Sleeping Arrangements

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” Homer, The Odyssey.

I think everyone understands the importance of good sleep to physical supremacy, cognitive dominance, and emotional resilience. So, I’m going to examine the options for sleeping arrangements in the Australian bush, and evaluate them based on input from several experts in sleeping in the bush or rough camping.

From the previous discussion on Curb Weights I’ve selected a method to transport sufficient water, fuel, supplies, and equipment to travel in the bush. But, I also need to examine how best to sleep given the impact of common environmental influences in the bush.

Sleeping Options

There are a number of sleeping systems provided by the vehicle and system for going bush. The below images try to indicate these in context.

I’ve found many options are possible. Six major options are indicated above, related to the previous discussion on curb weights, and they are discussed following some basic environmental considerations.

  1. Swag
  2. Tent
  3. Stretcher Bed
  4. Roof Top Tent
  5. Pod Trailer
  6. Teardrop Camper

Environmental Impacts

The environment of Australia plays the major role in determining the best sleeping system. Let’s talk about the environmental aspects of sleeping.

The Wildlife

There are no bears, lions, or other large predatory mammals in Australia. The wildlife is much smaller, more intimate, and loves nothing more than a warm bed to snuggle into during the cold desert nights.

Keeping the local wildlife away out of your bed, and out of your boots, is an important consideration for where your bed should be.

The Dry Creek

When selecting a flat smooth camp site it is easy to believe that a dry creek bed is a good place to spend the night. Unfortunately bush creeks are subject to flash flooding, and the storm which causes the flood may be a great distance away. It may not even rain where you are.

While the flood waters will not be as extreme as shown here (Todd River, Alice Springs, Northern Territory), it is very possible that a creek bed campsite can become subject to anything from a trickle of water to an active flowing creek during the night.

The Gibber Plain

The term “gibber plain” is used to describe desert pavement in Australia. It is a desert surface covered with closely packed, interlocking angular or rounded rock fragments of pebble and cobble size. Desert varnish can collect on the exposed surface rocks over time.

Gibber is located across of much of central Australia, and in the desert you’ve a choice of sand dunes, bull dust, or Gibber plains on which to make a camp site. So, remember to take a rake.

Gibber Plain is found in these Deserts

Sleeping Options

Ok, now we’ve got some of the environmental preamble out of the way, let’s look at the options for sleeping comfortably.

Swag

The swag or bed-roll is the traditional method of rough camping in the Australian bush. It is basically a canvas tarpaulin with a mattress inside. They’re quite warm and they’re also waterproof. It zips all the way up so it covers your head, and you have the canvas for a rain cover. The swag is useful for any of the options for carrying the equipment, and can be used in good conditions even when other alternatives are available.

Down on His Luck, painted by Frederick McCubbin in 1889, depicts a melancholic swagman "on the Wallaby".
Down on His Luck, painted by Frederick McCubbin in 1889, depicts a melancholic swagman “on the Wallaby”

The swag is the choice of bedding for a swagman. A swagman was a transient labourer who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying his belongings in a swag. The term originated in Australia in the 19th century and was later used in New Zealand.

Swagmen were particularly common in Australia during times of economic uncertainty, such as the 1890s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many unemployed men travelled the rural areas of Australia on foot, their few meagre possessions rolled up and carried in their swag. Their swag was frequently referred to as “Matilda”, hence the song Waltzing Matilda, based on Banjo Paterson’s poem, refers to walking with their swag. Typically, swagmen would seek work in farms and towns they travelled through, and in many cases the farmers, if no permanent work was available, would provide food and shelter in return for some menial task.

A swag is quite the romantic holiday experience for backpackers, but it is not going to protect the quality of your sleep from gibber plain cobbles, local wildlife, or flash flooding. So its use case is limited to good conditions, and it shouldn’t be relied upon in bad conditions (if you want quality sleep). Score here is 0 from 3 environmental points.

Tent

Tents are the next option to discuss. They can protect you from local wildlife, provided they are always properly closed up and are in good condition. They will protect you from bad weather and some water flow. But inside the ground will still be rocky and uneven if camped on gibber cobbles or other rock formations. So let’s say the tent scores 1.5 from 3 environmental points.

Roof Top Tent

The Roof Top Tent would seem to address all of the failings of a normal tent. Placing the tent up high, with a flat bed and mattress, removes all of the environmental issues and scores maximum 3 points.

However, the RTT has a fatal flaw. Every time you go up to bed, or get out of bed, you have to climb a 2m high ladder. This is not an issue 99 times from 100 times, but if you’re sleeping in it for a year the chances are you’re going to slip at least 3 or 4 times, and one of those times (in compliance with Murphy’s Law), you’ll break your leg, and that fall will occur in the middle of the Simpson Desert.

From that safety issue alone the Roof Top Tent has a complete veto, in my opinion.

Stretcher Bed

The stretcher bed, cot, or camp bed is an option to uplift quality of sleep in a tent, under a swag, or anywhere there is no full mattress available. The stretcher bed adds environmental points to the tent and also to the swag by lifting you above gibber and minor water, and protecting against most of the wildlife issues (except mosquitos).

The Experts agree that if there’s space available they would never go bush without a stretcher bed. The combination of tent and stretcher bed scores the full 3 environmental points.

Pod Trailer

While the trailer, and specifically the pod trailer, is not designed for sleeping, it can be used as an alternative sleeping platform in the case of bad weather, when the gibber or bull dust is too thick to sleep on the ground, or when there is no need to set up a tent.

Pod trailers can be optioned up to become a full soft-floor camper, but that is not the intention of this discussion. The goal is simply to point out that, as an alternative, the bed of a pod or box trailer can be used as a base for a swag or bed roll, instead of using a stretcher bed, and it scores 3 environmental points for this purpose.

Teardrop Camper

Sleeping indoors, while in the great outdoors, is the epitome of comfort. Having a clean, dust proof, wildlife proof haven at the end of the day will provide the best possible sleep quality. But, of course this does come at some expense, and the issues covered in the Curb Weight discussion apply. Scores 3 environmental points.

The Experts

My Sister, who went bush for 8 years, travelling in her Falcon XD Wagon between jobs in Ross River, Jabiru, Exmouth and the Pilbara, before completing the Big Lap with her new husband.

My Brother-In-Law, Retired NCO “The Regiment”, 2 tours of Vietnam, and former Instructor at Bindoon Defence Training Area, WA.

2 thoughts on “Sleeping Arrangements

  1. Pingback: Curb Weight | Gone Bush

  2. Pingback: Test Camping | Gone Bush

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