Which Sleds Are Best For Children?

There are many sleds available for babies and children. Be sure that you choose the best one by following these safety guidelines.

To most kids, nothing beats a day of sledding after a winter storm. Unfortunately, unsafe or inappropriate equipment results in a significant number of injuries each winter, some of them serious. To ensure your child's sledding day ends in fun memories rather than a trip to the emergency room, follow these guidelines when selecting a child's sled.

The best sled for your child depends on his or her age. For babies and toddlers, pull sleds are the most appropriate. These sleds feature bucket-style seats that surround the child's sides and back for support, and are often padded for comfort. Long tow straps should be securely attached to the front of the sled. Look for a solid base to properly support your child's weight and to avoid tipping over. Most sleds for this age group also come equipped with buckles and/or straps to secure small children into the seat. Be sure these straps can't become tangled with the pull straps of the sled or interfere with its operation. Baby sleds are designed to be pulled only and should never be used as a downhill sled.

Baby sleds are primarily available in either inexpensive plastic models for approximately $20 or less, or higher-end wooden models starting at around $50. Both styles share the same basic safety features. However, plastic models usually sit flat on the ground on a wide molded base to keep the child's hands and feet clear of the sled's operation, while wooden models are raised off the ground on runners for this purpose.

When choosing a sled for an older child, one of the most important features to look for is the ability to steer or stop the direction or movement of the sled. Some sleds have handle bars for control, while others have foot-controlled steering mechanisms and brakes.

The best sleds for this age group should only allow the child to sit forward or kneel when riding - never encourage riding facing downhill or lying down. The sled itself should be very sturdy and shatter-resistant, and be able to adequately support your child's weight. Handholds must be easy to grasp and keep hold of, and multiple passenger sleds should have enough handholds for each rider. Ideally, seats should be padded to absorb any shock while sledding. Tow straps should be securely fastened to the sled and comfortable to use, and any straps used to carry the sled should be clear of its operation.

Based on these guidelines, a number of popular sled models are not appropriate for children, primarily due to a lack of steering ability. These include saucers, inner tubes and sled "carpets," long thin strips of plastic that encourage riding downhill face first. However, there are many safe options available in a variety of price ranges and styles.

Inflatable sleds can be among the least expensive, retailing for less than $15 in some cases, but also require sturdy air pumps to use. Inflatable sleds come in many styles, usually resembling other objects such as traditional toboggans, small boats or even jet-skis. Unlike the inner tube variety, some inflatables can be safe when outfitted with the proper safety features listed above. Keep in mind that any inflatable should be designated for snow use - these are made of heavier plastic and are weather and crack-resistant.

Molded plastic sleds begin at around $15, and increase in price based on features and materials used. The more expensive molded sleds feature heavy gauge plastic, metal-reinforced steering and braking, and in some cases, shock-absorbing foam. In some plastic sleds, seats and foot rests feature anti-slip surfaces to avoid sliding off while riding. Plastic toboggan-style sleds come in multiple lengths, so purchase according to the number of riders. Some plastic sleds even have a small steerable ski in the front to guide the sled.

The most expensive sleds are old-fashioned wooden runners, usually mounted on metal rails. These start at about $50 and increase in price based on features and number of riders. While nostalgic, the metal edges on the sleds can be dangerous and should be used carefully.

Today, sleds for children are marketed under so many names and styles that the options can be confusing. By looking for a few basic safety features, however, parents can be assured they are making the best choice for their child, regardless of price range. And remember, the most important safety feature in any sled is proper adult supervision.

© High Speed Ventures 2011