The most iconic image of America’s nineteenth-century westward expansion is that of the cowboy. Hardworking, tougher than nails, and full of grit, cowboys worked as ranch hands for large cattle and sheep ranches in the out stretching American west. Besides taking care of the everyday keep of the ranch, cowboys were also hired to herd the wealthy rancher’s livestock long distances and at times through wild and dangerous country to the city markets to be sold. Because of the rough lifestyle and often harsh conditions they lived in, cowboys had to depend on certain tools and equipment to not only get their work done, but in many instances, to survive. Some of these tools have become a part of the cowboy’s iconic image. A good horse and a comfortable saddle; an accurate and trusty rifle or hand gun—and for a few, both; a sharp and well-built knife, good boots, and his bedroll.
The cowboy bedroll was, although simplistic, a significant item in western culture. A cowboy’s bedroll served multiple purposes: such as a trunk to store his personal items, a safe box, a seat while eating, and of course a bed. The cowboy bedroll was very portable, and extremely practical for the lifestyle cowboys lived, it was also one of the very few comforts a cowboy had, especially while out on the trail. While traveling it could easily be slung over the shoulder if walking or strapped to the back his saddle if solo. While on a drive, it would be thrown into the back of the bed wagon where it could easily be retrieved at the end of the day. While at ranch headquarters it could be unrolled on the floor or a bunk in the bunk house.
What is a Cowboy Bedroll?
The make-up and design of the classical cowboy bedroll was simple; wool blankets or bedding wrapped in a canvas tarp that usually had buckles or ties that would connect the two canvas flaps together. The bedroll could then be rolled up and strapped tight with a rope or leather strap or belt. The cowboy bedroll was in many ways a precursor for the modern day
sleeping bag. Some versions had a strap to allowed it to be carried over the shoulder. The canvas tarp was meant to provide protection from bad weather. If it rained, the canvas added a layer of protection, attempting to kept them dry and warm. This is only true, however, if the canvas was waterproofed with a combination of beeswax and linseed oil. If it wasn’t, your protection against wet weather was limited. It is true that traditional canvas will swell and hold out water, but once it is touched from the inside it will begin to wick moister through to the inside, thus defeating the purpose for a canvas covering. In snowy weather, the canvas would allow the cowboy to stay dry and warm, and at the same time the accumulated snow would provide an insulated layer. If the weather was warm and nice the canvas tarp could be flapped open, allowing him to enjoy the cool night are while at the same time providing a ground cloth.
Improving on the Timeless Cowboy Bedroll
It is unclear when and where the bedroll concept was first conceived. One thing is for sure, however, bedrolls have been around for a very long time, and have been used in a large variety of places and circumstances. Forty-niners used them throughout the gold rush. Soldiers used them during the American Civil War. They have been popular in Australia for many years and come in many shapes and sizes. In Australia they are called a swag, or a swag bag. In many ways the Australian swag bag has lost the simplicity and convenience of the traditional cowboy bedroll and have at this point morphed into what most people would view as a one-man tent. Although the swag is smaller than most tents, it acts as one since you don’t keep your gear in it roll it up. This for most people destroys the point. One could argue that you might as well use a tent. One might ask: “how has Canvas Cutter improved upon the functionality, protective qualities and durability of the traditional cowboy bedroll without destroying the simplistic nature and its convenient features? And what improvements have been made?”
The answer to the first question is simple, KIS. We at Canvas Cutter follow the KIS rule or “Keep It Simple”. The design and function of the traditional cowboy bedroll is already good,
which is why it has been around for almost two centuries. We knew the shape of the traditional cowboy bedroll worked, its functionality was good, the protection it could provide from the elements was fare, but often left one wanting, and the canvas traditionally used was quite durable. These things didn’t need to necessarily be changed, but rather improved and where possible simplified.
Often when a company tries to improve on timeless product or idea, the improvements made decreases the products simplicity, which regularly changes the very features that made it great in the first place. So, we asked: “how can we take an already simple concept and simplify it even more while at the same time improve and modernize all its features?” We started by analyzing what the weaknesses of the traditional cowboy bedroll were, which would allow us to identify what we needed to improve. Once we knew what we needed to improve upon, then we could focus on simplifying those improvements.
Improvement #1: Traditional Canvas to Sunforger Marine Canvas
Canvas was a great fabric choice to use for the cowboy bedroll. It is a strong fabric that can handle the abuse of life in the outdoors. Although the cotton threads woven together would swell when wet (making the weave extremely tight, making it difficult for water to get through), unless the canvas was treated it would not hold water out for long. In fact, even if tradition canvas is treated, often called “Duck” or “Army Duck” canvas when it is treated, it will still wick water when touched from the dry inside of the canvas. This is obviously going to be a problem when one is laying inside the canvas bedroll, and constantly rubbing up against it. The water you are supposed to be protected from will slowing start wicking its way to the inside, leaving you to wake up cold and wet. This obviously destroys one of the main purposes for using the bedroll.
At Canvas Cutter we knew traditional canvas does not and would not work for a premier bedroll product. To eliminate the afore-mentioned problem one would face with the traditional cowboy bedroll, we at Canvas Cutter chose to use Sunforger Marine canvas. Marine treated canvas means the canvas has been double treated, making it extremely water proof. The treatment also makes the canvas extremely mildew resistant. Sunforger canvas is made from multi-thread spun-yarn, that is woven in a crisscross and diagonal line weave, making the weave significantly tighter than traditional canvas, and increasing the canvas’s strength dramatically at the same time. Because of the treatment and tighter weave, the Sunforger canvas will not wick. This means it can rain all night and all day and you will remain warm, dry, and comfortable.
Improvement #2: The Flap System to Zipper
Although the traditional cowboy bedroll did provide some protection against the wind and bad weather, that protection was limited, and when the weather was windy and rainy the struggle was oh so real. The canvas tarp was used to create the bedroll cover by overlapping to canvas flaps which were often tied or buckled closed. The cowboy bedroll was open ended at the head, allowing the weather and cold air to come in. Sometimes there was a flap that could be polled over the head protecting it from rain, but not the wind and cold or the possible water puddling up on the ground around you. Also, it would take time—and in the wind, patience—to flip the canvas flaps over your bedding and tie or buckle them closed while getting wet and cold in the process.
At Canvas Cutter we used the same simple rectangular shape of the traditional cowboy bedroll, but we got rid of the canvas flaps, ties, and buckles, and simplified the design by installing one zipper. The heavy-duty YKK zipper (which meets military grade standards), runs from the foot of the bedroll up around the head and back down to the bottom of the bedroll, allowing you to quickly and completely close the inside of the bedroll off to the wind, rain, snow, dust, bugs or rodents that might want to find their way inside; whether you left the bedroll back at camp or you’re laying comfortably inside it you and your gear are protected. Canvas Cutter bedrolls have four zipper pules and short weather flaps on each side. The zipper pules and the weather flaps allowing you to unzip the bedroll several inches on each side during bad weather conditions, increasing airflow and reducing the possibility of condensation build up. Two overlapping seams cover the entire zipper and add additional protection against the weather.
Improvement #3: A Piece of Rope to Three Quick-release Buckles
The traditional cowboy bedroll was often kept rolled up by a rope or a leather strap, both of which got the job done, but idea could definitely be improved. The rope or leather strap were not connected to the bedroll itself, which meant you had to keep track of it, because if lost, your ability to keep your bed rolled up and the convenience of carrying it was lost. To make the roll-up/unroll process as well as the carrying of the bedroll more simple, quick, and easy we sewed three one-inch polyester webbing straps with quick release buckles to the bottom of the bedroll and included an easy to carry handle to the bottom of the bedroll. The quick release buckles allow you to unroll your bedroll in seconds, without the hassle of dealing with nots or keeping track of a tie rope or strap. When rolling the bedroll up, the quick release bucks and straps allow you to synch the bedroll as tight as you would like. The straps can also be loosened easily while buckled.
The cowboy bedroll has been an iconic piece of outdoor gear in the west for centuries because it makes life in the rugged outdoors a little easier and more comfortable. It allows you to have a mobile camp, that can be set up or taken down quickly and conveniently. The soul who conceived the simple idea was a genius, and Canvas Cutter has taken this idea and improved it a thousand times over, hoping this better way of sleeping in the outdoors sticks around for centuries to come.