Building A Sled On A Budget

It’s official, the results are in, and they are exactly what we anticipated… Turns out we love winter camping! So who’s ready to sleep in the snow? In light of us doing our very first successful winter camping trip, we thought we would share our process for building the sleds that got us there.

While we have explored numerous other designs for building sleds, many of them cost around $100-$300 per sled. Since this was going to be our first experience, we were not ready to drop that kind of money. I mean, if we want to build a really nice sled, should we not have some experience dragging one through a forest to understand the demands of the woods? We will go through our lessons learned at the end but the sleds we made cost a total of $45 and took only an hour to make.

Step One: What do your local stores have to offer?

We started by looking at Canadian Tire and we didn’t have to look much further. As soon as we walked in we saw the sled below for $24, and we were sold. It looked long enough to carry all of our equipment, and seemed durable enough to withstand the sticks and rocks that it would have to endure along the way.

 $24 Sled from Canadian Tire

$24 Sled from Canadian Tire

Next was time for rope. We knew that the weight that we would be pulling would require a strong rope on the front. We went with a thicker braided nylon rope that cost all of $0.58/foot. This rope claims to be able to bear a working load of 245lbs which would be significantly more than what we would require. We also purchased some cheaper rope that was a little thinner, this was going to be used to keep our gear secure to the sled. The last thing you want is to lose your sleeping bag because it wasn't tied down correctly.

 Braided nylon rope

Braided nylon rope

Step Two: Make your pie

Now that we had the ingredients, it was time to make our pie, our masterpiece, our sled. We wanted to make an easy way for us to tie down our gear. As there was nothing to attach a rope to, we drilled multiple sets of 2 holes all around the sled so that we could make loops, that would be easy to weave a rope through. See below

 Loops of rope to weave our gear ties through

Loops of rope to weave our gear ties through

We did this all around the sled to ensure we had lots of different places to secure our gear. We figured the more of these we had, the more secure our gear would be while going up and down hills, up and over logs, and around all the tight turns in the woods. This was our final product with the additional rope weaved throughout to give you an idea of what our goal was.

 The final Product! ($45 - and only 1 hour of labour)

The final Product! ($45 - and only 1 hour of labour)

And here are a few pictures of our sleds in action on our last trip!

 Gear is wrapped up tight! It looks like we are dragging people...

Gear is wrapped up tight! It looks like we are dragging people...

Lessons Learned

We had a few lessons learned after completing our first trip and I thought I would share them in point form

Tie it right the first time: Some of us tied our gear down better than others and we found the “Mummy Technique” to work best. This is where we completely wrapped our gear in a tarp, and used a strong rope to secure it all down. If you took the time to do it right the first time, you wont have to fix your gear every 50 feet on the trails.

The sled is only $24 strong: At the end of our trip, one of the 3 sleds broke on the front nose. It will likely live to see another trip, but it is worth noting that these cheaper plastics used on these sleds cannot withstand high impact. This might mean going a little slower in places to ensure you don’t break anything.

Building a Quinzee in the Queen Elizabeth Wildlands

Author: Rebecca Joy Vandenberg (@alter._.eco

SNAPSHOT

Total Distance: 5km

Route Description: Ganaraska Trail, frozen lake crossing

Time: 23 hours

Highlights: Beautiful Scenery, rugged landscape, and free!

 

Into the wildlands we said.  Just an easy weekend in the bush we said....

This experience was both exhilarating and exhausting. It all started with our genuine curiosity about winter camping, and whether or not it was accessible.  Ryan and I have both been interested in trying to camp during the winter for some time.

We contemplated our shelter options, and decided to try and make a quinzee.

Our first step was to figure out how to make a quinzee properly, it had been 10 years since I had first made one back in highschool, and Ryan has never been winter camping. So before our departure, the research began. Website after website offered similar advice, and we were confident that the questionable snow quality would not hinder our decision.

Being a winter camping trip, I also knew cooking would be more difficult, so I opted to make a full batch of pulled pork and gnocchi before hand. Our other food supplies included; cliff bars, canned beans, bacon and eggs.

The week approaching our trip, Ryan started to become a little restless, unsure if the information I was giving him was true. That we could, in fact, sleep in a pile of snow and keep warm overnight. I didn’t blame him, it is quite the project to undertake, especially for the first time.

As our departure time approached, we decided on carrying most of our gear, and last minute we put together a sled. We didn’t want to buy a sled, so we borrowed one and strapped a hockey bag to the top. Little did we know, this would be a little bit of a disaster...

Fast forward 10 hours, and we arrived at the parking lot, which is one of the only winter accesses to QEW. The access is located on Devils Lake rd, and is made possible because of the Ganaraska trail, which runs through the width of the park.

Pulling up, we then realized we were definitely not the only ones winter camping that weekend.

Once loaded up, and after a nice chat with a local, we headed up the road towards the access to QEW, sled and dog in tow.

Our original plan was simple. We were to hike to Sheldon lake, only 2km from the trailhead, and camp on Sheldon L for a night or two.

Once in the park, we noticed that Sheldon Lake was a popular destination and we decided to keep an eye out for a side lake that was free of people.

As we wound around the Ganaraska, our sled came apart twice and although frustrated with the unpredictable sled, we continued on. I am not sure if the whole of the Ganaraska is this rugged, or if it is just the section in QEW, but it was quite the surprise. Up and down and up and down we we went. Having to climb cliffs and cross beaver dams, we eventually gave up the trail and followed some tracks over the lake. What a relief it was to break free of the trail!

As we meandered along the lakes and over more beaver dams, we finally came to a tiny lake that I believed to be 250 m short of Sheldon L. It was a nice spot, and I knew that we should start digging our shelter, so we hiked over the ridge to another small pond and picked a spot!

As we began digging, we were surprised and the quantity and quality of the snow. 2 feet in the shallows, and thigh deep everywhere else! How nice it was to drive 3 hrs north and be in such a paradise!

Now, this is when the work began

How to build a quinzee:

Step 1: Start digging

Make a pile of snow that is at least 7 ft tall and that is 4ft wider than that of its tallest inhabitant. It should take you an hour to two hours to complete the pile, depending on your shovel/s. We brought 3 shovels, just because we could, and to see which type of shovel was best for the project.

For this first step, we specifically brought a large snow clearing shovel and a small avalanche folding shovel for piling the snow.

We dug and dug and dug.

This is where the sweating truly begins, so layers must come off. It is not smart to sweat while winter camping. You are further dehydrating yourself and making all your clothes wet. So always keep mindful of this.

Once our pile was complete, we compacted the pile and let it sit. Our snow conditions were less than ideal, so we let the pile sit for 2 hours. 

And in the meantime we cooked some much needed lunch, dried out our socks and took in the scenery.

Step 2: Make your quinzee into a porcupine. 

Find sticks 1.5 to 2 ft long and stick them into your quinzee at least 1-1.5 ft. Make sure you have more than enough sticks to help you determine the thickness of your quinzee while your digging it out. It is easy to make your walls to thin if you are few and far between. I would say 30-40 sticks placed about 6 inches apart is ideal.

The goal of this step is  to make it easier for the person digging to ensure the quinzees’ outer layer to be a consistent thickness to prevent collapse, which I believe is a really important thing!

Step 3: More digging. 

Once your sticks are placed, the next step is to pick a proper entrance way. There are various ways to make an entrance, we were a little lazy so rather than making a nice tunnel entrance (which would be piled during step 1), we just dug a hole in the side of the quinzee.

Regardless which way you decide to go, always make sure your entrance is at the lowest part of the pile, this way any cold air that is trapped inside the quinzee has an easy way to escape.

Once you have chosen your entrance location, its time to start to dig out the inside of the quinzee. Out of the 3 shovels we brought, my favorite shovel to begin the digging process was our small folding shovel that locks at a 90 degree angle. This allows for easier and more ergonomic digging.

There is a point in the initial digging process that requires you enter the quinzee and start digging up. The internet told me that this is the not nice part of building a quinzee, as you have to dig so close to your body, snow falls in your face and neck. So to improve moral we decided to bring some ski goggles. This was a great idea, and Ryan and I both used the goggles for our diggings shifts. 

As you dig out the quinzee keep and eye out for the ends of the sticks. Try not to dig too far past the end, as you want your new home to have a consistent roof thickness to again, avoid collapse.

Once you are done digging out the inside, it is paramount that there are some ventilation holes made in the roof as you want to avoid asphyxiation. Just take out a few of your sticks, and make sure there is a nice hole that continues all the way through your roof for carbon dioxide to escape.

Step 4: Congratulations! Now you have a quinzee, and from this stage on you can decide what modifications you want to make. 

We chose to improve the insulating qualities of the quinzee further. We accomplished this by first shaping the floor inside to include a raised portion to sleep, with a lower trench in the door area to direct cold air outside. The second modification was made by placing a healthy layer of pine bows on our bed area.

Now we were complete! Time to set up our gear.

In flew the thermarests, sleeping bags, liners and the rest of our gear. It was at this time we fully realized how small our quinzee was. We did not pile enough snow, but it was now 7pm and it would have to do!

It took a total of 6 hours to build our shelter, this included the 2 hour period in which we allowed our snow pile to settle. We were quite happy with the results, especially considering back home in Guelph there was not enough snow to make a shelter.

With our shelter built, and gear set up, we now attempted to boil some water for drinking overnight, as dehydration is a real threat while winter camping. Our first attempt to boil water failed, as the pot violently fell into the fire. Luckily the fire was large enough to sustain the attack, and we were back down to the hole in the ice for more water.

Second pot, just brought to a boil, again, fell into the fire. Finally, the third time, we balanced the pot right and yielded 1 L of stinky bog water for drinking. I hiked back to the quinzee and tucked this in the foot of my sleeping bag straight away.

As soon as we finished with the water, we inhaled some pulled pork we warmed up over the fire and started to get ready for the night. 

With everyone and all the gear delicately posited in the quinzee, we went about closing the hatch. To ensure the quinzee has as little heat loss as possible, we covered the entrance with our packs and some reflective blankets we had brought with us.

Once in our sleeping bags, the time read 8pm. A little earlier than we are used too, but we were so exhausted and it was now -12 outside. Luckily we found the temperature to be pretty good inside the quinzee, and my sleeping bag was so warm, thanks to the hot water at my feet!

The night was fine, especially considering how cramped we were inside, and 11 hours passed with little issue, but definitely not enough sleep. I was wrapped up in 2 sleeping bags, and Ryan had a bag and a fleece liner, which proved to be quite agreeable for both of us. I was so warm at one point, I had to remove my water bottle and take off my hat and gloves for some time to cool down.

Once awake, we were now extremely dehydrated and quite exhausted. Regardless there was only high spirits, the sun was rising, and we were alone in paradise!

Finally free of our confinement, I decided to take a quick walk out across the pond to warm up. Nico followed me out onto the ice, and we made for the other shore.

Once back at camp, Ryan and I decided we had our fill of the cold and we were ready to head home. We began packing up our camp, and puttered around as the sun rose over the hills. It was still a crisp -12, but the sun made the morning extra delightful.

Our 2km trek home was great, the morning was so stunning, and we took our sweet time.

Once back at the car, and thankful for heat, we headed back south.

Overall the trip was a great experience. We learned how to create a livable and safe shelter, learned the intricacies of winter camping, and were able to get away from the city for a night. Another successful trip in the books.

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Sleep Safe In The Backcountry

After a long day of tripping, pulling up to your site and setting up camp can be the last of your arduous tasks for the day. At this point, your bodies exhausted and dinner is the only thing on your mind. Sometimes in these circumstances, it’s easy to forget to assess your site for potential dangers. A hazard that is often overlooked is the presence of standing dead wood. Dead trees, for obvious reasons, are much more susceptible to falling on top of you in the middle of the night. This video provides a run-down of how to approach a site with “risky” dead wood.

Choose The Right Knife For Camping

If you’ve ever done anything outdoors, chances are you’ve needed a knife at some point or another. Your knife is your most invaluable tool; it’s the tool that can build your shelter, prepare your meals, process wood for a camp fire, cut your fishing line, and even get you out of a survival situation you didn’t expect to be in. Having a good quality knife can make your camp site tasks easy and enjoyable. Choosing the right knife for you can be really confusing and there are a lot of misconceptions about brand quality and the reliability of a cheap knife. I’m going to break down everything you need to consider when purchasing a knife and how to choose the one that will work for you the best. This article will focus primarily on fixed blade knives as they offer unmatched strength, comfort in the hand, and ease of use when camping.

When looking for a new knife there are four main things that I consider before I make my purchase. They are (in order): Purpose of use, blade steel, size, and warranty/company reliability.

PURPOSE OF USE

            What will you be using this knife for and what can you expect from it? Will you be using it to replace your hatchet and process heavy wood? Will you use your knife exclusively as a camp kitchen knife? Or will it be used for a little bit of everything? The purpose of use is the most important thing to consider before you even start doing your research into which knife to buy. It’s important to understand the limitations that different knife designs have. If your knife is going to be splitting logs and de-limbing trees, you’re going to want a knife with a blade no sorter then 8 inches, have a blade stock (thickness) of 3/16ths of an inch and a nice carbon steel that can flex without snapping or shattering under the heavy abuse. On the other hand, that knife will be way to thick and bulky for any sort of fine work like whittling or chopping up vegetables for dinner. Once you have decided what you will be using your knife for, you can start narrowing down your options.

BLADE STEEL

            The heart of every knife is its blade steel. A good blade steel will stay sharp, take a wicked sharp edge, and perform well above any cheap quality no name “stainless steel”. Choosing a knife with the right blade steel is very important after deciding what your knife will be used for. You are presented with two broad categories of blade steels, stainless steels and non-stainless carbon steels. Both types of steels have advantages and disadvantages that make them useful in different scenarios. Stainless steels contain high amounts chromium which give them the ability to resist rust and corrosion much better then carbon steels, although they can still rust if not wiped dry or maintained. These steels can be hardened to a high Rockwell hardness which gives them excellent edge retention. The fatal flaw of stainless steels is because of their high Rockwell hardness, the steel can catastrophically shatter if twisted or bent with a slight amount of force. Stainless steels are used in 95% of modern folding knives and small fixed blade knives. Carbon steels are ideal when considering any knife that will be used for any sort of hard work like wood processing, chopping, carving, and whittling. They are heat treated to lower Rockwell hardnesses then stainless steels and won’t hold that sharp edge as quite as long, but they will flex to extreme angles before shattering and are extremely easy to sharpen back to a hair shaving sharpness. Carbon steels are considered the holy grail of survival/bushcraft knives. A few examples of good, high quality, stainless steels you might come across are S30V, 154CM,VG10/VG1, and S35VN. A few good quality carbon steels to consider are 1095 (my personal favourite), 1084, and 1075. So what does this all mean? If you plan on using your knife to do small, light tasks like cutting food or fishing line, a stainless steel blade will be a lot less maintenance and will stay sharp for those delicate tasks. If you plan on chopping wood, taking branches off dead tree limbs, or making impromptu shelters, a carbon steel is going to be your best friend.

SIZE

            The size of your blade can make a task easy or extremely difficult if chosen incorrectly. This category heavily relies on personal preference. In my experience, a 6 inch blade length is the perfect balance between being big enough to tackle hard tasks, small enough to still prepare meals, easy to carry on your belt, and easy to store in my pack when not in use. A small fixed blade like an ESEE Izula is extremely portable and light, but lacks the size to process wood efficiently. The thickness of the blade is also something to consider. I have found that 3/16ths of an inch is perfect for almost any task but a thinner blade stock for lighter work is definitely good as well as the knife will have an easier time slicing.

WARRANTY AND COMPANY RELIABILITY

            I’ve used many fixed blade knives and I have found a few companies have really stood out in terms of product quality and customer service. ESEE knives is the be-all end-all of production fixed blades in my opinion. Ergonomic handles, outstanding materials, and the absolute best warranty in the business. If you break an ESEE knife, even if you shoot a hole through it, they will replace it with a brand new one free of charge. KABAR knives is another fantastic company with excellent value for your money products. The KABAR/Ethan Becker collaboration series of knives uses similar materials to ESEE but for a fraction of the price. Their warranty includes a lifetime guarantee on materials and workmanship, so if you break it under normal use, they will replace it at no extra charge to you. Lastly, I want to give an honourable mention to Morakniv of Sweden. These $20 knives can take a beating and even though I have yet to break one, at the price point, you can buy 5 or 6 for what an ESEE will cost you. That being said, I would always recommend an ESEE if you have the cash to drop on one, they are truly fantastic and indestructible knives.

Gunnel Replacement

Apparently when you go camping as often as I have, your neighbours start to notice…I received a phone call from my neighbour letting me know that he knew of someone who was looking to get rid of a canoe and wanted to know if I was interested. This was all the detail provided, but without asking any questions I quickly accepted the offer! That same day I went to pick up a canoe that looked like the picture above on the left. I have included some other pictures at the very bottom as well.

This canoe looked like it had not been used in quite some time. Knowing that this 16ft Kevlar canoe would not have been a cheap canoe when purchased, I thought I would give a shot at rebuilding it. The actual hull and skin of the boat was in near perfect condition, it was really only the gunnels, carrying handles, support beams, and yoke that needed replacing. After watching several videos online about ways that you can steam wood to allow it to bend a easier (video at bottom), I was starting to get a little overwhelmed with the idea of taking on this project. I decided to go to my local lumber supplier to try to cut 16ft pieces of cedar into ¾ inch thick wood strips, hoping that the cedar would be able to bend around the canoe without steaming. And it worked! We used a lot of clamps and went one screw at a time working our way from one side of the canoe to the other. Watch my video below which shows highlights from the process! I have included other details below for those who are interested!

More details:

  • The total cost of the repair was less than $200 with the yoke being $100 of that
  • The yoke was purchased from a local canoe shop
  • We used Teak Oil on the wood to keep it pliable (and I still use this regularly to repel water on trips)
  • We used stainless steel screws so that they would not rust over time like the last ones had
  • We offset the 16ft long cedar strips as they were too short to make it right to the end of each side of the canoe. This helps shift the weak points out on the canoe. Each end had a small 5 or 6-inch piece attached to complete the full side gunnel
  • We were able to re-use both the seats giving them a quick sand and applying teak oil
  • We used Poli-prep and Poli-glow 2 solution system for cleaning and polishing your boat
  • The video I was previously watching about steaming wood can be found below: