The Versatility of the Decker Pack Saddle
We are repeatedly asked what is the benefit of the Decker Pack Saddle over a sawbuck pack saddle. The Decker Pack Saddle was developed by O.P. Robinett and made by the Decker brothers around 1930 in response to the needs of Forest Service personnel for a pack saddle built to carry heavy, bulky loads for long distances. This rugged, versatile saddle became very popular with the Forest Service and packers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington and has remained the pack saddle of choice in this area to this day.
What ultimately makes the Decker so versatile is the halfbreed. The half breed is a cover that lies over the Decker Pack Saddle. It is designed to protect the pack animal from the load. The halfbreed is traditionally made of canvas and leather, although some today are made of nylon or other materials. The lower portion of the halfbreed is padded with felt or some other stuffing material for the animal’s comfort. Two wooden pack boards are attached on the outside of the halfbreed over this stuffed area. These help distribute the weight of the load across the entire rib cage, much like the bars of a saddle distribute the weight of the load along the back.
This simple addition to the Decker Pack Saddle gives it a better overall design for larger, bulkier loads. Long, awkward items like logs, poles, tent frames can be easily loaded by the packer and comfortably carried by the pack stock because of the protection and weight distribution offered by the halfbreed. Indeed, standard items such as panniers can be more comfortably carried by pack stock with a Decker because the bottom of the pannier rests against the pack boards, thus keeping them further off the animal and distributing the weight of the pannier along the rib cage. Lastly, two mismatched loads can be packed by the same animal because of the ability to raise the heavier side and lower the lighter side and balance the load.
Additionally the hoops of a Decker Pack Saddle are easier and more convenient to loop and slide ropes through when tying loads down. The hoops are also lower profile and a better design for getting large loads closer to the animal’s body where they will ride better.
How would you pack a large, bulky or awkward load on a Decker? The simple answer is by mantying or cargoing the load. We know that manties, ropes, knots and hitches can be intimidating to people. That is why we designed the TrailMax™Not-A-Knot pack system. However, when you have an odd sized load to pack in or out, mantying the load is going to be the safest, most efficient, and sometimes the only, way. Here’s a little bit of what Bob Hoverson in his book, "The Packer's Field Manual", has to say about cargoing…
Cargoing is where the artistry of Decker Style Packing begins. The goal of cargoing is to securely wrap two bundles that can be slung from each side of the Decker Saddle. These bundles must be cargoed in a standardized manner so they are tightly wrapped and the payload is protected from external forces such as dust, rain or snow. Also when packing stock feed (hay, hay cubes, pellets, grain), cargoing prevents the pack stock from attempting to eat from the loads en-route. Efficient cargoing requires the right equipment, an understanding of the theory of cargoing and proper cargoing technique.
Decker Pack Saddles have long been a favorite of packers in the four state area of the Northwest US. Their popularity is slowly spreading as more and more people experience their utility and versatility. More information on Decker Pack Saddles, the History of Sawbuck and Decker Pack Saddles and the Differences between the Sawbuck and Decker Pack Saddles can be found in the Information Center on our website or we can recommend several books on packing with the Decker Pack Saddle or packing in general. Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions on the Decker Pack Saddle or any other items on our website.
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