For many, the notion of taking a pack trip into the wilderness is something they will only read about, for others, it is a trip they will only dream about. After all, while there is no doubt an epic mystique that surrounds the idea of venturing into the backcountry on horseback, the very nature of the experience requires a departure from one’s usual comfort zone, and as such, it is not for the faint of heart. If you are one of the few undeterred, the kind of individual who can think of nothing more inspiring than meeting this challenge head-on, and you won’t be satisfied until you can say you’ve done it yourself, then give thought to some of these points when choosing a backcountry outfitter:
Focus on the Person, not the Place:
For every legendary destination, like the “Lamar” or the “Bob”, there are the lesser-known places like the “Gila” and the “Bechler”. While it matters where you want to go, it’s way more important who takes you there. Your outfitter will take responsibility for your every need, not only for showing you a great time, but also for getting you out of the wilderness the same shape as you went in, and hopefully without incident. Remember, this is not a personality contest, choose your outfitter based on their skills and reputation.
Summer or Fall?
This isn’t necessarily a weather decision, because the one thing you can count on is unpredictability. That being said, you probably won’t see much snow in July and August, and you probably will in September and October. Picking the season can be as simple as deciding on whether the ultimate purpose of the trip is for hunting, fishing, or both. Talk with your outfitter and take their recommendation.
What’s on the Menu?
Hands down a highlight of any pack trip will be the meals. There is something about being miles away from nowhere that makes even the most basic recipes taste like nothing you’ve had before. Your outfitter may look like Jeremiah Johnson, but get them around a campfire and a Dutch oven, and you’ll notice they might take on an air of Wolfgang Puck. Also, when your outfitter asks you to pack light, listen. For every non-essential item you leave at home, it creates a spot in the pannier for some more of life’s luxuries, like whiskey and wine.
One definition of an oxymoron could be booking a backcountry trip last minute – it just doesn’t make sense. The best outfitters are booked a year or two in advance for good reason. Take your time, do your homework, and if your preferred outfitter doesn’t have an opening in 2021, shoot for 2022.
Photo Courtesy of Justin Casey
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