Old-fashioned bedroll

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | , , , , | 0 comments »

When I decided to go camping with my college friends a few weeks ago, I realized I didn't have a sleeping bag. I investigated the options on the market, and the cheap ones seemed too cheap and the expensive ones seemed too high tech and annoying. I'm a bit obsessive about buying things that are made in America when possible, and those options for sleeping bags were pretty expensive. I was interested in the Duluth Pack camper's roll, because it reminded me of what soldiers/campers must have used for hundreds of years before polyester microfibers were invented. At $200, it seemed like a silly investment for infrequent use.

My wife reminded me that she made (but never shared here) a quilted sleeping bag for our daughter to use during nap time at preschool. She offered to help me design/make a cheap bedroll to use on upcoming adventures.

I bought the last two yards of a roll of 10oz tan cotton duck canvas at the fabric store. It was on sale for $3.27 a yard. I bought another yard of really cool blue plaid canvas in the same weight (and at the same price). I also bought a few yards of soft but cheap wool fabric in tan as a lining for the bag. I think all in all I spent about $16 on fabric and notions (including a zipper we ended up not using).

Because I wanted the bedroll to be water resistant, I decided to try my hand at waxing the canvas. Waxed cotton is one of my favorite materials, so it was fun to try to figure out how it's made. I bought a box of paraffin bars and rubbed the wax into the canvas until it had a glossy/oily feel. Then I used an iron to melt the wax into the fabric. I read somewhere that soldiers used to use this technique to waterproof their canvas tents in WWII. The fabric started to look and feel really cool even after the first application, but I ended up doing about ten applications of wax. Luckily, I had some help for some of them:

To make the bag, my wife basically sewed in the lining and then folded the tan canvas over itself and sewed the bottom and about 2/3 the way up the other side. She added a few feet of the blue plaid at the top of the bag. She bound the entire exterior edge, splitting the binding into two sides to leave an opening at the top that closes with buttons. The top of the bag has a zipper-pocket that I stuffed with my clothes to sort of have a pillow (that's a great feature on the Duluth Pack roll).

After the sewing part was done, I added a few more layers of wax until it was really stiff, and then melted paraffin to seal all the edges and seams.

I really love the look of the tan canvas, almost like a pair of Filson double tin cloth pants.

I finished it off by ordering a pair of bedroll straps from the Arena Leather Shop who make a lot of stuff for Civil War re-enactors. I could have made them myself I guess, but they were only about six bucks. All in all, I'm guessing I spent about $26 on materials for the bedroll. It worked great and it's surprisingly water resistant. It spent some time on the bottom of the canoe and didn't even get wet. It's way heavier than a typical sleeping bag but it has a timeless look I really love:

The bag was plenty warm and when used with that ratty old Hudson Bay trapper blanket it was pretty perfect for summer camping. I was able to use the blanket for a pillow most of the night, and I'm sure they'd be plenty warm together through October.