A sudden down-turn in the temperatures in mid October didn’t put us off a planned canoe trip on the river Wye. We set off for a short trip with an overnight wild camp on the river, Autumn sunshine and the trees just beginning to turn, we had a brief shower once we got on the river, but sheltered under a huge oak tree, with acorns dropping all around us as the squirrels above were busy feeding before winter. There were a lot of pheasants around too, and we saw them scatter as the sound of a Goshawk called loudly from the tree just above us, something I’d never heard before – I still haven’t ever seen one of these elusive predators, even though the Wye valley and the Forest of Dean are one of the best places to see them, they are making a great comeback in recent years after being persecuted, like many birds of prey to the verge of extinction in the UK in the past. But the pheasants certainly know about them!
We canoed downstream in the most beautiful sharp autumn light late in the afternoon, the shower brought out the best rainbow I’ve ever seen, reflected in the river and reaching right across the sky. Arriving at our camp spot as dusk drew in, the temperature was dropping sharply, so with one strike from the firesteel on some birchbark and dry twigs gathered along the way we had a fire going, and set about organising the camp. With a bit of rain still in the air Hawkeye set up his usual tarp rig as a back-up, but we planned to sleep out until any rain came. In fact the sky cleared completely during the evening, but that meant the temperature really began to drop fast – with the fire roaring we were warm but a little apprehensive about how cold it would get during the night. The owls hooted all around the valley in the dark, and the sound of the fire crackling and the river running past made for a fantastic evening around the fire. We ate strips of rump steak on sticks over the flames, and big roast potatoes cooked straight in the embers – the best way: the ferocious heat in the embers cooks the potato much hotter than an oven, and really brings out the best sweet flavour, we both agreed that you need no more than potatoes cooked this way with some butter for a great camp meal. They were in about 40 minutes, then pulled out to cool: the surface turns to a kind of charcoal egg-cup, once cool you can hold that, break open the top and scoop out the soft potato inside, your hands get a blackened, but holy smoke it’s worth it!
Rainbow reflected in the water...
Getting the fire going and the camp set up at dusk
The stars were soon out, full moon rising too over the treeline, and later we retired to the swag and sleeping bags with the fire still providing plenty of warmth. I fell asleep with the freshening air, looking up at a billion stars, with the sound of the owls and the river, an unforgettable magical experience.
Sure enough during the night it got very cold: I pulled the canvas swag over my head to keep off the breeze, and slept soundly, perfectly warm and dry: still nothing better for me than an australian canvas ‘swag bag’ and sleeping out, no tent required. Worst case if you get heavy rain a small tarp over the top would do the trick, but unless you get heavy rain you can sleep right out there in the open, in comfort too.
Hawkeye woke early, and got the fire re-started from the remains of last nights logs, then poked my swag with a stick to wake me so I wouldn’t miss the most beautiful morning scene on the river I’ve ever witnessed: the cold meant a thick mist was swirling around over the water, shifted around by a light breeze, the river and the forest around was stirring. H had the Kelly Kettle on too so I had no excuse but to jump up, get some clothes on quick and enjoy some hot tea by the fire, just watching the day begin. The cold was such that a thick frost had formed on most of our gear, and it felt like a winter trip rather then autumn! Warmed my hands on the fire as they were getting numb it was that cold, definitely sub-zero by one or two degrees.
The Kelly Kettle fires up for some hot tea on a cold morning
Cold morning camp scene
The sun begins to wake up the valley...
After some coffee and hot porridge on the fire cooked in the trusty crusader mugs, we got into the canoes and pushed off to explore up river, paddling quietly through the swirling mist, the forest all around – a magical experience I’ll never forget.
Canoeing through the mist...
So here’s the video of the trip… watch it full screen if you can, hope you enjoy it.
Great news for anyone interested in trying swag camping: As part of our “Wynnchester Camp & Adventure” project to bring back robust traditionally-inspired canvas camp gear we’ve been working to design and manufacture our own design of Australian swag bedrolls right here in the U.K. Previously the only option was to buy from Australia with shipping costs often being more than the cost of the swag! To my knowledge they are the only Australian swag bedrolls being made in Europe. They are available now to buy online from www.wynnchester.co.uk.
So: After a year of design and planning I’ve just had the first batch of the product through, and I have to say it is truly a thing of beauty! Have a look at the pictures below and see what you think.
"Wild Canvas" Australian Swag
Based on many years of swag camping in different types of australian swags, for different purposes, 4×4 trips, canoe trips, car-camping and family camps, and in different environments: from the Australian desert to the British winter, at designated camp sites, or wild camps in woodland, mountainsides, beach camping and on river banks and lake shores, we’ve been able to design this one from the ground up, with some new features based on real-world use, and also we’ve avoided too many unnecessary features, velcro, guy ropes, or bright colours which many modern australian swags suffer from – this is true to the traditional swag in design and purpose and also I think it is a thing of beauty that you can cherish and get many years of use from, hopefully taking you to some wild places and enabling you to experience wild camping at it’s best, and at it’s simplest. Here’s some of the design and manufacturing features:
Tough, waterproof and beautiful high quality 18oz canvas – in khaki and green natural colours
Tough waterproof PVC base – again sourced in natural khaki colour rather than the often garish bright colours PVC often comes in.
Full-length, heavyweight zips – on both sides so you can enter and exit either side away from the wind, towards your campfire etc.
Pillow pocket to stuff your clothes, valuables, torch etc. in during the night
The design is made to form a natural dome shape over you when inside to shed rain
Storm flap which folds down blanket-style for good weather, meaning you can sleep open to the stars when the weather permits, and even if it changes during the night you can just pull the storm flap over and run the zips up past your head for more protection from wind and rain in the weather turns. Or add one or two poles to give extra internal space and further help to shed rain. Making the change easily without getting out in the middle of the night is very useful, unlike some swags.
Tough enough to walk on and sit on around camp or to unpack or sort your gear whilst it protects your sleeping bag etc. from mud, damp and dirt around camp.
Elipse-shaped foot section
Again the design is specifically worked out so that unlike a lot of Australian swags with boxed sections and hoods etc. this one will fold very flat meaning it rolls up into a much smaller package for travel and storage.
Webbing loops for attaching paracord to
Large size fits a 6-footer plus – one of the great things about swags is they are naturally roomy inside, allowing you to move around comfortably in your sleeping bag or just using blankets.
A hoop seam for fitting the aluminium pole kit if required.
Can be used with any type of mattress or none (if camping on sand for example) – thermarest, small air mattress, foam camping mattress or the army type roll matt.
Rolls up very small compared to other swags, with carry handle and buckle clips.
no guy ropes or pegs needed
If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, see our full posts on swag camping for more info on this great way to get out in nature. The Wild Canvas swags are be on sale either through me at www.wynnchester.co.uk. The price is not cheap but remember these will last a long time, putting up with rough treatment and sparks from a campfire. Then there’s the quality: the canvas is very tough 18oz weight and the very best money can buy, very hard to get hold of in fact, and that these swags are hand-made by specialists.
Compare this also with what’s available that is similar such as the Duluth Bedroll in the USA at 180 US dollars or the cost of buying a swag direct from Oz coming in at around the £200 mark just for the shipping! So yes it’s not a cheap throwaway item, but I can say from experience that even one amazing night out under the stars in some remote (or even not so remote) location and it will be well worth the investment. Knowing you can do that again in other places, whenever you want, as they say at Mastercard “priceless”.
OK here’s the pics: (click for full size images: note the colours are not exactly right in these pictures, the canvas is more of a green khaki than this brown – I’ll get more pics as soon as I have them).
The swag rolled up with carry handle – the rolled up swag measures about 60cms long by about 25cms width:
The storm flap open for good weather and easy access: this pic also shows the elipsed foot section and the natural dome shape that helps to shed rain.
The heavy duty zips with snug overlap where the canvas joins the PVC:
Photos showing thermarest self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag arrangement, with the pillow pocket and storm flap:
Enlarge this pic to see the beautiful weave of the natural canvas:
The full Wynnchester Wild Canvas swag – simple elegant and above all TOUGH as nails!:
[Update: there are new photos of the latest model in a darker green khaki colour with twin pre-curved aluminium poles on the website at www.wynnchester.co.uk. ]
I’m a huge fan of “swag camping” – camping out under the stars around the camp fire in a canvas Australian “swag” – see my previous post here. I’ve been facinated by these and have gradually been delving deeper into the history to this unique way of camping, that seems more or less unknown as such outside Australia, although North America has it’s “cowboy bedroll”, and we have the modern “bivvy bag”, but it’s not quite the same thing. So my research has come up with some fantastic historical details which I have compiled in this feature, covering the origins of the word, of the Australian swag in 19th Century Australia, and use of the swag in the 20th Century and up to the present day modern swags used in Australia.
The Swag in use on a frosty UK Canoe Camp trip
In Australian historical terms, a swag is a waterproof bedroll. In the 1800s and first half of the 20th century a swagman was an itinerant rural worker – usually but not always sheep shearers – who carried their bedroll ‘swag’ with their belongings wrapped in them on their back. Most modern swags however are only used for bedding, but they are typically made with a waterproof outer section – traditionally canvas but more recent swags use more modern materials. Before motor transport was common, foot travel over long distances was essential to workers who were travelling in the Australian bush and who could not afford a horse. Itinerant workers who travelled from farm to farm sheep shearing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were called “swagmen” because they carried all their possessions in a swag. This image was immortalised in Australian culture by the song Waltzing Matilda.
A swag is also referred to as a “Matilda”, “Drum” or “Bluey” and hence “Waltzing matilda”, “walking along with my swag” (from the German auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman) “humping bluey”. Bluey refers to the favoured blue color of cloth blankets used in the bedrolls. The word Swag itself appears to come from old norse word for “swing” or thing that “swings or sways”, can also be applied to a person’s gait as they carry something, swaying along. This word can be found in recored use back as far at the 11th century.
The most detailed 19th Century Australian description of the swag is found in Henry Lawson’s The Romance of the Swag:
The Jolly Swagman in “Waltzing Matilda” – Australia’s unofficial National Anthem
Jolly Swagman, sitting on his swag: A drawing illustrating the famous Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda
“Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s most widely known bush ballad, a country folk song, and has been referred to as “the unofficial national anthem of Australia”. The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or swagman, making a drink of tea at a bush camp and capturing a sheep to eat. When the sheep’s ostensible owner arrives with three police officers to arrest the worker for the theft (a crime punishable by hanging), the worker commits suicide by drowning himself in the nearby watering hole, and then goes on to haunt the site.
Waltzing Matlida by Bajo Paterson
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolabah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
With a Swag Upon My Shoulder, Black Billy in my Hand….
Another folk song featuring the swag is “With a Swag Upon My Shoulder” (the tune being a variant of the Irish tune ‘Boys of Wexford’).
With my Swag upon my Shoulder
When first I left Old England’s shore
Such yarns as we were told
As how folks in Australia
Could pick up lumps of gold
So, when we got to Melbourne town
We were ready soon to slip
And get even with the captain
All hands scuttled from the ship
With my swag all on my shoulder
Black billy in my hand
I travelled the bush of Australia
Like a true-born Irish man
Swag rolled up on top of an old Bedford truck - photo c1979
This photo from 1979 from www.our-camping-site.com shows a swag rolled up on the back of an old Bedford truck, way out in the bush, where the driver pictured had slept out in the swag right on the road itself – the author notes that you could do that back in the days when there was less trafic in these remote areas, but suggests ‘Of course, camping on any road today would not be a sensible thing to do’!
Contemporary Swag Stories
A party travelling through outback Australia describe the experience of renting a swag for the trip: Extract from: http://www.kia-sorento.org/swag.html “The swag, during those four days of driving along the Mereenie loop road, has been a staple of fun and tease among us. A swag is quite a comfortable bed that can be rolled and carried fairly easily. But the swag proved to have a couple of drawbacks, such as its renting price (150 Australian dollars apiece for 4 days), and its size, making it a bit bulky. However, facing the difficulty of accommodating everyone’s comfort needs, one swag was rented for one of us, while two would sleep in the tent, and the remaining two would sleep on a sleeping mat.
The swag being rolled up after a nights stop
The cold (and mosquitoes) of the first night forced the two mat-sleepers to seek refuge into the Kia, and the two tent-sleepers to hug each other even closer (the next day sleeping bags were bought for those four unfortunate), while the swag-sleeper enjoyed a cold-free and almost mosquito-free night, and awoke with morale at its highest.
Tourist Swag camping – Swag Safaris & The Ghost of the Jolly Swagman…
A tourist enjoying a true Australian experience, a swag camp
Many tour companies now offer a nights swag camp in the Australain desert as a way to experience ‘the real Australian outback’ offered alongside snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and other popular Australian tourist experiences:
“Sleep in a bush swag near Ayers Rock, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and spot dolphins in the Wild West. Our friendly travel specialists will help you build a completely personal Australia trip with our unique bite-sized experiences, including ‘Coral Sea Meets Rainforest’, ‘Rock to Croc Safari’ and ‘Put Your Feet Up At Mission Beach’. Simply choose the mini-adventures that catch your eye and we’ll string them together using a mix of local and private transport.”
There’s even boutique hotel “swag” experiences available, such as this Blue Mountain Private Safaris Luxury Swag Camp although that comes at some cost, a world away from the original “swagman” experience! I imagine the ghost of the jolly Swagman of “Waltzing Matilda” roaming around humping his drum, and wearily wandering into one of these luxury swag hotel-camps! I reckon he’d set about making him self right at home, feasting on $200 bottles of wine and asking for more fresh towels – after a few days rest and gourmet tucker, our ghost would have to grab his old swag he left at the door, and head off into the bush again of course, perhaps with a bunch of miniature whisky bottles from the mini bar in his swag!
Ray Mears, Bushcraft & the Swag
Someone who has travelled and wild-camped all over the world is the UK bushcraft expert, writer and TV presenter Ray Mears. A proponent of swag camping and it’s benefits, Ray has featured swags in several of his programmes. Here’s Ray in a swag in the desert.
Ray Mears, the bushcraft swagman...
Beautiful desert swag camp scene
Modern Design Australian Swags
A modern Australian canvas 'dome' swag
Often made with PVC base, witha lot of features like mozzie nets, vecro, storm flaps and comfortable mattresses, these come in many designs and colours and shapes, most now being offered with a hooped ‘dome’ design, such as the Waratah from Burke & Wills. Here’s a video of me from LandRoverExplorer.co.uk of the Waratah swag being set up:
Swags used on Path Of The Paddle
The Razorback swag used on many canoeing and wild-camping trips featured on this website
Wild camping with a swag in the U.K.
Camp set up, fire going and the Swag ready to be unrolled for the night…
Frost on the swag - sleeping bag and a wool mexican blanket in the swag let's you sleep out in sub-zero temperatures with no problem
Waiting for the Billy to Boil... Swag next to the camp fire
Talking some old lead.... around the camp fire...
Got a Swag Story?
Got your own Swag camp stories? Or know of any more historical background we could add here? Let us know using the form here. Thanks!
[Update: new Wild Canvas Australian Swags will soon be available to buy online – see latest post.
A "Canvas Hotel Bed"! Luxury Australian swag
Australia is the home of the canvas “swag” of course, and the best place to look out for the range of different styles and prices available down under is the Australian Ebay site. This one above from Ebay is the height of luxury in a swag: a one person canvas hotel room! It’s an an Onland Woodland CDK Canvas KING SIZE Dome Swag with FREE bag & Stubby Holder! An extensive set of features includes:
Fibreglass poles at head,centre and foot for easy entry and comfortable space
Heavy duty PVC waterproofed base
External window with roll up flap
Zippered mozzie net in top section for ventilation
Made from 14oz waterproofed cotton canvas
Stainless steel “D” rings
Heavy duty #10 coil zip
2″ High density foam mattress with removable cotton cover
Now that’s luxury Here’s the Ebay link – worth a look at some of the other Australian swags for sale on there too.
We just got back from a fantastic woodland swag camp in a local nature reserve. Given special permission, we were able to camp in a place not normally open to that activity, surrounded by the sights and sounds of a protected woodland and grassland nature reserve. We were treated to young Roe deer and even a badger wandering past our camp, as well as a large male Roe deer passing by and letting off loud barking calls just outside our camp. We’ll write up the trip in full soon, but here’s a pic of the woodland camp scene – you’ll spot the green Australian “swag” wild-camping bedrolls rolled up in the pics below.
Took a trip to the River Wye at the end of May with our Australian visitor “OZMan” to show him what it’s like in a country that has rather more water and lush growth than they get down under. A fantastic trip again in gorgeous late spring weather, OzMan even took a dip in the river and climbed tup to the top of Yat Rock, he was really struck by the beauty of our English countryside. I lent him one of our genuine Australian swags so he’d feel right at home! Somewhere along that lazy river as the evening drew in towards dusk I spotted a rare “Hobby” falcon flashing over the surface of the water catching bugs, something I’ve never seen before – a really beautiful bird, with a very distinctive agile flight full of twists and turns as it races after dragon-flies and moths, eating them on the wing. As the canoe drifted silently on the water we came very close, right under a branch where it had stopped to rest for a while, so I could see that striking red underside and dark moustache features. But it’s in flight you want to see this bird – a really magical experience, and one you’d be unlikely to see except from down at the water level in a canoe, approaching silently on the water.
“Wild Camping” meaning camping out amongst nature away from a managed campsite, is one of the most fantastic and wild experiences you can have, without having to journey to Africa or the Arctic Circle. It’s the best way to really tune in to nature, experience the seasons changing and the wildlife around you, and for canoeing there’s no richer experience than paddling your own way along a river or lake, stopping to camp over night under the stars, and then waking up surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature before you move of on your journey the next day. But what are the rules and laws you need to know about?
When it comes to rivers, there’s an advantage in that as the river level changes it will expose the river bed, which makes it possible to have a “no-trace” wild camp. In practice you can wild camp on the shingle beaches anywhere along the navigable parts of River Wye (because landowners are so used to recreational paddlers) but this is also true on other rivers subject to local conditions. We’ve been doing it for 20 years on the Wye without ever having any problem even though technically, legally you probably need to seek permission from the landowner, but of course finding out who’s the landowner is not easy, but if you do know then of course stop to ask. Remember trespass is not an offence, only trespass causing damage.
If you can find an actual island in the river it’s case that’s counted as the river bed so no permission needed; but there’s no need to go hunting for an island, as it’s really no problem provided you always follow some basic rules:
no trace left
A Simple Wild Camp, with minimal impact.
Campfires & Firewood
Having a campfire is a key part of the experience of camping and wild-camping where it’s allowed, especially in winter to keep warm of course, and for cooking. Clearly conduct a risk assessment in terms of vegetation and fire risk and observe any local guidance. Don’t burn waste (plastic, paper wrapping, litter) – the fumes can be harmful and the residue may be impossible to clear up. Be aware when collecting firewood that deadfall wood is a key provider of nutrients to the ecosystem, via fungi and insects; don’t ‘harvest’ from one spot in woodland or on the vegetation on the riverbank – washed up driftwood is what should be used. Always burn off any logs before you go rather than leaving half-burnt wood around which lasts for years – don’t throw half-burnt logs into the river either as they’ll just float down and end up somewhere else. Don’t have a bigger fire than you need, extinguish the campfire with water, then spread and tread the ash well into the stones, until you can barely see anything, and you’re ready to go. One point: be aware that either wet stones or stones with air pockets in can explode in the heat of the fire – it’s only happened once to me in the last 10 years, but it can happen – take a first aid kit.
Remember water levels can change rapidly depending on weather upstream in the mountains, so be aware of whether the river is going up or down and keep an eye on the river level webcams before you go, and on the river itself and skies when you’re out. Be ready to change your plans if the weather changes significantly.
Don’t fish either as you’ll be raise unnecessary and very real concerns of poaching; and don’t wild camp in an area that is clearly managed for fishing specifically, it’s not welcomed there.
Keep to no more than 3 people/boats in a group at one site, find separate sites if necessary. Use a swag or bivvy and tarp or a small natural-colour tent rather than a monstrous orange tunnel tent if possible! Best to keep a fairly simple camp and not spread all your gear around either, particularly anything that could look like litter – plastic bags, bottles etc. keep them stowed out of sight. Don’t stay more than one night in the same spot, because it’s not your land for a holiday – arrive late in the day and leave early.
Sometimes the landowner will come down to take a peek in the morning, or late at night, and if you follow the rules above you’ll get nothing more than a friendly wave or a chat about the river and the weather – they can see you are respecting the environment and their land, and just enjoying the outdoors.
(Necessary Disclaimer: we’re not legal experts so read up online yourself if you’re concerned and seek out the local knowledge in your area; publishing this guide doesn’t make us responsible in any way – enjoy the wilds of our wonderful country! Thanks.)
‘Old Red’ our new Old Town Discovery 158 canadian canoe had its 2nd outing on Sat 10th with an overnighter involved. The usual and amazing magic of the Wye Valley featured again on this trip. Daytime temperatures were up to 17 degrees on the Saturday with quite a chilly 5 at night as we lay out under the stars in the Swags. The trees still looked very Wintry and they’re late this year, but up close, you could see the buds of Spring bursting out everywhere. Another few warm days and that should make a huge difference.
We heard the Peregrine Falcons calling in the distance and soon after saw one of them zooming down the valley like a jet, and disappearing over the trees. We also encountered a very defensive male Canada Goose who wanted to fight anyone that passed; to keep Mrs Goose safe. We met him two weeks ago on that trip and he was fairly touchy then to any passers by. We kept away both times to give them some space. Countless Buzzards soured in the warm air and a Sparrowhawk darted around the trees just yards from Old Red as we drifted silently. In the morning, we were awake by 6am listening to what sounded like hundreds of birds singing at the same time. At camp, I was pleased with my improving skills with a striker and small pieces of Birch bark shavings to get a small camp fire going, for directly boiling the Kelly Kettle and cooking some meat that I propped on a sharpened green stick.
During the night, I lay there listening to the Tawnys and my eyes had adjusted quite well under the fairly bright night sky. I heard a worrying noise on the pebbles and stones about 20 yards from me and picked up the outline and profile of a large Mink bounding towards our spot, closer and closer.
Midnight Mink... poking around the camp
The Mink then stopped very abruptly, sniffed the air, and did a ‘I just smelt a bloke’ kind of U turn back to the river. As he raced away, he tore up stones behind him, like a car doing wheel spins! I heard the splash as he hit the safety of the Wye again.
On day 2, only 3 other canoeists were seen by us so it really felt like we had the Valley to ourselves which was a great feeling on that warm Sunday morning, as the lambs skipped on the banks along side us.
Source: Period Shelters -http://poisonriverparty.homestead.com/Shelters.html
In fact this construct was used widely in woodland camping by the North Eastern native American populations. One such construction was shown in Ray Mears series on “Rogers Rangers” an exploration of how WIlliam Rogers led expeditions and raiding parties in the early british military campaigns in the Frontier country with Canada, fighting both the French and the opposing native tribes. The demonstration by a descendent of the local tribes showed how a half dome shelter would be built. Interestingly the structure of the frame would be made at the camp site, from materials found thereabouts, whilst the covering was made from wide sheets of birchbark, which being the most valuable material as well as extremely lightweight, would be carried from camp to camp – a new frame simply being built as required at the next location.
Ray shows how with a fire built out front the shelter is extremely insulating, and practical allowing easy access in and out, and the ability to cook under cover using the fire in front of the shelter. These are all characteristics of the “Campfire Tent” or “Baker Tent” we were looking for.
That episode showed a beautiful end result of this technique – I am keen to try this technique, but using a tarp instead of birchbark.
So in searching for a modern version of this ‘half-dome campfire tent’ i began looking into surprisingly fishing “bivvies” which typically do have this half dome shape, as well as a rigid or semi-rigid frame built in. There are many types of these bivvies on the market, with the key differentiating from our point of view being weight and b8ulk, as we will want to carry this in a canoe, as well as portaging where necessary.
So clearly some of the larger more heavy duty fishing shelters, or “carp bivvies” or “brollys” as they are also known in the world of course fishing are not suitable in this case. The most interesting I found were these two:
The Fox Evolution XS Shelter/Bivvi.
This has a rigid, interlocking hooped frame which interestingly stays in place when the shelter is collapsed, making setting up and taking down very quick and simple, as well as great resistance against the wind. Also importantly this one can be set lower in bad weather, another feature of Bill Mason’s campfire tents – that of being highly adjustable to the weather conditions. Here’s a pic:
(a good review here) The downside of course here is that its still quite heavy at 4.2kg (if you compare to a tarp/pole/line setup), but even more importantly its bulky at 1.9m long (!) and 11cm’s diameter size when packed.
This is the most lightweight of the bivvi shelters, with simple shock-corded poles in place of more rigid frames, but again the ability to change the shape significantly from wide open and high at the front very low and enclosed in bad weather. The shelter is extremely lightweight, has good fixings and guy ropes and is very easy to put up (once you’ve tried a few times – at first its quite confusing!). So this one really began to get our attention and we purchase one on Ebay for an incredibly cheap price of just £25, compared to the normal price of about £48. It was a brand new and unpacked one…and in fact the chap who sent it out actually sent out 5 in one box not realising it was a group – I let him know and he arrnged for the others to be picked up – we’re an honest lot here.
So the Wychwood shelter in backyard and canoe trip test turned out be absolutely excellent – the only downside that the poles although light, because they aren’t designed for canoe camping as such are quite long at about 5 foot, rather than being made up of shorter sections- and that does make it a bit big or rather long in the boat, although its no real problem.
The Shelter when set up really does make exactly the half-dome ‘campfire tent’ shelter we were after, and even looks very much like the native american shelters that inspired the idea. It’s a fantastic shape and has only one downside I can see – which is faced into strong winds it can take quite a bashing and become unstable – but if you’re on good ground for pegging this hasn’t been a problem for me even in extreme conditions, lowering the front egde means you can position it carefully in the wind, to get some downforce in play as well.
On less good ground for pegs it can be more of an issue. And in fact on a winter camp last year what were the most violent gusts of winds I’ve ever experienced anywhere on 3 continents hit our camp for a short while, probably half an hour only. Fortunately the direction was favourable, as the shelter got buffeted in the back edge forcing the structure down rather than taking it skyward! With some stones to weigh down the back, some extra pegging to a big log and some crossed fingers, the shelter actually withstood this onslaught, however lying in the shelter with all hell breaking loose around me and snow starting to fall (sideways) I was forced to consider ‘what to do IF it was going to fail’. In fact with this shelter there’s a good option here, and one which is actually useful part of the set-up in good weather too: by simply removing the poles you are left with an excellent simple tarp, again with good fixing point and a slight dome shape that helps enormously when constructing a tarp shelter. So the solution would have been to collapse the poles and just cover the swag with a very lower tarp cover, down and out of the wind behind the canoe.
Since then things have changed and although I haven’t yet tried constructing a shelter using sticks with this tarp, I have used it with canoe paddles attached to the canoe for stablity and that really works well – then you simply take the small rolled up tarp part of the shelter and its extremely minimalist as well as being very effective in both wind and rain, with enough room for two people and gear to sit out of the rain.
“Backyard Test” of the Wychwood shelter canoe-tarp rig:
And in use for real on a canoe trip:
So there you have it – the Wychwood shelter is our recommendation for the half-dome campfire tent shelter and as a canoe-tarp rig; so it’s a great buy for the price.