A sled, sledge, or sleigh is a land vehicle with a smooth underside or possessing a separate body supported by two or more smooth, relatively narrow, longitudinal runners that travels by sliding across a surface. Most commonly sleds are used on snow or ice, but in certain cases they may be used on any surfaces, especially on ones with relatively low friction, such as sand or wet grass. They may be used to transport passengers, cargo, or both. Shades of meaning differentiating the three terms often reflect regional variations depending on historical uses and prevailing climate.
In Britain sledge is the general term, and more common than sled. Toboggan is sometimes used synonymously with sledge but more often to refer to a particular type of sledge without runners. Sleigh refers to a moderate to large-sized, usually open-topped vehicle to carry passengers or goods, and typically drawn by horses or dogs. In Scandinavia particularly a sleigh may also be drawn by reindeer, as for Father Christmas.
In American usage sled remains the general term but often implies a smaller device, often for recreational use. Sledge implies a heavier sled used for moving freight or massive objects (syn. "stone boat"). Sleigh refers more specifically than in Britain to a vehicle which is essentially a cold-season alternative to a carriage or wagon and has seating for passengers; what can be called a dog-sleigh in Britain is known only as a dog-sled in North America.
Sleds and sledges were found in the Oseberg "Viking" ship excavation. Sledges were useful not only in winter but can be drawn over wet fields, muddy roads, and even hard ground, if one helps them along by greasing the blades with oil or alternatively wetting them with water; in cold weather the water will freeze to ice and they glide along more smoothly with less effort to pull them. The sledge was also highly prized, because – unlike wheeled vehicles – it was exempt from tolls.
Until the late 19th century, a closed winter sled, or vozok, provided a high-speed means of transport through the snow-covered plains of European Russia and Siberia. It was a means of transport preferred by royals, bishops, and boyars of Muscovy. Several royal vozoks of historical importance have been preserved in the Kremlin Armoury.
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.
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. The word sleigh, on the other hand, is an anglicized form of the modern Dutch word "slee" and was introduced to the English language by Dutch immigrants to North America.
A few types of sleds are used only for a specific sport:
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