The best way to travel on horseback is to pack as lightly as you can.
Before your trip, gather the gear you think you’ll need, and then accept you probably only need half of it. Maybe less. A good rule of thumb is to look at all the gear, and make some decisions about what you will really need, and what you’re only bringing for comfort or diversion.
Please don’t bring a portable chess set, or two books to read, or the metal box that the band aids come in.
You can leave behind your shaving gear because a few days or a week’s stubble won’t alarm too many people, and you probably don’t need more than two pairs of socks…of which one is already on your feet. Look at all the gear and think it through carefully.
Consider how many days and nights you’re going to be on the trail, and remember that you’re going riding and camping to get away from all the stuff that’s clinging to you in your Other Life.
Besides, a little hardship on the trail always makes a good story later.
The important thing is to lighten the load on the horse because you don’t want to find out the hard way why you shouldn’t have brought whatever it is in the first place. It will also save you the stress of loading and unloading, and packing and unpacking just to find some little oddity you were encouraged to bring or that slipped by you in an unconscious moment.
Some of the things I’ve seen on the trails in the high country would make you bald from scratching your head in amazement.
Ice packs, a wrench kit, a portable typewriter, folding chairs, a curling iron, pillows, and a mini blowtorch pen were some of the oddball things I’ve seen above the tree line. Riding a trail for a few days is much different from going horse camping with your truck and trailer. You need to avoid carrying as much clutter as possible.
If you disregard this advice and add a few things here and there, it’s almost a certainty you’ll regret bringing them.
You may find yourself looking for some way to bury the junk so you don’t have to carry it another 30 miles, or maybe that extra book you brought will do nicely in the campfire tonight…
The best advice is don’t bring it. Another good piece of advice is to look at everything you’re bringing and determine if it can do double-duty. Can one cook pot with its lid be enough for all your meals? Can you use a (clean) sock or glove as an oven mitt? Can your soap also serve as toothpaste?
Something else you can try before your first overnight trip is taking a trip while still at home. Saddle your riding horse, load the pack horse, take a walk around the pasture…and camp in the back yard. Picket your horse in the pasture, pitch your tent, cook your evening meal, and hit the sack.
When morning comes, feed the stock, make breakfast, and load up; make a trip around the pasture again and then unpack at the barn. You will be surprised about how much you might learn in the comfort of your own backyard.
No cheating! Don’t run over to the house or barn for something you forgot!
Company is welcome, though, and the neighborhood kids might enjoy the campfire as well. The other thing to remember is that whatever you bring into the woods, you’re going to have to pack out.
Take a good long look at the kind of food you’re taking and decide if you can do without cans and excess packaging. One way to know if you’ve had a successful trip is when you come back and have only a slender garbage bag of waste.
Experience says a horse shouldn’t carry more than one fifth its own weight, so act accordingly, or bring a pack horse if you really need to pack heavy.
Remember to never load a pack horse with more than one hundred pounds of weight, because if you do, it means you get to walk most of the way. As the day wears on, the load gets heavier and you’ll have to split the load between your two horses giving you the opportunity to test your boot leather.
Next time we’ll talk about what you “should bring”… until then… HAPPY TRAILS!