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Unfortunately, every experienced packer has lost pack animals, rolled a pack animal down steep hills, had pack saddles and loads slip to the side, had horses step off trails, been kicked and stepped on by horses, had wrecks in steep terrain on narrow trails, and unexpectedly met other pack strings and wildlife on narrow trails in steep rough terrain.

Packing can be very dangerous depending on the terrain and how well trained your pack animals are. Don't take chances, use the packing tips below that you know that you can safely apply without causing injury to people or pack animals.

For legal reasons I have to include the following disclaimer reference equipment items sold and packing tips. All equine activities are inherently dangerous. Nothing in these "Packing Tips" will hold Pack Saddle Shop (Pack and Wall Tent Shop Inc.), or any of their successors or assignees as responsible or liable for injury, disease, illness or death using Pack Saddle Shop (Pack and Wall Tent Shop, Inc.), equipment, recommendations or packing tips.

The packing tips below are primarily for beginners and covers topics not explained in most packing books. The packing tips are not in any order of priority.

We all had a “first” packing trip and experienced packers have learned some hard lessons. Hopefully, these packing tips will help you avoid some hard lessons and make your packing trips more enjoyable and safe.

If you have a good packing tip email me and I will include it next time I update these packing tips.

Satellite Phone. In many hunting and wilderness areas cell phones do not work. A satellite phone can be rented on a weekly or monthly basis. The money spent on a satellite phone would be the best money a person ever spent (aside from a Montana canvas tent) if there is an accident or emergency. The Forest Service or local authorities will come to your aid in case of an emergency situation. All you need to do is contact them with your satellite phone!

Colic. According to vets, the number one reason for horse deaths is colic related. You can prevent having a pack horse with colic using common sense. Colic is caused by changing feed too quickly, over exerting out of shape horses, allowing overheated horses large quantities of water, especially cold mountain streams. Vet studies also show that up to 80% of fatal colic deaths are related in some way to parasites. Horses that have parasites are not receiving a quarterly worming paste (HINT). Additionally, a horse with bad teeth can not chew properly and will ingest coarse or partly chewed feed which can contribute to colic/indigestion.

Colic Symptoms are sluggishness, horse kicking his stomach, biting his flank, and constant rolling. If at home call a vet immediately. In the mountains administer an anti-inflammatory such as Banamine (for three days) and walk the horse slowly for at least one hour which hopefully will stimulate proper gut function. Do not let your horse roll as it increases the chance of a kink in the intestine. Almost every year in the mountains I see hunter, packer and Forest Service pack animals put down for colic. If you don't take preventive measures to prevent colic you will someday have to put down a horse/mule for colic. Talk to your vet so you are familiar with colic and insure you have an anti-inflammatory in your horse first aid kit.

Feeding Horses/Mules: I always use feed bags tied to a tree or use visqueen to keep feed off the ground. There is less waste using a feed bag or visqueen and also significantly reduces the possibility of germs. Germs increase the likelihood of horses getting colic.

Beginners at packing should start with panniers instead of manties. Manties require knowledge of tying knots and manties are more difficult to load on the pack saddle. Having pack gear come loose on narrow trails in steep terrain can be very dangerous to you and your pack animals.

Pack Scales are a necessity in balancing the load/pannier on each side of the pack animal. If a load is 3-5 pounds heavy on one side it will eventually cause the pack saddle to slip to one side causing a wreck. Pack scales have a tab that automatically marks exact weight. When weighing, don’t jerk up on the scales but gradually raise the pannier/manty off the ground to insure an accurate weight. Weigh the pannier/manty twice to insure accuracy. Insure you take the pack scales on your pack trip because you will have to repack and reweigh panniers on your way back to the trailhead.

Adjusting Unbalanced Panniers on the Trail Occasionally you can have equally weighted panniers and one will start riding lower while you are on the trail. The best and quickest way to make the necessary adjustments is to add 1 – 2 lbs of rocks to the high pannier and then lift the lower pannier to have the proper alignment. Add more rocks if necessary if the first rocks were not sufficient.

Triple Saddle Bags are recommended if you are short on pack animals. I suggest you purchase very large triple saddle bags for your riding horses to prevent overloading pack animals or leaving required items at home. You can always walk to give your riding horse a break.You can fill these triple saddle bags with bulky, lightweight items. Ensure that you don't put hard items on the side of the saddle bag that touches the horse. These hard objects will bounce up and down on the trail and cause pain and possible injury to your horse. I have some exceptionally large triple saddle bags on the web site if you require them.

Exhausted riding horses and pack animals are very dangerous. An exhausted animal will stumble often and lunge and are more prone to stepping off the trail. Rest your animals often to avoid your riding horse or pack animal stepping off a trail and causing serious injury to you and them. Exhausted horses are more prone to make mental mistakes just like exhausted people.

Knife Always carry a very sharp knife with your wall tent when packing so if you get in an emergency situation you can cut lead ropes, panniers, manties, or pack saddles off if necessary.

Pack Saw or an Ax should be a mandatory item with easy access when you are packing. Even on good trails, trees blow down and sometimes the trail is so narrow you can’t turn around and you have to be able to clear a trail. I recommend you use super glue, lock tight etc., on any nuts and bolts on your pack saw. If a nut comes loose and you loose it, your pack saw now is useless.

Pack a Pannier or manty to avoid rattles. Some inexperienced pack horses start bucking when loading manties or panniers that make noises. Don’t even try to control the horse once it gets out of control. All horses are much stronger than you are and you risk serious injury trying to intervene. Let the horse buck until it calms down or the manty is on the ground. Repack and insure there are no rattles.

Max pack loads for a horse The general rule is 20% of the horse’s weight including the pack saddle. It is more difficult for a pack horse to carry dead weight than a rider who helps balance the load and leans forward or back in the saddle.

Do a dry run at home and load all items to insure all gear will fit in your manties or panniers and you are not overloading your pack animals.

Buying a pack horse In addition to your normal evaluation, take a plastic garbage bag and wave it or move it around your prospective horse, open a pop can, drag a rope near the horse, rattle rocks in a can and bring a frozen meat wrapper for the horse to smell the blood. If the horse spooks you probably want to look at more horses. Also, if possible check for night blindness. Night blindness is rare in most breeds but you don’t want to be on a trail at night and learn your horse is night blind.

Trail Horses vs Brush Horses Some horses that are good trail horses become problem horses when going cross country in the brush to get to a camp site or when packing out an elk. Insure all your horses have been extensively used in brush and crossed big logs to avoid problems on your pack trip. Train your horses to step over big logs instead of jumping over them which is quite dangerous to you if you are leading them on foot in rough terrain. If the horse you are leading unexpectedly jumps a log he will drag you through the air if you don't quickly let go of the lead rope.

Balancing a manty load Manty loads normally protrude 12-18 inches above the pack saddle. Manties with the high center of balance causes the pack saddle to rock more than panniers. Prior to starting out on the trail - lift the bottom of the manty up at least 8-12 inches and let go to see how the manty rocks and if the manty needs to be reloaded, rearranged or the pack cinch needs to be tightened.

Oil your pack saddle at least annually. You can buy the highest quality pack saddle but the leather will deteriorate quickly and crack causing weak areas if the leather is not oiled annually.

Double check pack saddles. Many people only use their pack gear 1-2 times a year. Check it thoroughly prior to packing to insure there are no leather cracks that could cause the leather to break under stress. When I first started packing I had an old pack saddle. As I was leading my horse, packing out an elk, up a steep cliff trail when a strap broke and my pack saddle slipped to the side. It was too dangerous on the cliff trail to make any adjustments. I took the elk quarters and pack saddle off and then proceeded to a safer location and tied my horse to a tree. Then I had to go back down the cliff trail and carry the two hind quarters and pack saddle to where my horse was and repair the pack saddle and reloaded my elk quarters. A hard lesson learned that could have been a disaster if my pack horse would have spooked on the cliff trail when the pack slipped to the side.

Hooks for panniers Hooks make loading panniers quick and easy on decker pack saddles. With hooks you just hook the pannier to the decker rings. Loading panniers w/o hooks requires you to hold up a heavy pannier while you are buckling the two panniers straps to the decker rings/arches.

Smell of blood and game carcass Some horses do not like the smell of blood or even seeing an elk carcass. You don’t want to learn your horses don’t like smelling blood on your hunting trip. If you have frozen elk meat or another game animal, unwrap it and take the bloody package with its blood smell to your horses and see how they react. I put elk meat in my grain feeders to get my horses used to the smell and nail fresh bear hides to my fence posts to get the horses used to bear smell. I do this every spring. Some horses never get used to the smell of blood. Years ago I had a mare, Rosie, we packed out 5 elk and 1 moose on her in one year and she never improved. On the last pack trip, loading my wife's moose, she reared up and on the way down hit me in the head with her front hoof. I was fortunate to only have a serious concussion. Fortunately, I had John, a doctor as a hunting partner. John woke me up every 2 hours the first night. If I didn’t wake up John told me he was taking me to the nearest Forest Service Office to borrow the rustiest drill he could find and drill holes in my head to relieve pressure on my brain. John stated, “we wouldn’t have the time” to go to a hospital because it was a 3 hour drive to the nearest town. Unfortunately, Dr John no longer hunts with me because he doesn't enjoy hunting the rough Idaho Wilderness. However, he still fly fishes with me at the edge of the Wilderness. I sold Rosie to a friend with a full explanation of her bad habits. If I had my rifle or pistol with me when she reared I would have made Rosie bear bait right there. All my current horses accept blood smells and two of them will even eat grain off a “raw” bear skin. The other two will eat the grain near the skin. It should be noted that when I purchased Rosie from an old horse trader I was told she was a good pack horse and had packed out many elk - WHAT A LIE.

Packing out elk quarters Put a quarter in each pannier pointing in the same direction. I use Utah panniers and tighten my top pannier straps tight together after the elk quarters are loaded to bring in the quarters close to my horse. If you don’t have top pannier straps then I suggest you use rope to tie to each quarter to keep them close to the horse. Packing out loose dangling quarters increases the probability of a wreck.

The first elk I packed out on Rosie in 1985 was in very steep terrain and quite an experience. I led Rosie past the carcass, when she finally saw the carcase she jumped sideways 5 feet. I tried to load Rosie by myself for 1-2 hours with no success. Rosie just wouldn't stand still as I tried to put the elk quarter in the pannier. It was getting almost dark so I returned to camp. The next day Rosie and I went back and I learned how to pack an elk on a problem horse.

Packing meat out with a problem horse

1. After returning to camp for your pack horses, feed your problem horse grain from your bloody hands.
2. At the elk location, tie your horse’s nose tight to a tree so it can’t rear up.
3. Load your problem horse last so he can see the other horse being loaded.
4. Put one quarter on each side of the horse, about 5 - 10 feet away and give the horse grain each time you bring a quarter next to the horse.
5. If the horse is still a problem - blindfold it.
6. Load the horse quickly. Hopefully you have a friend with you so you can load both sides simultaneously.
7. Give the horse some more grain and start packing out and place the problem horse in front of the pack string.
8. Insure you don’t give your horse too much grain or it could founder.
9. Packing meat out on an uncooperative horse is very dangerous and be very careful.

Packing Meat Out While Side Hilling Occasionally you will have to side hill through brush in steep terrain to reach the crest of a hogback. Sometimes the hog back is so steep you must zig zag. Side hilling with no trail is very hard on horses while packing. Especially, if it is brushy. Some horses don't handle Side hilling very well especially if brush is poking them in their stomach and genitals. One time, Buddy (the grulla), one of the better pack horses I have ever had, reared up because of the brush poking him in the stomach. When he reared up his front legs hit my friend Rick in the back knocking him forward. Everyone survived this adventure Side hilling up a huge, steep, brushy hogback.

BEES. When loading your elk meat on your pack horse in the early fall you will always have bees around the carcass. You don't want to be around a horse being stung by bees. Additionally, the horse won't be around very long. I tie my horses about 40-50 feet from the carcass and meat bags to help prevent bees from stinging my horses. I don't mind carrying elk quarters 40-50 feet to prevent a rodeo or injury to my horses.

Packing out antlers on pack animals is probably the most dangerous event in packing. Insure elk antlers are secured tightly in such a manner that the tips can’t touch the horse. The most experienced pack horses will start bucking when gored with antler tips regardless if you are on a narrow dangerous trail. I rolled an exceptional pack horse, “Old Red” in 1984 that started bucking on a narrow trail when we were Side hilling to get to a ridge line. The horse rolled and got its head under what I call Octopus brush and couldn’t get up. When Old Red got his head caught under the octopus brush, I asked my hunting partner, Dr. John, (who grew up in Chicago) to give me a knife since I didn't have my hunting belt with my knife on it. John replied "are you going to kill Old Red?" My response, "No, I just want to cut off the 6 point rack to avoid possible injury to Red." We cut off the antlers and I sat on Old Red’s neck and proceeded to saw the 4 inch diameter branch. I covered Red's head with my shirt. I was lucky the horse, my 6 point rack and pack saddle all survived. Old Red was quite a horse and he lived to pack another day and night. To be continued.

Old Red and another adventure. When we arrived at the ridge line we were met by best friend, Bruce ,who was also my father in law. I, Bruce and Doc John and Old Red started going up the steep mountain. We went about 200 yards and Old Red started bucking and didn't quit until all the elk meat was on the ground. It had gotten dark but we were on semi open ridge line. So, we reloaded Old Red and off we went again. About 100 yards up the ridge, Old Red started bucking again, his shoes hitting the rocky area hard causing sparks to fly, a real light show in the middle of the wilderness! Again , Old Red didn't stop bucking until all the meat was on the ground. Being the mentally challenged person I am, I finally figured out what the problem was. When Bruce rented Old Red and the pack saddle, the breast collar was missing. We decided we had had enough fun and excitement for the day. We put the meat against logs for air circulation and we walked up the steep ridge to camp. The next day I made a breast collar out of belts and had no problem packing out the elk. Although we had some problems packing out the elk, we all survived, including Old Red. It was one of most memorable times in my life. Being with Bruce and Doc John, my two closest friends during this misadventure is a time I will treasure the rest of my life.

Marking a trail to pack out your elk I have known individuals who could not find and pack out their downed elk because they didn’t mark the trail adequately when they went to camp for the pack horses. When marking the trail out - mark a trail that a horse can use and clear it the best you can on the way out. It's a lot easier to clear the trail on the way out than when you are returning with your pack horses. I invariably find bee nests when I am clearing a trail for packing out meat. One time I overturned a log on the trail that had at least a 1,000 bees visible. I ran like hell and I still got stung. You need to stay away from bees. You haven't seen a rodeo until you see bees stinging horses, and it is very dangerous. A horse will run over you if you are in his way.

Renting horses is an option if you don’t have the land or inclination to have horses., If you rent horses ask how old each horse is and how many pack trips its been on and if it has ever packed out meat. Insure you get experienced horses - you don’t have the time to train horses or be involved in a rodeo on your hunting trip.

Reduce possibility of cinch gall by washing the salt accumulation out of the cinch area each time you ride or pack. ( Nancy Lane )

Leading a pack horse in steep terrain on horseback Some people like having the lead rope of the first pack animal in their hand regardless of the terrain. I DON’T! Occasionally on a narrow trail, your horse will spook no matter how well its trained, or your trail may give way or your horse might step off the trail. You need both hands to quickly control your horse to insure you stay in the saddle or to get off the horse in a hurry. Tie the lead rope, with its break away string, to the saddle D-ring. You can always grab the lead rope quickly if you need to when the lead rope is attached to a D-ring. Another way is to loop the lead rope once around the pommel to allow it to slip loose quickly if there is a quick strain on it such as a horse going off the trail. Do not put the lead rope under your leg as you might be pulled off the saddle. Always keep the lead rope on the downhill side, however you use it so you won't be pulled off the horse.

Meeting other pack strings on narrow trails is a hazard to you and your horses. Trail courtesy requires the smaller string to get off the trail or turn around. Insure you always keep the head of your horse and pack animals pointed downhill when turning around. As long as your horse can see the trail it significantly reduces the probability of it going over the side on narrow trails. If I can’t get off the trail I turn around my pack string. I dismount and untie the first pack animal and turn it around and proceed working my way down the pack string until I reach the last animal in the pack string, which is now the front. Insure you train your horses and pack string to turn around on a trail at home before you are required to turn around in steep country.

Encountering Other Pack Strings in Steep Country Occasionally you will meet pack strings in steep parts of the trail that you can barely go up hill to get out of the way. Some horses do not like going up a hill then side hilling a steep area to get the rest of the pack string off the trail. I strongly suggest you practice going up a hill then side hilling the trail to prepare for encountering other pack strings. Starting off on not too steep of hills and then progress to a level that both you and your pack horses are comfortable with.

Being Under Your Horse on a Steep Trail Sometimes you have to dismount to correct a pack when it’s so steep you can touch the mountain with your hand while riding. At times you can’t be on the downhill side of the trail because it’s so narrow you would roll down the mountainside. When working on the high side, you will invariably slide under your packhorse. Insure you practice working “under your horse” at home in case you slide under the horse on a steep trail A suddenly spooked pack horse on a steep trail stomping you while you are under him would be disastrous for you and the pack string.

Extreme Dangers Areas on Trails There are some parts of trails that are so narrow and dangerous that it is impossible to pass or even turn a pack string around. It is best to send a lone rider forward to insure you don’t encounter other riders/pack strings. The lone rider can signal you or contact you by walkie-talkie.

Training horses to walk on the inside of the trail is a must. There are narrow trails that will possibly give way if the horse steps on the edge of the trail. Some of my trail pictures show this.

Narrow trails in steep terrain The narrower a dirt trail in steep terrain, the more likely the trail will give way possibly causing a tremendous wreck. If there is any question on trail safety, get off and walk. If the trail gives way, a riding horse has a much better chance of getting back on the trail if you are not riding him. If you jump off to the uphill side when the horse is struggling to get back on the trail - your weight pushing him downhill could make the difference of him going over or his survival. I had a trail give way in 2003 while riding my horse “Soldier” (the big appy with large white blanket in my pictures). I immediately had both knees in the saddle seat ready to jump off uphill . Fortunately, Soldier was strong enough to power his way back onto the trail. If I had pushed off to jump off uphill, the force would have probably sent soldier over the side while he was struggling to get back on the trail. Soldier would have died. Both Soldier and I could have been seriously injured or killed. And my wife was behind me on Buddy watching this near tragedy. If Soldier and I had gone over the side, we would have both probably been bear bait. My wife was 20 miles from the trail head and she had no idea how to get there as were in a new area returning to the trail head on a new trail.. Not a good situation to put my wife in.

Steep Narrow and Very Dangerous Trails As I stated earlier I dismount and walk. However, on some parts of the trail where it is questionable, I take my feet out of the stirrups so I can dismount/jump very quickly if necessary.

Horses Stepping Off Trails In 1997 I was riding Rocky, a big, athletic 1200-1300 leopard appaloosa in the Frank Church Wilderness. On a steep part of the trail Rocky stepped off the trail when not paying attention. I'm still amazed that Rocky got us back on the trail. He was an extremely strong horse. If the incident would have occurred another 100 yards farther up the trail where it was very, very steep we would have been over the side and rolled at least 500 feet, died and been bear bait. The rest of the day Rocky kept his nose about one foot from the trail. I sold Rocky the next summer because he would occasionally spook. I don't keep dangerous horses no matter how much I like them. Rocky was a trained jumper up to 4' fences, was built like a tank, extremely athletic and was very gentle.

Crossing Water You will invariably cross many small streams in the trail, creeks and possibly rivers. Insure you train your horses to cross small streams without jumping which causes broken breakaway strings or packs to slip. Fording a large stream should be practiced before your pack trip. Insure if you cross a large stream or river there are no unseen, large boulders at your fording site.

Crossing Streams With Soft Bottoms Some creeks have soft bottoms that will cause a horses legs to sink in a foot or more. Even a good water horse will lunge and start jumping when the soft bottom is encountered. When packing out meat, etc. it is best to have one person lead the horse to the stream and start it across while another person is on the other side to catch the lead rope as the horse crosses the stream. Trying to lead the horse while it is lunging and jumping across the stream can be very dangerous because these soft bottom streams are normally in gullies ,very steep and rugged terrain.

Packing battery operated items. I had a friend who had a battery operated tooth brush turn on when he was packing in to his camp. The pack horse didn't like the noise or the vibration or noise and the rodeo was on. You might want to take the batteries out of any battery operated item you plan on packing.

Old stump/root holes are very dangerous and not easily seen as most are 1-2 feet in diameter. A horse will sink up to the chest if it accidentally steps in one of these rotten root holes. A good horse will stay calm, gather itself , and slowly raise himself. A horse can easily break a leg in these holes so be very observant going off trails.

Herd bound horses can be very dangerous. I borrowed Diamond, a pack horse from my friend Ed, when I was on leave from the army. Diamond was very attached to Wild Rosie and was always a problem when she was not with Rosie. When I was packing my elk out only with Diamond and she was always in a hurry to get up the mountain. I tried to wrap the lead rope around a tree to slow her down and my thumb got between the rope and the tree for a split second. It felt like my thumb was being torn off. After disciplining Diamond with some hard jerking on the lead rope we were off again but Diamond would not calm down. Every time I would tie her to a tree it was a struggle. Every time I would untie her from the tree she would try to rear up. I had to come up with a solution to the problem because packing with Diamond was dangerous for me and her. On the second trip to pack out the elk I had two lead ropes tied to her halter. When at camp, I untied the first lead rope from the tree, Diamond reared up so hard her back legs slid forward and she fell down when the second lead rope became tight. Diamond never reared up again after that when I packed her. She had learned a hard lesson. If possible keep herd bound horses together for everyone's' safety. I had to use one horse at a time as I was in a steep canyon and it would have been impossible to control 2 untrained horse going over logs, streams and through brush. Another point , don't take wild horses into the mountains, train them. My good friend Ed only used his horses once a year and ignored them the rest of the time. Untrained horses in rugged terrain can seriously injure or kill you.

Breakaway String Insure you have a breakaway string on your lead rope. If one horses goes off the trail you don’t want it to pull you and the pack string down with it.

Breakaway String Strength I use parachute cord because it breaks at about 500 pounds. If you use hay twine do not double/loop it. Double/looped hay twine is much too strong and does not break when required. I once pulled a stubborn packhorse across a wooden bridge using double looped twine as a breakaway string.

Attaching lead ropes Some people tie the lead rope to the hip pad of the horse in front of it. Tying to the hip pad has a tendency to pull the pack saddle too much. I have a braided rope from one rigging ring to the other. The rope is long enough to go up and between the rear arch. I then tie a 2" ring to the rope where I attach my breakaway string. This configuration allows the pull of the lead rope on the rigging and prevents side pulling.

Attaching Break Away String If you don’t have a rope and pigging ring secured to the pack rigging I recommend you attach it to the rear decker arch. Never attach break away string to the hip pad as you will break the leather hip pad straps if you unknowingly put on a break away string that is too strong.

Break Away String Tied to a Horse’s Tail-DON’T! You may have seen in books or magazines a breakaway string tied to the tail of the horse to its front. If you have a wreck that break away string can pull the hair off the tail. If you have a too strong break away string, a serious injury to horse’s tail could occur. One of my customers actually had a break away string on a horse’s tail because he had seen it in a book. After a serious injury to the horse’s tail he now attaches the break away string to the decker arches.

Horses that Intentionally Break Breakaway Strings Some horses learn that breakaway strings break easily. This type of horse will cause lots of problems during any pack trip. You have three options 1) Locate the horse at the end of the pack string so when it gets loose only the problem horse is loose; 2) Tie on a breakaway string that is much stronger but you take a risk that there might be an avoidable wreck that gets worse; 3) Have the problem horse first in the pack string so you can have the lead rope in your hand, hopefully, you will be in terrain that doesn’t have narrow and dangerous trails.

Pack Pads. Some people try to save money and use a riding saddle pad on a pack saddle. Don't! The pack pad is larger and thicker and was specifically designed for pack saddles.

Training Pack Horses to Accept a Crupper reduces the risk of a wreck when a lead rope gets caught under a pack horse's tail. (L. Batty)

Practice dragging a rope. Some horses become spooked if a rope or something is dragging behind them. Remember horses are prey animals, are always ready to run, very observant and always looking for something that could eat them. Practice dragging a rope from the pack saddle at home. I have seen horses start bucking when it steps on a dragging rope. Eventually, when you are totally confident with your horse, practice having a pannier only hang by one strap. If you pack long enough, sometime you will have ropes dragging behind your horse and panniers hanging by only one strap. If there is going to be a problem when this occurs , it is best to find out at home and train the horse before you go packing. A frightened horse is very dangerous to you. Practice the dragging rope or pannier by one strap only if you know you can control the horse. If the horse gets out of control, let go of the lead rope immediately and let whatever is going to happen, happen. You can always get another horse, but an injury to you means you might not work for a while, walk for awhile, or whatever. No horse is worth getting hurt over and you shouldn't own a wild horse anyway.

Lead Rope Adjustment The surest way to have a wreck is to have improperly adjusted lead ropes. The lead rope should be at least 12-18” off the ground when the pack horse has his nose on the butt of the pack horse in front of him. Pack horses occasionally are very close to one another, especially going down steep trails. Sometimes the pack horse in front will start kicking the horse behind when the trail horse has his leg over the lead rope.

Lead Rope Quality Buy quality/strong lead ropes. A big strong horse can break a poor quality lead rope like a string when frightened.

Hand Leading Pack Horses While Dismounted Never wrap the lead rope around your hand. Loop the rope in your palm so if the horse pulls the rope, it is pulled out of your hand so then you only have a hold of one strand of the lead rope. If the packhorse spooks with the lead rope wrapped around your hand you could be dragged and seriously injured. One person I knew wrapped the rope around his hand and was drug and almost tore his fingers off and he had to go to the hospital.

I prefer inserts with lids. Inserts with lids helps hold the shape of the insert at the top of the insert. Also, the lid acts as a shelf when loading the top of the pannier, ie, frame legs, etc. Equally important, inserts with lids also are excellent containers to store your kitchen items in to prevent rodents eating your food.

Hobbling a horse Don’t think hobbling a horse will keep it close to your camp. A horse can travel at least 1 mph in normal hobbles. One time I saw Rosie, with hobbles on rear up, and hop on her back legs going from point A to point B. Some horses can run like a jack rabbit with hobbles on. Unfortunately, I have one. A horse running for a distance with hobbles will have abrasions around the hobble area. Additionally, if you have hobbles with chains, there is a good probability the chain links will eventually come undone/break when the horse runs.If you have to keep a horse close to camp to eat grass - use a pegging/single leg hobble on its front leg and tie its rope low to a tree. Train your horses with pegging hobbles at home to prevent a horse from over reacting when the rope binds on the back leg which will cause a rope burn. You can tape on a 2' rubber water hose over the hobble rope end to prevent rope burns during training or if required full time. ( hose tip submitted by Jill)

Water before hobbling NEVER hobble before watering. Not do this and you may kill your entire pack string. Thirsty horses must be watered first before they walk off from camp. If horses drink in a creek and get their hind foot over the hobbles they can trip and drown. This is a first priority and should never be forgotten. (G. Hogan Australian Packer)

Cow Bells If you turn all your horses loose with hobbles on I suggest you have a cowbell on the normal lead horse. At times, you will not be able to observe your horses and the horses can “hobble off” at least at 1mph. Or, the horses could run with their hobble on and possibly break the hobbles. A cowbell will allow you to determine when the horses are starting to leave the immediate area. On one hunting trip in the Wilderness we were eating dinner and the hobbled horses wanted to share our food so I flicked several pebbles at them and the horses left. When I was washing the pots and pans, my hunting partner, asked, “Where are the horses?” After a 7 mile walk back to the base camp that evening, I found the horses. Fortunately, the horses stopped to eat at the base camp and didn’t continue on to the horse trailer – another 11 miles. That night, I slept with a pack pad to cover my legs and a horse blanket to cover my chest, on a very cold night. I now have a cowbell on my hobbled horses when I’m not watching them.

Riding Bareback With a Halter The next day I rode my grulla, Buddy, back to my hunting camp. I rode Buddy bareback, with a halter and hay twine for my reins leading the other 2 horses. Several outfitters and guides saw me on the trail, which is quite steep and narrow at times, and commented on how Buddy was very well trained. I ride all my horses bareback with a halter during the summer so they are trained for bareback riding. It might be wise to also ride your horses bareback in case your horses “hobble off”.

Tying a horse to a tree The rule for tying a horse is “HIGH AND TIGHT”. A horse tied low will undoubtedly get a leg in the rope or have the rope go over its head binding him. Some horses go out of control when its head is restricted in this manner.

Hi Lines Tie a strong rope high between two trees. Tie the lead rope to the hi line high enough so the horse can’t get its legs tangled in the lead rope.

Tying Horses to Hi Line Insure horses are not’t so close they can kick one another or have their lead ropes wrapped around one another. If you feed on the ground, the horse should be able to eat his hay/pellets without pulling hard on the lead rope. If the horse has to pull hard on the lead rope to eat his food the metal on the halter will rub the hair off and eventually cause abrasions. When I feed hay I have hay bags tied to the Hi Line loop and around the tree. By using hay bags I can tie the lead rope high enough to insure the horse isn’t able to get his leg over the lead rope and possibly fall.

Ground Tied means a packhorse will stay stationary with his lead rope on the ground. I recommend you train your horse to be ground tied because eventually the horse will get lose. You don’t need to be chasing a running horse in the wilderness which will eventually cause the pack saddle to slip under the horse’s stomach. Been there and done that.

Ground Tie Training Drop the lead rope and tell the horse to stand and then you slowly back up. If and when the horse moves, return to the horse and jerk down several times on the lead rope and make the horse back up. If your horse is not an easy catch, tie a long smaller diameter rope or lunge line and walk backwards besides the rope so you can prevent the horse from running away. Practice ground tying training 5-10 minutes a day until trained.

Lead Horse Occasionally, you will have to quickly get off your riding horse to correct a problem in your pack string, i.e. broken break away string, loose pack, animal’s leg over a lead rope, etc. There might not be a readily available place to tie your riding horse so your riding horse needs to be trained to stand when not tied. You don’t want your riding horse to take your pack string down the trail while you are dismounted. I am fortunate to have Jack as my riding horse. I put the reins around the pommel and dismount to take care of problems. Jack stands like a rock for me. If your horse is not trained to stand, always put a figure 8 nylon hobble on your riding horse that slips on easily and quickly to insure you don't have a runaway pack string.

Packing in stoves Always place your stove in a pannier or manty so that it will not be hit/damaged if your pannier/manty hits a tree. Always put it in the back of the pannier with other items in front to “take the hit” if rocks and trees are encountered. Insure you have a stove where stove pipes, side shelves fit inside the firebox.

Space Heat Blanket You can put a space heat blanket behind the stove to significantly increase the heat in your tent as the space blanket reflects heat back to the inside of tent. You can glue velcro to the space blanket and then secure the excess velcro around the eave tent length frame. Some people put velcro on both sides of the tent side walls to make their tents warmer.

Tents Nylon tents are fine during summer. However, during the fall, winter and spring canvas tents and stoves are a must to dry out your gear and to keep you dry and warm. Personally, I only use fire treated tents to reduce the possibility my tent and equipment won’t burn when I’m on a hunting trip.

Packing a Tent Frame Insure tent frame pieces are approximately the same length in two bags. Tie bungee cords tightly around the frame pieces on each side to insure the frame pieces don’t slide back and forth and change the pack load balance. I secure the frame bags on top of each of my hard pannier inserts with lids.

Decker vs Saw Buck pack saddles I prefer Deckers as they have half breeds with one inch thick felt and wooden side boards to protect the pack animal when packing. Additionally, if a pack animal with a Saw Buck rolls down a hill when packing the wooden crutches on a Saw Buck are normally broken. And you now have a pack saddle that is useless on your pack trip.

Quarter Breeds A quarter breed is a piece of canvas, with appropriate slits for decker rings, that protects and helps keep clean the half breed and pack saddle.

Lash Cinches When you put a lash cinch on panniers or manties you prevent the pannier/manty from sliding back on the horse’s side when panniers/manties hit a tree or rock. Consequently, when using a lash cinch the pannier/manty hits a tree, there is no give, and hitting a tree/rock will jar the horse and possibly force it off a narrow trail.

Using a Lash Cinch A lash cinch is a cinch with a hook on one end and rope attached to the other cinch end. Some people use a lash cinch to secure a top pack or also secure manties. Throw the rope over the top pack and place the cinch under the horse. Run the rope through the lash cinch hook. Pull up hard on rope to tighten around horses stomach and then tie a diamond hitch. Attach excess rope to pack saddle securely. Some inexperienced horses will buck if they unexpectedly step on a dangling lash cinch rope.

Top Packs are commonly used on pack saddles. However, top packs raise the center of gravity on the pack saddle which causes more rocking. Top packs need to be low, compact and as secure as possible. Check your pack and cinch more often when using a top pack. Higher top packs increases the likelihood the pack saddle will rock and slip to one side possibly causing a wreck. Use a lash cinch if necessary to keep a top pack secure so it will not shift. There is an old saying, " If you need to use a top pack, you also need another horse."

Tent as a Top Pack. If you plan on putting a tent as a top pack, never have it rolled up in a bag. A round object as a top pack is a wreck waiting to happen. Form the tent into a rectangle and tie it on or preferably use a lash cinch.

Saddle Panniers are more likely to cause the saddle to slip to one side than pack panniers on a pack saddle. If you use saddle panniers purchase the models that have belly straps to make them more secure.

Breeching and Breast Collar I would strongly encourage you to buy a good saddle breeching and breast collar if you are going to do much packing with saddle panniers. Especially if you go up and down hills. The breeching will prevent the saddle cinch from slipping forward while going downhill. When riding a horse/mule sometimes you can feel when the saddle has slipped forward and dismount and make the necessary correction. However, on a pack animal you will not immediately know when the saddle cinch has slipped forward. A saddle cinch that slips forward on a pack animal will cause a significant cinch gall that will require weeks to heal before you can use your horse/mule again. Click saddle breeching if want to look at the saddle breeching and breast collar I have for sale.

Easy Boots vs Old Mac boots. All pack animals occasionally throw a shoe in rough terrain. Bring along at least 2 different sizes of easy boots that fit most of your animals front and back hooves. If you pack during inclement weather I recommend you bring duct tape along to tape the top part of the easy boot to keep mud/small rocks out of the easy boot. Small rocks inside the easy boot will cause abrasions. From my experience, I do not like easy boots. The easy boot wire cable is made made of individual wire strands. In rough terrain, these individual strands start breaking 1 by 1 until the easy boot is unusable. I now use Old Mac horse boots which are very reliable but are much more expensive.

Extra Horse Shoes I save horseshoes when my horses are being shod just prior to hunting season. I keep these extra shoes at my camp. If a horse loses a shoe, I already have a shoe that is shaped for its hoof and I put the horse shoe nails through the holes that are currently in the horse hoof.

Feed and Water Many people incorrectly assume there will be grass and water basically anywhere in the back country or Wilderness areas. Unfortunately, many Wilderness areas have little grass and water is mainly in lower areas. Contact the Forest Service for info on grass and water in the area you plan on packing in. I always take alfalfa cubes on my pack trips using Utah Panniers to insure my horses receive sufficient food/nutrition. If using alfalfa cubes, always start feeding alfalfa cubes 4-5 days prior to pack trip in small amounts and gradually increase amount each day. A working pack horse requires 15-20 pounds of alfalfa cubes per day, less is okay if you supplement with available grass. Feeding a horse a full ration of alfalfa cubes with no transition could cause your horse to colic and die.

Cinch Length I prefer a 28” pack cinch as it provides more adjustment. Your horse will lose weight during packing and a shorter cinch provides more adjustment. On occasions, when I go on 2-3 week pack trips I have had to adjust my rigging straps to get a tight pack cinch due to my horses losing weight.

Leather Punch Always pack a leather punch to make any adjustments on your pack saddle. I usually also take a 3’ piece of 1” wide leather to replace any broken straps if a wreck occurs.

Conway Buckle, Nail and a Rock If you have a strap that breaks, a quick temporary repair is to use a nail and a rock to make a hole on each side of the broken strap. Then use a conway buckle to connect the two straps.

Pack Horse Acting Unusual Occasionally there will be a problem with a packhorse you cannot easily identify. A good horse will go forward close to the horse in front of it, start throwing his head up and down, etc., before trying to buck off the pack. You need to stop immediately and determine what the problem is. The pack horse is trying to tell you something is wrong. I had a horse acting unusual about a quarter mile from camp but I couldn’t see anything wrong. I didn’t stop – a bad decision. A little while later the pack horse started bucking and didn’t stop until the panniers were on the ground.

New Pack Horses Be very careful when you pack horses that have never been together. The alpha horse in your pack string may try to establish dominance over the new horses and start kicking at the new horses just behind him or the alpha horse might try to bite a new horse in front of him.

New Riding Horses and Pack Horses I know a person that was seriously injured in the wilderness when he was riding his horse and his friend’s riding horse side kicked him and broke his leg. He had to be taken out of the wilderness by a Forest Service helicopter. Again, new horses in a pack string or new riding horses can be very dangerous to you and your horses. Be careful, you don’t want to be injured, especially in the back country. And, you don’t want a seriously injured horse that you might have to put down.

New Mules in a Pack String All horses are normally more dominant than mules. Horses usually kick and bite new mules in a pack string more than new horses.

Adjusting Pack String Speed You must slow down at obstacles such as when crossing streams, logs, sharp turns etc. Do not let your riding horse return to normal speed until the last packhorse crosses the obstacle. Otherwise, you will have an accordion affect, with the rear pack animals negotiating the obstacle too quickly possibly causing a wreck or breaking breakaway strings.

Check Pack String En route Turn around often and check your pack string to insure there are no problems. A good time to check your pack string is when you go around corners, curves, as you can see the side of the pack saddles, pack and pad. On a hot day, when the horse is losing weight, and is sweaty, a pad can slip back when going up hill and you will not be able to readily observe it.

Adjusting Pack Rigging I like to have 1-2 fingers looseness at the breast collar and rear britchin.

* If you adjust the breast collar too tight your horse will continually have too much pressure on its throat.
* If you adjust the britchin too tight the britchin will rub the hair off and eventually cause an abrasion. (britchin - breeching)
* Adjust the pack rigging so the rigging rings are on the decker wood side boards
* In exceptionally steep country, I adjust my rear britchin tighter to keep the packsaddle from going too far forward.

Breeching - Galling An improperly adjusted pack saddle will gall a horse. The breeching is the most likely area where you will gall your horse. I recommend you check your horse for an improperly fitted pack saddle every 1/2 - 1 hour during the first day of your pack trip. If the breeching and breast collar is improperly fitted the hair will be worn off. After the hair is worn off, then the horses' hide will be warn down causing sores/galls.

Flank Cinch on Riding Horse I recommend the flank cinch be no looser than one finger. A horse kicking at flies with a loose flank cinch could possibly get their hoof stuck between their stomach and cinch causing a serious problem.

Felt Pack Pad vs Fleece Pack Pad Sometimes a rough felt pack pad will wear hair off a horse's back during long pack trips. Kodell fleece with a canvas top is better for the horse, but are harder to keep clean. However, felt pads are best for pack animals with poor withers because the felt pad does not shift to one side as easily as kodell fleece pads.

Fly Spray If you have a horse that over reacts to fly bites I recommend you take fly spray on your pack trip. Especially, if you are on steep dangerous trails. There are some types of fly spray that will supposedly work up to two weeks. You don’t need a packhorse or a riding horse, bucking on a narrow trail in the back country.

Horse Conditioning If you are going on a long strenuous pack trip insure you start conditioning your horse early. A friend once took his horses on a very strenuous week pack trip without any prior conditioning. One of the horses got so tired it just laid down with the pack on. The horse had more sense than my friend.

Inexperienced Pack Horse Location in String I position an inexperienced packhorse immediately behind my riding horse. That way I can observe him better, correct any problems quicker and talk to him to help calm him down if necessary. One time I put a new horse in third position and about half a mile down the trail it decided it wanted to be in front. The inexperienced horse broke the break away string and took off downhill on a steep slope. Unfortunately, the fourth packhorse followed him. Unbelievably, neither horse rolled down the mountain on their escapade and returned to the trail safely. I immediately moved the inexperienced packhorse to the first position.

Training a Pack string to Stay In Line The most difficulty in leading a pack string is the start before you get to the narrow trail, which normally forces horses to stay in line. To train the pack string, have 1 – 2 helper’s walk along the side of the pack string at home to make the horses stay in line. Once a new pack string gains experience on the trail it learns to stay in line and there are fewer problems. In 2004, I was at a wilderness trail head and a person asked me to help him get his pack string to the trail head about 1/4 mile from camp. We had 2 wrecks en route because of one new horse in the string. The new horse was constantly trying to pass and went on the opposite side of a small tree than the other pack horses. Later it got excited and got his leg over his lead rope, reared up and then fell down. The horse was struggling and thrashing on the ground so I cut the lead rope and fortunately didn't get injured by this wild ass horse. The last time I saw them they were okay and heading into the Seven Devils Wilderness. Practice leading your pack string at home to avoid problems and possibly injury to you and your horses.

Preventing Cinch Gall Move the cinch forward and backward daily on your riding horse. Moving cinch daily will help prevent cinch gall on long pack trips.

Electric Fences in the Back Country I use an electric fence powered by 4 D cells batteries. I do not like to keep my horse’s high lined for 2-3 weeks hunting/pack trips. The key to an adequately powered electric fence is a good ground. I also use the same white “electric rope” with 6-7 wire filaments at home as I do in the Wilderness. My horses have a healthy respect for the “electric rope” and don’t normally go close to it even when I have the power off. I keep 1 or more horse’s high lined at night.

Holding Onto a Horses’ Tail One time I was packing out an elk with Ed, a good friend, in such steep and brushy terrain you could not ride to where the elk was quartered. On the way up the mountain, Ed became very tired and decided to hold onto his packhorse’s tail to pull him up the hill. Fortunately, Ed didn’t get the dog shit kicked out of him. Unfortunately, Diamond, the packhorse wanted to go up the hill quickly and Ed couldn’t maintain the pace. I don’t recommend you hold onto a horses tail unless you practice this at home so you won’t possibly get kicked silly.

Turning a Horse Loose When Packing Out Elk After Ed couldn’t keep up the pace holding onto Diamond’s tail he decided to turn his horses loose which included the one I was leading. The horse I had been leading took off running up the hill and the race was on with the other horse. I quickly followed. I found Diamond about halfway up the mountain. The pack had slipped to the side and Diamond was so tired she was about to fall down. I was trying to hold Diamond’s neck up and started yelling to a German, another person in our hunting party, for assistance. The German arrived who didn’t speak very much English, but we finally got the elk quarters off without having Diamond roll down the mountain. Meanwhile, the horse I had been leading had run all the way back to our camp. Bruce, my father-in-law, tried to catch her but with no success. Bruce put a bucket of water in front of the packhorse to entice her. The horse immediately reared up as Bruce was about to grab the halter, knocking Bruce backwards. Fortunately, the packhorse missed Bruce on the way down. You have probably figured out the name of this wild horse – Rosie! The friend I was with, Ed was the person that knowingly bought this wild horse. Rosie taught me many lessons of what I don’t want in a horse.

Turning Loose a GOOD Horse While Packing Out Elk In rough country, crossing big logs, it is almost impossible to keep a breakaway string on a second pack animal. The lead pack horse may have to jump a log that will break a breakaway string. I turn Solider, the big appaloosa with the big white blanket on my web site, loose when I pack out elk on foot. Soldier leads the way out slowly, stopping periodically for rests while I’m leading out the other horse. Soldier, remembers the way we came in, zigzagging between hogbacks because the blow downs prevent going straight up one hogback. It is a pleasure to pack out elk with Soldier. It is doubtful I will every own another horse with so much “horse sense”. As you have probably surmised, Soldier is smarter than I am.

Tying Your Horse to a Tree. In 1985, my friend Ed tied Rosie to an alder sapling while he was preparing to load elk quarters on Rosie. Rosie reared up and off went Rosie with the sapling. Rosie was gone all day and returned to camp about 10pm. Naturally, she couldn’t be caught. The next day the chase was on. Six of us had her cornered up against what was almost a vertical hillside. Rosie turned into a mountain goat as we watched her escape up the mountain side. She was finally caught on her way to the trail head when an Outfitter met her on the trail.

Packing Out Elk While on Foot If you and a friend are leading your pack horses don’t let the trail horse get too close to the lead horse. Some trail horses like to be so close they almost have their nose on the rump of the lead horse. Some trial horses will warn the trail horse with a half kick. One time, packing out elk with a friend, Diamond was too close and the lead horse I was leading kicked Diamond so hard in the head that her eyes rolled up in her head and almost went down. You guessed it – Rosie strikes again. Horses like Rosie are very dangerous to people and horses and should not be used in packing. I thought I was getting rid of Rosie when I sold her. For some reason Ed always had me handle Rosie when we were packing out together. Fortunately, Ed sold Rosie, she was 30 years old – and she was still as cantankerous at 30 as when I bought her when she was a tame 15-year-old packhorse from the old horse trader.

Meeting game animal on the trail You might meet a moose or a “big bear” that won’t get off the trail. Moose will occasionally run through a pack string. I have a friend who had a moose run through his experienced pack string and one of his pack animals panicked and it jumped off a cliff trail. Unfortunately the horse didn’t survive the fall.

Bees and Horses There is very little possibility of going near a bee hive on a well used trail. The danger of encountering bee hives is when you go cross country. When you are marking a trail to pack out an elk be very observant of bees in the area and the possibility of bee hives. While packing, if you ever encounter bees hives the only solution is to try and keep the pack string going quickly forward until you are out of the area. Expect to have broken break away strings and packs that need to be reloaded/adjusted.

Bears on the Trail Most bears that hear you coming will quickly get off the trail. A friend told me he recently met a huge bear on the trail that wouldn’t leave. The bear stood his ground making pawing/waving motions toward the outfitter. The outfitter did not have a weapon and had to turn his pack string around and go on another longer trail to his camp. I always have a pistol or rifle when I’m in the back country. to protect my horses from predators.

Camping in Grizzly Country Clients of an Outfitter I know couldn’t sleep at night hearing the grizzlies outside their tent. The Outfitter sets up an electric fence, powered by solar energy, around the perimeter of his camp. Thereafter the grizzlies got shocked and didn’t enter the camp and the clients slept much better.

Wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming Wolves were released in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in 1997. The wolf population has expanded/exploded. In 2002, as reported in a major Idaho newspaper, a hunter had three horses tied to his horse trailer at the trail head and wolves attacked the horses. One horse broke her back rearing to get away and the other 2 horses broke their lead ropes to escape. Both horses were never found and were probably eaten by wolves. In 2003, I was bugling elk in the Wilderness and had wolves “howl” back at my bugle for the first seven days. An outfitter’s pack string was surrounded at night on the trail, near my camp, while making night pack trip. A friend of mine hunting alone in the Wilderness, 4 miles from my camp, had his camp surrounded by wolves at night. The wolves apparently were after his horses and mules. Fortunately, there were no horses/mules injured or killed from the wolf encounters, which happened in a 5-6 square mile area. I no longer ride my horses to my hunting areas and high line them. To me, putting my horses alone on a high line in the Wilderness would be inviting a wolf attack. I also have reservations about leaving my horses at my wilderness camp for fear of a wolf attack. If wolves ever get close to my horses – I know the wolves are there for only one reason, to eat my horses. And, I would kill every wolf I could for only one reason – to protect my horses. It should be noted that the USFWS will not reimburse for horses killed by wolves. My approach to predators, any predator that gets near my horses is short for this world, regardless of any regulation.

Wolves and Bells In Canada and Alaska where there is a high density of wolves some outfitters will put a cow bell on a horse's halter when leaving horses at camp by themselves. The sound of metal on metal helps keeps the wolves from attacking the unattended horses. I don't know how effective the use of bells on horses is, but I now use bells because of the high density of wolves in Idaho.

Flashlights, Guns and Predators Always take a very good, powerful flashlight on pack trips. I prefer a 2 or 3 battery D cell Mag light which I can narrow the beam. Occasionally, you will have mountain lions, bears of wolves near camp at night. Your horses are like watch dogs and will alert you when a predator is near. Shine the light in all directions around your camp. Predators don’t like the light and are night blinded if you are fortunate enough to shine the flashlight in their eyes. If the flashlight doesn’t scare the predators away the only other solution is to fire a shot in the air to scare the predators away. One time my horses started acting very nervous about 3am at my trail head camp. I had the horses in an electric fence corral and by the time I got out of the tent the horses broke through the fence. Outfitter horses in the electric corral nearby were also spooked and several went though that electric fence. I found my horses 4 miles from camp at daylight. The outfitter thought the problem was a mountain lion since his horses regularly pack out bears. I had camped at the trail head for 10 years using an electric fence without problems. Now at the trail head I keep all my horse high lined at night in case I have more problems at night. In the Wilderness area I also keep all my horses high lined at night in case wolves come near camp because wolves will chase them down at night if the horses get loose.

Take Medical kits for you and your pack animals It is very easy to get an infection from small cuts and punctures. Antibiotics come in handy in the Wilderness when your small cut or puncture becomes infected. Penicillin for horses/mules can be purchased at any good tack/hardware store along with the syringes. I also take colic medicine.

Make a detailed check list for all items you need on your pack trip. I update my list annually to insure I don’t forget items.

Check trails in advance Before going on new trails call the nearest Forest Service to determine condition of trail and when was it cleared last. There are many trails not cleared annually by the Forest Service.

US Forest Service: Horse Sense Packing Lightly on Your National Forest pamphlet R1-02-47. Horse person's Creed: "When I ride out of the mountains I'll leave only hoof prints, take only photographs...and all the extra garbage I can pack out!"


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  1. Tree - Most quality pack saddles use cottonwood or thick pine trees that are dried for 6 to 12 months.
  2. Saw buck pack saddles - should have oak crutches. Oak is extremely durable and stronger than other wood.
  3. Leather - Pack saddles should be made of harness leather. Normally 1" wide straps and 1/4" thick. The highest quality harness leather available is Herman Oak #1 grade. It is stronger than normal harness leather and is of a very high quality.
  4. Decker arches/rings - Metal arches on the decker come in two models - rounded or square. Square arches are also commonly referred to as the "new style" or combination. . Square style arches allow more room for your hands under the arches to tie ropes and or pannier straps. Rounded also called "old style" is still a workable option especially with pannier hooks.
  5. Breeching and breast collar - Should be double thickness harness leather due to the strain on them. Also rolled and lined (soft chap leather sewn to) breast collar and breeching are preferred since this helps to prevent chafing of the pack animal.
  6. Quarter straps - Some less expensive pack saddles only have one quarter strap per side. Higher quality pack saddles have two quarter straps per side.
  7. Half breeds - A half breed should have 1" felt inside for added protection of the pack animal. All decker pack saddles have half breeds, saw bucks do not. However, I can special order sawbuck half breeds.
  8. Nylon vs Cotton vs Leather - Nylon or cotton webbing for breeching, breast collars and straps are less expensive but are not as durable as leather. They also have a higher tendency to chafe a pack animal than leather. On long pack trips when a horse gets lathered up, the leather will absorb the sweat making the breast collar and br itching slippery and less abrasive to the horse.
  9. Conway buckles vs Roller buckles - Adjusting a pack saddle to your horse is much quicker and easier with roller buckles.
  10. Brass vs nickel plated hardware - Brass is much more durable compared to nickel plating as the nickel plating will eventually peel or wear off.
  11. Tree/bar thickness - Most trees/bars have the same width and length but vary in thickness. The thicker trees are more durable.

Pack Saddles available at this site.

  1. In the West, the pack saddle of choice is the decker. In fact, you rarely see a saw buck in use.
  2. I prefer the decker because of the added protection the half breed provides the pack animal with its 1" felt and wood side boards.
  3. Deckers also are more versatile than Saw Bucks. Hooks can be used to secure panniers to the decker arches which makes loading and unloading panniers very easy and quick.
  4. If you have the misfortune of ever rolling a pack animal, and you will if you pack long enough, the saw buck crutches will definitely not survive the wreck. The decker arches/rings have a much higher probability of surviving a accident without destroying the pack saddle. Also sawbuck crutches break off occasionally when hitting low hanging large branches.
  1. There are some good used pack saddles for sale. However, be very leery of buying an old pack saddle. The last thing that you want is to have leather breaking and a pack saddle shifting on a steep narrow trail.
  2. Inspect an old pack saddle thoroughly.
    1. Cracks - Look for any cracks in the leather, especially where it bends around the cinch, breeching, breast collar rings. If there is a crack its just matter of time before it breaks.
    2. Quality of leather - Old leather loses it strength and will break under pressure.
    3. Check decker tree - Put the pack saddle on the ground and try to move the metal arches. If the arches move the bolts securing the arches are normally rusted/decaying which allows the arches to move or the screw holes are rounded out.
    4. Check saw buck tree - Put the pack saddle on the ground and try to move the oak crutches. If the crutches move the bolts/screws securing the crutches are normally rusted/decaying which allows the crutches to move or the screw holes are rounded out.
    5. Examine tree - for splits or cracks. Splits or cracks will only get larger and make the tree unserviceable.


There are many types of panniers and pannier material. Hopefully, this guide will explain panniers and material sufficiently to allow you to make the best choice for your needs.

Panniers available at this site.


* Pack panniers are normally used with pack saddles. Pannier straps wrap around decker arches or saw buck crutches.
* On deckers, you can put straps through hook slots and use pannier hooks for easier loading and off loading.
* Some pack panniers straps can be adjusted and used on a regular riding saddle.
* Most pack panniers have a wooden dowel at the top of the pannier to keep the pannier shape and for the pannier straps to wrap around.
* Pack panniers are more expensive than other types of panniers.
* Recommendation: If you like canvas panniers, I strongly recommend you purchase canvas panniers with leather ends if your pack panniers rub against trees, rocks and brush on narrow trails. The additional expense is worth it because the leather end canvas pannier will last much longer. Additionally, you won't have to pay a saddle shop to repair it like a normal canvas pannier when it tears or wears through.


* Saddle panniers are designed specifically for use on a riding saddle. However, some saddle panniers can be used , with great difficulty, on pack saddles also.
* Saddle panniers do not ride as securely on a saddle as pack panniers ride on pack saddles. Therefore, saddle panniers need a strap that goes around the pack animals stomach with a good teeth buckle to help keep the saddle panniers balanced and secure.
* Recommendation: I would not recommend that anyone purchase a saddle pannier unless it has at least one stomach strap and one strap to connect the pannier bags.
* Recommendation: I would strongly encourage you to buy a good saddle breeching and breast collar if you are going to do much packing with saddle panniers. Especially if you go up and down hills. The breeching will prevent the saddle cinch from slipping forward while going downhill. A saddle cinch that slips forward will cause a significant cinch gall that will require weeks to heal before you can use your horse/mule again. Click saddle breeching if want to look at the saddle breeching and breast collar I have for sale.


* Recommended if you are short on pack animals. Don't overload your pack animals as it is much more difficult for a horse to carry pack gear than a riding horse to carry you.
* Recommendation I suggest you purchase very large triple saddle bags for your riding horses to prevent overloading pack animals or leaving required items at home. You can fill these triple saddle bags with bulky, lightweight items.
* Ensure that you don't put hard items on the side of the saddle bag that touches the horse. These hard objects will bounce up and down on the trail and cause pain and possible injury to your horse.
* I have some exceptionally large triple saddle bags on the web site if you require them.


* Normally made of poly/plastic or aluminum.
* Hard panniers naturally protect the packing items much better than soft panniers.
* However, hard panniers carrying capacity is usually less than soft panniers.
* Top pack and H Pack panniers ride well on hard panniers lids because of their even surface.
* Hard panniers are varmint proof and are great for storing food and kitchen items.


* Designed for packing bulky items such as alfalfa pellet bags.
* Utah panniers are great for packing out elk quarters. I use them for packing 80 lb alfalfa cube bags and packing out meat to keep my pack panniers clean and prevent stains.
* Utah panniers do not have dowel on top of each pannier bag and do not have a lid.


* Both H and Top pack panniers ride on top of the pack saddle and pack/saddle panniers.
* Panniers are designed primarily for packing clothing, and other lightweight bulky items.
* H and Top pack should be a low silhouette. Probably no greater than a 12-13 inch depth. A tall top pack has a tendency to rock the pack saddle and making it become loose.
* H pack fits between the crutches on a saw buck very well, but can also be used on a Decker


* Salt panniers are designed for packing in salt blocks, two salt blocks per pannier bag.
* Salt panniers should be reinforced with leather because of the salt block rubbing on the pannier.
* Salt pannier bags are normally very short, 19-20 inches.
* Salt panniers can also be used as regular pack panniers on small horses, mules and donkeys. Normal panniers are just too big for these small animals.


* Panniers certified to be bear proof by the US Forest Service.
* Some wilderness and national forests require bear proof panniers to help prevent bear attacks.


* Insert liners fit inside of panniers.
* Inserts allow you to pack items better, provides protection to pack items and retains the shape of the pannier.
* Normally made of a poly material.
* I recommend inserts which have lids as these inserts are varmint proof and good for food storage.


* Metal frame with shelf that attaches to pack saddle.
* Shelf folds up when not in use.
* Hauls All allows individual to pack in oversize items such as coolers, tent frames, fence posts, propane, etc.


* Attaches to pannier straps and then hooks to decker arches/rings.
* Makes loading and unloading panniers very quick and easy.


* I use pack scales to ensure each pannier bag is within 1-2 lbs of the other to prevent the pack saddle from becoming unbalanced and shifting.


* It is difficult to overload a pack animal using panniers because of the limited volume in most panniers. Unless you are packing alfalfa pellets or grain.
* I prefer larger panniers to ensure sufficient volume/space for my packing requirements.
* Normally the width of panniers determines the difference between carrying capacity of different panniers. Most panniers have similar length and width but vary greatly in depth.


CANVAS: Naturally water resistant and durable. The classic pannier material. Drawback is that blood stains canvas easily. Leather end canvas panniers is recommended.

IRON CLOTH: Extremely durable and tough synthetic material. Much more durable than canvas. Cleans easily to prevent staining.

CORDURA: Tougher and more durable than canvas but not as strong as Iron Cloth or Kevlar Tough. Courdura comes in many grades and quality varies tremendously. Ballistic courdura is a much higher quality than normal cordura. Cleans easily to prevent staining.

VINYL: Tough, waterproof and cleans easily.

ALUMINUM: Toughest pannier made. Some aluminum panniers are bear proof.

POLY-PLASTIC: Hard panniers that provide added protection for breakable items.

Go to for packing tips from an experienced Australian packer. Very interesting reading and some very good pack tips.


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