You have decided to become a Llama Packer - Now what?

by Richard Galloway

Ok, so you have decided to make the jump and become a "llama packer" now what? For the sake of this article I will assume you have already done your homework and know what traits to look for in your llamas. You have already talked to the local Forest Service or other entity that has jurisdiction over the trial systems in your area. The first trail you have picked out is an easy in and out in one day hike, and all the plans are set in place. All you lack is the equipment to actually put these plans into action.

There are several ways to go about getting the things you need. The first thing you need to do is sit down with your hiking partner, be that wife, brother, or whoever. Be painfully honest with yourselves about the place you want to go versus the ones you actually can go or have the time to go to without pushing the time envelope too far.

If this is your first season actually camping in the wild, don't get too carried away and probably the best way to go is to find an experienced mentor, whether backpacker or llama packer, to show you the ropes. If you already have packing experience, then you are probably already set and don't need the rest of the info in this article.

One of the first things I can recommend is to find some information on Leave No Trace camping. (They can be reached at 1-800-332-4100 or online at for visual info.) It will make an impact on what you see and do in the woods, and an even bigger impact on what your children and grand children see when their turn as stewards of the forest comes along. The web site is a wealth of info so I won't spend too much time on the information here.

Okay, let's say that you have some experience from your high school days, but little equipment still on hand and you will be starting from scratch. The things I list here are by no means the only way to go, just one of many.

You will need packs for your llamas, and the choice is not very tough. There are several manufacturers out there, find one that you like and go from there. Everyone has their own favorite brand, mine is The Flaming Star pack system(s). Some others available are Mt. Sopris, Ollie Llama, Bonny Doon and the Decker saddle. There are more out there, check in your new llama supply catalogs to view them or talk to various other llama packers

These systems all come with their own panniers or optional cooler attachments. The latter are really nice for taking in frozen items or just keeping your favorite beverage cool. Be sure you don't go too big with a cooler; it is easy to overload your llama that way. Don't buy anything that says, training packs, they won't hold up to, or be big enough for, real packing. Along with the panniers, I suggest if you live anywhere that has even a chance of getting rain during packing season, you purchase a rain fly for every pannier/ saddle set and keep it with the packs.

The next thing to get is a good spring scale to weigh the panniers after they are loaded. You will need to balance the load to within a pound or so to prevent the packs from working to one side of the llama. This takes some time to start with, but will soon become second nature. Many a rock has come out of the wilderness in the act of balancing an unequal load! You will also want to watch when you top load the packs that you don't go too high, this makes the pack system sway and can lead to sore spots that would not other wise be a problem.

Another thing to keep in mind is compression. Anything you can pack tighter is a good deal; it rides better and takes up less space. Sleeping bags should be back-packer style, these come with their own stuff sack. Weight a consideration in the purchase. Mummy bags are probably the best design but many people just cannot sleep in them. If you go with the standard rectangular style be prepared to take an extra animal just because the bags can be so bulky. The new semi-self inflating sleeping pads are marvels and with the optional chair system make sitting on the ground a comfortable option.

Tents are a place to not scrimp; trying to save a few dollars now will cost you down the road. Buy the very best you can afford, backpacker style dome tents are designed for packing, will hold up and set up easier then the old cabin tents and the light weight is needed. Yes, you can take heavier tents on your llamas, but the more you take the more animals you need to take or the slower you have to go to keep the llamas happy.

This may not be on the packing equipment list but you will also need some sort of stake out device to tether your llamas to while you are at camp. Many use either twist in or drive in dog stakeouts. On here you will need a short piece of bungee to attach the tether rope/lead to for safety. I personally use a twenty five-foot tether for the day when I'm around. At night some packers put them back on their shorter lead ropes for safety. There are stories of llamas that have gotten hurt by hitting the end of the tether at a full run when trying to escape some perceived or real danger in the night. Another option is a long line between two stakes or trees (always use a hose or other padding around the rope and the tree to prevent damage.) To this you can attach each llama at intervals suited to the length of their leads. It cuts down on the number of long tethers and stakes you have to pack. Here redundancy is a good thing, always have an extra halter, long tether and stake in case one is lost or broken.

This will get you started on the basics of what you need for your llamas. Oh, one last item: A first aid kit for both your human companions and your llamas. I know that the Western Idaho Llama Association had llama first aid kits available and many of the llama suppliers do as well.

Richard W. Galloway

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