Many skills are required to properly haul loads with equines. Knowledge of proper lashings and hitches seems to be a lost art. I've seen some crazy stuff when it comes to inexperienced people tying down loads. Whether it’s a box hitch, diamond hitch or squaw hitch, folks who regularly pack with broom tails will always have their favorite method. An old packer once commented about the controversy of which hitch is best: "If you get from the trailhead to camp without losing any packing gear or injuring humans or your animals, then you probably did something right." Although this has some truth to it, there are still a few basic packing tips to learn before you tie your hitch.
There are always questions about how much weight an animal can carry. I've seen some draft mules so large that the pack saddle looked minuscule on their backs. But just because you can carry a lot of weight on a big animal doesn't mean you should. Most packers who have racked up many miles on backcountry trails will stick to around 150 pounds per animal. Can they carry 200 plus pounds? Sure. But unless you have years of experience, heavy loads can create a whole mess of problems when bouncing down a steep mountain trail. So, let's get back to basics.
First, you will need to get yourself a good pack scale. I like a hanging scale that has a sliding marker to show the weight. The scale is a very important piece of packing equipment that you will take with you on trips: take good care of it. Don't toss it around or leave it out in the weather and make sure you put it someplace you can find it.
When I'm weighing my hunting panniers I like to get them as close to the same weight as possible, within a pound. You can eyeball items that look to be of similar weight and load them accordingly. You may need to move a few things between panniers before you get the weight right.
If the weight is over a pound difference, you will have problems. If the weight isn't right, it won’t matter how perfectly you tied that double diamond. You won't get far before the load starts shifting! You can stop and try to shove the load back over so it's straight or re-tie your hitch, but until you get that load balanced it won't travel well. As any experienced packer will tell you, the more you stop the greater chance of a wreck. Get your load balanced so you can keep moving and get to camp without causing an unexpected rodeo 10 miles from civilization!
Take the time to learn how to pack, you owe it to your equines. Start by buying good equipment that fits your well-trained animal and learn how to tie a proper hitch. But whatever you do don't overlook the basics! Make sure your load is balanced or you are just asking for trouble.