Let’s continue our Canine Adventure Gear Guide! Moving on to another canine adventure activity that’s extremely popular, let’s take a look at dog sledding and kicksledding. Imagine a winter wonderland – the clear blue sky ahead, your dogs trotting softly ahead of you, and all you can hear is the runners gliding through the snow underneath you and your pup’s breath in the crisp, clean air. Whether you’re just into some casual running for fun, or have the Iditarod as your end goal, having the right equipment goes a long way in making sure that you and your dogs are safe, comfortable and having fun!
Dog sledding in particular has been a part of Inuit history for thousands of years, and these days, people and their pups participate for many different reasons – some for fun and exercise, and some for the extreme type of challenge that comes with pitting themselves and their dogs against time, the elements, and their own willpower!
Sled – The most necessary piece of gear you’ll need is the sled, of course. There are many, many different types of sleds. Although traditionally dog sleds were made from durable materials like birch or ash wood, modern sled builders often use materials like fiberglass and aluminum as sled materials, too. There are two main types of sleds — basket sleds and toboggan sleds. Basket sleds are usually cheaper in price, and used often by beginners, recreational mushers and sprint racers, as they’re lightweight, easy to learn on and fast on ice and well packed trails. Gear tends to stay dry more easily since the basket is placed high off the runners. Toboggan sleds are more stable, especially in soft snow, and they can carry larger loads, though they tend to be less manoeuvrable than basket sleds.
Any sled should also include a brake, which is usually just a spring loaded plank attached to the sled with a metal hook at the other end. When the brake is pushed down, the hook digs into the snow, slowing or stopping the sled. An additional snow hook (attached to the gang line) that can be used as an ‘emergency brake’ is also a vital sled component.
Gang-line. To put it simply, this is the line that connects the sled to your dogs! It consists of a central tow line (attached to the sled bridle, a harness made of poly rope that attaches to several points on a sled) that goes between your pups, tug lines that branch out to snap the tow line to each individual dog’s harness, and sometimes neck lines, which connect to each dog’s collar. If a neck line is used, it’s is not meant to carry any pulling weight – it’s only used to keep your pups close to the tow line, which keeps them moving forward together instead of out to the side, maximizing their energy use and pulling power. The length of your gang line really just depends on the size of your team! Gang lines are usually made from durable polyethylene rope, although some mushers prefer a cable-filled rope for those pups who like to chew the line!
Sled Bag – A waterproof, durable bag that encloses the sled basket, these are extremely handy items to have in your gear list. They can not only be used to carry extra gear like lines and harnesses, but also water and dishes for dogs as well as first aid supplies, extra clothing, camping gear and food. Also, if one of your pups is injured and can’t run, they’re able to hitch a ride back home on the sled in it – which is why a sled bag is a required piece of gear for professional racers!
Musher’s Belt. A musher’s belt is part support device and part utility belt for a musher. By attaching it to the sled during long trips, it can provide you with body and back support, since you’ll sometimes be standing for quite a while. A belt will usually be made of heavy-duty materials, too and will include a D ring or two as dog attachment points. This is very handy to hook when you’re moving your dogs on or off the gang line and need to have your hands free, especially in the middle of nowhere!
Mushing Boots. Some may think that all there is to dog driving merely riding on the back of the sled issuing commands to steer the dogs – but they’d be very wrong! It’s usually as much work for the musher as it is for the four-legged team members. Often a musher needs to “peddle” the sled when the dogs are tired, or might need to run alongside the sled as encouragement or to help their tired team rest, too. Though there are different kinds that work best in different conditions, in general, look for boots that are hard-soled, warm in frigid conditions, comfortable, and flexible enough to allow you to run with the sled.
*It should be noted that although almost any dog can be trained to pull a sled, the northern breeds are the dogs that really tend to enjoy and excel in this activity. These canine companions have been bred to work and thrive in extreme and challenging conditions! Breeds that are traditionally used for dog sledding are:
Harness: As with all the dog mushing sports, your pup needs a comfortable, properly fitted harness to do their best work – hauling the sled (and you) behind them! There are many different brands of harnesses, but two main types that are popularly used in dog sledding are the x-back and the weight pulling harness (used for dogs that are going to be pulling significantly heavy loads). The x-back harness is sometimes referred to as a racing harness, but it can be used for a lot of different mushing activities, since it spreads the weight of pulling well over your dog’s body. Look for a harness that’s durable, has padding around the pressure points in the front, and can be adjusted to give your four-legged friends a perfect fit.
Collar – Although you may or may not attach your dog’s collar to the gangline, a collar is still an important piece of gear for your pup. Not only will it serve as a point of attachment for a leash, or as another way to hang on to your dog when moving them around, but a collar can also provide a way to identify your dog in case they escape on a run. For sledding, your dog’s collar should be flat (never use a choke or prong collar on a pulling dog!), made of durable and waterproof material, adjustable, and if possible, have reflective areas to allow you to see your pup easily in the dark.
Boots – Your furry friend’s feet are what carry them forward, so protecting them is really important! Although a protective wax can be ideal for shorter treks over softer snow, fitted dog boots are a good idea to prevent injury on long trips, especially when you’re sledding over rough ice and snow that can really scrape your pup’s paws.
Water and food – Pulling a sled is hard work for our canine companions, and they tend to burn far more energy doing this than with other kinds of activity. Take enough fresh water and high energy snacks for your pups on every run, and food for meals on longer trips.
Dog sledding is part of a rich traditional northern heritage and remains a widespread sport and recreational dog-and-human activity – whether you’re just starting out or have been mushing for years, it can be an extremely fun and rewarding way to adventure outdoors with your favorite furry friends!