For flat or moderate terrain, a gear sled is an excellent 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 an excellent way to haul in gear on flat or moderate terrain while on skis or snowshoes. Winter gear and clothing are 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 are my instructions for making a dirt bagger gear sled.
This gear sled costs approx $50 to make if you are buying *all* the material at once.
However, 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). For a little more money, something along the lines of a JetSled or similar will work better. Protip: The JetSled type is discounted come March or April at many hardware stores. Thanks to some reader comments, it is what I use now.
- (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) One ft long bungee cords and (2) two-foot long bungee cords
Basic sled construction
- Thread rope through each pipe.
- Attach rope and pipes to sled
- On the other end of rope tie on ‘biners
- You should have about 1″ of loose rope or less on end of the pipe with ‘biners when all is said and done.
- Voila! The basic sled is done.
Packing the gear
- Place tarp on sled
- Pack your gear in in the duffel bag as you would a regular pack regarding gear, stuff sacks, etc.
- Place duffel bag (or bags, a separate duffel for food and wine is not a bad idea) on tarp
- “Burrito wrap” the nylon gym bag(s)
- Take the (2) one-foot cords over the nylon bag(s) and attach on the top and bottom third of sled
- Form an “X” with the other two cords at each end of sled
- You may want to add an avalanche shovel at this time as well.
- Now cross the PVC pipes to form an “X” as well.
- In middle of the “X,” bungee cord the pipes together
- 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 backcountry, 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
- Attach ‘biners to pack just above the pack’s hip belt
- Try to have PVC pipe on each side of the body rather than just behind your body. More rigidity and control of the sled this way.
- Haul pack. 🙂
Note: Some prefer hip belt instead of using a 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.
This simple gear sled may not see you through the Antarctic or Denali, but it works well enough, so A partner 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 the type of approach/descent that is better served with AT / Tele gear or even wider Nordic skis on steep switchbacks, then the gear sled is probably more trouble than it is worth IMO. On the terrain that is suited for light 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 simple runner idea. Think I may incorporate it into my design. Would add some functionality w/o too much work or money.
EDIT January 2017: Another version. Call it Dirtbagger 2.0