management and resources
Packing with llamas
Fiber from llamas
Our llama family
Just for fun
- If you don't rescue ...
- DON'T BREED!
- If you don't rescue ...
- DON'T BREED!
Packing with Llamas
in the Pasayten Wilderness, WA
Packing was the reason we originally decided
to purchase llamas. Even though we liked the animals, like most
people, we felt we needed justification to have them. Jim had
been a backpacker for many years. Gwen's lone backpacking experience
was enough to make anyone swear off backcountry travel forever.
Llamas have kept Jim -- knee surgery, back problems, and all
-- in the backcountry. Ranger Dusty got Gwen back into the wilderness,
and his assistance has allowed her to continue hiking despite
serious knee problems of her own. In fact, Gwen now enjoys her
backcountry strolls so much that she's likely to be hiking from
sunup to sundown (and sometimes later) for as many days as she
can wheedle off work. Fortunately, Dusty is one of the rare llamas
that can rise to the occasion and match this demanding style
Llama packing isn't for everyone. If you are
a long-distance backpacker who now covers as much or more ground
as Gwen does, you'll sadly be hard-pressed to find llamas with
the stamina to keep up -- the selection emphasis has been on
fashion, not function, for the past decade. Most that can are
not for sale, although a few people such as ourselves are striving
to breed llamas that can do the job and make them available.
No matter what your traveling style, you'll find that having
someone else to feed, groom, load and unload at least twice a
day takes time from your travels and other plans. In addition,
using any pack animal means markedly different choices for camping
sites, need for additional water and grazing stops, and additional
items and food to take along.
On the other hand, llamas open the door to
the backcountry for others. People with physical limitations
or small children can now continue packing with the addition
of calm, lightweight, low-impact llamas to carry the load. Although
solo backcountry travel is discouraged, many people must travel
alone or stay at home. A llama to carry the load (plus additional
gear that might have been left at home to save weight) can add
a margin of safety for a lone hiker and, with knowledgable and
intelligent handling, will not significantly increase danger.
And many hikers, solo or otherwise, simply find llamas to be
welcome companions on the trail and in camp.
Llamas are also welcome on trail maintenance
crews. Most are volunteer affairs. We gladly donate our time
to the local ranger district several days a year as a way of
giving back our share of work for the trails we use elsewhere
-- and another fun thing we can do with our llamas! Llamas can
haul in gravel, lumber, poles -- you name it. All it takes is
a calm, well-trained packer and an ingenious handler.
It takes an excellent pack llama to
satisfactorily meet the average human's backcountry demands.
Therefore, successfully packing with llamas, selecting good pack
llamas, and selecting and using pack equipment all require some
education on the part of the hiker. Educating an untrained pack
prospect requires even more knowledge, and also carries a substantial
risk that the llama physically won't work out as a packer. We
recommend that prospective and beginning llama packers visit
the Backcountry Llama's website,
subscribe to The Backcountry Llama Newsletter, and get a copy
of Gwen's booklet, "Evaluating a Llama Pack for Comfort
and Function," available from Lost
Creek Llamaprints. Also, do talk to successful recreational
llama packers, and observe them in action to see if their
results are what you want. You have the right to set your own
standards (up to what llamas are willing and capable of delivering).
An essential means of ensuring that a particular llama can pack
by at least minimal standards is by taking them on a hike yourself
(expect the owner to accompany you). Location and schedules permitting
you could also ask the owner to enter the llama in a PLTA
pack trial (at the level of your choice) with you as the
handler. Although PLTA criteria are minimal when compared to
the full spectrum of demands humans make on pack llamas, they
are solid, basic criteria. A llama is highly unlikely to attain
"PLTA Master Pack Llama" certification without being
handleable, reasonably capable and willing on the trail.
One word of caution -- commercial llama packers
and "trekkers" (picnic lunch and overnight trip guides
catering to out-of-shape city dwellers) are always eager to advise,
but their methods and packing style aren't entirely applicable
-- and sometimes seem foreign -- to recreational packers' desires.
Commercial packers don't need to be concerned if a llama is unsociable
with humans, won't lead, or won't travel without another llama.
Their trips are short (3-8 miles, which many humasn discover
is no longer very far if they aren't carrying the pack!), on
cleared trail, include as many rest days as hiking days, and
are understandably scheduled for predictably moderate weather.
The recreational packer usually desires the flexibility to travel
farther and over more difficult terrain if he or she chooses,
and doesn't have the luxury of planning every trip for ideal
weather, or of having another llama to pull the reluctant one(s)
along. Many (though not all) commercial packers use and recommend
techniques that save time, but can inhibit or destroy those traits
so desirable in a personal pack llama.
More information and articles:
Conformation, Utility and Llamas
Packing with female
Research on temperature regulation and heat stress
We're always happy to answer questions
about packing with llamas, and if we don't know the answers,
we can usually steer you to someone who does. Just email!
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