Build a gear sled the dirt bagger way

For flat or moderate terrain, a gear sled is a great way to haul in gear. Here’s how to build a simple gear sled without breaking the bank.


When going on hut trips or backcountry winter camping, a gear sled (also known as pulk) is a great way to haul in gear on flat or moderate terrain while on skis or snowshoes.  Winter gear and clothing is heavier and on hut trips  I’ve also been known to pack in a LOT of goodies (food and wine!).

When I take a significant other on a trip, somehow I always find I am carrying more for some odd reason, too. 🙂  Rather than schlep it  all on my back, it is easier to haul it in via sled.

You can buy commercially made gear sleds that are very well made but are on the expensive side.

Unless you plan on doing some serious expeditions (skiing the Antarctic anyone?) a simple gear sled is just fine for most purposes.

The use of my sled is to simply make life easier for me when I drag my better half on a hut trip with a mellow approach. 🙂

Please note that gear sleds have limitations. They don’t work well on steep terrain.  Even on moderate terrain, the gear sled needs to be used with a little caution. They tend to be easier to use on snowshoes than skis overall.

Having said that, here’s my instructions for making a dirt bagger gear sled.

This gear sled costs approx $50 to make.

If you are like most outdoors people you already have some of the materials on hand (bungee cords, rope, tarp, ‘biners) so the purchase cost may be just the sled and PVC pipe…or perhaps $25.


  • Children’s plastic sled (like the ones sold at Wally World, Target or your local hardware store)
  • (2) Five foot sections of 1/2″ PVC pipe. Home Depot sells PVC pipe in 10′ lengths and will cut it in half for you
  • (2) Six foot lengths of 3/16″ nylon cord (550 cord is probably fine, but I like a little thicker rope)
  • (2) small ‘biners
  • 5′ x 7′ tarp
  • Large nylon gym bag (or two; see below)
  • (3) 1 ft long bungee cords and (2) two-foot long bungee cords


Basic sled construction

  1. Thread rope through each pipe.
  2. Attach rope and pipes to sled
  3. On other end of rope tie on ‘biners 
  4. You should have about 1″ of loose rope on end of pipe with ‘biners when all is said and done..
  5. Volia! The basic sled is done.

Packing the gear

  1. Place tarp on sled
  2. Pack your gear in in the duffel bag as you would a normal pack in terms of gear, stuff sacks, etc.
  3. Place duffel bag (or bags, a separate duffel for food and wine is not a bad idea) on tarp
  4. “Burrito wrap” the nylon gym bag(s)
  5. Take the (2) one-foot cords over the nylon bag(s) and attach on the top and bottom third of sled
  6. Form an “X” with the other two cords at each end of sled
  7. You may want to add an avalanche shovel at this time as well. 
  8. Now cross the PVC pipes to form an “X” as well.
  9. In middle of  the “X”,  bungee cord the pipes together
  10. An “X” formation is more rigid and provides better control

Note: You can also use packs in place of duffel bags. I find gym bags pack easier for sled use. Naturally, packs allow more versatility. YMMV.

Why use a tarp? A tarp is useful for many purposes in the backcounty,  a tarp helps keep the snow out of the duffel bag and, if you have multiple bags, a tarp holds everything together quite nicely (esp if the sled wobbles or even tips).

Hauling the gear

  1. Attach ‘biners to pack just above the pack’s hip belt
  2. Try to have PVC pipe on each side of body rather than just behind your body. More rigidity and control of sled this way.
  3. Haul pack. 🙂

My buddy Mark using a commercially made children’s sled he was able to borrow. Same concept, though!

Note: Some prefer  hip belt for the pack. Since my ski pack has day use clothing and gear, find it is just as easy to attach the gear sled to my ski pack

That’s it. This simple gear sled may not see you through the Antarctica or Denali, but it works well enough so your wife only has to haul in minimal gear. Happy wife = happy life as a good friend of mine said. 😉

Being serious (who? me??), this type of sled works best for any approach or descent that uses touring skis. If it is a type of approach / descent that is better served with AT / Tele gear, then the gear sled is probably more trouble than it is worth IMO. On the terrain that is suited for touring gear, the gear sled is awesome.

The Section House via Boreas Pass Road  is perfect for a gear sled


If you are a little more ambitious, and have an enginerd bent, this link  gives instructions on how to make a pulk a step up from mine, but still less expensive than the commercially made ones.  This link by Bill Garlinghouse is good, too. I love the is the simple runner idea. Think I may incorporate it into my design.  Would add some functionality w/o too much work or money.

Hut trip essentials! 🙂



11 thoughts on “Build a gear sled the dirt bagger way

  1. Nice post! Just got back today from a yurt trip with the family (wife and four young kids). Our large capacity pulk was the only way to make it possible as hiking in snowshoes is as much exertion as our kids can currently take (they can do a pack in the summer, but not yet in the winter). It was great!

    I have a commercial one and a home-made one. The home-made one uses a Jet Sled Jr., which while wider than the one you mentioned, is very durable, fairly large, pushes off snow well and is available in lots of places.

    • I don’t believe so. Most pre-built children sleds have similar measurements. The caveat is I do not have children. You may want to check out an actual children’s backcountry sled to see the difference. Mine is for hauling boxed wine, food and my wife’s gear. 🙂

  2. Hi!
    That is a great device you came up with. My question is whether it will work, or can be modified to work, on dry terrain. I would like to haul some basic supplies to a cabin in the Shenandoah National Forest. It is located at the bottom of a 1.5 mile-long, moderately steep, and somewhat rocky trail, with no vehicle access. My concern is that the sled will get torn to shreds without the snow reducing the friction. On the other hand, if it is cheap to make, I don’t mind if it only lasts for one or two round-trip outings.
    I remember using a litter made of hard, flexible plastic when I was in Ranger school years ago. It was unwieldy, but did the trick (unless you were the injured person strapped to the litter, in which case it hurt like hell.) Any idea if your invention would mimic the litter concept?

  3. This was great! On Friday afternoon, 2 hours from being picked up for a weekend at a ski-in State Park cabin, having just found out my friends were all bringing sleds instead of backpacking, I thought, dang I really don’t want to carry such a heavy bag! So I searched the so-useful internet, and found expensive, complicated, skill-heavy designs for pulks. Then I found yours! I ran around finding stuff in the shed and garage, some spare pex long enough for the poles, some spare rope (no idea what size or strength), a couple big beeners, and slapped it all together. My doubting mind said it Is going to fall apart halfway down the trail, so I kept my already packed gear in the backpack, just in case, and off we went. In the pitch dark, about zero degrees in no-cell reception Alaska, the ski in went off without a hitch!

    Our other friends had arrived earlier, built a fire and made dinner. A great weekend out! The sled helped us haul wood for the fire, then performed flawlessly on the way out too. My humble but helpful sled crossed the winter trail this afternoon, just after the Yukon Quest sled dog race teams had passed by. What a great article, thank you!

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