When deciding on panniers for your pack saddle set up, there are two basic types to choose from: hard panniers and soft panniers. Last time, we discussed the pros and cons of various styles of hard panniers. Below I have described several styles of soft panniers.
Soft panniers are lighter weight and flexible and can, therefore, be useful for the odd shaped loads you might have on your horse pack trip. To protect fragile items from bumps, you can add a pannier insert, like the Ralide-West PolyPac Insert, to many types of soft panniers. Pannier inserts also provide a stable platform for using a top pack.
Probably the most classic soft pannier is one made from canvas and leather. The TrailMax Canvas and Leather Panniers look great going down the trail, but the leather on them requires more care and makes them non-machine washable. If the pack bag has leather ends, it may have more stability and offer more protection than one without, but once again, a pannier insert is the best way to get structure and protection for your contents.
Our New TrailMax Canvas Panniers also offer you a traditional look for an economical price. Canvas panniers also have the added benefit of being machine washable. These soft saddle packs are also sized for use with the PolyPro Pannier Inserts to give them stability and protect your contents.
We had many requests for a pannier that could carry a big cooler, so we designed the TrailMax Oversized Canvas and Vinyl Panniers. These soft pack panniers are canvas on the outside and vinyl on the inside. These panniers are perfect for coolers up to about 70-quarts or your large duffel loads like camp furniture, tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Because of the vinyl lining and soft shape, they also make terrific meat bags and are completely machine washable. These panniers offer a lot of room, so be careful not to overload them. And realize that you will be wider than normal going down the trail.
Soft panniers are also available in Cordura-type nylon, like in our Pack-A-Saddle Saddle Panniers. Cordura is lightweight, durable, economical and easy to care for. The Pack-A-Saddle is a complete pack system that includes panniers, pannier inserts and top pack. It is also convertible so that you can use it on your pack saddle or convert it to use on your riding saddle. When using it on your riding saddle, like all saddle panniers, you can also roll them up and tie them on behind your saddle so you can ride in and walk a load out.
Iron Cloth Pack Bags, or Utah-Style Pack Bags as they are sometimes called, are great for packing meat out. They are made from ballistic material, a type of heavy-duty woven fabric that is breathable and washable. Their unique shape (tall and wide, but not very deep) and design (no lid) makes them well suited for this type of load but not many other pack loads.
What panniers do I use?
When I go on a pack trip, I typically pack 2-3 mules. I will pack 1-2 mules with HorsePac panniers and ProPac panniers with my kitchen gear and food. I then use top packs for my duffel type gear. The third pack mule is packed with a mantied load because manties are flexible for large, odd-shaped items and are very handy to have around camp. When I hunt, I use a set of the Oversized Canvas and Vinyl panniers. They are perfect for packing out elk quarters.
So to choose pack panniers, I suggest that you assess the gear you want to bring in, your animals, the terrain you will be traveling in or through, etc. Then choose the panniers that best fit your needs, your tastes and will make your next horse pack trip the most enjoyable.