ARB SkyDome II swag: Tested
The swag is synonymous with outback camping. This relatively basic canvas ‘bed’ has been used by travellers for decades with good reason. Originally, the swag was just a large piece of canvas that you bundled all your sleeping gear into, and then rolled it up 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 insect mesh for better ventilation (and mossie protection). I have been a regular on-and-off user of a swag for around 20 years now and recently bought ARB’s latest incarnation of its popular SkyDome swag: the SkyDome II. It was perfect timing, in fact, as I had a big outback assignment for Aus Geo coming up, traversing the Madigan Line, in the northern Simpson Desert, and the swag would be ideal for this trip.
The ARB SkyDome II is made from 500gsm heavy-duty water- and rot-proofed canvas, with a 970gsm PVC base that also features a bathtub design (there are no seams on the floor and the PVC folds up 70mm above the ground before joining the canvas walls). Welded corners also aid in keeping water out. The SkyDome II includes large canvas flaps covering insect-mesh openings on the side and smaller ones at the foot and head of the swag. In addition, the SkyDome II adds another large mesh/canvas roof to the foot/leg area. These four ventilation points are brilliant and aid in protecting against condensation build-up inside the swag, as well as keeping insects out.
The swag offers a claimed 1200 litres of internal volume, and the floor dimensions measure 2150mm long and 900mm wide. This is plenty for a single occupant (I measure 182cm and have oodles 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) is surprisingly supportive. Initially, I thought I would have needed a 100mm mattress, but the 75mm was more than enough for a good night’s sleep with plenty of cushioning. The 11mm aluminium poles are robust and a big step up from the fibreglass fare you find on other swags. At 10.5kg, the swag isn’t light – and it is relatively bulky when rolled up with a sleeping bag inside – but considering the fact it is so quick to set up (five minutes at the absolute most), it has a robust carry handle/strap, and the internal space and rugged construction, it’s a small price to pay.
In the field
The SkyDome II was a boon on the Madigan Line traverse. It was easy to pack in the back of the Ranger Raptor 4WD ute we had on the trip, and it was just as easy to set up each evening (note to 4WD wagon owners that they do take up a bit of your vehicle’s interior cargo space, but you can always pack it on the roof-rack if need be). The three hoop poles and the two horizontal brace poles take (as mentioned) around five minutes and, thanks to its freestanding design, you are done and can grab that first campsite beer.
I took advantage of the ventilation at the head and foot and usually rolled up the protective canvas flaps on those, then unzipped the inner zip, to allow plenty of fresh air through the swag. There is plenty of space inside (again, as mentioned earlier) 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 straightforward: removing the poles and storing them in the supplied bag takes no time at all, then you just roll it up (with pole bag inside) and cinch it down with its straps.
The worst feeling when inside a swag is the pitter-patter of rain on the canvas. It is essential to ‘treat’ the swag’s canvas before you use it by wetting it over a few times. This allows the stitching and canvas to expand and ‘close up’, thus providing a waterproof outer. Another impressive design feature is the rain gutter that surrounds each window/opening. This helps divert any water run-off that gets under the canvas flap away from the mesh window itself. We only had a small shower on 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 (and always have) had a lightweight tarp I could rig up to protect it if caught in a heavy downpour. It is during this type of weather that the swag’s opening is the only disadvantage; opening the flap to the heavens means that, if it was raining, you’d get some water in the swag interior. The swag’s PVC base keeps moisture away from the mattress and offers assurance in terms of the durability of the swag; I occasionally dragged it around on its base to get a flatter sleeping position and it coped just fine.
The final word on the ARB SkyDome II
The ARB SkyDome II is not cheap but, once you lay down your cash, you will have an outback/camping shelter that should last you decades, thus rewarding that financial outlay. The SkyDome II improves on the original SkyDome in all the right places – namely, in offering more ventilation – and ARB wisely stuck to the original for the rest of this 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 excellent design, fast setup, and the fact it can cop plenty of rough treatment makes it a smart long-term purchase for outback adventurers looking for a bombproof shelter.
RRP: $495 (Aus East Coast Metro). See www.arb.com.au for this and all other ARB products.