Southern Cross Canvas appealed to both of us immediately with its square head design. Retro and ergonomic, it appeared to afford ample head room and a unique aesthetic, different to the countless bow poled bedrolls of today. After talking with the company, we were sold and placed our order. Soon enough, it’s two toned khaki canvas was unrolled on the lounge room floor.

1280mm x 2100mm afforded us plenty of room for us to fight over. Because of the length – queen sized sheets fit best. The headpole is sewn into the swag, so two legs are attached to prop up the head space. Where a large window can be opened. A curved bow pole holds the canvas up at the footbox. Both these installations are optional, so if we were to toughen up appropriately, this swag can be used traditionally – pole free. Brave new world.

Seasoned in the backyard under the hose and the Autumn sun, we unrolled it at Glen Davis, north of Lithgow for our first time. Cosy and unbelievably comfortable, we forgot all about the inflating mattresses or sleeping bags of our previous configuration. It was decided, 50mm of foam and flannelette sheets with a couple of Saul woollen blankets would be our sleep system. The heavy canvas and moonlit flymesh our protection from the Australian elements.

Our second test would be a around a month in length, starting with sub zero riverside camping in Victoria and gathering red dirt and camping permit stickers as we travelled north.

We used the canvas lid to block out the full moon, elsewise it remained unzipped, granting us many sweet, long slumbers beneath the Milky Way.

The foam mattress kept us snoring even on the hardpacked earth of Central Australia, although the soft sandy banks of the West McDonnell Ranges or the plush lakeside lawn of Menindee were noticeably softer and warmer. Nonetheless, I didn’t suffer from restless sleep, no tossing or turning. Quite literally free from the sleeping bag.

The squared head space makes this swag a cosy but roomy bed for us both, sometimes propped up on arms reading or watching Netflix before sleep takes us. The bow pole at the footbox – probably the fiddliest assembly when cold, lifts the canvas off our legs.

Somewhere in the Northern Territory, I exuberantly pulled the zip closed for the umteenth time. Unbeknownst to me, the stitching ran too close to the edge of the zipper binding on one corner, and I pulled it free. Installing a small opening at the corner. Contacting the company, they offered to either pay for a local seamstress to repair or, I could send it back for them to repair. We opted for the latter once we returned home, and within a week, our swag returned, minus the aftermarket ventilation. A service only a classic, local artisan can offer.

For insurance, we’ve replaced the standard pegs, heavy duty as they are, with SnowPeak forged pegs. We’ve unrolled on some fairly hard ground, and bent pegs are not something we have patience for. The originals live in the LandCruiser for tarp duty.

Since its overland test last year, we have unrolled on weekends and midweek adventures. From the humid forests of Deua National Park, the sleet soaked alps of Victorian High Country and a few places in-between. Not even rain dripping through the flymesh has ruined our swag experience. We just fold over the top and keep on dozing. Enjoying the sound of the raindrops on the canvas.

Camping in sub-zero temperatures, condensation has woken us a few times. I have found our wool blankets keep us (and the sheets) warm and dry, despite itself getting damp from the condensation. As is the nature of this beautiful, natural fibre. So, even when I added a down quilt – I’ve layered it between the wool and cotton for this reason.

Condensation was markedly reduced if we kept the window and top canvas open. However – in the sleet or rain – in the cold, you trade one precipitation for another. Time to recruit your vehicle’s awning or a (very) makeshift tarp shelter.

If it was just one or the other, we didn’t bother with additional shelter. Keeping the comfort versus efficiency equation at equilibrium.

Storage has been easy enough for us, with little option given the real-estate within the LandCruiser. Whilst parked in the urban jungle of Melbourne we did squeeze the swag into the cabin. That luxury was short-lived and it has since had first dibs on the views, and bugs; strapped to the Hannibal rack.

We bought the swag a DoubleD Leather branded bag made of Duracord, a breathable, but water repellent fabric. The bag, cylinder with a zipper at one end, reminds me of a pencil case from the 2000s. It’s has proven a terrific bag against the elements. We are now trying a Drifta Canvas bag. Which has additional webbing handles making it easier to manoeuvre to and from the heights of the 2.2m LandCruiser roof.

This swag is quite the beast, made up and rolled with poles. All that 14.9oz Australian Wax Converters canvas adds up to 27kg and 1450mm long. Winter weight, given thats with sheets, two sheep wool blankets and one alpaca blanket within.

Whilst the bag may not be needed, I want to protect our investment from the harsh sun, and the tight straps. This swag sports a modern PVC base. PVC tends to soften in the heat and with containment of its pegs and poles, it seemed cheap insurance to keep it bagged. I have since chatted with a few fellow Southern Cross Canvas Enclosed swag owners online, their PVC was the first to perish, albeit only after 15-20years…

Our first year has been consistently amazing, under varied conditions in this swag. Pushed up close, almost under the LandCruiser against the sleet of Victoria and outback storms of Kingoonya. Or aloof and camoflaged in in the humid bushland, yonder. I look forward to unrolling the brute again and again at new camps, near and far, for years to come.

Because you know; overland, under canvas.

23/8/2018 Post Script:

We have since had a few colder nights in the swag and found that if we roll up the fly-screen mesh (Southern Cross Canvas have purpose built hook-and-loop straps for this) we have NO CONDENSATION in sub-zero temperatures. On the colder, wetter nights we would prefer the shelter of the canvas over the mesh. I hypothesise that letting the quality canvas do the breathing, minus the nylon close knit mesh – works as it was designed? 

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