Tack & Gear

Roll With It: Tips to Load a Bedroll

Rolling up a bedroll

Use these savvy tips to efficiently load your bedroll for your next adventure.

A bedroll is an essential piece of equipment for a cowboy, whether he’s going out on the wagon for branding, riding into the backcountry on a pack trip, bunking at a cow camp or traveling to a ranch rodeo. It’s not only where he sleeps, but also a suitcase to store his clothes, gear and other personal belongings.

Shane Riley of Oreana, Idaho, received his first bedroll from his father, Dawson, when he was about 13 years old. He wore it out working on ranches in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and California, and it burned in a shop fire. In 2014, Riley suffered an ankle injury that kept him from doing ranch work for a while. One evening, he asked his wife, Amy, to help him make a bedroll similar to one his father had given him. They made their first bedroll on their kitchen table and ended up selling it within minutes on social media. Soon after, they started J Bar D Canvas and Leather. The couple makes bedroll covers, range teepees, gear bags and other canvas items in a shop beside their home.

J Bar D bedroll covers are made from heavy 15-ounce waterproof canvas, or tarpaulin, with 6-foot harness leather straps, brass hardware, and spring snaps and D rings to fold up and secure the sides together. They come in five sizes: 15 by 6 feet 15 by 7 feet, 18 by 6 feet, 18 by 7 feet and an 8-by-5-foot kids’ size. Here, Riley shows how he packs and rolls, or as he calls it, “loads,” his bedroll.

1. Make the bed.

Riley starts by spreading out a waterproof canvas bedroll cover on the ground and layers the “sougans,” as old-time cowboys called blankets and other comforts. He starts by centering a 4-inch egg-crate foam mattress between the long sides and below the weather flap at the top, which he can pull over his head if it gets cold or rainy.

“Some cowboys use memory foam mattresses, and they’re comfortable in warm weather, but are hard as a rock in the cold,” says Riley. Next, he makes his bed with a full set of flannel or cotton sheets, depending on the weather. He tops the sheets with a wool blanket and/or quilt, and places a pillow at the top. Some cowboys bring spare wool saddle blankets and use them as blankets until they’re needed for a horse. To keep the pillow clean, he places it under the blankets and quilt. Sometimes he uses his cowboy war bag (a sack of personal belongings) as a pillow.

“When I was packing into the Sierra Nevada, I didn’t have a pillow,” he recalls. “I’d take my clothes for the next day and use them as a pillow and they’d be warm the next morning.” He finishes making the bed by tucking the bedding tightly and neatly under the mattress.

2. Fold it up.

Fold the bottom of the bed tarp over the bedding, smooth it out and tightly tuck in the sides, folding the corners under the mattress at 45-degree angles so they roll neatly. Pull the weather flap over the top.

A cowboy's bedroll with the tarp tucked in on the sides.
The bedroll with the tarp folded over it and tucked in on the sides. Photo by Jennifer Denison.

3. Add the extras.

Before snapping the sides of the tarp together, Riley adds his clothing, gear and other belongings, keeping the items as flat as possible. When Riley rolls the bedroll he’ll get three to four rolls. Starting at the bottom half of the bedroll, he places his clothes, chinks and anything else that can be rolled tightly lengthwise without damage.

He spaces his quirt and bridles horizontally so they lay neatly and securely in the folds when he rolls up the bedroll. Toward the top of the bedroll he places his reata, hackamores, war bag (if it’s not already tucked in as a pillow) and items that need more space since the last roll is the largest. Then he snaps the sides together.

A bedroll with gear laid inside of it.
Gear and clothing laid inside the bedroll. Photo by Jennifer Denison.

4. Roll it up.

Starting at the bottom, Riley rolls up the bedroll as tightly as possible. Once he reaches the top of the bedroll he can easily buckle the straps.

“The reason our bedrolls roll up from the bottom is because they have straps attached at the head end so you can throw the straps over the bumper of a pickup or a fence to use the bedroll as a shelter in a storm,” says Amy. “We adopted this from the Australian bedroll called a ‘swag.’”

Old-time cowboys used to secure their bedrolls with two extra latigos they kept on hand or old pieces of lariat, Riley explains. With everything rolled up neatly and protected, Riley is ready to head out on the wagon this spring.

Rolling up the bedroll.
Photo by Jennifer Denison.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Western Horseman.

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