Operating effectively in the winter season is something that many people think they do well, but very few in fact can do efficiently long term. Anyone can load up a rucksack for 48hrs and head out into the cold night and “survive” for a few days, but to truly head out for a much longer time, think weeks not days, is a skill that is vitally important. Include others in your care now that may not be able to carry their own weight, think kids in your group, now carrying enough gear in winter has become more than how fit you are, but how much room do you have to carry even more gear. If carrying a 100lbs Rucksack isn’t the option, what other method can you use to effectively carry gear for yourself or others in these less-than-ideal conditions? Let us delve into the world of the PULK…
A PULK is defined as (from FINNISH:pulkka; SWEDISH:pulka) “a small Nordic sled used in sport or for transport, pulled by a dog or skier”. In this case, you are the one doing the pulling. There are endless amounts of options of PULKS, ranging from the highest of ends from KIFARU as an example, all the way to a cheap plastic sled by PELICAN. Anything can be used as a PULK, as long as it meets some basic requirements.
1. PULK can be closed shut to secure gear from elements and prevent loss of gear while patrolling
2. PULK has a slick base ideal for movement along snow
3. PULK has long fixed poles or rope that can be attached to hip belt so the operator can drag it for movement
4. PULK should be at least 4 feet length for optimal storage capacity of gear
To address the more than obvious reason of simply being able to carry more gear in a PULK than in your rucksack alone, the single MOST CRUCIAL benefit for the PULK is being able to spread the weight of your gear and eliminate the need for an overly heavy bag. Not only will spreading out the weight of gear make your rucksack lighter, but now all movement in either snowshoes or on cross country skis is much easier. If it is easier to move distances now, you can travel for longer while burning less energy, and travel further on skis or snowshoes dragging a PULK behind than controversially sinking the entire duration of your movement due to an overweight rucksack. Another HUGE benefit to the PULK is sheer ability to carry much more gear than any rucksack could. Survival tools, a larger winter shelter, a stove for said shelter, additional food, any extra survival or sustainment gear, possibilities are endless.
Now that you know why a PULK is superior to just loading up a rucksack, how many PULKS do you require in your group? Conventional Western Armies for some damn reason seem to think one PULK per Squad is adequate. Other than it being obvious that a Squad probably requires more gear than one PULK can hold, their logic of justifying cost of a PULK to a ratio of 1:10 men on average is utter bs. In an ideal situation, one PULK per Fireteam is ideal. Now getting back to your squad or family, it all comes down to the ability of your group to carry their weight. One Pulk would realistically be enough for a group of 4 people, if all 4 members of said group could carry a 40-50L bag. Now turn your group into your loved one and two kids, ideally, you’d want your wife/husband/partner carrying their own PULK as well. One PULK to 2 people is the perfect scenario long term. The sheer amount of sustainment gear and food that each PULK could carry for 2 people increases your longevity versus one PULK carrying gear for 4.
Like many loadout topics, there can be a million reasons to carry something versus another. Here is a very quick and dirty list of the things I carry in my PULK and why. Gear in my rucksack and patrolling gear (belt kit/patrol vest/chest rig) is also another huge subject alone, so for now I will stick to get in the PULK. This is also set up for 2 adults, 2 kids.
1. SHELTER and STOVE
Shelter, 4 season tent or tipi/hot tent. I personally prefer a hot tent as it can be paired up with a lightweight wood stove for long term protection from the harsh winter elements. Lightweight 4 season tents like the HILLEBERG Keron 3 weighs significantly less than a hot tent, but the PULK is hauling the weight, so I’d choose the bigger hot tent for the stove. If you go the hot tent/ tipi route, make sure it is indeed floorless for your stove and has ample ventilation to limit carbon dioxide exposure. Check out KIFARU 8 Man Tipi or LUXE Hercules 8 man tent. This is LONG TERM winter operations, so a larger shelter makes sense. Wood Stove. If you go the tipi route, a lightweight stove can easily be carried by the PULK. Carry some fire starter kindling and bark and a few logs to get a fire going. Better to have some as an emergency in the PULK then trying to scramble in an emergency in the dark. I only use my Fire bag as a last resort. Ideally, I collect all my fire stuff before dark.
Bushcraft Axe and Saw. These are not only your lifeline for collecting and chopping wood, but in the rare event your shelter gets damaged or lost along the way, you will need these tools for improvised winter shelter building. A larger bushcraft axe and full length fixed saw blade are also ideal with the PULK as it can easily fit instead of trying to attach this gear outside your ruck looking a gypsy sideshow. My axe of choice is currently anything from HULTAFORS, but even a good wood splitting axe from your local hardware store is fine. My current saw is from AGAWA, the Boreal 21 inch. Again, any reliable saw will do. The bigger in this case the better for long term sustainability.
3. SLEEPING SYSTEM
Winter Sleeping bag. Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes, synthetic vs down, whatever you choose, make sure its comfort rating matches winter conditions. Most sleeping bags are rated for “survivability” so check the actual comfort rating. I personally chose synthetic over down, down maybe warmer and more compressible, but in the event conditions become wet, synthetic bags will work better than down every time.
GORETEX Bivy Bag. A waterproof condom for your sleeping bag to prevent the bag from getting trashed. Not only does it keep the water out, it can add a few degrees of warmth. I have an oldie from SNUGPAK with a zipper down the middle for ease of entering and exiting my bag.
Sleeping pad. Inflatable vs foam rollers. Inflatables are undoubtedly much warmer, but I chose the classic foam roller to prevent punctures or damages. Also much quicker to deploy than blowing up a mat.
4. SUSTAINMENT, additional food, ammo, first aid.
Additional Food. I keep a full 24hrs of food in my ruck, while the remainder goes right into the PULK. So every person’s food in my group goes into a food bag in the PULK for ease of feeding time. Food that can freeze is obviously not ideal, so avoiding MREs and high calorie bars is a must in winter conditions. Freeze dried backpacking meals are the number one choice. Yeah you need to boil water to eat, but there is no shortage of water when you can melt all the snow you see to get a meal in. Key is the highest calories per ounce so no weight is wasted in food. Another must for food in Winter Conditions is food high in FAT. Calories burned patrolling and pulling you PULK is much higher than you think just cause you are cold. So carrying pre cooked or already cooked meats, think smokies or sausages that can be eaten cold, and some nuts or trail mix is also perfect for snaking while patrolling. No cooking or boiling water required.
Additional Ammo. This goes without saying that the PULK can carry additional ammo for your party on top of the load already in your patrol kit and rucksack. My rule of thumb, whatever your frontline loadout is you carry, double it per person in the PULK.
First Aid Kit. Same for First Aid Kit as ammo. Additional supplies to supplement peoples IFAKS, and then some.
Snowshoes/Skis. If you are wearing one, the other is in PULK or strapped to the outside. If you can't cross country ski, learn how to now. So in the event you find you and your group on the move in the dead of winter throwing on skis now isn’t your first time. You can cover way more ground on skis than you can in snowshoes. Obviously if the snow is waist height deep snowshoes are the ones you will be rocking, but it is all situation dependent. Get both and practice them.
Any other mission essential gear. Extra Fuel for cooking, perhaps rope if your location may require obstacle crossings. Options are limited only by your location or situation. I also carry a repair kit for all my gear.
Hopefully this has given some insight as to WHY you should drag your gear in a PULK over carrying a 100lbs rucksack. Anyone can endure a heavy ruck, but to truly operate well in a very harsh climate is a valuable skill that you can bring to your group.
- Nomadic Fieldcraft Crew