Introduction: How to Sew a Pulk Bag (sled Bag)

A pulk is a Scandinavian apparatus resembling a sled used to haul gear over long distances with ample snow cover. Pulks can be pulled by a hiker, skier, or a dog and are used to carry various survival supplies such as a tent, or food. Many winter camping enthusiasts swear by pulks as apposed to other methods of schlepping gear. Several manufacturers sell pulk rigs, however these rigs can be pretty expensive so being the crafty person you are . . . why not just make your own!?!?

This instructable will guide you through the steps of designing and sewing your own pulk bag. Because everyone will have different requirements for their own bag, these steps describe the design processes and techniques needed to make a pulk bag.

*** These steps can also be applied to other sewing projects of similar difficulty and complexity such as sewing a regular duffel bag, or a backpack. Even if you are not interested in making a pulk, I made a list of the main things that I learned during this project and included that at the end.

Step 1: Get a Sled

Obtaining a sled that fits your needs is the first and foremost priority. Depending on what type of activity you plan on using your pulk for, you may choose a different style or size of sled. Generally speaking, you can find a variety of quality sleds at most hardware or outdoor stores.

Some sleds come with holes pre-drilled into the side walls. If your sled doesn't have any holes pre-drilled, you can drill some yourself pretty easily. It's helpful to string some rope through these holes for spots to tie down your gear to. You can also fasten some hooks into the holes as shown in the picture.

Step 2: Planning and Drawing Your Pulk Bag

Before you rip through any fabric, you are going to want a detailed drawing of your bag. Measure the inside dimensions of your sled and use that as a starting point for creating the dimensions of your bag. Be sure to reference duffel bags or backpacks that you commonly use to make sure that you'll be able to fit all of your gear inside.

Once you have the overall dimensions of the bag, start planning out how you are going to sew each portion. It helps (if not completely necessary) to break the bag up into several independent sections that you can sew together at the end. Determining how you will sew each portion before you actually sew anything is crucial.

!!! Don't forget to add extra dimensions for the sewing tolerance! Sewing two pieces of fabric together reduces the size of the combined piece because you have to mate them!

The following few steps will go into more detail about specific methods and techniques that I used to design my pulk bag.

Step 3: Disclaimer!

The next couple of steps are sewing methods and techniques that I used to make my bag. Do not feel as though you have to follow these steps aimlessly in order to sew your own bag. Your design might be radically different than mine and it may require only a few or even more steps than I am showing here. Think of these steps as helpful hints or stepping stones for determining the method you will use to sew your own bag.

Step 4: Materials

The use of a strong fabric is essential for making a bag that will last. I used 1000 Denier Nylon that I bought on close-out. The red and tan plaid fabric was just scrap that I had around and I used it to give the bag some character. There is nylon underneath for strength.

Picking a good thread is also crucial. Nylon thread works much better than a polyester thread for this type of project.

Use all the pins you've got! Pinning your creation in place is a must in order for it to turn out as planned. When in doubt, add more pins! If you pin in a direction perpendicular to the direction you want to sew, you can leave the pins in place and just run right over them with the sewing machine. This is a huge time saver and guarantees that your positioning is where you want it to be.

You may be fighting the sewing machine a lot during this project. I spent a good deal of time positioning and forcing my pulk bag in a way that I would be able to sew into corners and sew it all together. That being said, I didn't have a great machine to sew with and I didn't have any special sewing "feet". After I used my bag for a trip, I brought it home and did some repairs on my parent's sewing machine and I couldn't believe how much easier the sewing was. If your machine is near the end of it's life, ask to borrow a friend's machine for this project.

Step 5: Securing the Bag to the Sled

Securing the pulk bag to the sled is crucial to prevent gear from falling out and to minimize getting snagged in thick underbrush. There are countless ways to do this. A few of the most common methods are using rope to criss-cross over the bag, or bungees to stretch over the bag. Get creative here.

The motivation for creating my pulk bag was to come up with a way to secure the bag to the sled while still allowing access to the zipper and the inner contents of the bag. Your decision on how to secure the bag to the sled may impact the design of your bag so it's important to determine this before you start sewing. It is not uncommon though, to simply use bungees stretched over the sled which requires no interaction with the pulk bag at all.

Step 6: Sewing the Base

I broke my bag up into four different sections. A base, a top, and a two end caps (one in front and one in back). I used two zippers on my bag like you can find on some hockey bags. This added a great deal of complexity to the project.

I made the base using one single piece of fabric folded onto itself to create square corners. I wanted the bottom to have a defined edge(see picture)(*1) that ran along the side of the sled so I folded the fabric on itself and ran along the entire length of the base on either side making a strip of fabric the width of my sled. Then I made some triangle folds at either end to create a box-like structure. A plethora of pins held the ensemble together until it was sewn in place.

Step 7: Sewing the Top (and Zippers)

This step was probably the simplest. Referring back to my design, I cut the rectangle strips to size and sewed them together with the zippers in the middle. This is where you really have to start visualizing how the bag is going to come together. To have all of the seams on the inside of the bag, you need to sew it inside out. Refer to the pictures below for a better understanding.

Step 8: Sewing the End Caps

This was a pretty difficult step for me. In this step, it became clear to me that introducing two zippers was a lot more difficult than I had previously thought.

The rear end cap was not too difficult because I lined up the top and the base sections. However, in my design, the top piece was shorter in length than the base so that caused some trouble at the front end.

The base was square, but the top section formed a trapezoid that was shorter than the base so I needed to make a front end cap piece that matched the square base and the top trapezoid at an angle. I had to use a lot of trigonometry to determine how big and at what angles to cut this piece. Sewing this piece was a nightmare as well because it all had to be done inside out!


I also was not quite sure as to how to make the bag close completely and prevent snow from reaching inside. I purposely did not cut the zippers (they were longer than the top section) and that allowed me to make a separate piece to overlap the end cap. Sewing on a piece of Velcro to the overlap and the end cap allowed the bag to zip completely closed and prevented any snow from getting inside.

Step 9: Putting It All Together

When sewing all of the sections together, it become painfully apparent which pieces are not square or not exactly straight . That is why I sewed the top and base sections together before I made the end caps. I knew that they would have to be custom pieces because when dealing with such large pieces of fabric, any misalignment becomes amplified over its entire length. 

Step 10: Go Winter Camping! (Conclusions)

Now that you've got your pulk rig finished, put it to work!!!

If you're not the winter camping type, here's a general list of the main things that I learned during this project that you can apply to other sewing projects. . .

1) Safety first! The sewing needle WILL go right through your finger.
2) The quality of the sewing machine and thread you use make a huge difference.
3) Pins, although enemies of your fingers, are the fabric's best friend.
4) Be generous when cutting your material and allowing for the stitch tolerance. Dimensions have a way of shrinking after everything is sewn together.
5) A good, detailed plan in the beginning will prevent a lot of frustration and re-design later on for large projects like this.
6) Plan to make a second one because you will learn so much on the first run that your second attempt will be 3X better.
7) Putting together a good instructable takes a lot more time than I initially thought. More updates to follow!

Comments

author
vladivastok (author)2014-12-06

HOW MUCH TIME AND MONEY DO YOU ESTIMATE WENT ONTO THE PROJECT? THANK'S [ VLAD ]

author
SCHLEPIC (author)vladivastok2015-01-04

Wow those are tough questions. I did not keep detailed track of the hours or the cost, but if I had to guess, I'd say probably 20 hours at most and maybe $50 (including the hardware). Buying fabric in bulk definitely saves a lot of money if you do a lot of sewing projects.

author
tjk888 (author)2010-04-25

As a fellow Minnesotan this looks like a project that I am going to have to try!  I had a makeshift pulk sled last year winter camping and it was not very rugged nor was it organized.  Nice instructable...Go Wild!!

author
seamster (author)2010-03-10

Good work! Designing, sewing, and using your own gear is extremely rewarding. Kudos for taking on this type of project.

If you're looking for a good sewing machine for this type of work and don't want to spend much, I highly recommend almost anything from the 50s or earlier. That's very general, but the older machines had all metal parts and I've found them to be perfect for the occasional heavy-duty project like this. Plus, you can find them for either free or cheap if you keep your eyes open.

author
SWV1787 (author)2010-03-05

nice Idea especially for the next Klondike derby (a Boy Scout sponsored sled race). I suppose my only thoughts would be for a quick design you could reuse a US military duffel bag that would be available at any PX (military surplus) store and sew some extra webbing and grommets onto it. plus since that would be canvas you could oil it to keep it waterproof. but I really like your double zipper design.

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