Techniques and Hitches


Packing requires a working knowledge of a number of knots and hitches that hold well during constant movement yet release easily when required. Knots must not be “piled on” (i.e. “if you do not know knots then use lots”), as the load has to be taken off at the end of the day, and if the load shifts, or the animal falls then the load must be unloaded quickly as the animal may be hurt or in other danger. 


Loads must always be capable of rapid and simple adjustment and, as a far as possible; only knots that can be released with one pull of the rope (slip knot) should be used. Any lashing made in two directions should be made fast in one direction, before being lashed in the other direction. This is usually achieved by placing a half hitch over the loop of a packers hitch. Any slackness in one direction will affect the other. 


Other hitches are required to tether animals and various knots are required for setting up camp. The same knots may be known by a number of names depending on the common applications in which they are used. A number of particular knots and hitches have been developed over the years that are most suitable for purposes of packing. An illustrated list of suitable knots is at Annex A.


Load ropes are cut to particular lengths to suit the loads and should not be cut. It is difficult and inconvenient to rejoin short lengths of rope to make up a load rope.


Balancing a Pack Load


Balancing a load is essential. If the load is uneven, then the heavier side will pull the load over and place additional strain on the animal that may cause saddle sores, girth galls and unnecessary fatigue.

Simple side loads of the same dimensions can be weighed with a spring balance and the load adjusted to obtain the same weight on each side. Pack bags should be adjusted to within one kilo.

Side loads of differing sizes and densities are more of a challenge to balance and take some experience to get right. A dense compact load should be placed high on the saddle so that the weight “leans” on the animal’s ribcage and the moment of force is directed diagonally through the animal towards its feet on the other side. A large, light parcel such as a swag should be slung lower on the saddle so that it pulls down and the moment of force is acting away from the animal and counters the more dense package on the other side.

Loads need to be constantly checked to ensure that they remain secure and central on the saddle. Tall loads tend to rock and put tension on the lashings in alternative directions that cause the lash ropes to loosen. Steep hills cause loads to move, and breastcollars and breechings need to be adjusted before ascents and descents. Movement through scrub and overhanging branches will knock, dislodge and move loads requiring constant monitoring.

A useful routine is to march for an initial 30 minutes, then pause,  check and adjust the loads, if a load is secure after 30 minutes it will generally remain secure for the remainder of the day. Loads that have loosened after 30 minutes need to be adjusted. In many cases, it is more efficient to unload and re-lash the load rather than making “band aid” adjustments, as a poorly secured load will cause problems all day and be far more time consuming than to correct the lashing once.


Choice of Rope for Packing. The factors in choosing rope for use in packing are:

  • Strength,

  • Abrasion resistance (durability), and 

  • Handling, that is the feel and flexibility to accept knots and not cut into one’s hands.


Traditionally hemp was preferred as it was the strongest fibre and had the best handling qualities. The next preferred is Manilla, made from fibre extracted from a member of the banana family. Hemp, Manilla and substitute look-alike artificial rope is available from specialist traditional wooden boat suppliers if a traditional effect is required. Cotton is nice to handle but is subject to rotting and has poor shock loading.

Artificial fibre rope is stronger and lighter in weight and is preferred. Laid rope is more easily spliced, but braided and kernmantel type cordage is more abrasion resistant and less subject to kinking.

Artificial rope fibres can be Nylon, Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polyester or Polyaramide. The best fibre for packing applications is Polyester. It has the best handling, durability, rot, UV, acid and alkali resistance and retains its strength when wet. Nylon has better shock loading qualities but looses strength when wet and has a lower melting point. Nylon stretches and may work loose when under strain. Polyethylene and Polypropylene have poor abrasion, UV resistance and very low melting points.


Size.Natural fibre rope is measured by circumference and artificial fibre rope by diameter. However, some US publications describe natural fibre rope by diameter. This can lead to confusion as to the relative rope size.