WINDHAM — For 15 years, Stephen Bailey and Jeff Anderson wilderness camped in the White Mountains. When they discovered the backcountry wilderness around Mt. Katahdin 10 years ago, it became their go-to outdoor escape in winter.

It was here that they designed what they consider the perfect winter camping sled.

Many backcountry winter campers use backpacks to carry in their gear, just as wilderness campers do in the summer. But in wintertime others use toboggans, or pulks, to tow their gear behind them as they travel across snow on snowshoes or skis.

Bailey, 43, and Anderson, 42, guide friends into the remote cabins around Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, a trip that requires a 10-mile ski into untamed wilderness where there are no roads, no stores and typically no people.

“When you’re five miles into the woods you can’t mess around,” said Bob Turner of Windham, who’s joined them on these adventures.

“You don’t just go to the trading post and buy what you need. What you have out there with you is what you got.”

Turner said when you’re deep in the wilderness and it’s minus-20, it’s not ideal to have the sled you’re pulling come apart or roll over. Both happened in the early years of the Bailey-Anderson backcountry excursions.

Jeff Anderson, left, and Stephen Bailey, who are avid winter campers, show off the storage capacity of their sled. In remote areas, campers have to bring everything they need for survival, and pulling a sled can deliver them safely.

The first sleds Anderson and Bailey used to tow gear were typical plastic toboggans, the kind you see on neighborhood sledding hills full of children. But these were too shallow and kept flipping, dumping their gear in the snow.

Then Bailey and Anderson tried to design a camping sled using a smaller plastic sled that was deeper. They affixed a single pole to the front of the sled to hook onto a hip belt. This second version seemed to hold promise, so they built a dozen.

It proved another failed attempt.

“We were snowshoeing in, hauling the sleds on a brutally cold day,” Turner said. “And I started to see pieces of red plastic. And I thought, ‘I think there’s a problem.’ We ended up trying to tape up the front. We kind of limped in. It was quite an event. That put Jeff and Steve back into research and development.”

It was during one of the stops to repair the red sleds that Bailey realized what they needed: the heaviest sleds out there – the ones used by ice fishermen.

“When we took a break, Jeff and another guy started whittling sticks to put on the bottom,” Bailey said of the red sleds. “I’m watching this thinking to myself, there has to be a better way.”

When they got home, Bailey researched pulk sleds online and studied those used by explorers in places like Antarctica. He felt inspired and determined to design a winter camping sled that would endure over ice.

He found the “Jet Ice” sled made by Shappell for ice fishermen, who typically haul heavy augers, propane heaters and bait buckets onto frozen lakes. These sleds are made from rugged polyethylene. They are 5 feet long and a foot deep, and cost just $30.

Toboggans designed for winter camping expeditions in the European Alps or Arctic regions run as much as $300 to $600.

Bailey and Anderson’s model, all told, now costs just $50.

“It’s simple and strong, tried and true,” Bailey said. “It can run over snow and ice in any condition. We’ve been pulling these since 2014.”

Stephen Bailey, who devised a homemade winter camp sled with Jeff Anderson, demonstrates its use for hauling gear into the backcountry without mishaps.

Charlie Herson, a Registered Maine Guide, is another camper who has gone on these extreme-weather expeditions. Herson said it’s another world in the woods of Baxter State Park when it’s 30 below.

But Herson said the most recent sled design by Bailey and Anderson make a ski trek in such conditions “unbelievably effortless,” because the 80 pounds in the sled and 20 pounds on his back is evenly distributed.

The two polyvinyl chloride pipes, or PVC pipes, are rigid and attached to the sled at the front corners, at hooks drilled into the sled.

Rock-climbing webbing is woven through the hollow PVC pipes and attached to a homemade “seat,” which is also made of webbing.

“This is the secret sauce,” Bailey said of the webbing.

The webbing provides some shock absorption because it’s springy. And the “seat” keeps the sled from running into the skier when going downhill.

The webbed seat and two PVC poles are connected by a rock-climbing carabiner that’s hooked to a backpack, which helps distribute the weight.

“Some guys hook it to a waistband, but that wears on your hips,” Bailey said. “You’ll burn out. With a backpack you forget it’s back there.”

The crowning touch is the heavy plastic bin placed in the sled that holds most of the gear. It also doubles as a comfortable, dry bench during breaks.

“That gets a lot of envy from anyone who didn’t think of it,” Bailey said. “Because if you don’t have that, you’re sitting in a snowbank.”

The bin is full of all the necessary gear, such as a shovel, a hatchet, tarps to wrap an injured person, two to three small stoves to boil water, clothing, bedding, food and headlamps.

Anderson said he used to spend a lot of money on dry bags, the type brought on rafting trips, but when they discovered the bins, he never went back.

They use bungee cords threaded through hooks to tie down the bins and additional gear stored in the sled.

Bailey packs about 50 pounds of gear in the sled and just essentials in the backpack.

And since 2014 they’ve never had to redesign their sled.

“You’re not calling on a cellphone for help out there,” Bailey said. “Judgment and decision is the most important thing making it into the bin.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

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