What To Take on a Pack Trip

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the June 1987 issue of Western Horseman.

If you have never been on a pack trip, you might be in a dither wondering exactly what to take. Not to worry. First-timers usually take more than what they actually need, but sometimes overlook a few essentials that will make any trip more comfortable.

Your first step is to read carefully the information sent to you by the outfitter to see what he recommends you bring. Many outfitters supply tents, but a few do not. Clarify what your outfitter does. If you prefer to take your own tent, even if the outfitter will provide one for you, ask him if he will have the space to pack yours along. It should be small and fold into a compact size.

Tents are not always necessary on pack trips, and many campers prefer sleeping under the stars. But a tent is handy for changing clothes, and a luxury in rain.

Very few outfitters supply sleeping bags. If your trip will be taking you into high-mountain country, buy or borrow a bag whose comfort range goes down to about zero degrees. Temperatures can drop well below freezing, even in midsummer, when you are camped above 8,000 feet or higher. Besides, you can always make a bag cooler by unzipping it, but it's sure tough to make it warmer.

Some type of mattress will contribute to a good night's sleep by making the ground more comfortable, and by protecting you from the ground's chill and dampness. You can choose a traditional air mattress (be sure to take along a small pump) or one of the newer foam pads that do not need inflating.

If your tent does not have a floor, a waterproof ground sheet will protect your mattress and other gear. Ground sheets aren't expensive, fold neatly and are also handy for stacking gear on outside the tent.

Two other essentials are a rain slicker and some type of hat. The best slicker is full length, so it covers your saddle and legs. Short slickers or ordinary raincoats will not keep your saddle or legs dry, and neither will some ponchos. Slickers will also keep you warm in cold weather because heat from the horse rises upward into the slicker.

Some people prefer rain jackets and pants, but they have two disadvantages: 1. You have to dismount to don the pants;2. They will not keep your saddle, or anything tied on it, dry. A saddle that gets soaking wet stays wet long after it quits raining.

I personally don't like to wear a hat, so I keep a baseball cap or rain hat stuffed into a saddlebag until it's needed. Many people wear regular western straws or felts, and they do a fine job of shedding water. But if your hat is prone to blow off, use a stampede string so you don't lose it.

The accompanying checklist includes other essentials, plus some optional items. How much to take depends partly on personal preference and partly on whether the outfitter gives each person a weight limit. Sometimes this is necessary to prevent overloading the pack horses in steep, rugged country.

On the checklist you'll note that a saddle is listed. Although outfitters provides saddles, you might prefer to ride your own. As long as it will fit any average horse, this is okay with most outfitters. Two tips: 1. It should have saddle strings long enough for tying on a pair of saddlebags, a slicker and a jacket;2. A back cinch is handy for tying down the saddlebags to keep them from flopping. Also, take along a breast collar to keep your saddle from slipping back on steep trails.

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