Waltzing Matilda with a swag, Part 1 – Packs and Carry

Welcome to the first in a multi part series on the “how-to” of bushwalking in the old style with a swag and nosebag.

Each of the parts of this series of posts will cover a separate aspect of the gear and how to use it, but keep in mind that there were literally dozens or even hundreds of different configurations. In this series you’ll see the gear I tend to use most often while swaggin’ it. For an exhaustive look at this stuff and the rationale behind it, you’ll need to wait for my soon-to-be-released book On the Wallaby Track: A Swagman’s Handbook . This series of posts is designed to give you nuts and bolts info purely to get people started and out there on the track swaggin’ it in the old style.

Packs and Carry has a broad definition. In this case it refers to:

  • The swag straps and shoulder strap used to carry the wrapped bundle which is the swag roll
  • The nosebag
  • Tucker bags
  • Ditty bags
  • Any belt kit
  • Any haversack

The most important parts of the swag are the straps and the nosebag. Everything else is secondary, even the swag roll itself isn’t as important as the straps used to secure it.

The Swag Straps

Traditional swag work in progress.

2 inch wide belts work perfectly as swag straps.

The path of least resistance for this setup is to use a couple of old leather belts for the swag straps. These wrap around the packed swag roll and keep it from coming open while you’re on the track. I have often used a pair of 2 inch wide army surplus Swiss Army officer’s dress belts. Bare with me here because you’ll see army surplus gear pop up over and over as we go through this series of posts.

Being wide and strong, these belts are secure and are almost unbreakable. You’re unlikely to ever destroy them. I usually go with swag straps between a metre and 110cm long. This gives you plenty of wiggle room when it comes to strapping up a fat, cold weather swag, or if you want to strap an oilskin coat or a rain cape to the outside of the swag roll where you can get to them easily enough.

The Shoulder Strap


Adjustable leather shoulder strap is fastened between the swag straps.

This is little more than a short leather strap which is fixed between the two swag straps and which is long enough to put an arm through so you can carry the swag roll hanging off your shoulder. In my case I use an adjustable leather “cobra” pattern rifle sling. It works fine and being more than two inches at its widest, it doesn’t dig into my shoulder when carrying a heavy swag.

The Nosebag


This picture shows how the nosebag is secured to the swag strap. In this case it it tied on using a calico triangular bandage, rather useful as multi-purpose item.

Also known variously as a tucker bag or as a dilly bag, the nosebag has a double purpose – it contains your food and cooking/eating gear and its weight helps to offset the weight of the swag roll on your back.

I use a vintage 50lb flour bag as my nosebag. This is twisted at the top and tied closed with a piece of jute twine. This twisted neck of the nosebag can then be tied off directly to a swag strap or you can tie it to the swag strap with a tea towel (seriously) or a calico triangular bandage. Both of the latter are easier on the shoulder when carrying a lot of tucker in the nose bag.


There you have the basic carry system for swaggin’ it – swag straps, shoulder straps and a nose bag to balance it all out. In use, you would put an arm through the shoulder strap, which will lead the swag roll to sit diagonally across your back. If you have the nosebag nosebag tied off to the right hand swag strap, swing the nosebag around behind your neck and over your left shoulder so that it sits on your left chest.

Reading this, it’ll seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it’s the most logical way to wear the nosebag in practice. If you were to sling the nosebag over the same shoulder as the swag’s shoulder strap, you will in short order start getting a seriously sore shoulder and neck.

Miscellanous bags


In this picture you can see the contents of the nosebag, many of which are laid out on their various ditty bags. The 50lb flour bag itself is the nose bag. The green bag is a rubberised canvas jungle food bag from WWII which was used as the tucker bag in order to keep the flour and other dry food from getting wet during a soggy swag trip. The quartpot gets its own calico bag in order to keep soot off everything else carried in the nosebag.

Inside the nosebag, everything is in miscellaneous calico bags I have found or have made up.

The most important of these bags is the tucker bag. I call this one the tucker bag because it contains the food separately to the rest of the stuff in the nosebag. When you’re camped for the night you can remove the whole tucker bag from the nosebag without having to untie the whole thing. Its size depends on how much food you’re taking. Mine is a calico book bag so flattened out it’s a little bit bigger than A4 size.

Inside the tucker bag you’ll find ditty bags full of foodstuffs. I use one for flour and others to keep small tin canisters and glass vials of spices together, as well as separate ones for coffee beans, sugar and tea.

Salt beef or pork goes into a calico meat bag before being carried in the billy. The calico stops the meat from sweating so it lasts longer without going rancid.

I also use calico ditty bags for carrying camp equipment (rolled up in the swag) such as candle lantern and candles, spare matches and the like.

Belt Kit


Some basic belt kit items seen here (right to left) – a water bottle in skeleton leather carrier, compass in leather pouch, clasp knife pouch, larger bush knife sheath with attached accessory pouch.

I used to wear my bush belt quite often when swaggin’ it, but I tend to wear it less these days, since I’ve streamlined my kit considerably. The bush belt kit consisted of the following:

I use a belt-mounted canvas water bottle pouch to carry a WWI-era US M1910 canteen and canteen cup where it’s close to hand.

The belt itself is a 2 inch wide leather belt with a brass buckle I picked up from somewhere. It does the job.

I use an army surplus Urugayan/Argentinian 1910s rifle stripper clip pouch to carry my prismatic compass. The compass is secured to the belt with a plaited leather lanyard.

I use a leather pocket knife pouch to carry a Swiss pattern 1908 soldier’s clasp knife.

I use a brown leather knife sheath designed for a Buck 19 to carry my Svord Drop Point Hunter knife.



My What Price Glory repro Pattern 14 Haversack with leather sling.

A shoulder haversack can be useful on longer trips or when carrying extra equipment such as field sketching or photographic equipment.

My haversack of choice is a reproduction WWI-era Mills webbing Pattern 14 side pack from What Price Glory. These have leather straps and brass tongue buckles. I use it with a 1 inch wide leather military rifle sling, which admittedly is a bit less comfortable than a wider shoulder strap when the haversack is packed to the gunwales.

4 thoughts on “Waltzing Matilda with a swag, Part 1 – Packs and Carry

  1. I’d be interested to know a good place to buy a vintage or repro swag like this. I’m not Australian, but it seems like the word “swag” has been coopted to mean “single person tent,” so I’m having trouble finding info online. Do you have any recommendations or a good pattern that I can get someone on Etsy to recreate from?

  2. G’day Anthony, hahaha yep, there’s “swags” and then there’s “the too-heavy, one-man, canvas bivvy tents with bendy hooped poles which call the manufacturers deceptively call swags”.
    Check out – https://thejungleisneutral.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/archival-gear-the-first-hootchie-and-swag-challenge/ About halfway down there’s a good diagram of a traditional swag with some measurements which might help if you want to get a custom swag made up.
    As for manufacturers..

    I commissioned Terra Rosa Gear in Melbourne, Victoria to make a copy of my my vintage swag, which I tend to use on most foot-borne and vehicle-borne adventures when I’m travelling solo – http://terrarosagear.com/.

    Murchison River Swags and Bags in Geraldton, Western Australia do an awesome modern envelope swag called a King Brown, but it’s more “traditional-ish” than traditional, with zippers down both sides and a massive padded mattress. Maybe they wouldn’t mind properly “traditionalising” or “vintagising” one of their King Brown swags? http://www.murchisonriverswags.com/shop/king-brown-swag

    A little closer to (your) home, J Bar D Canvas and Leather out of Oreana, Idaho make traditional cowboy bedroll covers which, despite being a different basic design, are more swag-like than the majority of “traditional” swags manufactured in Australia. The J Bar D bedroll cover would be simple to use swagman style, for on-foot adventuring. Good price too! https://www.jbardcanvasandleather.com/products/cowboy-bedroll-cover

    I’ll be interested to see what you come up with.



    • Thank you for the response!

      Weird question: were canvas swags traditionally waxed or treated in any way? It seems like it would make sense, but maybe would negatively affect breathability.

      • Sorry for the late reply Anthony. Traditional canvas swag covers weren’t waxed or treated to waterproof them, and they traditionally weren’t used out in the rain. A canvas, oilskin or japara “camp sheet” would be pitched as a tarp to keep the water off the swag.

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