When the first snowfall of the season hits the ground, there’s no better way to commemorate it than by breaking out your sled. Whether you plan on riding down a self-made slope in your backyard or heading to your favorite neighborhood hill, sledding can make it actually fun to leave the house when it’s freezing out.
Like with any physical activity that involves kids, Dr. Mary Aitken, M.D., pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, warns that there are safety precautions to keep in mind before hitting the snow. “Helmets should be used, and sledding feetfirst rather than lying down headfirst may also prevent head injuries,” Dr. Aitken explains. Along with ensuring that your youngest riders are sledding safely, Heidi Ong, marketing director for WOW Sports, says that the age and skill level of your child should be a factor in which one you buy. “If the adult wants to ride along with the child to ensure they have the hand strength to hold on to the handles, they will need to buy a larger two-person sled,” Ong says; that’s also the case for any kids who might want to ride with friends or siblings.
Bass Pro Shops merchant Jesse Schulte also told us that when it comes to features to shop for, “steering and/or handles and brakes are important” for older kids who can ride solo and want to pick up some speed. For younger kids, Schulte says that “handle grips and the ability for an adult to control or stop” should be a top priority, and “ropes are good for pulling small children or walking back up hills.”
To find the best sleds for kids of all ages, we talked to outdoor-gear and toy experts, parents, and a lifetime sled enthusiast and collected their recommendations below.
According to Schulte, the best type of sled for kids is a plastic toboggan because they are “a great all-around sled in terms of price, durability, and group use, including the younger kiddos.” The Slippery Racer is a heavy-duty, extra-durable sled that is designed to hold up to two riders at a time. The slick bottom and cutout gripping handles allow older kids to hang on while they pick up some speed, and the attached toting rope allows parents to pull younger kids or any rider to drag the sled back up a hill. Like traditional toboggans, steering and maneuvering are done by shifting your body weight.
The youngest riders may need extra safety features to help keep them in place. Toy Association content developer Jennifer Lynch says the Gizmo Baby Rider is “perfect for ages 6 months and up” because it features a three-point harness and taller sides “to give little ones some added support as they ride.” The sled has a weight limit of 55 pounds to fit most older babies and toddlers. Kids can sit back and chill without risking tipping over, thanks to the 80-degree tilted backrest. Other features we like include the molded leg space and the foam anti-slip seat covering; both will help stabilize riders and prevent them from shifting around.
For a more compact (and budget-friendly) sled for riders under 3 years old, Schulte suggests the Emsco Group toddler sled. “It comes equipped with a seat belt, extra-wide base, and tow rope and is designed specifically for toddlers with a molded seat for stability,” Schulte says. The wide base also keeps riders slightly elevated from the snow. While this smaller sled doesn’t have the same three-point harness as the Gizmo, it is a durable and affordable option for the youngest sledders on the hill.
If heavy snowfall is common where you live and sledding is a part of your regular wintertime activities, an extra-high-quality sled is a worthwhile purchase. Strategist junior writer and Minnesota native Brenley Goertzen says this classic-style toboggan from L.L.Bean has stayed intact through more than a decade’s worth of sledding adventures. “We’ve owned this sled since I was a kid and it’s still a classic pick for all of us when we go sledding,” Goertzen says. The simple but sturdy construction is made of extra-durable steam-bent northern hardwood and it comes with a cushioned foam pad for slipproof traction and comfort. This toboggan comes in three sizes — 92 inches, 72 inches, or 45 inches long — with the larger sizes allowing a few riders to hop on at once. To ride it, Goertzen says the “person at the front is holding the main rope” with additional riders “using each other as anchors.” While this sled doesn’t allow for much steering, Goertzen promises that it will feed your need for speed.
According to Schulte, foam sleds like this one from Ryder are similar to plastic sleds in that they are lightweight and affordable and give kids a zippy trip across the snow. However, he cautions that “while they’re durable, foam sleds should be avoided on rough terrain.” Made with a cushioned foam layer on top of a slick bottom, the Ryder foam slider is designed to glide across the snow for a speedy ride. The longboard has enough space for two riders and is best for kids who are at least 6 years old. Schulte likes that it has injection-molded grip handles on the sides to help kids hang on, and that because it’s so lightweight, toting it up and down hills is a breeze.
After trying out a few generic plastic sleds that ended up in the trash after a season or two, Vox Media senior engineering manager and dad to an 8-year-old and 13-year-old Ryan Freebern was recommended the L.L.Bean Sonic Snow Tube and says he now considers it the gold standard. “I like the Sonic snow tube particularly because it has a hard plastic saucerlike bottom and a real rubber inner tube, unlike the snow tubes from my youth that were thin plastic all over and easy to puncture accidentally,” Freebern says. Available in two sizes, regular and extra-large, the Sonic Snow Tube also has handles on the sides and a towing rope to make it easier to get back up the hill. The brand recommends the regular-size tube for solo riding and younger riders, and the extra-large tube for multiple riders. Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio owns the Sonic Snow Tube in the extra-large size and says that while it’s definitely a splurge, it’s a great family sled because she or her husband can easily accompany their 5-year-old or 7-year-old for a ride, or the kids can ride together. Just note that you’ll need a pump to inflate it once it arrives.
Tinged with nostalgia and designed for speed, Schulte says that saucer-style sleds “are generally one-person vessels that move faster than toboggans but usually lack the ability to steer,” which makes them a better choice for older kids with a healthy sense of adventure and some sledding experience under the belts. This durable metal disc is made of heavyweight Bethlehem steel that can naturally hold up against icy, bumpy rides. And even though you won’t be able to steer, the side rope handles at least provide a place to hold on.
A sled that is equal parts fun and stylish, Funboy’s inflatable “snowmobile” sled has a unique shape and neat retro look. The brand sent the sled to Trolio to try out, and while there hasn’t been enough snow yet this season to fully put it through its paces, she says it’s quick to inflate with an electric pump and deflates easily as well, making it easier to store than a lot of other options. The rubber-enforced bottom seems quite durable — though it is clearly not as heavy-duty as the Sonic Snow Tube — and her kids enjoyed being towed around her backyard by the attached pull rope. Her family will be taking the sled down an actual sledding hill as soon as they have the chance so that we can update this story. In the meantime, it’s definitely one of the most stylish sleds we’ve found.
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