The first time you load your summer pack with winter gear and head out in the snow–watch out. I tried it some years back, entering Beaver High Adventure Base in Utah with a heavy, external framed backpack. It flipped me, and I did a spectacular face plant.
Ideal experience, right?
As you can probably tell, winter backcountry travel requires more gear, provisions, and fuel than a Summer trip of equal duration. A large backpack can serve you well in rugged mountain travel – if you are not hiking in deep snow. With some practice and the right pack, you can learn to snowshoe and even cross-country ski with a backpack.
The trick with skiing is creating balance. If you are using a pack, it needs a tight fitting internal frame. I bought one that let me stow my skis in slits along the outside of the pack, so I could travel on my snowshoes or by foot. It made all the difference.
To Pulk or to Pack?
I wish I had known that many snow campers rely on a pulk (a Scandinavian sled). It would have helped with all the heavy gear we hauled into the base each weekend. A smaller sled with a harness is the right size for one person to pull, especially while on skis or snowshoes. Larger sleds can carry the bulk of a group’s equipment and food. Whether using skis and snowshoes, cold weather travelers will find that ski poles are a must for maintaining balance.
You can buy a pulk. However, the design is simple, and building one is a great winter camping project. As a Scout, this is what I loved about the Fieldbook. I made lots of homemade gear. You can learn to build a pulk from page 256:
“Start with a sturdy plastic sled about 5 feet and 18 to 24 inches wide. Drill holes along the side rails and to install small eyebolts. When you are ready to use your sled, you will thread nylon line through these eyebolts or attach bungee cords to them to lash in the load. A couple of eyebolts installed at the end of the sled will serve as connection points for your harness system.
“For a harness you can use the padded hip belt from an old backpack, at least to start. If you’re getting lots of use out of your pulk, you might want to buy a commercially made harness that includes a waist belt, shoulder straps, and a number of D-rings for clipping into the sled.
“Tie each end of a 3-foot length of nylon cord to two eyebolts at the front of the sled to form a yoke. Tie a bowline at the end of a 6-foot length of cord and clip it to the yoke with a carabiner. Use a bowline and another carabiner to attach the other end of the cord to the back of your harness, and you’ll be ready to travel across flat ground and up hills. (For more details see Pulk Book, chapter 12)
“Over uneven terrain and during descents, a second traveler can clip a 6-foot cord to a yoke at the back of the sled, secure the other end of the cord to the front of a harness, and at act as a brake to keep the sled from gaining momentum and banging into the legs of the person in the front of the sled.”
Of course, the supreme winter transportation system is a dog sled, if you can get one…
Now there is a winter adventure I would love to try!
There are other posts in this series that you may enjoy reading: