Trailhead Supply Blog

Panniers…Suitcases of the Backcountry

Panniers, everyone uses them, fill them up, hang them on, and hit the trail. Simple, easy and quick.  You can have them preloaded, weighed and ready to hit the trail…well maybe.
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The Big Adventure: Part 1

Well it's happening!!! The family is packing into the “BOB” for 10 days.  We have talked about going for years, but with running Trailhead Supply and other obligations, that always seem to pop up, it has just never happened.  Don’t take me wrong, we are in there every weekend, packing in trail crews, stocking lakes with fish…but a ten-day family adventure, not!!!
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Pet Peeve #1

I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to trail riding, packing, and just caring for your stock. I know you’re shocked!!!  I know it’s hard to believe that I let anything get under my skin as laid back and easy going as I am, but it’s true.  I’m going to share the one right at the top of my list. It’s a junkie old lead rope… No really, it doesn’t matter if it’s too short, old and stiff, rusty snap broke, and tied back together…Did I mention too short!!! I hate a short lead rope.   I don’t get it…the cheapest piece of tack you can buy and yet we pull them out of trash cans at the trailhead, pick them up for a dollar at a yard sale, or just keep them way, way, way too long.  This lead rope issue reared its ugly head just the other day. As many of you know my good friend and long-time packing partner Bud passed away earlier this year. We inherited his saddle horse, Smokey. When we went to pick him up, Bud’s son met me at the ranch and after chatting about his dad for a bit. He said “Let me get his halter and lead rope, Dad would want you to have it too.”   He brought out an old stiff halter that really didn’t fit and this short piece of crap lead rope.  I almost got choked up and it almost made me cry because I gave Bud so much crap over the miles about his lead rope selection. He was all proud of every whiz bang deal he found and would always let me know that bargain price. It was only a buck at this yard sale or I got 2 for a dollar at the thrift store.  Who cares they’re junk!!!

   A good lead rope needs to be 12’ long, this allows you to have plenty of rope to tie your stock together in your string. 12’ allows you plenty of length to tie your animal up on the trail while you adjust a load, have lunch, snap a picture, or take that much needed biological break. 12’ is perfect for securing those horses and mules to a proper height highline on uneven ground. We all have our favorite snap, and that’s a topic for another day. So, until then you can debate that by the fire with your packing partner while having an adult beverage!  Just remember most lead ropes are advertised as 10’ then the process in the bulk assembly line is to fold the ends over to attach the snap making that lead rope only 9’ something which isn’t enough to tie that string together…

See you on the trail.


PS- I have been swapping out all my bargain basement garage sale deal of a lifetime lead ropes as I have been spring cleaning over the last few weeks. I suggest you start that process too before you are half way down the trail cussing that you should have done it last year. We have the supplies if you want to build your own (Rope, Hardware)or we sell 12’ leads that we make in store on our website. You can check them out here.
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Saddle Panniers

Saddle panniers, just about everyone learned to pack with them, even the grumpy old guy in the back of the room that says “I manty everything.” Saddle panniers is just about the most affordable way to get into packing. This is a low dollar (or was) first step to get you out on the trail, build some confidence, and see if packing is right for you. Saddle panniers were originally designed to go over a riding saddle and carry a light load for a day’s get away, short overnight, or carry some fishing gear and lunch in hopes of catching the big one.

My first set of saddle panniers had a round cutout on the front end, to drop over the horn and an elongated cutout for the cantle. Over time the round hole design was changed to a second elongated cutout making the saddle panniers more versatile; now being able to be used on not only the riding saddle but also pack saddle (both Decker and/or Sawbuck). Back in the day the craftsman sewing the panniers would make the bags whatever size he or she felt was best. This construction style gave way to a standard size bag when the plastic insert made its debut (we will come back to the inserts).

With the fading of true craftsmanship giving way to more of a mass production of packing equipment, more and more of it was now being produced overseas and sold with pretty packaging in the big box type farm stores. Metal buckles were replaced by plastic side release buckles. Two-inch straps have become one-inch webbing with two small dee rings that you wind the strap through to tighten. Thinner nylon fabric is being used, that would tear out in just a trip or two. Those plastic/poly inserts were being promoted to protect your belongings, but really, they were adding strength to the light nylon fabric. If you did the math, the saddle panniers and a set of inserts were more money than a set of hard pack boxes.  Me, personally I don’t like the inserts I’d rather suck those bags in and raise them up keeping the weight where it belongs for a more balanced load and an easier ride for your animal.

Do I still use saddle panniers? You bet!!! So, how do I get around all of the issues of a mass-produced item? We decided to make our own and bring true craftsmanship back. Saddle panniers absolutely have a place in the packing world. For people like me, I use them for that last-minute stuff, just throw the pannier on the empty pack animal, toss in those items, and hit the trail.  On every Sunday afternoon ride, I take one pack animal with saddle panniers for the food, beverages, and fishing poles. There isn’t a hunting trip I ride in on, that I don’t have a set rolled up and tied to the back of my saddle in hopes of walking that horse out carrying quarters out. If you are like me, or if you are just starting out and need something basic, but quality, to start with, check out our new saddle panniers. We just posted them to our online store this week and we are really proud of the quality we are offering for a fair price.

If you have any questions about saddle panniers or any other packing quandaries feel free to reach out to us, that’s what we are here for.

See you on the trail,


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Spring is in the air …

Well we are on the downhill slide to spring. How do I know that, besides a date on a calendar?  There are several surefire ways to tell here at Trailhead Supply.  First, we start receiving boxes of broken straps and saddle parts coming in for repairs. These come in from the customers getting things ready to hit the trails; as the snow melts in various parts of the country.  For those that live more locally they are stopping by, having a cup of coffee, while dropping off complete pack saddles that ended last season, with one last wild ride down some mountain side and are now in need of some much-needed love!!! 

It is also the time of year we start receiving phone calls asking questions about trails and routes around and through the Bob Marshall Wilderness then following up quickly is “Which map should I buy?” As they start planning their big summer adventure.  Then there is always someone asking who is selling a good horse or mule now that winter is over and they don’t have to feed it much longer till it can be turned out.  There is always that internal excitement here at Trailhead Supply of new products we have been working on over those snowy winter days that we are thrilled to unveil and put to use on the trail ourselves… If all else fails I just pour a cup of coffee and look out the front window at Plant Land, our neighbor, here in Kalispell. They have a large yellow sign and everyday they change the numbers to reflect how many more days till spring… I did have some summer planning for myself this week…I put my first pack trip of 2020 on the calendar. Now just to work through some details….

Till next time, See you on the trail.


PS- If you need a little help dusting off your confidence, or you are gearing up for you first ever pack season we are here to help! There are still spots left in our packing clinics that start February 17th. Click here for details. If that doesn’t work you can always call or stop by. We are happy to walk you through the answers to what you are wondering about.



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