Category Archives: Shelter & Tents

The Wynnchester Australian Swag Bedroll

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

The video:

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. ]

May on the River

We just got back from a great overnight wild-camping trip on the River Wye. Weather was good, but very windy on day one which made the mailes hard going at times, but it cleared beautifully in the evening for our camp. We knew heavy rain was coming early the next morning so set about getting good tarp-rigs up for some protection, which worked great. Here’s some photos from the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Land Rover loaded up for the trip.

The Land Rover loaded up for the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice tarp-rig: we were expecting rain in the night

Nice tarp-rig: we were expecting rain in the night

 

 

 

Luxury Swag! Australian style outdoors comfort…

[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.

Woodland Camp

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.

Stoatally Different Canoe Trip…

On Saturday 24th, we took ‘Old Red’ (our newest canoe, an Old Town Discovery 158) on its 3rd trip, on another ‘over-nighter’ on the River Wye. The river was quite low with the recent fine weather and Spring has now properly arrived at last. We didn’t see the Peregrines this time but were treated to a lengthy sighting of a Stoat, hunting alongside the riverbank.

Stoatally Different from a Weasel...

It moved quickly in the cover but we could see the distinctive white chest and black tip of the tail clearly – How to tell a Stoat from a Weasel? Just remember this old rhyme: A Stoat is Weasily recognised, as it Stoatally different from a Weasel!

I rigged up an improvised shelter with my tarp as we expected some rain at night and sure enough, at around 3am, the showers started.

Spring had Sprung in the Valley for our Camp

Simple but effective Tarp & Canoe Rig for a wild camp

Light Rain on the Tarp in the Morning...

The birdsong took over from the rain at 6am and it was incredible to hear this chorus again. The protective Canada Goose we’d seen on the last trip left us alone as we passed this time – he seemed a bit more relaxed about canoeists. Mrs Goose was still up on the nest as he eye-balled us from the other side of the river. Only a few Buzzards this time and the Owls were fairly quiet – and no visits from the Mink at camp – all in all, a Stoatally different trip!

Wild Camping

“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 damage
  • no litter
  • no noise
  • 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.

Water Levels

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.

Camp Rules
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.)

Baker Tent Hunt – the half-dome shelter

In addition to the full size campfire tent and lightweight versions we’ve looked at, one of the simplest ways to achieve a ‘campfire tent’ setup would be the ‘half dome shelter’.

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.

carp bivvi or brolly

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:

fox evolution bivvy

(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.

All the fishing bivvi info you’ll ever need is here at http://www.bivvies.co.uk/

The Wychwood Rogue Shelter.

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.

Wychwood Rogue Shelter

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:

canoe tarp backyard test

And in use for real on a canoe trip:

canoe tarp wye

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.

read more in our “Baker Tent Hunt” series.

Snowbound in a Campfire Tent

The Campfire Tent has been getting good use during this winter snow: kind of a ‘Backyard’ test for a snowbound winter camp here. The campfire tent proving itself again – giving great shelter from strong and bitterly cold Northerly winds, whilst allowing the openess for cooking, observing nature and snowbound views, and generally ‘messing about in tents’! In this weather the views have been absolutely stunning and I haven’t missed a thing – including a huge shooting star one evening. I set up just before the snow came in 10 days ago, and after the main snowfall the roof of the tent had about 5 inches of snow weighing it down – that’s a LOT of weight, and happy to say the canvas, stitching, poles and guys all stood up to the test. The pegs have been completely frozen into the ground so they aren’t going anywhere, which has helped in the very strong winds we’ve had. Walking the fields all the activity of nature is written into the snow in footprints – from tiny mice trails and bird footprints, to thin and whispy deer tracks and big badger prints – all the activity you’d normally miss in the dark is recorded for the following morning.

Also here is a backyard test of a new Hekla 30 firebox from Tentipi, a great bit of kit I’ll write more about in detail later.. The tent itself is from Green Outdoor and features in the Winter Camp story below. For now here’s the video:

Campfire Tents – Ray Mears Baker Tent

Ray Mears has done more than anyone in recent times to promote the benefits of Getting Out & Staying Out, and particularly he has shown himself a great believer in the open-to-your-surroundings nature of the Campfire Tent or Baker Tent. In his episode on Roger Rangers in the North East United States and Canada he showed a complete camp set up using 2 baker tents, in some really beautiful woodland.

For a modern baker tent see our video review of the Campfire Tent or our feature on our ongoing “Baker Tent Hunt”.

Here’s some pictures of Ray Mears Baker Tent Camp – makes you want to Get Out & Stay Out doesn’t it!

baker campfire tent1

baker campfire tent2

baker campfire tent 3

baker campfire tent 4

Ray’s set up shows perfectly the combination of openeness, ability to be warmed by a fire in front, and of cooking on the fire whilst staying sheltered in your tent. But the main benefit of the Campfire tent is in this open-ness to your surroundings – if you’re out there you don’t want to miss a deer wandering past your camp, or the chance to make a wish for a lottery win on a shooting star burning up in the atmosphere above you. Or an owl that flies low across your camp in the early evening. Using open tents these are all things I’ve experienced on my travels.