By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran
Horses and mules bring some major advantages and conveniences in the backcountry. You can hire outfitters to drop you at a spike camp or fully outfit and guide your trip. Preparing for a horse driven trip requires some advanced knowledge to customize your gear and properly utilize livestock. Outfitters typically use experienced and mature horses and mules to transport you and your equipment safely. Livestock will help you access remote areas without expending energy on the trail. You can also pack out your kill without having to hoist it on your back.
Weighing and Packing
Packing is somewhat tricky and requires advance communication with your outfitter. The outfitter must pack saddle bags evenly and plan weight distribution. Talk to the packer about maximum bag size and the maximum weight for each saddle bag. If they are supplying the camp gear, all the better. They will have everything dialled and you can simply focus on your own equipment. If you are supplying everything, ensuring each bag is at or slightly under size and weight is important. You don’t have to skimp on the luxuries as the horses/mules can handle the load, distribution is the key here. Pack and weigh everything, then report the total to your outfitter so they can plan for the trip.
Choose Your Footwear Wisely
Most hunting boots will work for riding. Fitting in the stirrup is the most important aspect of footwear choice. Oversized winter boots may not fit the stirrup. Ultralight hiking shoes will work but the lack of a heel makes it difficult to put pressure on the stirrup. Wear a comfortable hiking or hunting boot with a little heel for riding and carry any additional footwear in the saddle bags.
Prepare Your Muscles
While the livestock does the heavy lifting, your leg muscles will get a slight workout on the trail. Ideally, you will ride a few times before the trip to prepare. If advanced riding is not an option, focus on building your core. Also do some light lifting with your lower body. Squats and lunges help prepare for horseback. Stretching will also make a huge difference. Stay limber to recover quickly from the ride.
On the Trail
The trailhead is a pretty involved process. The outfitter will prep packs and saddle bags, then setup on the livestock. If camp is already setup, it will go quickly. If they are packing a large set of gear, it may take some time. When the pack string and riding animals are read, you will mount and adjust stirrups until you are comfortable. Grab the reigns and you are off and running.