The ultimate guide to camping with horses – planning and packing

Want to embark on that camping trip you’ve always dreamed of? Proper planning can help ensure a smooth, safe experience for you and your horses.

Over the last 40 or so years of camping with horses, I have welcomed many suggestions from seasoned travelers and learned from many of my own mistakes. While there is no magic list of items to carry or things to do, we thought we would share with you many of the steps we take to ensure the most successful long-distance riding and camping trips possible. In the first part of this article, we’ll look at the first (and most important) stage of the camping experience – preparation!

1. Prepare the trailer

Whether we’re heading out overnight or for a few weeks, we always do what my wife calls the “redneck thing” by parking our trailer as close to the house as we can. This makes it easier to load clothing, personal items, towels and food from inside the home. It also gives us a way to check the plugs, adapters, water hoses, heating and air conditioning systems, and the generator.

2. Do a maintenance check

Parking the trailer close to the house also reminds us to do an initial check of the tires (including the spare), lights and brakes. Wiring connection problems seem to happen for no reason, so this gives us a chance to fix them before we head out. To be safe, you can also take your trailer to an inspection station or tire dealership to have your tires checked for air pressure. They should be filled equally to make your ride smooth.

3. Get your paperwork in order

Check your driver’s license, insurance and registration. These documents seem to have a way of going into hiding, so we use a clearly labelled envelope to keep them all in one place. We also make and carry copies of each document. Although copies aren’t valid substitutes, it’s nice to have something to show an officer if you get stopped and can’t locate your originals.

4. Deal with medication matters

Before leaving on your camping trip, have any prescriptions written for 90 days instead of 30. This will ensure you don’t run out mid-trip, and will reduce trips to the pharmacy. Print out a list of any medication you or your travel companions are currently taking, and memorize them. Often, doctors cannot treat you in an emergency if they do not know what might conflict with your medications.

5. Fill your propane tanks

Don’t forget to check the propane tanks! We never exchange tanks. There is a reason most places do exchanges for one fixed price, say $19.99 – because they’re never full! If you doubt this, take the “full” tank you just exchanged to a propane dealer to top off. Prepare yourself for a shock. We always have our tanks filled at a propane dealer. Typically, they check the valve, manufacturing date and overall safety of the tank. We also carry a third spare tank for emergencies, and always keep it turned off to avoid slow leaks. That way, one tank is always full.

6. Weigh your rig

I always pull through the local feed store co-op or truck stop to weigh the entire rig before leaving on a trip. It costs nothing, and you’ll get a printout of the gross weight of your truck with the trailer. If a police officer questions your need for a CDL (commercial driver’s license because of weight), you can show the printout. Being stopped for a long period of time on a hot day with your horses under heat stress should – and can – be avoided.

7. Call ahead

Call the campground you are going to visit. Double check to ensure you have a reservation, and get the personal cell phone of who is in charge, if possible. If you arrive after hours or in the dark, you will be glad you did. Ask if there are special driving directions (GPS devices are great, but they aren’t always the most reliable), and double check to make sure the campground allows horses.

8. Set out early!

Plan to leave early for your trip. This allows for longer breakfast or lunch breaks, and will help ensure you arrive at your destination in the daylight. We try to arrive at least an hour or two before dark.

9. Take extra food and fuel

I take three extra days of hay for my horses and food for our own needs. If plans go awry due to a mechanical issue, bad weather, etc., you might end up stranded somewhere. Having extra food in these situations is crucial. We also never let the fuel drop to less than half a tank.

10. Carry cash

Many people assume you don’t need extra money when you’re camping – but chances are, you will! Carry enough cash to buy fuel to get back home, and pack a roll of quarters for doing laundry at the campground. I also strongly recommend getting an extra credit card with a small limit – $300 maximum. This will come in handy if you’re in a pinch.

Preparing for a camping trip takes time, but it’ll save you a lot of hassle down the road. Watch for Part 2 of this article in our next issue, where we’ll offer our best tips for the actual camping experience!