The Extremely Scientific Guide to the Best Snow Sleds
Our Highly Scientific Team Of Science-y Scientists hereby presents their findings based on hours of research in the field.
Erica Silverstein · 7 months ago
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Snow is serious business, and the scientific team here at Camp is adamant that sled selection should only be made after reviewing the latest experimental research. We would like to say that we put these sleds through a rigorous testing and observation process, monitoring maximum speeds in a variety of snow conditions, conducting double-blind studies on wind resistance and durability, and spending hours identifying the ideal tush fit.
In truth, we read some online reviews and sent our kids down the hill in our backyard on a few different sled types in lame Virginia snow. Still, we are confident enough in our Highly Scientific Research to present to you this guide to the best snow sleds for all ages and snow styles.
The Classic: Flexible Flyer Metal Runner Sled
Basics: This is the classic wooden sled with metal runners that parents remember from their childhood.
Stats: The sled features a steering bar, which riders can manipulate with their feet or hands to avoid obstacles such as rocks or toddlers on the hillside. A 250-pound weight limit means that parents could ride with a small child who can’t be trusted on her own. Old-school design and high-quality materials score high marks for style, too.
Recommended for: Long runs with packed, not fluffy, snow; obstacles OK. (However, be prepared for complaints about dragging this heavy-ish sled back up the hill.)
The Fast and the Fashionable: Inflatable Snow Tube
Basics: The inflatable snow tube offers the most design variety, so sledders can make a personal statement on the snow hill. They’re fast, too.
Stats: The winter cousin of the pool floaty, snow tubes typically have a solid seat in the middle of their donut-design, rather than holes, as well as grab handles. The top-of-the-line products feature thicker plastic to protect against mid-hill blowouts. Design choices range from the donut to the dragon, though the Camp research team is diggin’ this unicorn with goggles and a rainbow scarf. Know that inflatable animal heads increase drag; purchase a tube without appendages for maximum speed. The lightweight construction means kids have no grounds for complaints when carrying the tube back uphill.
Recommended for: Long, wide hills with deep, light snow and no obstacles because these speedsters can’t be steered.
The Wild Child: Saucer Sled
Basics: These circular sleds, which come in metal and plastic varieties, are incredibly speedy, but you’ll be spinning crazily down the hill with no steering control.
Stats: The backyard scientists here in Virginia have done multiple experimental trials with the simple, circular saucer sleds. The metal version trumps the plastic for speed and durability; one trial in which the plastic version was left out in the elements all year long resulted in weakened plastic and severe cracking. The plastic saucers, however, are more lightweight and affordable. With both, steering is impossible, and riders invariably spin and slide backwards down the hill.
Recommended for: Imperfect sledding conditions (ice, total lack of snow) as long as no obstacles are present.
The All-Purpose: Foam Sled
Basics: Neither the fastest nor the craziest, the foam sled is a good all-around choice.
Stats: After three days of study, one junior Camp research team member perfected the run-and-leap method to speed-start a foam sled on a low hill, as well as the “pull up the front end to avoid bashing your head on the house” sledding technique. The foam makes for a comfortable ride on uneven terrain, the shape lends itself to feet-first or head-first sledding, and the lightweight construction makes it easy to transport.
Recommended for: Less-steep sledding hills and bumpy terrain — or daredevils looking for comfortable head-first rides.
The Workhorse: Plastic Toboggan
Basics: Pull your kids, pull your firewood — this sled does it all.
Stats: The worst plastic toboggans will hit bumps hard and crack on impact. The best plastic toboggans are rugged multipurpose vehicles that will send kids flying down slopes, but also haul children, animals, firewood, and ice fishing gear around snowy grounds. Several renegade Amazon experimentalists report success towing these sleds behind ATVs, though that use is not recommended by the manufacturer.
Recommended for: All terrains and conditions — just be prepared to feel the bumps hard.
The Throwback: Wooden Toboggan
Basics: The old-schoolest of the old-school, this is the style of sled used by Native Americans and 16th-century Europeans.
Stats: This pricey wooden sled has a simple design — it’s essentially a long flat rectangle with one end curved up. Research shows that these snow conveyances are best suited to squeezing numerous children onto one sled and running experiments to see how quickly the children in the back fall off the speeding toboggan. Collaborators claim that the wood requires careful maintenance to keep the sled in good working order. An optional cushion pad is available for scientists with sensitive bottoms.
Recommended for: Rustic mountain settings complete with yodelers, members of the original Algonquin Nation, or ladies dressed like “Little Women.” Snow jumps should be avoided.
The Wannabe: Baby Boggan
Basics: Little siblings might be too small for real sledding, so this pull sled will get them into the action in an age-appropriate way.
Stats: Not every one of the Camp research team’s interns has the training to handle a live sled experiment on their own. To prevent disputes in the lab, the HR team brought this baby sleigh to the experiment site. The miniature wooden sleigh features a back rest, optional padded seat, runners, and tow rope so senior scientists can tour the outdoor facility with those interns so exhausted from research they have trouble sitting up on their own.
Recommended for: Flat, snowy terrain — not intended for downhill racing.
The Hi-Tech Millionaire: Steerable Ski Sled
Basics: Flash your cash as well as your disdain for low-tech fun with this state-of-the-art snow racer.
Stats: If you want to make a statement on the slopes, show up with a sleek Yukon Hammerhead Pro HD Steerable Snow Sled. It features an aluminum frame, contoured seating, polycarbonate front skis, HDPE rear skis (that’s high-density polyethylene, says the resident professor), and a steering system designed for face-first sledding. Our researchers recommend a helmet and goggles when deploying this hi-tech speed demon.
Recommended for: Ski slopes and other serious hills — the backyard can’t handle this potent combination of speed and technology.
The Old Faithful: Cafeteria Tray
Basics: When you find yourself in an unexpected snowstorm without a sled, the cafeteria tray — a favorite of college students everywhere — will do in a pinch.
Stats: Made of cheap plastic, the rectangular cafeteria tray is not optimized for speed, comfort, or steerability. However, it will gain speed on a snowy slope, should your researcher be able to stay on it for the ride. Lightweight and affordable (cheap on Amazon, free if “borrowed” from an actual cafeteria), this genus of sled is a close relation to the cardboard box, plastic storage tub lid, old baby bathtub, and metal trash can lid also found in impromptu sledding ecosystems across the country.
Recommended for: Any makeshift ski hill with an incline and some snow will do.
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