How Much Weight Can A 15 Hand Quarter Horse Carry Which Panniers Should I Use on My Pack Saddle?

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Which Panniers Should I Use on My Pack Saddle?

So you are ready to start packing. You have your pack horse or pack mule. You have chosen a Decker Pack saddle or a Sawbuck Pack saddle. You have chosen your packing pillow. Now it’s time to choose the bags. But which ones? Below I have outlined some options and have also told you what I like to use when I go on a horse pack trip.

Types of parcel bags

There are several styles of saddlebags (or saddle packs as I’ve sometimes heard them called) that can be quickly grouped as either hard bags or soft bags. Hard cases, as the name suggests, are a box-type holder made of a solid material such as wood, aluminum, or molded plastic. Soft bags are more of a style of bag made from materials such as canvas, leather, vinyl, etc.

Hard Bags

Each material used in hard bags has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Wood is solid and strong, but heavy. Wooden packing boxes are usually mantied. Wood is also porous and can absorb water and can splinter more easily in a wreck than other types of hard bags.
  • Aluminum bags are lighter, but are also noisy and dent easily when knocked against trees and rocks. Once dented, it can be difficult to reshape them back to their original shape, which can prevent your lid from fitting properly again.
  • Molded plastic is light but tough and can be shaped to fit the animal’s body. They seem to survive wrecks as well, if not better, than the other types of materials. These bags are strong enough to be used as a step stool or seat in camp, and some models are designed to convert to a table or flat work surface. I personally prefer hard bags made of molded plastic.

Molded hard plastic bags

There are three types of molded hard plastic bags: horse-shaped, box-shaped and bear-resistant.

  • Horse-shaped packing boxes, like the Ralide-West HorsePacs, is curved in the back to follow the shape of your pack animal’s ribs. These bags hang more straight on the animal and therefore give you a slightly narrower load and a flatter shelf for your top pack. However, the curved shape of these boxes affects the amount and shape of the available packing space inside the bag. You have to work around the basket, and large, square items may not fit so well in these packing boxes.
  • Box-shaped bags, on the other hand, like the Ralide-West ProPacs, are rectangular in shape, which can simplify packing your gear on a horse pack trip. These bags are big enough for a smaller wader boat like the Riley Side Kick. However, the rectangular shape does not lay flat against the animal, so your pack load is a little wider down the trail and the pack boxes run more obliquely. This means the tops of the boxes won’t be as flat, but your top pack will still run fine.
  • Bear-resistant bags (sometimes known as Bear “Proof” Bags, although this is misleading) are designed with lids that are inserted and screwed down to prevent bears from prying the lid off. These bags are often required by the Forest Service in areas with high bear populations to prevent bears from entering human food and habituation and becoming a nuisance or danger to humans. If you are traveling through or camping in these areas without bear-proof bags, hang your food up to prevent bears from getting into it (100 feet from the tent, about 15 high between two trees). These bags are often horse-shaped and therefore travel well.

Soft Bags

Soft bags are lighter and flexible and can therefore be useful for the odd loads you might carry on your pack horse journey. To protect fragile items from impact, you can add a bag insert, like the Ralide-West PolyPac Insert, to many types of soft bags. Pannier inserts also provide a stable platform for using a top pack.

Soft bags are available in several styles and materials:

  • The probably most classic soft bag is made of canvas and leather. These bags look great walking down the trail, but the leather on them requires more care and makes them non-machine washable. If the pack bag has leather ends, it can have more stability and provide more protection than one without, but again, a bag insert is the best way to get structure and protection for your contents.
  • Canvas Bags also offer you a traditional look at an economical price. They also have the added advantage of being machine washable. These soft saddle packs are also generally sized for use with PolyPro Pannier Inserts to give them stability and protect your contents.
  • Oversized bags. We had a lot of requests for a bag that could carry a large cooler, so we designed the TrailMax Oversized Canvas and Vinyl Bags. These soft bags are canvas on the outside and vinyl on the inside. These bags are perfect for coolers of up to approx. Because of the vinyl lining and soft shape, they also make great meat bags and are machine washable. These bags offer a lot of space, so be careful not to overload them. And realize that you will be wider than usual going down the trail.
  • Soft bags are also available Cordura-type nylon, like in our Pack-A-Saddle Saddle Bags. Cordura is light, durable, economical and easy to care for. Pack-A-Saddle is a complete packing system that includes bags, bag inserts and top packing. It is also convertible so you can use it on your pack saddle or convert it to use on your riding saddle. When you use it on your riding saddle, like all other saddle bags, you can also roll them up and tie them behind your saddle, so you can ride in and go out a load.
  • Iron Cloth Pack Bags, or Utah-Style Pack Bags as they are sometimes called, are great for packing out meat. They are made from ballistic material, a type of heavily woven fabric that is breathable and washable. Their unique shape (tall and wide, but not very deep) and design (no lid) make them suitable for this type of load, but not many other pack loads.

What bags do I use?

When I go on a package tour, I typically pack 2-3 mules. I will pack 1-2 mules with HorsePac bags or ProPac bags with my kitchen equipment and food. I then use top packs for my duffel type gear. The other pack mules are packed with a mantied load, because manties are flexible for large, odd objects and are very handy to have around camp. When I hunt, I use a set of oversized canvas and vinyl bags. They are perfect for unpacking elk quarters.

So to choose pack bags, I suggest that you evaluate the gear you want to pack in, your animals, the terrain you have to pack in and through, etc. Then, based on the pros and cons from above, choose the bags that best suit your needs and will make your next horse pack trip the most enjoyable.

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