Types of Dog Sleds

Types of Dog Sleds
For centuries, northlanders depended on dog sledding for their livelihood. A musher hooked teams of dogs to a sled and drove them to accomplish chores, like travel, hunting, and hauling. Today, many people enjoy traveling in dog sleds by participating in races and guided tours. There are three main types of dog sleds used for these activities.

Basket Sled

The modern basket sled descended from the traditional wooden style of sleds driven by the Inuit people. A flat-bedded basket, typically wooden, rises above two runners and carries equipment. Because of the height of the basket above the snow, gear stays dry. Like most dog sleds, the musher drives the dog team standing on the back of the runners where he can access a foot brake and easily use his body weight to steer. These sleds tend to be lighter and more suitable for racing than the toboggan style sled. Many manufacturers, like Adanac Sleds and Equipment, recommend basket sleds as solid entry-level products.

Toboggan Sled

Toboggan sleds maintain the same concept of a basket riding above runners, except the basket, usually plastic, mounts directly to the runners. This lowers the sled's center of gravity, which allows larger loads and makes the sled more stable. This larger load capacity reduces maneuverability. Because of the solid plastic bottom, toboggan sleds ride better on deep powdery snow than basket sleds do; mushers pick these sleds for off trail runs.

Raised Toboggan

A raised toboggan dog sled combines the plastic bed of a toboggan and raises the plastic bed in a style similar to a basket sled. The design mounts the basket above the runners, but not nearly as high as the height the basket sled does. This sled offers the best of both styles: They float over powdery snow and maneuver quickly and have good stability.

Race Sleds

Most racers, like those running Alaska's grueling 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race or Minnesota's John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, use basket-style sleds, because they tend to be lighter, faster and more maneuverable, but the race rules will often stipulate exactly what is allowed. For example, the Iditarod rules allow any type of toboggan or basket sled as long as it can haul injured or fatigued dogs plus all the musher's equipment and food. Longer races allow the use of multiple sled that racers switch out at checkpoints. This allows a racer to choose a sled type and size based on the conditions she expects to encounter on the next leg.

Often, racers innovate new styles of sleds looking for an advantage on the trail. One of these recent inventions, the Trail Dagger, splits the basket, which allows the musher to ride between the two baskets. During easier sections of the trail, the musher sits on equipment loaded into the rear basket. This allows her to rest.

Passenger Sleds

Guided trips often use toboggan-style passenger sleds. The passengers sit inside the plastic basket, and the musher covers them with blankets and then straps them in. She then mushes the sled while the passengers enjoy the experience without having to learn to mush.

Article Written By Bryan Hansel

Bryan Hansel is a freelance photographer and kayaking guide who began writing in 1993. His outdoors articles appear on various websites. Hansel holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and religion from the University of Iowa.

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