Nov 172017

By Patty Wilber

There is a real danger of over kill (uh, well, maybe that is a bad choice of words for this topic) when it comes to safety recommendations for riding in the backcountry. It is impossible to be prepared for every possibility, so the trick is to be reasonably well outfitted without having to take the kitchen sink and the inflatable helicopter.

At the end of a 20 mile ride!

Here are some ideas.


  • Long sleeve base layer.
    • What a geek I am.  I get sunburned easily, so I almost always wear long sleeves.  Also, flies and other pesky insects are less pesky if they can’t land on your skin.
    • In the summer, a collared button up type shirt is cool enough.
    • In the winter, I have become a fan of Under Armor.
  • More upper body layers. 
    • It depends on the season as to how many layers.
      • Non-cotton middle layer. Fleece is warm, light and holds warmth.  Wool works well, too.  I use two layers of fleece if it is colder.
      • Wind shell.  It is amazing how much warmer a wind shell can keep you.
      • Rain coat. I have a jacket and a big duster type coat that I don’t always bring on day rides but do always bring on overnighters.
      • Vest.
        • For cold weather, I have a nice Carhartt vest that I ride in at home, but often use a polar guard vest on trail rides because it is lighter in weight and stows better.
        • For warm weather, a cotton vest with lots of pockets is what I like to to wear.
      • A coat.  Carhartt again.  They are warm and they last. For the 23F day (blog a few weeks back), I wore Under Armor, two fleece layers, the wind shell, and a Carhartt jacket (and gloves, a scarf and a balaclava–more on that coming up)
  • Long pants that are comfortable for riding.  Some pants are NOT so nice after an hour of the seam digging into your parts.
    • If it is cold: long johns under the pants and a pair of lined wind-proof warm-up pants on top.  That would work to under 20F and is not too bulky.
    • Rain pants. (keep your legs dry in case of rain, or snow, or clean in the case of skinning an elk.)
  • Riding boots that are ok for walking and are also water resistant (I used SnoSeal).  We may not want to walk, but we might need to do so in an emergency, so it would be nice to have foot wear that allows this. When it is raining, wet feet are the worst.
  • Wool or wool blend socks. Thicker if colder.
  • Gloves.
    • I have a glove fetish.  I think everyone should have at least three pair of gloves.  This may be excessive.  I admit it.
      • Regular riding gloves.  Prevent future cases of skin cancer, or rope burn if ponying another animal.
      • Warm gloves in case of change of temperature.  I like fleece type winter gloves.  They do not last perfectly well under heavy daily use, but they are light, warm, and it is easy to hold the reins. I also like gloves designed for bicyclists.
      • Waterproof gloves in case of rain which, in the high country, is always cold, so far as I can tell.  Most so-called waterproof riding gloves don’t seem to actually be waterproof, just as a heads up. So, I tried some neoprene fisherman gloves.  They are waterproof but they are hard to get on once my hands are wet and they are not warm… sigh.
      • A backup, backup pair.  Ok that is four pairs of gloves.
      • Oh, and I guess three pair will most likely be in the saddle bags.
    • Hat or helmet
      • For warm days, a hat with a brim can reduce sun exposure.
        • To maximize geekiness, I wear a baseball cap under my helmet.  I just could not get used to the big over-the-helmet brims, like Da Brim.
      • For cold days, a warm head covering really helps a person feel warm.  I really like a fleece balaclava.  It keeps my head, neck, and if necessary, nose, warm.
      • (Yeah, I usually have both baseball hat and balaclava, but one might be in my saddle bags.)
    • Scarf.  Silk is an amazing substance.  Light, comfortable, windproof and very warm.

Balaclava and scarf at 11,000 feet.

Items on your person.

Some items should be carried on your person for safety in case one becomes separated from one’s mount.  I am sure everyone can think of multiple ways this can occur.

  • SHARP knife or multi-tool (Swiss army knife or leatherman)
  • Car keys.  If your keys are on the equine and equine departs and you make back to the trail head without the keys…
  • Pea-less whistle (works when wet).  I just realized that mine is in my emergency kit…that would be on my horse. One of my day packs has a whistle built in.
  • GPS or map (could be in saddle bags, too).
  • Cell phone (which won’t work in the high country, but might have a GPS tracker, could have a trail program, and is good for taking pictures).
  • Bandana (optional).  Nose blowing without littering comes to mind.
  • Chapstick
  • Vest (see above) , fanny pack, or small backpack (CamelBak for instance, which can also carry water) to contain some of this stuff.

Saddle bags, cantle bag, pommel bags:

  • Personal ID and emergency/ health info.
  • Rain gear.  I already mentioned some of the rain gear so this is over lap…
    • I hate to be cold, (I say again), and when I get wet, I often get cold, so I do double up  on rain gear.
      • Rain jacket and pants
      • Duster type rain coat that covers my saddle when I ride. (I bought a Muddy Creek coat and have never regretted the money.)
      • Cheap plastic poncho that can cover my saddle. There are saddle covers.
      • Helmet cover, although the Muddy Creek jacket has a hood that is made to cover a helmet, as well.
      • We are fairly dry in NM, but I have used all of my rain gear at once and been grateful for it.
      • Waterproof-ish gloves.
  • Emergency kit in a waterproof bag:
    • Ear warmer, bandana, wool gloves (that’s the back up back up pair).
    • Strike anywhere matches in a waterproof container.
    • Space blanket.
    • One packet of powder gatorade.
    • Flashlight with the batteries OUT, so as not to corrode.
  • Pieces Parts kit:
    • baling twine for tagging horses in a pack string.
    • 2 leather shoe lace to fix broken reins.
    • 20 feet of nylon cord.
    • partial roll of duct tape because with duct tape and baling twine you can fix almost anything, right?
  • Trail first aid kit for people (I bought one from REI).
  • Feminine protection (for women), because high altitude can mess with you.
  • Horse first aid supplies (you can buy a kit, but this is what I have, and it is not much):
    • Hoof pick or screw driver.
    • Bute or banamine (replace when it gets out of date).
    • More feminine pads which make great wound pads.
    • Vet wrap. Two rolls. Check it yearly because it sort of melts into a blob after a lot of time in the saddle bags and becomes useless.
    • Antibiotic cream.
    • Blood stop.
  • Map, pencil (not pen; you can write on wet paper with pencil but not with most pens) and paper, compass, GPS with extra batteries, trail program on your phone (but that can eat battery very fast).
    • I advocate for a paper map in case of battery or technology fail.
  • Toilet paper, wet wipes, in a plastic bag and with another plastic bag in which to pack out the used stuff.
  • Water.  At least two quarts. I have been using a Camel Bak.
  • I like a small thermos of hot tea on cold rides.
  • Sunscreen (and wear some, too).
  • Insect repellant (horse and human).
    • I have this in the trailer but rarely carry any because we just don’t have many bug problems.
  • Light stick.
  • Food.
    • Don’t skip meals.
    • Have high energy snacks like Clif Bars, trail mix, nuts.
    • Hard candy can be nice.
  • Camera (optional).  I use my phone.

It really will all fit, and LT is a small horse.

On Your Equine:

  • Saddle pad, not wrinkled, sufficient padding.
  • Saddle that fits you and the animal (e.g. not pressing on withers) with back cinch (recommended) and saddle  strings (to tie on those saddle bags).
  • Breast collar.
  • Crupper or britchin (optional: some animals really need this).
  • Halter and 12 ft lead rope (can reach around trees for tying).
    • Leave the halter on under the bridle and tie the lead rope to the saddle or around the horse’s neck
  • Horse shoes or boots (some don’t need; most do).
  • Bridle/ Hackamore.
  • Saddle bags, cantle bag, pommel bags to carry the gear listed above.
  • Hobbles (optional).  Can be tied to the saddle, or the horse can wear them around the neck as well.


That is a long list, but having the stuff you need when you need it can literally be a life saver.

Happy Trails!