A sled is a sliding vehicle designed to transport passengers and/or cargo by using a running mechanism and smooth undersides instead of wheels. Most sleds are used on surfaces with low friction (such as snow or ice), but, in some cases, mud, grass, or even smooth stones make a good surface for sleds.
The word sled comes from Middle English sledde, which itself has the origins in Old Dutch word slee, meaning "sliding" or "slider". The same word shares common ancestry with both sleigh and sledge.
A sleigh (pronounced "slay") is a word sharing basically the same meaning. Its use in American English refers primarily to a particular type of sled drawn by horses or reindeers. In some contexts, it was once used to describe a large vehicle accommodated for maximum passenger use. In Canadian and British English, sleigh is regularly used to refer to any type of sled, notwithstanding its capacity. In Australian English, both words are given equal preference.
A sledge is a smaller sled, used mostly for freight, one that can generally transport no more than one or two persons with only a limited amount of cargo. Sledges can be pulled by dogs or other smaller animals. The children's mini-sled, pulled by humans, can also be referred to as a sledge.
Types of Sleds
Sleds for Recreational Sledding
There are several types of widely used recreational sleds designed for sliding down snowy hills (sledding). They include:
- the toboggan, an elongated sled with no runners, generally made out of wood or plastic,
- the saucer, a round sled curved like a contact lens, also with no runners and generally made out of plastic or metal,
- the steel runner sled or flexible flyer, a steerable wooden sled with thin metal runners,
- the kicksled or spark, a human-powered sled
- the inflatable sled or tube, a plastic membrane filled with air to make a very lightweight sled,
- and the foam slider, a flat piece of durable foam with handles and a smooth underside.
Sleds for Competitive Sledding
A few types of sleds are used only for a specific sport. These include:
- the bobsled (British bobsleigh), an aerodynamic composite bodied vehicle on lightweight runners,
- and the luge and the skeleton, tiny one or two-person sleds with runners.
- The airboard is an inflatable single-person sled, similar to a hovercraft.
- A troika is a vehicle drawn by three horses, usually a sled, but it may also be a wheeled carriage.
- In some regions, "sled" is colloquial slang for a snowmobile.
- In arctic regions the Inuit qamutiq is uniquely adapted for travel on the sea ice.
- An ahkio or pulka is a traditional of sled of the Lapland region, originally pulled by reindeer. Now more common as a human or snowmobile-towed sled, it's often used for cold weather expeditions, by mountain rescue teams and military cold weather units to haul equipment, supplies and passengers.
The people of Ancient Egypt are thought to have used sledges extensively in the construction their public works, in particular for the transportation of heavy obelisks.
Man-hauled sledges were the traditional means of transport on British exploring expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dog sleds were used by most others, such as Roald Amundsen. Today some people use kites to tow exploration sleds in such climes.