With its heritage in the humble drovers' and shearers' bed rolls of times past, the most basic swag is little more than a light canvas bag with a blanket inside, intended to keep a sleeping person warm and protected from dew and rain. When rolled, it is relatively easy to carry and makes a handy seat.

This spirit of outback simplicity is generally retained in today's swags: easy-to-use all-in-one beds, made from rugged canvas around a modest mattress. But as with many camping products, the increase in sophistication and a plethora of manufacturers and models have made swag selection a daunting task.

To make your search easier, here's 4X4 Australia's crash course in choosing and using a swag.
If you're new to camping, you need to first decide if a swag is really what you need. The great benefit of the basic swag is its ease of use: simply unclip or unbuckle the straps, let it unroll and your bed is ready. If you've had a long day driving, working or winching, that's a big plus - especially if you're in difficult terrain and can't locate a suitable campsite. Similarly, next morning you can be moving again in next to no time as the swag can be rolled, bound and thrown into a vehicle in seconds.

There are some compromises and trade-offs. A basic swag, with nothing more than a flap over your face, won't provide the same protection from the elements as a tent. There isn't enough internal room to kneel on the floor and get dressed, or to store bags or clothes. This won't be a problem if you're travelling to a new destination each day, or if you just sleep in your work jeans and pull on the same old boots. And although they typically weigh less than 10kg, swags are bulky - especially when they contain a sleeping bag - and two or more will quickly eat into your vehicle's cargo space.

If a basic swag isn't your thing, there are more sophisticated dome-style (side or top-entry) swags that have become increasingly popular over the past 15 years or so. With the additional stability of pegs, poles and guy ropes, they take a similar amount of time and effort to set up as a tent, with equivalent weather resistance. In doing so, however, they lose some of the instant-bed appeal of a traditional swag. Usually fitted with zip-up screens, these swags also provide protection from buzzies, and the open top featured on many of them offers excellent star-gazing opportunities.

Whether you've decided on a traditional or dome style swag, the quality of its canvas is fundamental to its comfort. Having such a small volume of air - little more than double your sleeping bag volume in many cases - helps keeps you warm but moisture from your body and breath builds up quickly. Unlike a tent, which in most cases is made from glorified plastic, canvas breathes, allowing moisture to escape and thus keeping you relatively dry. The reverse applies to the swag's exterior, where the weave's tightness, as well as special additives and waxes impregnated into it, repel rainwater.

To read the full story, grab the November issue of 4X4 Australia, on sale at your local newsagent now.

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