Making a sled for backcountry winter camping

After surviving my very first winter car camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park’s Mew Lake in February 2015, with temperatures hovering around the -17 degree Celsius mark feeling like -29 with the windchill, I decided that I wanted to try winter backcountry camping. Thankfully, my friend Cheryl was game.

First things first: we need sleds to pull our gear behind us. After doing a bit of research online, we both settled on copying Kevin Callan (the Happy Camper)’s method, rather than on buying an expensive pulk sled (US$225+) or using other methods.

In the end, my sled cost me $86.39 plus labour (breakdown below)!

I bought a Pelican Snow Trek 45 sled from Sail, with a maximum capacity of 130 pounds. Big warning letters state “THIS IS NOT A TOY” but it sure seems like one to me!

Next I purchased a hip belt from MEC, the Aurora 70, which is actually a replacement part for a backpack they sell. I just needed a hip belt that fit me – what pack it matched was irrelevant. Bonus – it has one pocket on each side for storing snacks (or whatever!).

Finally, I went to RONA and bought all the bits and bobs I’d need to attach everything together. I had fun asking for help finding what I needed, not really knowing the names of things!

The PVC pipe (which a RONA employee cut in half for me) is to avoid having the sled crash into my legs when I’m hiking downhill.

All the parts to be assembled.

Steps to Build a Sled for Backcountry Camping

The full slide showing demonstrating the steps can be found here: (click on an individual picture, then on the little i near the top right, and you’ll be able to read the picture descriptions).

  1. Remove black rope that came with sled.
  2. Into the holes that the black rope went through, insert eyebolt from top of the sled – use washer and bolt underneath sled.
  3. Drill 4 holes into the top of the sled – 2 at the ends opposite the existing holes, and 2 in the middle (all 6 could be used as attachment points for bungee cords if the load needs to be tied down).
  4. Insert eyebolts, washers and bolts in these 4 holes.
  5. Drill 1/2″ holes into the ends of the PVC pipes (drill all the way through so that there are 2 holes at each end of the pipe).
  6. Cut rope to 4 approximately 1 foot segments (may need less – I didn’t actually measure it). Use match to melt ends to prevent fraying.
  7. Wrap sewing thread tightly around the tip of one end of one rope segment – this is to make the diameter of the rope smaller so that it could be inserted into the holes in the pipe.
  8. Tie bowline.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for other 3 pipe ends.
  10. Attach carabiner to rope at one end of PVC pipe. Repeat for second pipe.
  11. Clip carabiner to the eyebolt at the front of the sled.
  12. Clip locking carabiner to the rope at the other (free) end of the PVC pipe. Repeat for second pipe.
  13. Clip carabiner to locking carabiner. Repeat for second pipe.
  14. Clip carabiner to strap on waist belt.
I forgot to cross the PVC pipes over one another when I clipped it together. Apparently it will turn better that way. We shall see! I will experiment.

Price Breakdown

  • 1 x Pelican Snow Trek 45 sled: $29.99
  • 1 x Aurora 70 Hip Belt: $29
  • 1 x PVC pipe (10 feet of 1/2″ diameter, cut into two 5′ pieces): $4.26
  • 6 x 1/2″ eyebolt with nuts: $4.74
  • 6 x washer: $1.38
  • 4 x carabiner: $5.12
  • 2 x locking carabiner: $1.96
  • 4 x 1 foot rope: found dangling from a tree on Rain Lake at Algonquin = free!

Sub-total: $76.45

Tax: $9.94

Total: $86.39

I will be trying the sled out in February, so I’ll write a follow-up post afterwards on how it performed! (UPDATE: Sled review here)


Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego

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8 thoughts on “Making a sled for backcountry winter camping

  1. Could be a new study de line business for you and you could market them under the name kyraonthego sleds and you sell them as kits online with me getting a 10% royalty . For that matter go on Dragons Den ask for a million dollars for 10% of your (our company)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Kyra, great post! Looking forward to the follow-up. I’m a fellow Ontario backcountry enthusiast and this will be my first year winter camping. Enjoy the season!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Eric. What kind of trip do you have planned for your first winter trip? Where are you heading to? Fingers crossed for good weather and lots of animal sightings!


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