Q: What do nerdy backpackers say when they get a little bit too excited about making their own gear?
I'd wanted a pulk (or ahkio, as they are called in Lapland) for some time, and while the professional Fjellpulken pulks really look the part, they are pretty heavy (over 7.5kg with poles and harness), and very expensive – from around €700 for an X-Country, to over €1700 for a Transport 401: a little bit outside my budget. A lot, in fact.
While there is a time and a place for a hardcore pulks, in the gently rolling landscape of Finland they are a little bit overkill for all but the most extreme trips or situations.
Luckily, there's a well-known alternative that you can make yourself using a Paris Expedition sled, and some ingenuity. It may not have all the bells and whistles of a Fjellpulken, but for the kind of "expeditions" I get up to at the moment, I was confident it would be more than enough.
Let me show you how to make one!
I should begin by saying that none of this is my idea. Ed Bouffard – an ex-NOLS instructor – wrote the book on MYOG pulks, and you can download it for free from SkiPulk.com, where you can also buy parts to make your own Paris Expedition more advanced pulk.
I like to keep things simple, so the pulk I made is the most basic, hassle-free version to be found in the booklet: a simple pipe pulk.
This is just about the easiest MYOG project you can imagine. It takes virtually no skill (high on my list of priorities) and is really cheap. If you live somewhere with a half-decent amount of snow, it's worth making just for the fun of it and the sense of achievement – not to mention the satisfaction at having saved €700.
Here's what you need:
(Note: I made two at the same time, so the image above shows additional materials)
1 x Paris Expedition pulk
About 10m of 8mm cord
2 x carabiners (or similar)
2 x lengths of 12-15mm (1/2 inch) conduit
A short 20cm length of guy cord
I got my Paris Expedition from Globetrotter.de for €39.99. I read you can get them direct from the manufacturer, EraPro in the US/Canada, though you might have to buy as a group. In Finland they are available also from Varuste.net.
The cord cost around €5, the carabiners €4, and the conduit €4.80. So the total cost for the basic pulk was €53.79! Quite a considerable saving over a Fjellpulken.
There is a cheaper Paris Expedition made out of a lighter material, but I think it's better to stick with something that has a little rigidity to it.
The first thing to do is thread the cord around the pulk, using the holes that are already provided. The reason for this is that you will distribute the pulling force over the whole pulk, rather than just at the two front holes.
When you've threaded the rope all the way around, pull it through so you have about 2.5m (8.2ft) coming from each of the grommeted holes on the front – although the length of the poles will be shorter, you need some additional play for knots.
At this point it's a good idea to set fire to stuff. Or at least to burn the ends of the cut rope, to stop them from fraying.
The first knot you need to tie is right outside the grommet where the rope enters the pulk. This is to stop the cord slipping in and out of the hole. A double overhand will do the trick.
Next you need to measure and cur your poles. The purpose of the poles is to stop the pulk sliding into your back when stopping or going downhill. They need to be long enough so that the tail end of your skis don't slap the pulk as you go.
You can find out the approximate length by setting up your skis, and measuring from your hip to the tail of your ski, and then adding some extra to be on the safe side. It's good not to have the poles too long, so you have more control in confined areas.
The SkiPulk .pdf suggests 6 ft / 182cm to be a good length. I cut mine to 190cm.
The conduit is cut easily with a hacksaw.
Feet the cord through the conduit, and tie a loop (I used a figure eight on a bight), keeping it as close to the conduit exit as possible. This was the only trick part as it necessitates keeping the pole in place and tying the knot. You could ask someone to hold the pole, and you can always tighten or reposition the knot later if it has too much play.
When you use the pulk, the poles are crossed to provide more maneuverability. To keep them together, tie a small loop around them, about half way along their length. You can also duct tape this loop to one of the poles to keep it in position if you want. I didn't bother.
And voila! The finished pulk:
All you need now is to attach the loops to your harness. As I'm an inveterate cheapskate, I thought I'd have a look at my collection of backpacks to see if I could use any of the hipbelts. Lo and behold, my Granite Gear Vapor Trail (now known as the Crown A.C.) has an excellent removable hipbelt with stitched webbing perfect for attaching the carabiners. If you don't have a suitable belt, Globetrotter has a simple harness on sale which will do the job nicely.
It was time for a test!
After a quick ski around the park, I grabbed the first person I could find and headed off to find a trail.
Although my passenger weighed a scant 12kg (26.5 lb), she seemed satisfied with the smoothness of the ride, until she got a bit fed up and decided she wanted to walk.
Until that point we had been skiing along a relatively clear trail, so I thought I'd head "off-piste".
At first, my Madshus Eons coped pretty well with the light, fluffy snow we get here.
But soon, I got that familiar sinking feeling, where one has to break some serious trail.
Until before long...
Around this point I seriously started to wonder whether I should get some Madshus Annums, which sound a lot more suitable for backcountry skiing in fluff:
"The 2013 Madshus Annum backcountry skis (formerly Karhu XCD Guide) are the result of many requests from serious backcountry skiers for a waxless, full-metal edge backcountry touring ski that is ultra-fat to absolutely float on super deep soft snow and/or fresh powder when breaking trail and ripping telemark turns on the downhills."
I'd previously thought the Annum's would be overkill, but that description (apart form the bit about ripping telemark turns) seems to accurately describe what I encounter regularly up here. I'd be interested if any Annum users out there can comment.
Anyway, it was fun, and I decided to make an additional modification to the sled.
When testing in the park, I used my toolbox as a load. It fell out on more than one occasion when turning in deep snow. When you're attached to poles and on skis, having to faff around putting things back in a pulk is not particularly enjoyable, so I returned to tke SkiPulk .pdf for advice on adding a load retention system.
I decided to go for the simple shock cord solution, which is very simple, but has a clever modification that enables you to easily load the pulk without having to take off your gloves to tie knots.
First, drill sets of two holes near the existing holes in the pulk, then use the hacksaw to cut entry points so you can slip the cord in easily.
Then feed the rope in a criss-cross pattern around the pulk, thus:
You don't have to pull everything really tight - just enough to make sure it's not loose. When you load the pulk, you can quickly remove the sections of cord that you need to.
The SkiPulk book suggests wrapping your gear burrito-style in a tarp, which can later be used in camp. Ultralight afficionados should of course be aware that this advice does not apply to the lightweight materials used in UL tarps and shelters, which could easily rip. In Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book, they recommend packing gear in a duffel bag, but you could also easily use a UL backpack – and if you position it with the shoulder straps upwards, with clever packing you can also carry the pulk, attached to your backpack, on your back should you need to cross any more difficult terrrain.
Lastly, you may be wondering why I didn't make an Incredible Rulk – of the kind that Jörgen and Joe made using a Paris Expedition? I decided to make this version this year and see how I get on with it, and adapt it into a rulk next winter.
Now... to test it for real!