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Packing Guide

A good introductory article on packing with llamas can be found by clicking on the following link:

Llama packing 101



Antero Llamas Practical Guide for the Llama Packer


Llamas make great pack animals. They are easy on the environment, quiet, easy to feed and will work long and hard. Each llama has its own personality. Understanding the personality of your llama and learning a few basic skills will help you to get the best performance he can deliver.

This guide attempts to cover the basics of llama handling needed for an enjoyable pack trip. You will learn much more as you go.


The first step in your pack trip is to "catch" your llama (this may be reminiscent of the first step of almost every procedure in the VW maintenance manual that instructs "first remove engine").

All llamas are caught by approaching the animal and placing your arm around his neck. Usually the llama will then cease evasive tactics. Most people prefer to work from the left side of the llama and therefore most llamas are more familiar with an approach from the left side.

It is common to have the llama try to avoid being caught. In open country or a big field it may take 10 to 20 minutes of persistent approach before the llama will stop and allow you to place your arm around his neck. In this catching situation it is necessary to follow your target llama slowly, calmly, but persistently until he realizes you won't give up. Some llamas will not allow themselves to be caught in the open at all and must be herded or tricked into a corral. We don't usually want to spend most of the day to catch the llamas for our pack trip so on the ranch we herd them into small area. See the section titled "Tips and Techniques We Hope You Don't Need to Know" for more on catching llamas.

A very well trained llama may let you approach and allow you to catch him even in open country. Some are trained to respond to the word "stand" and allow themselves to be caught. Often they will only respond this well with a handler they know. Most llamas are not this well trained.


With the halter in your left hand and your right arm around the llama's neck, guide the llamas head down. Now bring the loop of the halter slowly, but smoothly, over the muzzle. The loop should be brought up to where it is snug but not touching the eyes. Fasten the buckle so the halter is tight but not so tight that you cannot easily slip your finger under it. Make sure the lead rope is not wrapped around your neck ‑ then fasten it to the halter ring. The lead rope is held in one hand (usually the right hand) with about three feet of rope between you and the llama. Excess rope can be held in the other hand. Do NOT wrap the rope around you or your hand ‑ be ready to release the rope if the llama bolts.

Putting on the Pack Saddle

First lead the llama to a post or tree and tie him short using a slipknot. Make sure there are no sticks, burrs or other debris in the area where the saddle or cinches will fit. Brush if needed. We usually put the saddle on from the left side. Put the pad and saddle on the llama's back. The front cinch is the short one and should hang just behind the llama's front leg. Fasten the front cinch first. If you or the llama are uneasy about reaching under the llama ( fear of kicking or being kicked) a stick can be used to pull the cinch through. Tighten the front cinch snugly. Now fasten the rear cinch. Make sure the cinch does not touch the penis sheath ( yes, they do kick). If it does, the tie strap between the cinches needs to be shortened. Take off the pack and shorten it ‑ try again. Tighten the rear cinch just snug. Now, adjust the saddle if needed and tighten the FRONT cinch so that two fingers can just fit under it. The rear cinch stays just snug, not too tight.

We suggest that a breast strap be used. This keeps the saddle from slipping to the rear. Adjust the breast strap so it is just snug when the saddle is in the correct position. It will keep the saddle in place when going uphill but, more importantly, it will keep it from being pulled completely off and around the back legs should the pack be snagged on an obstacle (a very exciting situation). A breeching strap should be used when on steep or long downgrades to keep the saddle from shifting forward,


You can hang anything you want on the llama's pack saddle but... if you don't balance the load, he'll be wearing it on his belly. So, try to keep nearly equal weight on each side. Extra gear can be piled on top and tied down with straps or rope - maintain a balanced load.

Estimates of how much weight a llama will pack vary from 20 to 33 percent of the llama's weight. With male pack llamas in good physical shape (not fat) weighing between 275 and 350 pounds (a few are larger) this gives a range of from 55 to 116 pounds, which includes pack saddle, panniers, gear and, typically, fat from feeding him too much. Throw in terrain, high temperatures and other factors and it may be difficult to judge how much to pack. We recommend planning at 60 to 70 pounds per llama. If you do overload your llama, don't worry, he won't let you break his back. He'll lie down. If you're up the trail a few miles when he makes this decision ‑ YOU get to carry the excess weight.

Leading on the Trail

An important instruction is repeated here:


The lead rope is held in one hand (usually the right hand) with about three feet of rope between you and the llama. Excess rope can be held in the other hand. Do NOT wrap the rope around you or your hand ‑ be ready to release the rope if the llama bolts.


The important part is to hold the rope so that IF the llama is startled you can easily release it if you don't have the strength to control him. Llamas don't spook easily but, although not as big as a horse, they can drag you through some rough country. Please emphasize this point to children who might be leading llamas. Generally, llamas lead easily. Occasionally there may be problems with balking, lying down and other psychological problems common to both pack animals and backpackers. We'll discuss coping techniques later. For now lets assume that your llama is behaving normally.

STREAM CROSSINGS: Llamas can cross shaved log bridges if they are wider than about 16 inches. Board bridges with gaps less than 1 1/2 inches are OK. If you or the llama would rather have the llama wade the stream while you keep your feet dry, use a tether rope to lengthen the lead so the llama won't pull you off the bridge. Some llamas wade streams slowly others will jump or bound across. Be prepared. It is a good idea to move the llamas across streams quickly. Wet feet have a laxative effect on llamas and they sometimes pause to refresh themselves in mid‑stream. This can be a real PR problem so we encourage you to discourage this behavior.

BLOWDOWNS: Blowdowns mean over, under or around. Llamas can clear 5 feet or more when inspired. Blowdowns don't usually inspire them ‑ 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet high is usually the most to expect. Make sure there aren't any sharp branch stubs sticking up and give it a try. If the blowdown has 4 1/2 feet of clearance under, llama and pack will pass beneath. Llamas will crawl under obstacles but if you don't have about 4 1/2 feet of clearance, take off the pack and saddle. If the saddle gets caught, the llama may destroy it trying to get free. A jump over a blowdown will test how well you secured the pack. Check carefully after the jump. Don't forget to see if you can walk around it before you go to this trouble.

HORSES ON THE TRAIL: Llamas don't mind horses but some horses are afraid of things that are not familiar. We suggest that you get off the trail with your llamas and allow horses to pass well clear. Move below the trail if possible.

TALUS AND BOULDER FIELDS: Avoid sharp talus that may cut foot pads. In larger talus and boulder fields avoid areas that have holes 3 to 6 inches wide that legs can get caught between. Llamas don't like loose talus any more than you do and may balk. Other than obvious trouble spots like these, a llama can travel anywhere you can go without using your hands to climb.

Llamas in the Campsite

Ideally llamas are tethered in a nice grassy meadow with a small bubbling stream within reach. Oops, don't tether them near the stream for reasons described earlier. Find a spot not usually used by others as a campsite well away from water. Grassy if possible, buck brush is OK. Take them to water two or three times a day or take water to them. If you are in a campsite for an extended period move the llamas to a new spot each day to minimize damage to the grass and brush. Scatter manure piles please. The llama's tether ropes can be fastened to large logs, rocks or a tight picket rope on the ground. Keep in mind a llama will drag a railroad tie a considerable distance when selecting an anchor. Screw anchors can also be used if soil conditions permit. Use secure knots.

Tips and Techniques We Hope You Don't Need to Know

BALKY LLAMAS: Sometimes when your finally ready to go ‑ they're not! There can be several reasons for a llama refusing to move. A partial list:

* Strange place. The llama is unsure of his surroundings, new
people activity at the trailhead, etc.

* On the trail ‑ animal or other hikers on the trail ahead. Ears will
be turning like radar, llama will look alert facing toward unknown
noise. If he senses danger he may give alarm call (sounds like a
horses whinny and seems to start at the llama's toes).

* Overloaded. Likely to lay down. If you have limited the load to about
70 pounds he shouldn't feel overloaded. But...

* He may be uncomfortable. Burr or stick under saddle or girth. Girths
in wrong position or too tight. Maybe the load is unbalanced.

* Just tired. Take a break. Or ‑ if its been a long day, camp.

* Heat stress. A serious problem discussed in a separate section below.

* Plain ornery. Of course none of our llamas fall in this category, so
this will not be a problem. Just in case it is......

There are several techniques to cope. The one that should never be used is to hit or physically abuse the llama. It won't work and you will probably come to understand the phrase "spit happens". More importantly, the llama will lose his trust in you and eventually humans in general. Once this happens it may take years to regain.

Just waiting a few seconds and then restarting usually works. Failing this, Start with a sideways pull on the lead rope for the first one or two steps then proceed on the trail. Try switching lead llamas. Some prefer to lead, some like to follow. A steady pressure on the lead rope, firm, but not enough to break the halter is a backup tactic. A pinch in the area below and to one side of the tail by a following hiker will accelerate this process. Try to avoid resorting to pulling, except as a last resort, since this procedure can lead to a contest of wills that can go on for several miles. Although, once the llama realizes he is not going to win he will usually cooperate for the rest of the trip. Llamas can go a long way. The annual Llamathon in the San Juan Mountains covers 16 miles in 4 1/2 hours with a pack. Don't expect your pack llama to perform like this. You should expect your llama to cover 6 to 8 miles more or less per day depending on terrain, load, temperature, number of breaks and speed of travel. The way YOU feel is a good indicator of how the llama feels. If you have covered a long distance, climbed over 3000 feet and/or traversed rough rocky terrain and your llama starts to balk he may be tired. Look for a place to camp. We use the 6 to 8 mile range as a planning guide.

LOOSE LLAMAS: Some llamas are trained to stop at the word "stand". Try it. Too bad, the one that is trained is still on his tether. Don't panic, llamas are herd animals and, assuming your other llamas are still caught, a single loose llama is unlikely to stray far. If you still have some feed, offer this as an enticement to bring the llama to you. Let him eat some, put your arm around his neck and catch him. A lead rope can be slipped around his neck at this time if desired.

A second technique is to slowly but persistently follow the loose llama until he gives up. This can take quite some time. Don't rush or run after him ‑ just be persistent. This may not work on all llamas.

If we gave you a roll of construction tape, or if you have enough rope, you can build a catch pen. Leave about a 15 foot wide opening and make it at least 30 feet deep. it can narrow towards the back. Use at least two strands, one at 3 1/2 feet and one 1 1/2 feet from the ground. Entice the llama with food and/or another llama. If neither is available herd him in. Close the opening. Approach slowly ‑ he can jump this fence. Herd him to the narrow section, talk to him softly and once again catch him by putting your arm around his neck.

If all these tricks fail don't panic yet. If there are enough other hikers in the area you can enlist their aid and simply surround him. Again, slowly and calmly ‑ you will NOT catch him if he spooks. We realize you planned this trip so as NOT to be near other hikers and we're sorry if you can find this much help.

When all is lost and he just won't be caught, eat dinner, get a good night's sleep and try again in the morning. If you have other llamas with you he is likely to follow you to the trailhead.

To avoid all this make sure the knots are tight!

HEAT STRESS: Heat stress can be serious and can kill a llama. Sustained temperatures above 85 ‑ 90F, particularly with high humidity, can lead to the onset of heat stress. Open mouthed panting and wobbly gait followed by laying down are symptoms (note that an open mouth appearance is also indicative of excitement and is not in itself a cause for concern). Treatment is to get the llama cool, keep him cool and let him rest. Move again in late evening or the next morning if he seems to have recovered. Avoid moving between 11AM and 6PM if it is sunny or hot.

Fortunately, heat stress is not a major problem in the high Rockies, but, there is some potential for trouble on hot afternoons at lower altitudes. Do not leave llamas in parked trailers in the sun. Park in the shade or tether them in the shade.

BROKEN LEGS: Don't shoot your llama if he breaks a leg! Llamas can walk on three legs. Before you can move your injured llama, you must splint and immobilize the injured leg to avoid further damage. If you cannot do this, or if you decide the injury is too severe to walk out. Camp. Send someone for help and we will get assistance to you.

CUTS AND ABRASIONS, ETC.: Treat the llama with your first aid kit as you would an injured hiker.

EMERGENCY RESTRAINT CHUTE: An injured llama may not let you work on him. If the injury is serious and in need of immediate care, a restraint chute can be built of available materials. Your imagination can work with the general concept guide on the attached sheet.

ABANDONING YOUR LLAMAS: We added this section in 1995 after several llamas were abandoned by hunters after a snowstorm in October 1994. This particular event could have had a better ending. If you must abandon the llamas, find a stake out area with access to a little water and grass. Avoid placing them in an area where the can get entangled in brush or trees. Use their normal night tether ropes. Do not tie them up short. Let us know where they are as soon as possible.

We hope none of the information in this section is needed on your pack trip. It is offered "just in case". If you do have problems that detracted from the enjoyment of your llama packing experience, please discuss them with us when you return. If you have advice that might be useful to other llama packers please pass it on.






© Antero Llamas LLC • 11100 County Road 194, Salida, CO 81201• (719) 207-1511 • tom@anterollamas.com

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