Do-it-Yourself Trail Cart
Well, it finally happened.... the years have caught up with my body. I used to enjoy hiking on trails up to 20 miles in length and visiting local marsh areas for a full day of birding. But lately, when hiking and birding for several hours, my shoulders start to complain at the weight of my gear. And now even some of my local birding habitats do not allow vehicle access. This means carrying my gear when I set off down a trail or out among the basins at Village Creek Drying Beds.
My gear usually includes a 9-pound camera & lenses, an 11-pound tri-pod and digiscope setup, small day-pack with water and lunch, small folding chair, field guide and binoculars. This may sound like a lot of stuff, but I feel it is best to be prepared for any photo and observation opportunities that might arise. Using a larger camera gear backpack was one option. But these backpacks are not designed to allow quick access to your gear, and many animal species do not sit around waiting for you to set up your camera.
I started thinking about using a trail cart to pull my gear behind me. I searched on-line to see if any manufacturers already make a cart I could use. I found most photography carts are designed for level floors and grass lawns. Carts designed for hunters to haul their ‘game’ from the field, or beach carts for fishermen to carry their gear on sandy beaches, were either too long or too wide. So I put my engineering skills to work and made a trail cart I could use on grass, sand, dirt roads and rocky trails.
I began by using an old folding 2-wheel hand cart I had for hauling school book samples. These carts have aluminum or steel frames and are designed to carry over 250-lbs. Their handles collapse and the bottom ‘shelf’ folds up for convenient storage. But they usually come with 4" tires which won’t work well in tall grass or on rocky terrain. I modified the cart with 12.5" pneumatic tires available at Northern Tool. The new tires use a 1/2" steel axle, so I replaced the original axle as well. I constructed a wooden frame to fit on the cart and cut 6” and 3” diameter PVC pipe pieces to attached to the wood frame. The PVC pipe pieces hold my tripods, chair and beach umbrella. My insulated cooler sits on the bottom shelf and my camera equipment nestles in a bag holster held by bungee cords above the cooler. (The bag is not shown in my photos.) I discovered I needed to attach a wood leg to the bottom shelf so the cart will stand up straight on it’s own.
There are several models of hand trucks available at on-line stores. Pricing runs from $50 to $200. You may find carts available at a discount store or even a yard sale. Or you could make a cart frame out of wood and attach the wheels directly to the frame. As I already owned the cart to start with, I only spent an additional $75 for the tires, axle, hardware and paint.
So far in tests everything is right there for me to grab. I even discovered that the scope and tripod are steady enough to stay on the cart instead of pulling it out to set up. See you on the trail!