With the arrival of winter and snow, I’m excited to get out for some winter backcountry adventures. Typically my winter adventures are in Mid or Northern Michigan and with snowshoes and a pack. Since most trips are no more than 2 nights sleeping under the stars, I can pack relatively light (as light as can be expected with winter gear), with not a lot of the creature comforts of home or huge meals. I will try to cover as much distance during the day and into the dark before stopping to cook a hot meal, followed with a few hours of sleep, then start off again in the morning. Even when attempting to travel light in the winter, my pack can easily reach 40 plus pounds which can seem like 150 backbreaking pounds by the end of a long day snowshoeing. I’ve seen people on the trail with sleds but I never thought it was something I’d need for short weekend trips. I’ve always thought of sleds or ski pulks being used for long polar expeditions, until this year!
I have a friend Matt, who’s also a co-worker of mine, that got me interested in trying a ski pulk. Matt has extensive experience at not only short weekend trips, but longer expeditions for up to 2 weeks and longer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Canadian backcountry. After talking to Matt about his winter adventures in the backcountry using a ski pulk to carry his gear, I was excited to give it a try. Before purchasing or building a ski pulk I’ve learned there’s no simple answer to a best design and even with the information found online it’s still hard to know the best design without trying it out with a load. It comes down to first understanding the terrain that you’re traversing , the size of your load and weather conditions (extreme cold and deep snow can make things break). Matt being an engineer and an experienced backcountry guide, saved me a lot of time by sharing what he’s learned through days and weeks out in the backcountry pulling many different variations of designs until he developed the best reliable sled. I was ready to get started.
As always my funds are limited and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time building my first prototype. I wanted a design to get started with on the local trails with a relatively light load (25 to 50 lbs). I used a sled that I had in my garage, and hardware that was lying around the house. Even after purchasing a few small hardware items, I ended up spending less than $20. I used my black diamond climbing harness to hook into. With my first prototype completed I was ready to take it out and put it through the rigors of gravel roads, short steep hills, tight single track trails, and even some bushwhacking off trail. Basically my intentions were to beat it up to see what failed and where I could make improvements. After covering 8 or 9 rigorous miles I was overall happy with the sled, but had a list of things I could improve on, such as tightening up the attachment point to my harness and adding some rubber hose or tape to silence the clacking of my poles at the cross point. I’m ready to get it into some deeper snow for an overnighter or two.
I’m by no means an expert and have yet to get out for any long distances or extreme conditions with heavy loads, but from what I’ve learned so far here’s a list of important items to consider before building your first pulk:
1. what are you using the pulk for (running or excersise, overnight or weekend trips, expeditions etc.)
2. What is the terrain your exploring (flat tundra, frozen lakes, hills, mountains, trails, backcountry etc.)
3. Size of sled (length, width, depth)
4. What type of pulling device (rope for flat terrain or poles for hilly terrain to keep sled from running you over)
5. What type of pole material (fiberglass, pvc, or aluminum)
6. What is the best Length of tow rope or poles ( I found 6′ poles to work best)
7. Attachment points to lash down gear (how many, what type etc. where to place them)
8. What type of harness is best for towing (climbing harness, waist belt, backpack waist belt)
9. Will fins or rails help guide the sled
10. Do I need a cover
Besides talking with people that have experience using a pulk, I’ve listed some links that were great resources to me. Skipulk.com offers a 30 page PDF download that covers several designs (from simple to more spendy durable options). I used some of their recommendations found in the guide. If you have some tips or advice on building, buying or using a ski pulk share it with a comment, every bit of information helps.
So far I’m having a blast trying something new for my winter adventures, what are you doing for YOUR winter adventures!!!