The very mention of the phrase “camp folding bed” awakens youthful images of a favorite cowboy hero settling in for the night to sleep under the western stars. In fact, many of us veterans probably remember how our mothers helped us make our own homemade bed roll to enjoy sleeping like cowboys on a warm summer night when we were young. We grew up and soon forgot the fun of making jokes, as true Westerners did. However, there are some real perks to a camping bed roll once we look beyond the western Hollywood glow of those old movies.
The true origin of the camping bed roll is unknown. Undoubtedly some enterprising traveler developed one to protect themselves from the cold of the nights traveling from one place to another hundreds of years ago.
In fact, until the early 19th century, most men wore cloaks or capes as outerwear during the colder months of the year. When they were away from their homes at dusk, they would find a safe place to spend the night, they would light a fire to protect themselves and warm whatever food they might have, and they would roll up in their cloak to sleep.
What we understand as the modern camping bed roll has passed to us from the mid to late 19th century from those men who helped explore and settle in the western part of our country. Many of these men traveled on horseback and developed a means of wearing the sleeping protection rolled up neatly to fit on the back of their saddles.
Usually the exterior of the bed roll was made of a high-quality tarp. It was better if it wasn’t a treated canvas, because the untreated material was easier to roll up and store in a neatly tied package than the heavier treated material. Inside the bed roll there would be at least one cotton flannel blanket and sometimes an extra wool blanket if the winter months were in sight. The dimensions of the bed roll were generally 32 inches wide by 84 inches long for the inner blankets. The outer canvas can be 40 inches wide by 96 inches long. Some bed roll outer tarp pieces can be twice as wide to provide protection above and below and sometimes double as a makeshift cover on the wettest nights.
The advantages of a folding camping bed are simplicity. The first big advantage was reducing the amount of weight to carry while riding long distances or hiking trails for many days. Second, the camping bed roll would take the place of a backpack or saddlebags, as the traveler could place their personal belongings inside the blanket and roll it all up in a nice and neat package that was easy to throw over the chair. . If you were on foot, it was fairly straightforward to tie a long, thin strip of leather to act as a strap to suspend the bed roll from the hiker’s shoulder.
Another advantage is the solidity of a good canvas when used as a floor cloth under the sleeping traveler. Many good beds were made of freshly cut pine branches placed in a good thick pile with the canvas outer covering holding them together to form the structure of a simple but rustic mattress on which the blankets would cover the traveler.
Yes, the advantages of a camping bed roll are quite a lot compared to the modern sleeping bag. There aren’t many sleeping bags that provide good shelter from the rain, and who would want to put their expensive nylon-covered sleeping bag on a pile of freshly cut pine boughs laden with resin? There are some good modern sleeping bags, but none reward the camper with the nostalgia for sleeping like the cowboys did with their trusty old camping mattress.