June is National Camping Month! To help get you ready for an adventure of your own, we’re rolling out a three-part series on camping with horses. So far, we’ve learned about staying at horse hotels and horse camps. In the final installment, learn how to vacation with your horse at remote locations—that is, “horse packing.”
If, on your next horse camping trip, you’d like to get off the beaten path for a multi-day trip with your horse, packing is the way to go. When you go horse packing, can either take a pack horse, who’s only job is to carry your gear, along or you can strip your gear to the essentials and carry your ultralight belongings on your riding horse.
Or, if you’re new to packing, you might want to hire an outfitter; he or she who will use a pack string to transport your gear to your base camp and then pack you out at the end of the trip. If this sounds enticing, search online for “pack trip” or “outfitter” for the location you’re interested in, and start researching the options.
If you’re considering a pack trip, be aware that you’ll be sleeping on the ground in a tent. Your meals won’t be gourmet—they might even be freeze-dried—but they’ll taste wonderful after a long day on the trail. The only people you’re likely to see are occasional hardy backpackers, and you’ll fall asleep under a canopy of more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.
It’s important to choose overnight campsites that offer grazing and water for your horses, which in some areas will limit your options. But whether you plan to set up a base camp out in the woods and do day rides from there or ride a circuit to a new location each evening, you’ll be far enough from civilization to take in sights that few people see.
You’ll need to highline your horse during the night and hobble him to allow him to graze at mealtimes. Find a good video showing how to highline your horse at trailmeister.com. Be sure to practice highlining at home so you’ll know how to do it and your horse can get accustomed to it. Likewise, practice hobbling your horse so he is accustomed to having his movement restricted while he grazes.
Other Horse Equipment
Be sure to bring along a rope for highlining, and a halter and lead rope so you can tie your horse to the highline. You’ll want hobbles for grazing and a collapsible bucket in case you can’t get your horse down to a creek to drink. If you have room in your packs, a fleece cooler provides your horse with both bug protection and warmth, if needed.
Stick to the essentials. Bring a sleeping bag, air mattress, or pad; a tent or bivy sack; a cookstove and fuel; and the food you plan to eat. As for clothing, keep it to a minimum and wear layers you can add or remove garments as the weather changes. Sunscreen and bug spray will make your trip more comfortable. Always bring a first-aid kit with the essentials for both humans and horses. You probably won’t have much need for extras—a mirror, comb, or razor, for example—so leave those items at home.
For riding, bring your helmet and your normal tack. If you plan to camp without a pack horse, use oversized saddlebags and ultralight backpacking-type gear. If plan to use pack animals, don’t forget their halters and lead ropes, pack saddles, and packs or panniers. Whether you have a pack horse or you carry all your gear on your saddle horse, it’s critical that you balance your load—ensure the packs on each side of the horse are essentially the same weight.
The Bottom Line
You’ll need far more planning and skill for a horse packing trip than for a stay at a designated horse camp, dude ranch, or bed-and-barn rental. But the rewards are worth it: solitude, untrammeled lands, and a canopy of stars. It’s an experience every equestrian trail rider should put on their bucket list.