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The best sleds

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We have researched and tested a wide range of sleds, including snow tubes, plastic sleds, saucers, snow bikes and ice fishing sleds, among many others. We knew from the start that testing would play the biggest role in our evaluation, so we didn’t take too long to compare and contrast the specifications of the various sleds. Instead, we relied on our experiences, customer feedback, and the manufacturer’s reputation to get our hands on as many promising sleds as we could in a wide variety of styles. We then handed them over to our test boys and watched as they jumped, slid and plummeted across a variety of hills in a wide range of snow conditions.

The most difficult sleds to understand initially were snow tubes because there are two main varieties separated by a large difference in cost. The more expensive ones, which usually cost around $ 100, use a real rubber inner tube that holds air in a similar way to the way an old car tire does. They usually have some sort of fabric lining with easy-to-grab shoulder handles. Another distinguishing feature of these high-end models, which we really appreciated, is the tow strap. Lifting a snow tube up a hill is hard work if you have to carry it or pull it by the handle, especially when it’s windy outside.

Some of the sleds tested, including the GoFloats Unicorn, an impractical but much loved snow tube. Photo: Doug Mahoney

The main downside to those high-end models with tubes is the cost, but we found that the less expensive tubes aren’t worth it. These cheaper snow tubes, usually in the $ 30 range, are built as pool floats, with thin plastic and no tow ropes. We had trouble keeping them inflated and most of the cheap ones we tested popped up within weeks, if not days, of our unboxing.

Higher quality snow tubes are generally available in two sizes. The smallest size, usually around 35 inches in diameter, will fit a single rider or medium-sized adult with a smaller baby on their lap. The largest size, approximately 45 to 48 inches in diameter, can fit an older adult or two crammed children. Judging by our tests, we recommend the largest size if you are around 6 feet tall or more or if your kids like to double up.

To decide which sleds to test, we checked major retailers, including Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Depot, LLBean, REI, Target and Walmart, and in 2018 we opted for nine popular sleds to test: two high-end snow tubes, two less expensive snow tubes, four plastic sleds and the Zipfy Classic, an interesting single-seater sled with a joystick to aid in steering. In 2021, we added a number of additional styles, including an ice fishing sled, inflatable sled and three snow bikes, to our test pool.

Since wooden sleds and racing sleds require specific snow conditions, we have not attempted to review those models.

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