June 8, 2022
Image credit: Justin Walker
On a recent Simpson’s Desert Expedition, ARB’s SkyDome II showed us why a swag is a great option for those looking for a comfortable night’s sleep in the backcountry.
Swag is synonymous with backcountry camping. This relatively basic canvas “bed” has been used by travelers for decades with good reason. Originally, swag was just a big piece of canvas that you bundle all your sleeping gear into and then roll it all together. It was quick to set up and, thanks to its canvas construction, pretty much bombproof. Since those early days, swag designs have evolved, with some including hoops and bug nets for better ventilation (and foam protection). I have been a regular user of a swag for about 20 years now and recently purchased ARB latest incarnation of its popular SkyDome swag: the SkyDome II. Actually, it was perfect timing, because I had a big backcountry mission for Aus Geo, crossing the Madigan Line, in the northern Simpson Desert, and the loot would be perfect for that trip.
The ARB SkyDome II is made from 500gsm water and rot resistant canvas, with a 970gsm PVC base that also features a bathtub design (there are no seams on the floor and the PVC folds 70mm above the floor before joining the canvas walls). Welded corners also help keep water out. The SkyDome II features large canvas flaps covering the insect mesh openings on the side and smaller ones at the foot and swag head. Additionally, the SkyDome II adds another large mesh/canvas roof to the foot/leg area. These four ventilation points are brilliant and help protect against condensation buildup inside the swag, as well as keep bugs out.
The booty offers a claimed internal volume of 1200 liters and floor dimensions are 2150mm long and 900mm wide. That’s a lot for a single occupant (I’m 182cm and have plenty of space). Interior height is 800mm in the top half and 450mm down near your feet. The included 75mm high-density mattress (with removable/washable cover) provides surprising support. I originally thought I would have needed a 100mm mattress, but the 75mm was more than enough for a good night’s sleep with plenty of padding. The 11mm aluminum poles are sturdy and a big step up from the fiberglass fare you find on other garlands. At 10.5kg the swag isn’t light – and it’s relatively bulky when rolled up with a sleeping bag inside – but considering it’s so quick to set up (five minutes max), it has a sturdy carrying handle/strap, and the internal space and sturdy construction, it’s a small price to pay.
In the field
The SkyDome II was a godsend for crossing the Madigan line. It was easy to store in the back of the Ranger Raptor 4WD ute we had on the trip, and it was just as easy to set up each night. The three hoop poles and two horizontal brace poles take (as mentioned) about five minutes, and thanks to its freestanding design, you’re done and can have that first camping beer.
I took advantage of the head and foot ventilation and usually rolled the protective canvas flaps over these, then unzipped the inside zipper, to let in plenty of fresh air through the swag. There’s plenty of space inside (again, as mentioned before) and getting in and out is easy – as is getting changed in the swag (for those who like a bit of privacy). Packing it up was just as easy – removing the poles and storing them in the provided bag takes no time at all, then you just roll it up (with the pole bag inside) and tie it up with its straps.
The worst feeling inside a swag is the patter of rain on the canvas. It is essential to “treat” the canvas of the swag before using it by wetting it several times. This allows the seams and canvas to expand and “close” providing a waterproof exterior. Another impressive design feature is the rain gutter that surrounds each window/opening. This helps divert any water runoff that enters under the canvas flap away from the mesh window itself. We only took a quick shower the first night of the expedition, so I didn’t have to fully test the effectiveness of the swag’s waterproof levels, but I also had (and still have ) had a light tarp that I could set up to protect it if in a heavy downpour. It’s during this type of weather that opening up the swag is the only downside; opening the flap to the sky means that if it was raining you would have water inside the swag. The PVC base of the swag draws moisture away from the mattress and provides assurance in terms of the durability of the swag; I sometimes dragged it on its base to get a flatter sleeping position and that was fine.
The Final Word on the ARB SkyDome II
The ARB SkyDome II isn’t cheap but, once you put down your money, you’ll have an outback/camping shelter that should last you decades, at minimum and therefore more than rewarding that financial outlay. The SkyDome II improves on the original SkyDome in all the right places, namely by providing more ventilation, while the ARB wisely sticks to the original for the rest of the new version’s design.
Yes the swag is bulky when packed and a bit heavy (although lighter than most others in this market segment) but its great design, quick setup and the fact that it can handle a lot of Brutal treatments make it a smart buy for backcountry adventurers looking for bombproof shelter.
Recommended retail price: $450 View www.arb.com.au for this and all other ARB products.