Written by Nancy Clough and published in the Idaho Centers for Independent Living newsletter.
Goatpacking is a growing sport that is enabling many people to go places they otherwise could not reach. The word packgoat generally means a full sized goat that is emotionally bonded to its human and is willing to go anywhere you go while carrying your supplies. These animals lighten the load on the trail allowing you to travel with the gear you need to be comfortable and safe.
Many years ago, our family became aware that my husband had advanced arthritis in his spine. Sciatic pain from his spine deterioration was not going to allow him to carry a heavy backpack while touring the backcountry. We were avid hunters and loved being out in the Idaho mountains. In researching the options for pack stock that could assist in our love of traveling in the wilderness we came upon packgoats.
Goats require much less land, tack, trailers and barn space than horses, mules, or llamas. Packgoats are usually neutered males known as wethers. The initial investment was quite reasonable as there is little other use for this type of goat. Packgoats are either bottle fed as babies or handled and socialized frequently to establish an unbreakable bond with humans. This bond is what makes packgoats fun and reliable as trail buddies.
Their size of 170-220 lbs. makes them easy to handle for people who are not up to the rest of handling larger stock animals. My three packgoats easily fit in the back of a pick up truck. Cross buck saddles designed specifically for goats allow them to carry weight on their backs. They can travel about ten miles a day carrying up to 25% of their body weight when fully matured at age four. In peak condition and cool weather, performance could increase.
Goats require no additional food to be carried on pack trips. They forage for a meal much like deer or elk. They are the ultimate water conservationists and rarely require carrying additional water. Packgoats do require a collar and length of rope to be secured at night. A light tarp over their heads is nice if you expect foul weather.
Goats are herd animals and you become the alpha goat. Where you go your goat will follow. They will follow you up rocky mountains, across water, into the forest, snow, or just walking down the trail. Training hikes for young packgoats helps them experience challenging terrain and eliminate fear. They develop confidence and figure out what you expect of them.
Much of the gear you need to be comfortable and safe in the wilderness is amazingly lightweight and strong. Chairs to sit on, mattresses to sleep on, extra clothes, food, and first aid supplies can be bundled to fit on the backs of these loyal and hard working animals. We take a tipi with a packable wood stove on cooler hiking trips. You could rough it without these luxuries but with a bad back, knees, or other mobility limiting problems it becomes more difficult if you don’t have a chair. Comfort and rest are important to reduce the risk and enjoy your time outdoors.
We love the solitude of the backcountry and pushing the limits of our abilities. Packgoats have allowed us to go further and feel safer being better prepared with the equipment we need in case of an unexpected situation. Our goats have also joined in on trail maintenance and clean up projects. If you would like additional information on pack goats you can find it at the North American Packgoat Association website: www.napga.org