This winter, try making your own pull-behind sled, also called a pulk or pulka. Photo: Sarah Hipple
By Ethan Hipple
We all know good gear can make your life easier in the outdoors. It can
also set you back hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Crafting your
own homemade, or “do it yourself” (DIY), outdoor gear with your kids can
be a fun solution. Options range from simple projects using household
or campsite items you probably have on hand to more complicated
endeavors that require preplanning. Some of the projects below lend
themselves to hands-on help from kids; others lead to kid-friendly
results but require adult assembly. Have fun and get creative!
There are a couple
of easy methods for creating homemade fire starters, and the first is a
great introduction to DIY, especially with kids. Simply dip cotton
balls in a jar of Vaseline and store them in a plastic bag. When you’re
ready to make a fire outside, just fish one of the greasy wads from the
bag and use it to start your fire. (Adults, this part of the job is for
you.) The starter will burn bright for more than a minute, giving you
plenty of time to build a fire, even with wet wood.
A second and
more elaborate method (read: more parental supervision required) is to
take an empty cardboard egg carton and fill the wells with sawdust or
small shavings. Melt some paraffin wax on the stove over low heat in a
disposable aluminum pan liner and pour the wax over the sawdust in each
egg well. Let this cool then tear off the individual wells of the carton
for homemade fire starters. Bonus: This is an excellent chance to teach
the kids about fire safety and LNT. Read more about building low-impact fires.
DIY PULKS (OR PULKAS)
on old Scandinavian designs, these pull-behind sleds make wintertime
backcountry travel with kids easy and fun. They're also great for
carting gear or firewood. Even better, you can make them for less than
$20 with parts from your local hardware store.
Starting with a
plastic winter sled (flat bottoms work best), drill approximately 10
holes around the perimeter sidewall of the sled. Starting at the front
corner, weave a sturdy rope through the holes, working your way around
the rear of the sled and back toward the other front corner.
the two ends of the rope at the front of the sled and guide them
through two pieces of 1-inch PVC pipe, cut to 5- to 6-foot lengths. Once
the rope is threaded and hanging out of the pipes, tie a loop in each
end and clip a carabiner on each loop. You can clip these right onto the
waistband of your pack. Voila, a snow trailer!
control, cross the pipes in an "X." Your kids can sit on a foam camp
chair in the sled, or you can sew up a custom sled cover to keep the
elements out and add extra insulation. Our kids spent dozens of hours in
these sleds as infants and toddlers, and even heavy snowfall and high
winds couldn’t dampen their spirits as they glided over the snow, safe
and snug. You can find more detailed instructions in AMC's Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping.
campers are happy campers. Instead of buying expensive dry bags for $20
or more each, just line a stuff sack with a trash compactor bag. And
there you have it: a dry bag for pennies! Compactor bags are extrathick
plastic bags—at least 2mm thick for long-lasting strength.
packing clothes or sleeping bags in compactor bags, we usually use two
compactor bags in a stuff sack, pack the items in, press all of the air
out, then twist the tops of the compactor bags shut, tucking them in
between the stuff sack and compactor bag to stay sealed. We’ve done
three-week river and backpacking expeditions with this method and have
always had dry gear. The only drawback is that compactor bags are
increasing hard to find in stores; buy from online retailers instead.
Want to learn how a garbage bag can save your life? Find out in Equipped.
of the oldest tricks in the book: Just strap your headlamp onto a
1-quart clear water bottle so the light shines through. You’ll have an
instant lantern to cheer up your backcountry kitchen or tent.
heading out car camping, simply freeze water ahead of time in a couple
of 1-gallon milk jugs or 2-liter bottles. Throw these in your cooler to
keep your food cool—no melting ice to get your food soggy! Over the
course of your camping trip, as you need less ice and/or you need more
water, set out one homemade ice pack at a time and let it thaw.
BIKE PANIER BUCKETS
out on a bike camping trip? Rather than buying expensive nylon panniers
for $100 or more per set, try bolting 5-gallon square buckets to your
bike rack. You might be able to pick these up for free from a local
restaurant, or your can use empty kitty litter buckets. The advantage of
square buckets is that they fit perfectly against the side of a bike
rack and they're 100 percent waterproof.
You will need a sturdy
rear bike rack if you don’t already have one and some U-bolts, as well.
Size the U-bolts so they’re just big enough to fit around the vertical
support posts of your bike rack. Line the buckets up next to the frame
of the rack so the bottom of the top flange of the buckets rests on top
of the rail of the rack. Mark and drill holes for the U-bolts so there
are at least three connection points. Bolt them on nice and tight so the
nuts are on the outside of the rack, not in the bucket. I keep a bucket
permanently connected to my rack for transporting clothes when
commuting to work and ice cream on runs to the store. My son has even
bolted upright sections of PVC pipe to the back of the bucket for
fishing-rod holders. (Want more tips on bike camping with kids? Read on!)