Hiking With Llamas

As an introduction we should begin with who (and why anyone would) want to use a llama as a hiking companion. The why usually defines the who in this equation. Therefore, I will go through a list of reasons often used to explain the use of llamas.


1. A llama allows a young family to get into the wilderness by carrying gear and a adult carrying very young children or infants.

2. As we all get older our loads are more of a burden and prevent extended hikes.

3. Many potential hikers have minor disabilities which limits the use of a heavy pack.

4. With at least a doubling of capacity compared to just a hiker, the llama allows better food and clothing to be carried. Under extreme conditions this better equipment is a safety and comfort issue.

5. Photography buffs would be able to take along all those lenses and gadgets that were too heavy to be included in their pack.

6. Hunters would be able to transport big game. Llamas can get into places that horses and mules cannot reach.

7. Llamas do not damage the trails or environment like hoofed pack stock. Over the past several years the llama industry has sponsored a impact study that showed that llamas have the same impact on a trail as a human. In addition it was shown that llamas have a very much smaller impact than horses on fragile areas where they are allowed to graze.

Llamas are very quiet on the trail and in camp. They just seem to fit nicely into a wilderness environment. Deer are fascinated by them and will often hang around to observe the llamas.

8. Although it takes two llamas to carry the load of one horse they are much easier for a novice to handle safely. Care on the trail is simple with much less feed required than a horse. Equipment needed for llama packing is easy to master and usually adds very little weight.


Unlike horses there are not different breeds of llamas that define their end uses. Therefore, there are many different types of llamas that may be suitable for hiking. Studs, neutered males (geldings) and females can be used. In the past females were not used because of their high cost. However, the cost of a female has come down by over 90% so they are a viable option. For the novice a gelding is the best choice. Although most structural types of llama can be used as packers, not all will be suitable for heavy duty use on our Northwest trails. Most males sold as packers today fall into the category often called family packers. This type of packer is fine for slow paced walking for 5-8 miles with light loads and mild elevation gains. These family packers should be suitable for many people. They will be easy to find and much less expensive than the heavy duty animals. It is often very hard to tell which category of packer an individual fits into until actual trail experience. How a llama performs also is very dependent upon what kind of conditioning he has undergone. Very few people have had enough experience to judge the capability of an individual animal without actually taking him out. Looking at the family of an individual can be very helpful in deciding if he would make a good work animal. There are now a few ranches in the U.S. that are raising llamas specifically bred to be good packers. This greatly increases your chances of getting an animal suited to your needs. A good packer that has trail experience will cost $1000-2000. One without experience or a younger llama with good potential will be $600-1500. Family packers will be half to two-thirds the cost of heavy duty animals. The better packer will show great athletic ability, intelligence and structure that allows for long distance with heavy loads. A number of acceptable structural types of good packers has been published by Wes Holmquist . Any of the acceptable types can be either heavy duty or family packers. Many times it is not so much what type you prefer but what type of llama you can find. The larger (taller) individuals are hard to find because nobody wants to sell them. Often packers are advertised as to their size. These measurements include height at the withers, hip height and ground clearance. Wither height is the distance from the ground to a point on the shoulder of the animal above the front legs. Ground clearance is measured from the lowest point of the llama which is behind the front legs. Besides structure another factor is the kind of personality you prefer in a llama. Llamas have unique and complex personalities. Generally they are aloof but very amenable to training. It may take some time to get to know all their personality quirks. You must earn their trust by being consistent in your behavior toward them. I prefer a friendly type of llama but you must be careful because many llamas have been raised to be overly friendly with bad results later on. If you run into a llama that approaches you in a friendly manner and pushes against you-beware. This is abnormal behavior and may indicate a problem in their upbringing. The normal llama will be curious about you but maintain a distance. A llama does not have to be friendly to be an excellent packer.

You should always plan to come in under your llamas particular capacity rather than pushing his limits. This will assure you a much more pleasant and safe trip. This means never overloading him and not traveling farther than he is comfortable with. Never load a young llama with a full pack. Until age three they are not mature enough to carry heavy loads. That does not mean they cannot be taken on moderate hikes with a light load. Llama load capacity is usually expressed as a percentage of his body weight-25-30% being maximum. Estimating body weight is not adequate-weigh him!

Somewhere in every community is a scale (often at a feed store) or another llama owner who has one. A mature llama in good condition should be able to carry 70-80 lbs. for ten miles. Temperature and elevation would be factors in this equation. Overall a llama’s pace on the trail will be 1.5-2.0 mph. which is about right for most hikers. For those hikers with a fast pace the llama may slow them down a little depending on the llama. Under extreme conditions a well conditioned llama could carry 110 lbs. or more. With such a load the pace might have to slow and distance may be limited. With a light load up to 25 miles a day is possible even with much elevation gain. I had to do this one year in a blizzard and my stud was pushing me the whole day. Elk hunters have used llamas to get their downed prey out of very remote situations.