All About Children's Ski Sleds
Important Note: All cross country ski information posted on xcskiworld.com represents well-researched suggestions only and should not be considered a substitute for supervised fitness programs or professional instruction. Use of such material is done at your own risk with full knowledge of the inherent risks of any cross country ski activity. Before beginning and throughout any exercise or workout plan, readers should regularly consult with your physician, follow all reasonable safety precautions, have complete knowledge of all equipment, exercises, locations, and methods as well as your own fitness and ability levels. Children should never be allowed to ski alone and should always be outfitted with proven safety equipment.
Sleds (aka "pulks) built specifically for carrying children and cargo are a growing segment of the XC ski experience. Sleds are a must for babies and toddlers unable to ski or only capable of a few minutes of play in the snow. They are much easier and safer than skiing with a baby in a backpack or (worse) a front child-carrier. Sleds also are wonderful for older children up to 11 years of age since small children have limited endurance and will tend to tire out on ski adventures much faster than most adults. Thus, having a sled can be the on-snow equivalent of a baby-jogger or stroller for the active parent. You can either leave the very small child in the sled the entire ski session or allow older kids to "ride and glide" as they wish.
Sled design and variety has exploded over the last half decade giving North American XC skiers a fantastic assortment of options. Whether your primary use will be on groomed trails, a mix of off-piste and groomed, or strictly back-country...there is at least one sled (if not several) that will be perfect for your needs.
Most manufacturers place a minimum age for children of six months for sled use. Parents should evaluate use between 6-12 months based on all the same factors you would weigh with baby joggers, cycling trailers, car seats, and toys.
xcskiworld.com has spent a great deal of time testing a number of prominent sled brands and is proud to offer this comprehensive guide to children's XC sleds. Please note that we have included select product comments from both the manufacturer as well as our own testing. With the latter, we have primarily stuck to the most positive features we found with each product rather than any kind of subjective "ranking".
When a particular brand sounds like a good match for your needs, we suggest contacting the company to find out if they have demo products in your area so you can "try before you buy".
Note: Non-parents or empty-nesters can also find a number of exciting uses outside of carrying children for these XC-specific sleds. These other uses range from carrying gear on winter camping trips to nuts-and-bolts uses such as carrying winter firewood.
About The Sleds Themselves
The size of most sleds built for carrying children is typically around 18-24 inches (46-61cm) wide and roughly four feet (122cm) long...give or take a few inches with either dimension. The sleds range in weight from 10-20 pounds. Carrying capacity also varies with 50-80 pounds being the most common recommended maximums.
Keep In Mind: Although many skiers might be tempted to focus on the lightest sleds -- understandably thinking that those products will be the easiest to pull -- our testing revealed that sled weight did not automatically correlate to better/worse functional use.
At first glance, most sleds look like a well-built plastic tobaggan with a whole lot of straps and covers...plus 1-2 poles extending out several feet and ending with a waist belt. Don't be fooled by looks! All the sleds listed here are made of some kind of durable synthetic material such as polyethylene or fiberglass. They've also all been well-engineered for stability and easy pulling. These are not discount store toys by any means!
The child or children are always secured inside the sled with straps and covered/protected with some kind of a shield or wrap. Aluminum (most common) poles extend out from the sled enough to allow the adult (aka "mule") plenty of room to finish either a classic or skate ski stroke. Many versions allow you to adjust the length of the poles. The poles are secured to the adult with a padded waist belt very similar to good frame back packs.
Nearly all of the makes listed in this guide have "expedition" sleds that can also be converted into children's sleds. These models are primarily designed for carrying winter camping/trek cargo loads in backcountry situations. They tend to be built a little more "utilitarian" in terms of design given their non-human intended cargo. We did not test any of the expedition sleds as they are not as commonly used on groomed trails but we can offer that virtually all the expedition sleds represent a great value for prospective buyers.
What's It Like To Use A Children's Sled?
First-time users should note that it will take at least a couple trips before you'll feel 100% comfortable and confident towing a child in a sled. The process of skiing with a sled is easy enough to master the first trip out...it's just getting used to the whole idea that can take awhile.
The biggest hurdle for most skiers will be getting used to having the extra weight and resistance of the sled. Depending on the size of the child (plus the weight of the sled), you are adding 25-70+ pounds more weight to your typical ski session than you are used to. This means that any hills that bogged you down before are really going to be monsters with the sled. If you are looking for a workout, one great advantage to the sled is that you can get in really great specific strength training on very moderate terrain. However, if you are looking to cover big distances or take on really tough hills, you may want to adjust your plans.
Classic versus skating with a sled really depends on the sled, your fitness/technique, and the trails you are exploring. All the sleds listed work well with classic technique, although not all sleds will allow you to actually use the groomed classic tracks. If you skate, you are best off pulling a sled in packed snow conditions and on moderate to gentle terrain. This is particularly important with heavier loads!
Downhills with the sleds on groomed trails are surprisingly easy provided you are confident in your snowplow and turning techniques. The attachment poles keep the sled away from your body and skis and (if awake) your child will love the ride! If you are NOT confident with either snowplow and turning techniques, then you should stay on only the most gentle trails while pulling a sled...or (better) refine your skills before going out with a sled.
If you do ever fall while pulling a sled, do your best to "sit down" rather than a faceplant (or worse). A "sit down" will simply see the sled stop behind you without incident (other than potential squeals of laughter from the occupant(s) behind you). However, any ugly high speed fall in which your body twists on impact could end up putting the sled on it's side. Although we have not heard any horror stories with children's sleds, it is not beyond reason to imagine a worst case scenario. The very best safety measure is simply to avoid ever getting up to any speed or into any situation in which you feel a dangerous fall could happen.
Tips For Using Children's Sleds
- Aim for relatively short trips (45 minutes - 1.5 hours) the first few times out. This gradual introduction is equally important for yourself as well as your child. As you and your child get comfortable using the sled you can slowly increase the time.
- If you have a couple adults to share the load, trading off with the sled can be a great option.
- Be aware of the endurance limits of your child. Very small children (well bundled-up) will most often fall asleep after the first few minutes, but you still don't want to have them in the sled for hours on end. Older children will likely ski awhile and ride awhile. Just how long and how far depends on the age of the child. It may take a few trips for you to get a handle on how to balance skiing and riding with older children.
- Pre-planning your route to fit the desires/needs of your family is a great idea. For example, if you know your older child loves to ski downhills, you might suggest that they ride in the sled for a portion of the uphill first half of a ski route, thus saving energy for their downhill romp.
- You'll likely spend a ton of time looking behind (or asking your spouse/friends "is he/she OK?) and your child also likely go through a learning curve with being comfortable in the sled. Rest assured, as long as you have them snug and secure, with very small children a few minutes of crying will often turn into a steady nap the entire time you stay in motion. Older children may stay awake or sleep. A few toys or picture books can be a good idea.
- Make sure to have storage pockets (some sleds provide these) for loose items such as toys, food, bottles, etc.. For larger children, a large plastic bag or small ski bag is a good idea to put skis and poles in when not in use. Be aware that mittens and hats can easily get tossed outside the sled if not attached to the free-spirited occupant.
- You will be surprised (we were) how much snow is kicked up on the sled even with easy skiing on packed snow. Be sure to always use a cover or shield...this applies on warm, sunny days as much as sub-zero cold! In falling snow or rain it is absolutely critical to keep the entire sled covered.
- Bring food and fluids for both yourself and the kids...even on very short trips. Remember, this is adding resistance to what is already the world's best aerobic activity. You could very well find yourself needing some extra energy or fluid even on familiar routes. As for the "cargo", children will need fluid and snacks for any trip longer than a half hour. This is particularly important at high altitude and in very cold or stormy conditions.
- Invest in a good sleeping bag for your child. A small sleeping bag is the easiest way to ensure that the baby/child will stay warm and wrapped up the entire trip. Bags are easy to load in/out of the sleds and can usually take some moisture without problems. You will also want to have the child well-dressed making sure to have a warm winter hat, mittens, and footwear. Since very young children will not be doing any moving around, they really need to be bundled up even when it is quite mild for the moving skier. For the young skier that is combining sled time with ski time, try and find a moisture-wicking underlayer to go next to the skin along with layers of comfortable outdoor activewear (you will be surprised at the options you have for children nowadays). You wouldn't want to sit in clammy cotton clothes after a ski anymore than your child does!
- With very strong/fast adults, most of the sleds will have a certain "surge" effect each time the adult poles or strides in a dynamic way. This can move a child's head back and forth a fair amount...particularly when skating in fast conditions. Although it is hard to judge whether the head movement is dangerous, we've found an easy preventative measure is creating a make-shift neck collar out of a rolled up jacket or even buying a U-shaped child's travel "pillow". With small children that tend to sleep the entire time, simply having them in a flatter position while in the sled will tend to eliminate any head movement problems.
- For parents worried about tip-over safety, use of a bike helmet is not a bad idea...particularly for children used to wearing such a helmet. Over several dozen test trips we did not experience a single tip-over with any sled (even in very fast conditions) either on groomed trails or off-track. However, accidents do happen and if your child doesn't mind the helmet, it isn't a bad idea.
Pricing and "Could I Just Make One?"
XC children's sleds are not the cheapest XC accessory. Current pricing on new sleds is in the neighborhood of $250-600(US) depending on make, model, and accessories. In every version we tested, confidence was very high that the sled would easily outlast the "user need". Meaning, your child will get too big for sleds before any of the sled or parts are likely to wear out. This is very much a one-time purchase with a good return on investment down the road.
You can find used sleds at second-hand sports stores but be 100% that any used sled comes equipped with all the rigging and accessories required for immediate use. If you aren't careful, you can easily spend days or even weeks chasing down component parts. Note also that in our testing, we were very impressed (counter to our expectations by-the-way) in the modern advancements of children's sleds over the past several years. This is something a used sled will be hard pressed to match.
Here is a common question readers have asked us over the years..."Is there a way I can just make my own XC children's sled?"
Since the fundamental use and design is usually not all that complicated, crafty XC folks may indeed be tempted to build a sled of their own. We know of at least one fellow that has accomplished this feat and was quite happy with the result. However, many parents may not be as clever with tools and/or might not have the patience, time, or spousal approval for trial and error "experiments". Remember that in a worst case scenario, your child can indeed be in danger of serious injury should a ski sled fall apart. Further, high quality parts that would yield the same results as the commercial versions may not be readily available or may end up costing you a fair amount.
If you think you fit any of the above limitations, you anticipate a great deal of use with your sled, and/or you demand a high performance level for speed and/or safety reasons...you will want to buy a sled and save yourself time, hassle, and worry.
North American Children's Ski Sled Review
Note: Any manufacturer or distributor of children's XC ski sleds is welcome to contact the xcskiworld.com office to be added to this list.Baby Glider
From The Manufacturer -- Based on an original design by Richard Weber, well-known Canadian polar explorer, the Baby Glider ski pulk is now manufactured by Pierre Harvey, three-time World Cup cross-country ski champion. A shock absorption system inside the pole provides a smooth ride for the child and a more comfortable motion for the skier. The child is well protected from the elements by a bubble windshield. A full-length, two-way zipper allows easy access to the front of the sled for storing extra clothing, food, etc.. The harness and built-in crashbar in the seat add extra security in the event of a spill. Moulded runners in the base of the sled are designed to fit into standard-width groomed trails.
xcskiworld.com: The Canadian-made Baby Glider is the only sled we've found with a one pole towing system. The one pole was quite comfortable and a notch above the traditional two pole design in groomed track performance (though you do trade a bit of stability). The big news here is the shock absorption plus the molded base runners...both of which are also unique to Baby Glider. The shock absorber gives both parent and child a great way to smooth out the ride, particularly with classic technique and very strong skaters. Similarly, the molded base runners fit nicely into standard groomed classic tracks allowing the parent to actually ski in the classic tracks without having to worry about destroying tracks in soft snow or having the sled "float" behind them with firmer tracks. Bottomline: Innovative (and unique) features. Works best on groomed trails and soft snow off track or flat "crust".
From The Manufacturer -- The Child Transport System (CTS) -- only by Calgary-based Chariot -- offers a child bike trailer built for town and country; a Sport Stroller that allows you to jog together; a hiker that allows you to explore the great outdoors as a family; or a simple infant stroller for when you veer from the bike path and into the mall. Now, there is even more choice with the new XC Ski Kit. Features include adjustable-length tow-bars and a padded hip-belt. Light-weight Karhu skis feature a mica embedded and fishscale p-tex base. Conversion requires no tools and takes just a few moments.
xcskiworld.com: The Canadian-made Chariot Carrier (with all attachments) is quite possibly the ultimate in parent/child transport systems. Based around a protected child compartment, the Chariot easily changes from ski sled to other uses as advertised. In terms of ski-specific use, the Chariot worked best for us on firm packed snow (better with classic in our tests). The big plus is the sophistication of the cover system as well as the overall versatility of the CTS. Both in terms of materials and room, the cover system is second to none featuring handy pockets inside the compartment within easy arm's reach for both parent and child. Note: The bike trailer in our testing was right up there with the best dedicated bike trailers on the market. Bottomline: Unbeatable versatility, a true "chariot" compartment for the child.
This Colorado company says "Ours was the first and is still the only truly rigid trace system. The dual poles provide 'no-slop' performance, eliminating unwanted slippage and making turns a breeze. This design does not destabilize or push the puller around, and is coupled with a padded waistbelt with leg loops for superior comfort and guaranteed stability. Two versions to select from. The Armadillo is a short, compact sled that shrinks down into a size that can be thrown onto your back. The Expedition Sled a workhorse of many a Nordic and Alpine ski center across North America. The Expedition Sled has an option for two child seats while the Armadillo seats one child.
xcskiworld.com: We tested the Armadillo sled and found it to be a very good sled for both groomed trails and off-piste skiing. It's light, easy to transport, and pulls very easily. We're not sure that it actually is small enough that you can easily "throw it on your back" (unless you happen to have a big, sturdy back) but it's certainly small enough to easily fit in the back of your Subaru for quick transport to your local trails. A strong recommendation with this sled is to invest in the Kid Canopy option. The Windscreen provides OK protection for the child but the Canopy is the ticket for 100% protection from flying snow in packed conditions and falling rain/snow in inclement weather. Bottomline: Easy to transport, easy to pull, easy rider. Works well both on and off groomed trails.
The KinderShuttle comes from Utah-based Wilderness Engineering which also makes the BaseCamp gear sled. The company has this to say about the KinderShuttle...A large top vent exhausts moist air while keeping snow out. 2,000+ cu in of storage for diaper bag, thermos etc. The sled also features a 1,000 denier Dupont Cordura nylon cover and clear vinyl wind screen that rolls away in good weather. The canopy has support tubing, (Chrome Moly steel tubing...very strong) that keeps the sled from rolling should the sle dgo onto its side. Two children fit easily with big sister holding little brother. The KinderShuttle was designed to be safer than anything we have seen on the market.
xcskiworld.com: This is a very compact and lightweight sled that worked very well both on and off groomed tracks. When you remove the canopy frame, the sled is a piece of cake to transport fitting into a surprisingly small area. That same canopy frame also provides a nice measure of safety (especially in backcountry conditions). The canopy cover offered an easy zip system (very appreciated on cold/wet days). The sled also features a very safe 3 point strap system not too far removed from the systems you see in many carseats. Bottomline Positives: Safety features a big plus. Works well both on and off groomed trails, a slight nod to off track use because of the safety features.
California-based Ziffco is no-nonsense with both their products and sales pitches saying...The Two-Boggan offers versatile high-strength towing system made of 6000 series high tensile strength drawn aluminum tubing. The towing traces telescope to four set lengths of 4,5,6 and 7 feet. Rugged high density polyethylene hull is capable of withstanding temperatures down to -100 degrees F. Stabilizing tracking runners set to allow for maneuverability and maximum hold on side hill traverses. Runners set to fall within standard xc trail machine grooves. The new canopy cover for the Tow-Boggan can also be used with just a windshield. Insulation liner and bucket seat(s), gives you the extra protection from the elements you need to take your child(ren) with you.
xcskiworld.com: Ziffco offers a nails-tough product that has made a name for itself in the backcountry XC community as well as many XC centers. The Two-Boggan offers up plenty of room -- easily enough for two children -- a big canopy and a well padded belt. Even with the size, it folds flat fairly easily. The rear "back-slide" brake system is a very nice feature, particularly for off-track skiing or for more novice adults on icy conditions. We were especially pleased with the ample straps in the sled for tying down gear and generally securing small passengers. The adjustable towing rods are a huge plus allowing for convenient changes with different size adults, snow conditions, and also in transport. Not everyone is going to need a children's sled that can handle -100 degrees F but it's proof positive this is one tough product. Bottomline: Roomy. Tough. Good on tracks and even better off-piste. Easily can change into just a gear sled.