What is a Bedroll? A Beginners Guide to Sleeping Outdoors

Camping is a great way to spend time outdoors with friends and family, but it can be hard packing all the necessary equipment. Tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, etc., can all add up.

A bedroll is one solution to help you pack less gear for your next outing. I will get to this in a minute.

Bedrolls are also helpful for hikers, campers, hunters, fishermen, or anyone who needs to sleep outside without lugging around a lot of extra gear. They are also great if you are traveling by motorcycle or horseback.

Bedrolls are durable and versatile, perfect for the outdoorsman (or woman).

Let’s talk about what a bedroll is, the features, benefits, and who might not want to use a bedroll.

Bedroll defined

In the classic sense, a bedroll is an outer shell, like a tarp, or heavy treated fabric (like canvas) with a blanket (or blankets) rolled up inside. They are not exactly lightweight depending on how much you stuff inside.

But when you consider that you can camp without taking a tent and a mattress, a bedroll is a great alternative for camping trips or other outdoor adventures.

You can build a bedroll to serve your needs. Then, depending on the season, you can add more or fewer blankets to your roll. This can increase or decrease the weight accordingly.

If you choose a treated fabric material, this can help keep you warm and dry in poor weather conditions without the need to carry a tent with you.

You can use straps to carry a bedroll if you are hiking, and it’s kind of like having shelter and your bed all in one rolled-up package.

Features and benefits of using a bedroll

You might think of a bedroll (and rightfully so) as something old-timers or cowboys used back in the day. While this is true, a bedroll is still a viable option for today’s outdoorsy people.

Here are some features and benefits that make a bedroll a solid option:

  • Customizable: You can build a bedroll however you want. Many people use a heavy-duty treated fabric as the outer layer, so you are free to choose whatever blankets you want to carry inside the bedroll with you. You can roll up a wool blanket or two depending on the conditions you expect.
  • No need for a tent: If you are truly “roughing it,” you really don’t need to take a tent with you as the bedroll can provide you with protection from the weather.
  • You don’t need a mattress (unless you want one): The great thing about a bedroll is you can make your bed wherever you want to. Feel free to pile up a soft bed of leaves to sleep on. You can roll up a thin air mattress inside your bedroll if you want, but it’s not necessary and adds bulk.
  • Carry other gear inside: Depending on how many blankets you pack in your bedroll, you can conceivably pack clothing, a towel, or other supplies inside the bedroll too. This means you have more stuff packed away to keep your hands free.
  • Versatile: A bedroll can be used in a variety of weather conditions. You can even use the outer layer to build a shelter if you need it. If the conditions are moderate, you might only need to take one blanket to sleep in. If the conditions call for more blankets, feel free to pack more.

Honestly, if you are using a bedroll, you may not need a traditional sleeping bag at all. It really depends on how you like to camp and what the conditions call for.

Remember, years ago, they didn’t have all the fancy camping gear we have today, and somehow, folks made it just fine.

Types of bedrolls

You can purchase a bedroll from many specialty retailers or make your own bedroll (more on that later). 

Bedrolls come in different shapes and sizes, but all have the same basic features, an outer layer and stuff inside. So it really depends on what you want from your bedroll.

Some bedrolls are designed to pair with a sleeping bag, and the outer layer provides protection from dirt and moisture.

Here are some of the different types of bedrolls:

  • Canvas bedroll: A canvas bedroll is a good, all-purpose option. It’s durable and can be used in a variety of weather conditions. You can stuff the canvas outer layer with the blankets you need for the conditions. The downside is that it can be a bit heavy if you carry it for a long distance.
  • Foam bedroll: In addition to stuffing your outer layer with sheets and/or blankets, you can include a sheet of foam or a thin air mattress with your bedroll. You would be surprised how small some thin air mattresses will compress when you roll them up. Of course, this option adds bulk to your bedroll, but you might be thankful for a comfy night of sleep.
  • Woolen bedroll:  A treated canvas tarp and wool blankets make a perfect bedroll for those who want extra warmth. A woolen bedroll can be used in all types of weather, but it’s a bit heavier than other options.

Which type of bedroll is right for you?

It really depends on what you want from your bedroll. But, no matter which type of bedroll you choose, it is sure to provide you with a comfortable place to sleep outdoors without packing a tent and other gear.

How to make a bedroll

A bedroll gives you a comfortable and dry place to sleep on your camping trip without packing a tent.

The basic idea is to lay the tarp out on the ground. You can use a bed of leaves for padding if you don’t want to pack a pad with you. Then roll yourself up with your blankets and tarp, like a burrito.

Instead of putting your sleeping bag on the hard ground, you can use a bedroll to soften the blow.

Making a bedroll is pretty straightforward. All you need is a heavy-duty treated fabric (or a tarp if you can handle it), some blankets, and a pad if you want one.

You can pick up a treated tarp from a retailer like Tractor Supply and pair that with a wool blanket or two. The nice thing about a bedroll is you can use whatever blankets you want, so if you have some favorites, go for it.

This video does a great job of explaining exactly how to create and use a bedroll.

When you might not want to use a bedroll

Bedrolls aren’t for everyone and might not be the best solution in certain situations.

Here are some scenarios when a bedroll might be best left at home:

  • Backpacking: If you are hiking with a lot of weight on your back, you might want to leave the bedroll at home. Lightweight tents, sleeping bags, and pads are specifically designed for backpacking and can be better options on backpacking trips.
  • Wet conditions: If you know you will be camping in the rain or wet conditions, a bedroll might not be the best option. Some bedrolls are waterproof, but unless you get a tight seal, you might leave yourself open to getting soaked. Also, you could end up in a puddle of water if you are positioned just right. But this is true with a tent too.
  • Multi-day hiking trips: If you are trekking on long hiking trips, a bedroll might just be too bulky for your trip. You will likely need lots of other compact gear for these types of outings. A bedroll probably isn’t the best for this situation. You can use more modern technology with gear that packs down super small.

Bedroll vs. Sleeping bag

Choosing between a bedroll and a sleeping bag depends on your needs. Bedrolls are a good option if you don’t want to carry a tent and other gear, and you might only be camping for a few nights. but bedrolls are generally kind of bulky, so it might not be the best option for long trips.

If you are backpacking, there are extremely lightweight sleeping bags that pack down very small. So, when you are on a solo backpacking trip, or a long hiking trip a bedroll might not be the best option.

When it comes to durability, a bedroll is hard to beat. That’s because a bedroll has a thick outer layer that will help protect your blankets from dirt, rocks, branches, and moisture. Rocks, twigs, etc, can easily rip a sleeping bag if you are sleeping directly on the ground.


Suppose you’re looking for a comfortable place to sleep outdoors without packing a tent and other gear. In that case, bedrolls are a great solution. However, choosing which type of bedroll is right for your situation might depend on what you want from it.

One great feature of a bedroll is customizing it to fit your needs. For example, you can use any blankets you want, and if you don’t have a pad, just lay down some leaves or other ground cover for padding.

No matter which type of bedroll is right for you, it’s sure to provide a comfortable place to sleep outdoors without packing a tent.

If you have any questions about bedrolls or want some tips on making your own, leave a comment below. We would be happy to help.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.

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