Archive for May, 2008

As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.

First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:

Bottom of swag under basha

A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.

However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.

Good stuff wet canvas

The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.

I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.

On a more successful note…. the poncho works!

Matt in Poncho


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A little while ago we met a very nice chap called Michael Field at the Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show – we had a good talk to him and he told us the best way to keep ourselves dry on the road.

After we got back Michael dropped us a line and very kindly offered to send us some bits and pieces to help us get our kit ready. I must be honest I’ve never really believed in after-market waterproofing – we’ve all been there and bought the sprays and the liquids and everything in-between from the camping shop – so when I put the jacket in the wash this weekend I wasn’t holding out much hope.

My jacket is three years old, it’s never been washed and to be totally frank it was not really very waterproof around the tummy area. I’ve always put that down to the way my tummy pushes against the front and desperately tries to escape :-)

So into the washing machine the jacket went, following the instructions on the tech wash bottle – 30 degree hand wash cycle – out it came dripping wet and not very much cleaner than before – but Michael had warned me – use the tech wash first otherwise the waterproof wont work.

Given the beautiful weather this weekend it was dry in a couple of hours, so went back in on a 40 degree wash, gentle cycle, slow spin with the waterproof liquid. To cut a long story short, it took six hours in total to wash the jacket, dry it, wash it again and leave it dry once more. It’s not a task I’d do in anything but the best of weather.

Allowing for British weather I didn’t have to wait long to test the application. This morning it was throwing it down, a perfect opportunity to see in action the wonder proofing that Michael had promised. I rode for an hour in the rain, constant but not heavy, fully expecting to have to change my top when I got into work.

Arriving in west London I noticed something very odd, the water, as it was hitting my jacket was beading, gathering in little balls before running off all together. It’s not 100% efficient but most of the water simply wasn’t staying on the fabric. Getting into the office I pulled the jacket off to discover no wet spot – nothing at all – bone dry underneath.

These two products form the basis of the Nikwax range, and frankly if everything else they produce works as well as these two, then it’s a name I’ll trust in the future.


Click to Play very kindly lent me a Coolabah Swag bag to test – just to see if it was practical to take on a bike for a long trip.It was a total success and I’m now seriously considering taking one to Russia – with all the modern tents

This video was originally shared on by journeytorussia with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

Choosing a tent to take overland is never an easy task, do you go for weight? What about material? Cost? All very important questions, but ultimately I think it boils down to how you work with the tent and how it works for you in return.

I know, slightly strange to be talking about forming some sort of bond with something as silly as a tent, but after all this small, insubstantial shelter is going to be your home for the next goodness knows how long, why not take some care in what you chose? Why not take into account how you feel about your home?

Coolabah Swag BagWith that in mind may I introduce the first tent that has made me feel something about how it’s put together – the Coolabah swag bag from Burke and Wills – distributed in this country by

It’s completely made of canvas, both it’s best and worst point. I remember when I was a kid camping with my dad, a massive six person tent that took up the entire rear of the car, and took about a week to put up. It smelt bad when it rained, if it rained for more than a couple of hours you’d get a fine mist working its way through the material. But it seems even with the oldest tent material in the world we can have a bit of an update.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s more ‘waxy’ and even though I’m yet to test it in the wet I can quite believe the claim from Burke and Wills that once it’s been wet, the seams expand and it’ll deal with everything but the worst of the weather. They suggest before you use it you take it out and give it a good hosing. Makes sense.

It’s certainly a ‘choice’, once I’d decided that I didn’t want to take a tent that took a lot of time to put up, and decided that I didn’t need a tent that I could get changed in etc, then the one man options became more sensible, the problems as ever boiled down to how you get in and out when it’s raining and where do you sit if it rains.

I’ve looked at a lot of one and two man tents, but all the modern ones just seem to be far to complicated. I’ve been looking for something that I can pull off the back of the bike un-roll and get in – complete with sleeping mat and bag. With the Coolabah I’ve finally found it. It ships with a foam mattress that frankly I’d be comfortable with as my main bed, but practically it’s just too big and doesn’t roll to a sensible size. I’ve now replaced that with my Exped Downmat (from Traveldri-Plus) and my sleeping bag – it now rolls up to half the size but it’s still fairly wide. If you’re on a narrow bike with no panniers you may struggle to find a way to fit it on. My bike, just like me, is quite wide and with 54 litre panniers on either side this isn’t going to cause me a problem.

Top entranceThe attention to detail is superb. As you get into the tent through the very accessible top door and put your head on the pillow you notice immediately how well put together it is, how close all the stitching is and how good the material is. I was very impressed when I saw a handy little loop for my torch and a series of pockets just above my shoulder for those little things like phones and glasses. I was slightly concerned about storage for things like my camera, but actually there’s so much room down by your feet that I stowed both my stills and video camera there without noticing them during the night.

There’s enough space inside to comfortably move around during the night and even change your undies and put some trousers on, but putting a top on is a bit difficult and you’ll need to poke your head out to achieve the more space conscious dressing activities.

The design is perfect, rather than the usual crawling into your tent you use a door on the top of the tent, very coffin like. In reality this means you can lie down and look out at the stars, either directly or through the mosquito net before pulling the canvas door over your head for a totally dark night. There is a door at the very end you can crawl through – but frankly – I don’t fit – I do like the fact you can leave the canvas on the end open with the net down however.

Coolabah swag bag on back of bikeIn summary, a great tent, very well made and once you’ve pulled out the supplied foam mattress and replaced it with a more sensible version just right for putting up each night very quickly. The only issues are with the size once rolled up – if you can deal with that and can find a sensible way to cover yourself in the rain (think tarp and poles off your bike) then go for it.