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Toboggans, Snow Sleds and Pulks

We have mixed experiences using sleds to transport winter camping gear.  In the right circumstances a sled offers advantages over backpacking.  It easy way to move a lot of gear – up to 18,000 cubic inches and 200+ lbs – more than one can comfortably stash in a backpack. So if you are setting up a base camp, hauling supplies to a cabin or outfitting a scout troop, you might consider a sled.  One can just hook into the harness and pull your winter gear rather than carry it.

Sleds work best in the right circumstances.  This usually means adequate snow cover and a reasonably level, wide trail.  In steep terrain a sled benefits from lashing the gear inside and stiffening of the sleds and/or harnessing.  The addition of a rigid harness system is what differentiates a sled from a pulk.

Toboggans

Some winter travelers prefer the traditional toboggan design. Toboggans carry large loads, fit in a set of snowshoe tracks and due to their length they are very stable.  They don’t work well in steep terrain or with cross-country skiers.  Honestly, I have never used a toboggan, but the Canadian-based WinterTrekking has a nice article that gives a lot of information on toboggans.

Sleds

Our 1st sled was a $12 sliding model from the local Super-Mart that we modified with lashing, but they proved to be thin and the plastic cracked under the abusive conditions of winter camping.  Carrying a broken plastic sled out of the woods is not fun.  Unless you are only going in your neighbor’s woods, they are not to be recommended.

A more durable sled is the 5 lb, bright orange Paris Expedition Sled, which I have used as-is.  The Paris Expedition Sled is made of .125 mm linear polyethylene and it has metal grommet reinforced tow holes with additional holes along the side for a towing harness and/or lashing. It tends to track straight and is a tough sled for the price.  It is also a popular model for modifying into a home-made pulk.  These sleds can be found at local hardware stores or ordered through Walmart or through REI ($33).


Last year I purchased a small Otter sled  at Gander Mtn.  Otter Outdoors offers 8 different sizes of their sled.  Originally marketed for ice fisherman (some models even come with ice shack accessories), it supposedly will not crack even at -40 degrees.  The sleds are deep (10-14″) and stable.  It is my new favorite winter camping sled when a sled is warranted.  Cabelas sells two small Jet Sleds ($25) that look like the Otter Outdoors design.

Commercial pulks

At the high end are commercially available pulks such as the ones from Granite Gear, Kirafu, Snowsled, WildernessEngineering or Fjellpulken.

  • The Granite Gear Expedition sled weighs 17 lbs and has a capacity of 15,000 cubic inches.  With a crossed fiberglass stay system, flexible nylon connecting rods, and a zero play full body harness, this sled pulls and turns easily. The lightweight hull offers a low coefficient of friction (drag) over the snow. There is a durable cover with 3 compression straps to secure gear and a full-length zipper for access. The hull has molded-in ski runners and there is a brake prevents sled from sliding backward on slopes. The harness poles are constructed in such a way as to allow for hip rotation.
  • Kirafu offers three models: Expedition ($825, 15lbs/18000 cubic inches), Armadillo ($638, 12 lbs/12000 cubic inches and Military sleds (MILSPEC verisons).
  • Snowsled makes a variety of pulks for short 2 week expeditions to lengthy multi-week trips, adventure racing models and day trip versions.
  • WildernessEngineering offers an 11,000 BaseCamp Pulk and a 6 page instruction booklet.
  • Fjellpulken from Lillehammer, Norway offers a broad assortment of models for children, disabled, touring and expedition, rescue and dog racing.  You can download a brochure here.
  • Northern Sled Works offers the Siglin Sled and Siglin Pulk as well as models for towing behind a snowmobile.

Build your own pulk

If your winter camping doesn’t warrant an expedition pulk there are resources for making your own pulk.  Some that we like are:

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