A pulk is an awesome way to enjoy winter backpacking, but it can be a pain in the ass to control on uneven or steep terrain. On flat, featureless terrain, a pulk is pure pleasure and very easy to command. You just pull it, its not that complicated. You can haul in luxuries you never thought possible on a trip.
However, on uneven or steep terrain a poorly equipped pulk can be a fucking nightmare. The cheap home depot or drugstore sleds break easily, tip easily, and don’t track well. On downhills, the sled can bang you in the back of the legs, causing bruises or even a fall. Higher quality sleds are more durable and capable, but without two important features they can still be a real pain on less forgiving trails.
The first important feature is to add poles to your sled. Over and over I see people with sleds on the trail without poles, and I pity these people. The poles add rigidity to your limp pulling rope and keeps the sled from banging into the back of your legs on a downhill portion. It also helps the sled track much better. I use PVC poles from Home Depot. This alone is a game changer. Cross the poles and hook the caribiners on your hipbelt, which you’ll see in the videos.
On uneven trails, the pulk will always want to start sliding sideways, down, and away from you as you pull it. Here in this video you can see me walking farther up on the trail, checking my hip, trying to keep the sled from slipping down the hill. You can see the pulk start to slip down on 0:12. It doesn’t look too bad in the video, but if it slips down, it can tip and spill your gear all over the place, which obviously sucks. Whether it spills all your shit or just tips over, you’ll have to muscle it back up onto the trail regardless.
There is an easy solution for this. You can attach metal fins to your pulk which completely stabilize it. I did this last year but never got around to using them.
No more slipping and sliding around. In this video you can see how well the pulk tracks in an area where other sleds were slipping off the trail:
I saw a couple of other groups using pulks this past weekend, one of which was fighting to keep their Jet Sled on the trail. They also did not have poles attached for pulling the sled. It looked rough like my trip last year where my pulk just busted to pieces.
So if you want a setup that’ll last awhile and function magnitudes beyond a $7 sled, do yourself a favor and buy a decent pulk, add poles, and consider buying the metal fins from skipulk.com.