The Preparation Checklist for Pack Trips

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Happy Trails by Les Sellnow. This book is available from

Once you have your destination in mind and have set about procuring all the necessary information, think about your equipment, such as packsaddles, tents, sleeping bags, cooking and eating utensils, and, it seems, a million other things.

Make another list that includes these steps:

1. Obtain maps.
2. Discuss trails with a district ranger and find out the best time of year for your ride.
3. Check out equine health regulations in states on your route and at your destination.
4. Take inventory of riding and packing equipment.
5. After inventory, carefully check each piece of equipment and replace anything that is worn or weak.
6. Give attention to camping gear, especially the tent. Is it in good repair? You don't want to discover a tear in the roof during a mountain rainstorm.
7. Check on capacity of saddlebags. Are they large enough to carry your changes of clothing?
8. Check on cooking utensils and cooking grates or stove. Are they of a size that will fit into the panniers? You don't want to be packing the night before a trip and find out the pans or grates are too large.
9. Plan a conditioning program for your horse that will begin in early spring and then stick to it.
10. Discuss the food menu with other members of the group. Is anyone allergic to any particular food? Are there certain foods that some members simply can't or won't eat?
11. If fishing is on the agenda, check with the district ranger concerning regulations. Can you buy a five-day out-of-state license, for example?
12. Check out fishing equipment. It is difficult to transport long fly rods or even casting rods into the mountains. Look into the possibility of collapsible rods that are only about eighteen inches long when pushed together.
13. Take a good look at warm-weather clothing. Most important here is a warm raincoat. Beware of the heavy plastic variety. They trap too much body moisture.
14. Carefully check saddlepads. Is the inner surface becoming crusted with dirt and hair. A thorough cleaning may be needed, or else the purchase of a new pad may be in order.
15. Thoroughly check the towing vehicle and trailer. Pack the trailer's wheel bearings with grease and check out flooring, wiring, tires, and hitch.

As you think and plan the trip, the above list likely will expand. The key is to jot down anything that comes into mind that should be done and then to check it off when completed.

As part of your horse's conditioning program, you will want the animal shod. It is a good idea to reset shoes one week before you leave. This allows some recovery time if a shoe has been poorly fitted.

By now, you should have a saddle and pad that fit your horse and a bridle and bit that he wears comfortably. As mentioned earlier, during the winter is a good time to check billets, cinches, and stirrup leathers for wear. One man that accompanied us on some of our early excursions only rode a couple times a year and paid little attention to his equipment. For him a ride in the mountains was an opportunity to fish for trout.

We were climbing out of a deep valley one day when the billet holding his cinch broke. The horse was rounding a slight turn in the trail at the time and the saddle slipped around the horse's barrel, with the rider hitting the ground with a crash beneath the animal's belly. Fortunately, the horse stood quietly while the dazed fellow crawled clear.
A check of the broken billet revealed that it was dry and cracked with age and neglect. The rider escaped injury, and we were able to do some repair work that allowed him to saddle up and ride again, but it could have been a serious accident.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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