Winter Hiking with
Cheap Plastic Gear Sleds
The Half Ass Expeditions Guide to Winter Hiking Equipment
There are many advantages to winter hiking including: no bugs, fewer gomers, fresh frozen food, better water... It took a couple of decades of struggling with enormous backpacks before Half Ass Expeditions discovered one of the greatest benefits of all: dragging our gear on sleds instead of on our backs.
During the 2005 expedition, I grabbed my daughter's pink plastic sled before we headed for the winter woods. At first the team laughed as I pulled that faded pink 'boggan packed with the Bigtop (HAE's 4 man shelter) during the snowshoe chuff to the base camp. Before long the benefits of the gear sled could not be dismissed and plans were made to include sleds on the gear list. The official HAE purchase order was written up and five plastic toboggans were aquired, modified and packed for wilderness exploration.
A quick look on the web will reveal a number of winter hiking sleds called Pulks. A pulk is designed primarily for crosscountry skiers and uses poles to secure the sled to the puller. The ones for sale on the net are made to carry 70 lbs or more and cost $300 to $1200. They are perfect for traversing the polar ice to the North Pole but not so good for a week of snowshoeing in Maine. For little more than the price of dinner, you can make your own gear sled that'll be just right for snowshoe adventuring in New England.
Building a gear sled for hauling 10 to 40 pounds is a simple task. You start with the cheapest plastic boat style toboggan you can find. Toys R Us, Target, Walmart... they all have em. The best sleds we've used are EMSCO 1140/123 48" 2 PERSON SNOW TWIN TOBOGGAN SLEDS.] The shape should be as rectangular as possible with a flat bottom. This makes it easier to pack and place the heaviest items on the bottom for stability. The sled you choose should have a rolled over edge that makes them stronger but also creates a great place to run the rope around the 'boggan.
Head off to the hardware store and get yourself some rope. Make sure it is NOT made from cotton or it will freeze stiff if it gets wet. The best rope will be of synthetic fiber about 1/2" in diameter with a weave covering (as opposed to the braided style rope). Allow about 12 feet of rope per sled and an additional length of rope (or webbing) for the "leash". The purpose of the rope is to add lash points to the sled as well as distributing the pull from the leash to the entire outside of the 'boggan.
The goal is to thread the rope through holes you've drilled along the sides of the sled to create lash points. The rope should fit neatly around the toboggan so it won't snag up on low brush. The tricky part is knotting the front to have a pair of loops that will secure the sled's tether, the leash. Then pull the ends through a larger center hole and tie them together to make a center loop that completes the sled's lash points. With all that done, the gear sled's leash must be assembled.
The leash is "clipped" to the sled's two new front loops with a couple of smaller carabiners. It was a snap to sew a loop on each end of the 8 foot long, 1 inch wide webbing I used to pull my sled. The bright red webbing was cheap and felt comfortable if I pulled the sled by hand. For hands-free gear towing, the user end of the sleds' leash should "clip" on (and off) easily to the hiker at the waist. I used another 18 inch piece of webbing through my belt loops of my wool pants with mini carabiners at the ends so that they hung at my sides with the web in front. The leash simply clipped into those 2 'biners, distributing the pressure across my waist more comfortably as I pulled the sled hands free.
Vincentoli picked up some duffel bags that fit inside the sled perfectly. Equipment is tossed inside and the duffel is zipped up keeping the gear snow-free. A few well placed straps or bungies keep the duffel in place. The bulky, odd shaped items (like our 4 man Bigtop tent) are perfect for the sleds. Keep the heaviest items close to the bottom of the 'boggan to keep it stable. On the way down off the mountain, I set my entire pack on the sled and pulled it to the car. Using bungies to hold all my gear on the sled instead of my back, I made the rapid descent without the usual hobbling back pain. I found it was easier to pull the sled by hand when going downhill since the sled wanted to go faster than me at times and it didn't seem safe to remain attached.
Remember this: cheap plastic sleds are lightweight, that's why we like them, however, they do require extra care. If you leave them around camp empty and unsecured, the wind will blow them around like plastic grocery bags. Don't sit on them wrong, either, or you'll crack them. The sleds we use are intended for kids so expect to damage them if you do plan to bomb the steeps. A simple repair kit consisting of duct tape and more duct tape might be a good idea if you plan on some downhill adventure.
My obsession with gravity sporting (i.e. street luge, buttboard, see more at: www.skateluge.com) was the primary motivation for grabbing that pink sled. The plan was to fly down the crazy hills we usually encounter on a typical hike. I did slide down the last mile back to the car on a icy snowmobile track at a pretty good clip but the thrill rides I was hoping for never materialized. It didn't seem to matter, however, as the usefulness of the sled was clear. After years of humping our all our equipment on our backs through the winter wilderness, Half Ass Expeditions has added the versatile gear sled to their official Winter Camping Equipment list.
Copyright 2007 Timur Novasch and Half Ass Expeditions