Packer Lee Roeser explains how preparation ensures success on the trail.

Lee Roeser rides into the backcountry.
Lee Roeser packs in California for the U.S. Forest Service.
Photo courtesy of Lee Roeser

Backcountry preparation is key to a successful horseback trip. When Lee Roeser hits the trail, the seasoned packer carries with him a tried-and-tested kit that can handle any emergency he may encounter riding trails with his pack stock. In the August 2019 issue of Western Horseman, Roeser describes the necessary items for his pack kit, but here he delves deeper into being prepared for any situation that could arise in the backcountry.

“Number one, prepare, prepare and prepare,” says Roeser, a master packer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Region 5 Pack Stock Center of Excellence. He was inspired to create the pack by veteran Sierra Nevada Mountain packer Murt Stewart. Roeser’s wife, Jenifer, also runs a pack outfit, McGee Creek Pack Station.

“Take care of the details ahead of time: know your water sources, know the trail and know the camping,” Roeser says. “It is my belief that most backcountry stock injuries are a result of our poor judgement or lack of knowledge that we put stock in harms way, in some manner.”

Stock and Packer Preparation

Additionally, Roeser ensures his stock is prepared to travel into the backcountry.

“Stock preparation is critical. Have the stock well shod ahead of time. Have them in physical shape and in good nutrition,” he advises. “Making sure your equipment fits properly so you don’t get saddle sores and make sure you have all of your equipment, that helps get you to the trailhead and off on the trail safely.”

With any packer accompanying him, Roeser first discusses the trip and visualizes how to go about each daily activity.  This step in his backcountry preparation helps ensure safe practices.

Backcountry first-aid kit
Roeser secures the pack onto a mule with leather lines and the supplies are stored in a sturdy canvas bag.
Photo courtesy of Lee Roeser

“I start [having them visualize] with when they open the gate to catch stock in the morning,” he explains. “They need to focus on their job and what they are doing with their animals. We always think about what is going on at home or go on auto-pilot, but with stock and in the backcountry we need to be aware of what we are doing all the time. The more things going on around you the more you have to work at being focused. Don’t get in a hurry and double-check your work so your chance of human-caused problems is reduced.”

With the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, Roeser is ready to hit the trail. But as anyone who has either handled horses, or mules, or ventured down a trail, everyone needs to expect the unexpected in their backcountry preparation. That is when the pack emergency kit Roeser carries down every trail is vital.

“Most accidents and problems are 90-percent human error,” Roeser says. “When we get right down to it, most of the time it is something we did or caused or didn’t prepare for on the trail.”

First-Aid Kits

Part of Roeser’s backcountry preparation is packing a variety of tools to take with him, including equine and human first-aid kits. While Roeser based his kit off of the list began by Dr. Detlev Lange, DVM, it encompasses much more. Starting with these items, any trail rider or packer can be prepared for backcountry eventualities. He advises to also include a mini first-aid manual that assists users in knowing proper temperature, respiration rates and depicts how to render basic first aid for lacerations or colic.

Items to include in a backcountry first-aid kit
Unpacked and laid out in entirety, it is surprising how many supplies can fit into the small duffle, but each item is a necessary tool for backcountry survival.
Photo courtesy of Lee Roeser

Roeser includes the following items in the packer kits used by the pack strings he oversees.

FOR STOCK:

  • Pain relievers, such as flunixin meglumine or phenylbutazone (2 doses)
  • Syringe sizes should vary and carry at least 4 
  • Needles, various sizes—20×1, 18×1.5 (at least 2 each)
  • Basic veterinary manual
Tools for the trail
Dr. Lange’s guide to veterinary first aid, a chalk pen, knife and the first aid manual are all kept in a water-proof bag to protect from the elements.
Photo courtesy of Lee Roeser

FOR HUMANS:

  • Pain relief and/or fever reducers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (at least 12 doses)
  • Cold and/or sinus relief (12 doses)
  • Anti-diarrheal or upset stomach relief (12 doses)
  • Small bandaids for knuckles, fingertips (at least 20)
  • Large patch bandaids (at least 10)
  • Triangular sling
  • Moleskin
  • Hydrocortisone anti-itch cream
  • Basic first aid guide

FOR BOTH STOCK AND HUMANS:

  • Medical gloves (at least two sets)
  • Hand sanitizer and clean (alcohol) swabs
  • First aid cream that includes antibiotics and pain relief
  • Sterile saline solution for wound irrigation
  • Wound closure strips, sterile bandage pads, medical tape
  • Self-adhesive wrap, such as VetRap (multiple rolls)
  •  Gauze rolls and pads  (at least two each)
  • Forceps, trauma shears, small scissors
  • Irrigating syringes (which can be reused from stock supplies)
Tools for the trail
In addition to human and equine medicines, a guide to first aid and an ever-essential folding saw are included in the pack.
Photo courtesy of Lee Roeser

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