Horse Packing

Horse packing is definitely one of my favorite things!  Life is good when you can ride through fields of wildflowers, camp near a cold mountain lake, and enjoy the campfire while watching the horses graze in the meadow….

This page is meant to give you some links (anything underlined is a link that will take you to more info) on packing.  Many are Mountain Ridge BCHU newsletters, so look through their few pages for the article mentioned in the link.  Others are some of my favorite packing links.  If there are other packing topics you WISH were included here, email me.

Please start by reading about Horse Camping on the BCHU Education page here.

All horse activities can be dangerous!  Packing is no exception. Please read the disclaimer on the Disclaimer Page of this blog and use your own judgment on what you can do safely with your horse.

Click here for an overview of 5 different ways you might consider going horse packing.

Bruce Kartchner with a nice double diamond on a traditional pack saddle

Want to learn to tie this double diamond and other packing knots?  Check out the videos of this BCHU packing clinic by Travis Smith.

More packing knot videos  here.

Larry Newton with an over-the-saddle pack
Cindy Furse Packing with 1 horse and an English Saddle

An English saddle requires special connections for the pack.

Packing with an English Saddle.pdf      VideoI    VideoII

Use care and consideration when packing weight on your horse.  Behind the saddle is the most tempting place to carry weight on your horse, but this is not your horse’s strongest point.  Be careful not to put too much weight over his loins and and sore his back.  This newsletter has an article with thoughts on What Weight Where (for 1 horse packing).

Gina Levesque Packing 1 Horse with a trail saddle

Western saddles and trail saddles generally have plenty of connection points for your pack, but start with the English videos above for the basics of how we are packing our camping gear on our riding horse.  Next, Gina demonstrates what she takes and how she packs it on her Western Saddle in a manner similar to how I pack with my English Saddle.   VideoI   VideoII.

A very useful connection for any kind of saddle is a tight strap across the seat of the saddle the connects the pack securely to the saddle.  This way, your weight and balance in the saddle and stirrups will help to keep the pack balanced too.

A tight strap across the seat of your saddle helps keep the pack balanced.

And if all this is just too much trouble, you can get as simple as just putting a bedroll behind your saddle and going.

Straps:  You can get good straps at Walmart in the camping section.

It is important to train your horse to handle the special activities associated with horse packing.  Certainly he needs to be prepared for whatever kind of pack you are planning to use.  Be sure it fits well, and your horse has experienced carrying this pack with and without weight up and down hills, etc.  The last thing you want is a rooky horse panicking when the britchin presses up against his rump.  Practice this at home!


Usually we hobble the horses for an hour or two night and morning to let them graze.  A hungry horse puts his head right down and goes to intense grazing, moving slowly from munch to munch.  When he is getting full, he starts to get more particular and moves around a lot more, often pestering the other horses, checking out the camp, considering the horizon.  When we see horses moving around like this, we figure they are done eating and it is best to tie them to the high line for the evening.  Remember many horses won’t eat much if they are thirsty, so give them plenty of water before hobbling them, and again before high lining them.

There are many different kinds of hobbles, as described in this newsletter, and it is important to train your horse at home to handle the hobbles.  This does not mean you should just throw the hobbles on your horse and see what happens.  The newsletter also gives several links to training suggestions for hobbles.

High Line

A high line is used to tie the horses for the night.  If you just tie a horse to a tree, they may paw or dig, or just their moving around may damage the surface roots of the tree and kill it.  A high line puts the horses between the trees instead.  Here is a really good description of a high line and how to tie it.

REMEMBER to use a lead rope with a SWIVEL SNAP attached to the halter, or your horse will inevitably wrap himself up in the night.  You will find him in the morning with his head uncomfortably high in the air near the high line.  I carry spare swivels from the hardware store in case someone I am camping with doesn’t have one on their lead, but it is a lot easier to just use the right lead rope in the first place.

What to Take

Deciding what to take is important.  Deciding what NOT to take is even more important when single -horse packing.  I started out taking quite a lot more than I do now, and I’ve definitely found that ‘less is more’ as long as you are fed, warm, and dry.  Here are several links to the ‘stuff’ we take for a short (less than a week) pack trip without using extra pack horses.  If you take a pack horse, you can carry a lot more luxuries (like a cooler of real food!) with you.

Here is a photo-list of stuff to take on a 3-4 day trip (single horse packing)

Here is a more detailed list of stuff I take on a 3-4 day trip (single horse packing), also links to where I got a lot of it and what it costs and weighs.

Stoves — Some Other Ideas on really useful ‘stuff’

Here Gina demonstrates what she takes and how she packs it VideoI   VideoII.

First Aid

Even though you will be trying to conserve weight and bulk if you are 1-horse packing, it is important to have medicine and equipment in case a horse or person gets hurt.   Here is just a start on Horse First Aid and my First Aid Kit .  It is well worth taking a first aid CLASS for horses and for people before doing anything related to horses, so if you are not already certified, I hope you will call up the Red Cross and sign up today!

I also always take a horse boot.   Seems like someone inevitably loses a shoe at the point furthest from the trailer over a rocky trail.  If you don’t have a horse boot or (more likely) your horse boot won’t fit someone else’s horse, be sure you have PLENTY of duct tape.  Then you can tape a hoof pad (which I carry in my hoof boot) on to that horse’s hoof (just tape to the hard part of the hoof wall, not the skin …  duct tape stretches and binds and can hurt tender skin.  You will probably have to re-tape a bunch of times, so keep track of this while you ride.  If you don’t have a hoof pad, you can cut one (using your pocket knife) from the blue foam used to pad the inside of my saddle bags.


Sometime I’ll write up an article on this and post it here.  In the meantime, this will be brief:

Dinner 1:  Tinfoil dinner (google this for a bazillion recipes and ideas).    Just remember if you are using meat that you can’t really bring an extra cooler if you are 1-horse packing.  I usually use ham because I like it, and it keeps better than most meat.  Freeze it in a big chunk in a ziplock bag, pack extra insulation around it, etc. to keep it frozen or cold for 12 hours in a pack.  You can use the sorts of drinks that come in packets to freeze around it and then enjoy the drink along with dinner.   Dessert:  apple crisp made in tinfoil on the fire.

Dinner 2-however long we are out:  Backpacking food or fish caught on sight (don’t PLAN on it or you will be disappointed AND hungry).  All dehydrated food is NOT created equal.  Some really is good, other blech. Invest in several promising options at your local sporting goods store and grocery store . Try them at home.  The easiest ones by far (requiring the least amount of fuel) are the ones you can just add water and stir (not have to boil or cook up).  You probably won’t want to invest the weight in canned goods if you are one-horse packing, and from my experience, much of the de-hy is as good as a lot of the canned stuff anyway.  My extra weight splurge is fresh apples for lunches and if I am really splurging, for desserts.

Also be aware of your garbage.  Pack cans and tinfoil out.  Burn up consumables.  Leave no Trace encourages you to carry it all out, so plan on minimizing your trash in advance by removing excess packing material on foods before you go.  Please read about horse camping on the BCHU Education page here.

Lunch:  pack it light and snacky.

Breakfasts:  I like hot cocoa, granola (with powdered milk made from hot water), nuts, and some dry fruit.  Other good options are instant oatmeal, pancakes (yes, you can cook them on your teeny or better yet a bed of coals), egg beater concoctions, etc.

Anyone want to start a packing cuisine blog?  I’ll be glad to link to it!

Have fun!

Once you get your gear and your method together, horse packing is actually quite easy and a ton of fun!  This newsletter has an article about Stephanie’s first pack trip:  First


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