Updated March 21, 2017
Remember the old-time camping bed roll? It was the original “sleeping under the stars” shelter used by mountain men, soldiers, cowboys and emigrants of the historic North American West.
A sheet of heavy weight canvas was boiled and dried in the sun. It was saturated with a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits, and then dried in the hot summer sun until the odor dissipated to make it water, mildew and rot resistant.
Oiled canvas was tough and with care lasted for years, taking whatever the wilderness had to throw at it.
A large thick wool blanket served for the thermal layer and a war bag, or possibles sack, served as a pillow.
Yes, you heard me right . . . ONE wool blanket!
Smart travelers made themselves a Capote, an Indian blanket coat, fashioned from a Hudson Bay Blanket, which doubled as their second thermal layer inside the camping bed roll. The whole kit kept them snug, dry and warm against stormy weather in a campsite wisely chosen for protection from the elements, yet near enough to resources necessary for survival, such as water, fire fuel and food.
These bedrolls were more than the rustic grandfather of today’s sleeping bags; they secured the owner’s personal possessions, sometimes their whole camp kit. In certain conditions, the oiled canvas sheet came in handy as a rudimentary tent when draped over a tree branch or a strung line with the corners staked out.
A good bedroll made breaking camp quick and easy, just roll it up around the possibles sack, close it up with leather belts or a length of rope, and then lash it to the back of a pack mule or toss it in back of a wagon (chuck wagon, prairie schooner, etc.).
The old-fashioned bedroll is a revered camping supply still in use today by modern day cowboys and historical reenactors.
So viable is the ideology and methodology the military developed their own version of a regulation bed roll; it evolved over time to meet the needs of particular campaigns and to take advantage of the latest advances in textiles and materials. This is where the bivouac sack (bivvy sack) originated, a spin-off of historic oiled canvas sheeting.
Today, camping bed rolls have gone high tech. Campers stay drier, warmer and more comfortable than ever in bedrolls made of tough lightweight materials and innovative construction that pack down to almost nothing and can be easily carried by backpackers, mountain climbers and bikers.
More and more campers are rediscovering the benefits of the camping bed roll. Their versatility and customization options are limited only by the imagination and do-it-yourself ingenuity . . . think “glamping bedroll” with all the beauty and comforts of home!
For your convenience, below are our camping bed roll best picks. Click on the images and links for more information.
BigBenddSaddelry.com does a great job of showing how to put together a cowboy bedroll.
When we made up our bed rolls we chose a high quality 3-inch foam pad and covered it with a sheet we stitched to create a giant “pillow case”, using blanket pins to secure the ends. This keeps our pads clean and fresh. We added a top sheet to protect our bodies from the scratchy wool blankets and to help keep the blankets clean.
We used two Hudson Bay wool blankets. These heavy duty blankets trap warm air between the fibers and layers, keeping us toasty warm. We prefer wool to other blanket materials because it keeps us warm even when wet.
Moreover, in a survival situation the wool blankets can double as a much needed emergency shelter and as another layer of outerwear to keep us warm and dry.
To our bedroll we also add one travel weight polar fleece blanket to wrap around our head and shoulders on especially frigid nights, and to ward off any sneaky cold drafts.
We toss in an empty pillow case, which we stuff each night with clean clothing, a soft jacket or the polar fleece blanket to use as a pillow. It’s much more comfortable than using a war bag.
Then, we fold up the canvas tarp as shown on BigBendSaddelry.com and secure the bundle with a sturdy rope. It’s heavy and bulky, but next to our memory foam mattresses at home, it’s the best darn sleep there is under the stars!
The TrailMax Zippered Cavalry Bedroll is a modified take on a historic favorite. More utilitarian sleeping bag cover than bedroll, the canvas adds a layer of warmth and protection from the elements when sleeping under the stars.
The thoughtful design includes a zipper entry for ease of use, a flannel pocket to slip your favorite sleeping pad into and light weight canvas treated to repel water, resist mildew and retard flame.
Stuff your sleeping bag inside, roll it up and cinch it tight with the built in nylon webbing straps and buckles.
"This extremely functional bedroll is perfect for sleeping under the stars in the spring or fall or for adding warmth and protection from the snow in winter. The canvas prevents dew and frost from collecting on your sleeping bag or Hudson Bay blanket and yet is breathable so moisture can escape as you sleep.
Pathfinder products are custom-made to order. They are non-returnable/non-refundable and can take up to 4-6 weeks until you receive your order."
The bedroll is of "heavy 15-ounce canvas construction" with an internal pocket for a sleeping pad, a very clever design.
We love the zippered pocket for stuffing with clean clothes to make a great pillow, or for stowing personal gear while en route. "Heavy-duty YKK zippers completely open top layer for easy accessibility. Once rolled, the bedroll secures with two leather straps and buckles." This high quality camping bed roll comes with a lifetime guarantee. --DuluthPack.com
Dave Canterbury of SelfRelianceOutfitters.com and DuluthPack.com collaborated to create a Kephart inspired camping bed roll. The result was an innovative product loaded with survival versatility, as demonstrated in these videos.
More than a bedroll, this piece of heavy duty canvas is designed to be used as a log raised bed, can be rigged as a very comfortable hammock or doubles as a lean-to shelter in an emergency survival situation.