Llamas' intelligence, natural agility and
calm disposition make them outstanding pack animals. For over 4000 years
Ilamas have been used to transport
goods across the rugged Andean mountains in South America. Today they
are found all across the United
States and Canada, carrying loads for North American backcountry
travelers. Here Ilamas serve as the pack animal of choice
situations that call for minimal environmental impact, ease of handling,
agility and surefootedness.
Former backpackers, outdoor
photographers, and public agency field crews use Ilamas to take the load
off their own backs.
High country fishermen enjoy casting
across alpine lakes in float tubes packed in by their Ilamas. Hunters
successfully employ Ilamas to pack
game out of rugged areas that would be inaccessible to horses or mules.
Families with small children have trained their
Ilamas to accept a lightweight rider,
enabling their youngsters to take longer backcountry journeys.
Commercial Ilama packers have led
scores of adventurous travelers on truly unique outdoor vacations with
the support of their woolly packing companions.
Llamas for Packing
Male Ilamas in good physical condition
are best suited to packing. Both intact and gelded male Ilamas make
excellent packers. Many owners choose
to have their pack Ilamas gelded (neutered) unless they will be using
them for breeding. Geldings generally
tend to get along better in a herd with fewer dominance disputes. To
avoid injury during normal pasture roughhousing
behavior all adult males should have their
fighting teeth trimmed. As social, herd-oriented animals, Ilamas prefer
living with other Ilamas or with
other herd animals such as sheep or goats.
While some female Ilamas have been
trained to pack, most often their value as breeding stock keeps them off
the trail and in the pasture raising
young Ilamas. Healthy, well-trained female Ilamas may be useful as
packers. Their packing duties should be
restricted during the three or four months
prior to birthing and for a similar period after.
Once a Ilama has learned to stand to be
caught and be easily haltered, and will follow readily on a loose lead,
he may begin pack training. During
these lessons he should learn to accept a saddle on his back and cinches
around his belly before being loaded
with lightweight, bulky packs. Additional training should include
learning to walk into a trailer and allowing his feet to be picked up
for examination and trimming. Most
Ilamas quickly learn packing tasks when they are taught in a calm,
consistent, and patient manner.
The distance a pack llama can travel is
affected by its condition and natural athletic ability as well as its
load and the terrain it will cover. A
seasoned pack llama that is moderately loaded and in excellent physical
condition should be able to cover 10-15 miles
on well graded trails. Steep trails or
especially heavy packs will shorten this distance. Young Ilamas and
those in the early stages of training
will be comfortable with much shorter distances. They will also benefit
from an easy hiking pace and regular rest stops along
When they are between two and three years
old, Ilamas may begin carrying lightweight loads. At this young age they
are still physically maturing and
should not be asked to pack more than 40 pounds including their pack
saddle. While youngsters should be
limited to lightweight loads, mature Ilamas three and a half to four
years old and in good physical condition may carry from one
quarter to one third of their optimum body
weight. Any Ilama that is overweight and out of condition will be
limited in his ability to carry a
loaded pack. At times this may cause them to lie down in the trail and
pause for a brief rest. Proper conditioning is essential
when owners wish to pack their Ilamas with
full loads and cover long distances. A healthy, well cared for Ilama
should be able to continue to pack
for at least ten years.
Llama Packing Equipment
A variety of pack systems have been
developed especially for Ilamas. These usually consist of a saddle and
two pack bags, often called panniers.
Most systems have a method of attaching lightweight, bulky items on top.
They may also feature a breast collar
and rump strap (a breeching or crupper) to fasten the load more securely
on the animal.
Llama pack saddles come in two basic
forms: frame pack saddles and frameless "soft" pack saddles. Llama
packers may choose from several
different types of frame packs made from lightweight aluminum,
fiberglass or wood. A frame saddle is used with
a saddle blanket to protect the Llama's
back. It may carry a pair of panniers or it may be used to carry loads
tied on with more traditional rope
hitches. Soft pack saddles are usually made from leather or another
stiff material, such a cordura nylon. They usually
have an internal method of padding the
Llama's back along either side of its spine for the animal's comfort and
protection. These saddles are used
with specially designed attaching panniers.
Any type of pack saddle should be
checked to assure that it fits properly on the Llama's back. With any
type of saddle there should be adequate spinal
clearance and care should be taken not to place heavy items directly
over the llama's spine. No part of the saddle
should dig into the animal's back or cause rubbing or soreness.
In addition to the rest of their
camping equipment, Ilama packers should take along a swivel picket stake
and 10-20 foot line for staking out their
Ilamas in camp, a hand scales for weighing and balancing loads, a curry
brush to remove debris before saddling, an
extra halter, and a ration of supplemental feed. In addition, it's
to take along a first aid kit that
includes medications and equipment for
treating minor Ilama injuries and ailments.
The amount of supplemental feed to
bring will vary depending on how much vegetation will be available
during the trip. On an average trip with good
grazing opportunities supplemental feed may be limited to a pound or two
of grain or hay
pellets for treat or
catch feed. On trips that include extended travel
above tree line or where edible vegetation will be limited, about one
pound per Ilama per day of a mixture of half
corn, rolled oats, and rolled barley (COB) and half processed hay
pellets is recommended. It's best if the feed
is weed free certified in order to prevent introduction of non-native
seeds into backcountry environments, and is required by
some national parks and forests.
Transporting Llamas to the Trailhead
Pickups with stock racks,
lightweight trailers and full-size vans will easily transport one or two
pack Ilamas and their gear to the trailhead.
Larger stock trailers may be used to transport three or more Ilamas.
An enclosed trailer or vehicle will
protect Ilamas from the elements, allowing them to ride comfortably and
safely. When hauling Ilamas in a covered
trailer or stock rack you do not need to tie them. If using a stock rack
or trailer.... it must have a roof, ..... so that they will not jump out
if they become excited.
When traveling long distances with
Ilamas its a good idea to stop along the way, allowing them a little
exercise and a chance to relieve themselves.
After a long haul, Ilamas should be given an overnight rest before
carrying a loaded pack up the trail.
The key to successful
Ilama packing is working with a healthy, well-conditioned and
well-trained animal. Llamas, like people,
benefit greatly by being in good shape before they're put to work
carrying full loads. A pre-packing conditioning program should
include regular walks with light packs, gradually
working up to longer distances and heavier loads. Vaccinating for
tetanus and other livestock concerns, worming
for internal parasites and keeping toes properly trimmed will also help
Ilamas maintain good health at home and on the
trail. It's a good idea to do vaccinating, worming, and toe trimming
well in advance of a pack trip to allow the Ilama
time for any needed recovery. Consult ILA's brochure
"Llama Medical Management" for more details on Ilamas' medical concerns.
Pack Ilamas should
have experience being saddled and carrying light loads before their
first trip into the backcountry. It's also
important for them to know how to safely negotiate a picket line and
simple obstacles like streams and fallen logs.
Some types of plants, such as those in
the azalea and delphinium families, are poisonous to Ilamas and other
Llama packers should
be aware of and able to identify the potentially poisonous plants in the
areas they visit. Their Ilamas should not be
picketed near or allowed to browse on these plants.
When planning a trip
on public lands, such as national parks or forests, llama packers should
check with the agency in change of
administering the area. These officials can provide information on
permits, trail conditions and any regulations that may
apply to pack stock use.
On the Trail
Packing with Ilamas is a very special
experience. Besides taking the load off your back they are unique trail
They often spot wildlife and other
backcountry travelers well before you do. They often give vocal comments
on trail conditions or their opinions
about when it's time to take a break. The way they negotiate obstacles
with aplomb is a never ending marvel.
More than one Ilama may be tied together
to form a Ilama pack string. Llamas follow one another quite naturally,
and quickly learn to "line out" as
they proceed up the trail. The most common method of hitching a string
of Ilamas together is to fasten the
leadrope of the trailing Ilama to the saddle of the Ilama in front of
him. Safety dictates that the attachment should be with a quick
release knot or that a "weak link" of
lighter cord or rubber should be used to allow the connection to break
away if trouble arises.
Leading a string of Ilamas requires that
you pay extra attention. You should look back frequently to check on
them and take care when negotiating
While they may drink from streams
along the trail, Ilamas may also completely abstain from drinking during
the hike to camp. In either case they should
be offered water in the evening after their ration of supplemental feed
and again in the morning before hiking.
When possible Ilamas should be picketed
within sight of camp, away from small trees and any potentially
Because Ilamas often choose the
dampest areas in which to make their dung piles they should not be
picketed too close to streams or lakes. As a
safety measure, many packers attach the picket line to the stake with a
piece of rubber or bungie cord. This
acts as a shock absorber in case the Ilama spooks and runs abruptly to
the end of its rope. On layover days, the Ilamas' picket
sites should be moved morning and night to minimize
Llamas' padded feet, unobtrusive
dung, and light browsing habits have a lower impact on the land than
horses, mules and donkeys. In keeping with
this principle, Ilama packers should make a special effort to practice
"no trace" camping and leave as little
evidence of their visit as possible. Llama groups should set up camp and
stake out Ilamas away from other backcountry users to
minimize social impacts. All garbage that is not
burned should be packed out. Stoves should be used for cooking instead
of wood fires. Human waste should be buried
deeply, well away from water sources. All washing should be done away
from streams and lakes. And before leaving
camp, Ilamas' dung piles should be dispersed.
Special considerations should be
made when Ilama packers meet horses and mules on the trail. These
animals may become nervous or excited at their
first sight of a llama piled high with a fully loaded pack. Safety
dictates that Ilamas, as more maneuverable
animals, give right of way to riders and their pack stock by stepping
off the trail several yards to allow them to pass
easily. Sometimes, this means going back down the
trail a ways to a wider area. And when possible, getting off below the
trail is preferable to above. It's helpful for
Ilama packers to give a bit of warning to riders they see approaching,
letting them know that they're traveling with
Ilamas and that they'll get off the trail at the first opportunity. A
friendly greeting goes a long way toward
promoting good will, reassuring the horses and mules, and seeing that
all parties have a safe and pleasant encounter.
Today, Ilamas are the newest pack
animal to enter the North American backcountry. Many people have never
seen a llama on the trail, and when llama
packers meet hikers and riders they are presented with an opportunity to
introduce others to the pleasures of traveling
with Ilamas. A bit of time spent answering questions about how much they
can pack and where they come from can increase
good will and acceptance of these special creatures.
A final word of caution: packing
with llamas can be habit forming; you may never want to carry a backpack
again! For, when handled with respect and
understanding, these unique animals will continually demonstrate their
natural abilities as hard working trail
For additional references on llama
packing, packing equipment, and other llama and alpaca products
and services contact ILA at
1-800-WHY-LAMA (1-800-949-5262) and request a free copy of The Llama
Catalog. "Packing with Llamas"
ILA Educational Brochure #10 Author: Stanlynn Daugherty
Stanlynn Daugherty has been
packing llamas since 1984. She drew on past experience working with
horses and as a travel agent to develop
her own commercial llama packing business in northeast Oregon. She has
served on the Board of Directors of the ILA, the
Eastern Oregon Outfitters and Guides
Association and the Nez Perce National Historical Trail Advisory
Council. She has chaired the ILA
Packing Committee and facilitated their efforts to work with public
lands agencies. Stanlynn is the author of Packing with Llamas,
the first comprehensive guide to llama
packing and has contributed many articles to Llamas magazine.
For more information or to
order additional copies contact:
Association, P.O.Box 1891, Kalispel, MT 59903
Updated March 1997
© 1990 International Llama
Association. This publication may be reprinted if done so in complete
form and credit is given.
Llamas with Style!