Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Preparation and kit


I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. Other entries on this subject can be found here.

Our journey along the Colorado required a lot of preparation, not least in ensuring we had all the kit we needed to travel through the backcountry safely. I’ve ridden since I was a little girl, and spent all my weekends competing as a teenager. But travelling long distance, and using packhorses, was a whole new arena for me and required a lot of advance study. For a brief how-to on the subject, see this post.

An Australian friend of mine, Tim Cope – who rode 6000 miles across the Eurasian steppes for his bestselling book On The Trail of Genghis Khan – was kind enough to spend a few days with me, running through the equipment and knots he found necessary during his three years on the road. He also introduced me to some of his friends in the area – the Baird family, of Bogong Horseback Adventures, and the mountain man and stunt rider Ken Connley – who taught me to tie box- and diamond hitches for the pack saddle.

CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild and Megan Lewis, who recently completed a round-the-world ride, were also extremely helpful, answering questions by email and over the phone. We gratefully received a financial award from the John Muir Trust’s Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant towards the costs of the trip.

Getting the right kit together was important: weight was a huge consideration. Over such rugged terrain it was important to keep as much weight off the horses’ backs as possible –  and carrying ‘dead weight’ in the form of bags/boxes is much more difficult to manage compared to the ‘live weight’ of humans, which will balance itself (and can easily jump off in a crisis!).

After the fold, find a full kit list of what we packed – plus a few notes about what worked and what we had trouble with. Price too was a big factor – I made a lot of judgement calls about what was safe to scrimp on, and what would be worth investing in.


Human Kit Notes
Riding boots
Riding helmets
Down jackets RAB Alpine – we love them
Waterproof jackets and trousers
2x changes of clothes
Sleeping bags – Travelpak 2 – comfort rating 2ºC These were cheap, and packed down small, but during the cold nights we regretted not spending a bit more on better sleeping bags. We slept under the saddleblankets too, but still often woke shivering throughout the night.
Sleeping mats – Thermarest Neoair Venture VW Cheap, lightweight, pack down small – highly recommended. Each did develop a small puncture during the trip, but were fixed reasonably easily.
Emergency foil blanket
First aid kit (human and horses) Quite basic – no prescription medicines
Stove, lighter, windbreak We use a Trangia Triangle, which is tiny and brilliantly simple.
Pocket chainsaw We never actually used this, choosing instead to find ways around fallen trees
Small tent We used an ultralight 2-man tent from Decathlon, which was excellent value at around £100, and stood up well in the wind and thunderstorms
Larger tent (outer layer only) Used as a tackroom/dry store for equipment overnight.
Opsak odour-proof bags To keep food in in bear country
Aquamira water treatment kit Brilliantly simple and lightweight
Pots, cutlery, plates MSR’s Quick 2 system – one pot for frying, the other for water only
Drybags x4 For clothes
Two-litre platypus x2 One each
Six-litre platypus tank x1 Useful for water treatment, super lightweight
10-litre water carriers x2 Planned for use in camp. Binned part way through – not worth the bulk, one burst.
Riding gloves (x2) Necessary if handling lead ropes while riding
Mini Hultafors axe Also useful as a hammer
Trowel and toilet paper
Leatherman multitool/knife
Toothbrushes and paste
All-purpose biodegradable soap
Antibacterial no-water handwash Doesn’t make you clean but it makes you feel better
Small ‘dry shower’ mousse Unexpectedly brilliant. Used on body and feet
Small magnetic torch/lantern
US adaptor plug
2 iphone flexes
2 mini USB flexes
Folding keyboard For use with iPhone – then functions essentially as a tiny laptop
Duct tape
Playing cards/harmonica We were usually too knackered to play
Fly repellant
Body Glide anti-friction stick Never used
2x journals
Portable Charger RAVPower 26800mAh Power Bank 3-Port Brilliant
Thin socks, quick-dry underwear
GPS Spot device
Go Pro camera and fixings
iPhone For photos and Guthook app
Gorillapod mini tripod
Clear plastic bags & pen to write on them
Spare lighter
Sun cream
Driving license and passport
Wide brimmed hats
Camp shoes
Colorado trail book
Large duffel back Used as top pack
Denatured alcohol (fuel)
Ursak Bear proof bag
Horse Kit Notes
Collapsible 20l water buckets  x3 Cheap ActiveSol ones from Amazon were perfect and tough
Riding saddles x2 Used Western saddles came with the horses from Sombrero Ranches
Bridles x3 One spare, just in case
Headcollars and lead ropes (one extra long, for leading pack horse)
Cinches for riding saddles x3 One spare, just in case
5x saddle blankets, 1x pack saddle pad Double blanketed all horses
Packsaddle, latigos and cinch From Custom Pack Rigging in Canada
Hard packs (large) From Custom Pack Rigging in Canada
Lash cinch For securing packs and top pack bag
Collapsible electric corral Brilliant product, from Powerfields. Fit perfectly inside our packs. Meant horses could relax and graze overnight. Highly recommended
Nosebags x3 No fights when feeding
2x cantle bags For bulky, but lightweight objects so as not to weigh upon their kidneys
2x pommel bags
Jumbo sponge
Luggage scales
Lunge line Planned to use in tricky situations (horses refusing to cross bridges, etc). Unnecessary, binned part way through
Grooming block and folding hoofpick Block is lightweight, but crumbled over time – next time would stick to a body brush
Leather repair kit
Riding whip Lost within an hour, didn’t really need
Rasp and nippers (farriery kit)
Hoof boot Caused some drama – see week 6. In the end, we used an Easyboot Epic after a lost shoe, but I wished I had some ‘Superfast’ squeeze on shoe replacement glue
Gall salve  The cowboys all swear by this green stuff from Bickmore.
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