I bought an unhandled, ungelded donkey for $75 off Craigslist and I’m planning on teaching him how to carry a pack and taking him backpacking with me. That’s kind of an unusual thing to do, not everywhere in the world but definitely in my little neck of the woods in North Georgia. I’ll give you my reasons for this crazy plan in case you think it sounds like a good idea and want to get yourself a donkey too!
Donkey trekking is really common in other parts of the world, especially France. You can book a vacation where you walk the French countryside with a rented donkey and then spend the night at a vineyard or bed and breakfast. That sounds like my kind of vacation, but I don’t need to go to Europe to do it. I want to explore the mountains that are an hour from my doorstep.
I’m already an experienced horse person so owning a donkey isn’t much of a stretch for me. I would not advise you to run out and buy yourself a donkey if you don’t have any experience with equines although, quite frankly, my little donkey is a lot more mellow and easier to deal with than a lot of big dogs I know. I have a horse and a mule, and the donkey just seemed like a natural extension of the family.
I prefer backpacking to car camping because it allows me to access remote locations far from other people. I am not into camping on a concrete pad surrounded by RV’s, which describes every state park in Georgia. I want to get out in the backcountry and see pristine wilderness, largely untouched by humans. The only way to do that is to slap on a pack and start hiking.
I don’t like carrying a bunch of weight though. I deal with back pain pretty much every day of my life, so I take the bare minimum when I backpack. Because of this, my back doesn’t hurt from the pack, but it ends up hurting because I have a super lightweight, thin sleeping pad and no luxury items. It’s still preferable to hauling 40 or 50 lbs, but I’m not super comfy.
Another problem I run into with backpacking is that it’s really hard to camp in cold weather and keep my gear lightweight. Lightweight, warm gear is ridiculously expensive. I just don’t have the budget to spend $300 on a sleeping bag. I need to use the sleeping bag I already have and add to it to make it warmer. That means adding extra weight.
If I can train my little donkey to pack, he can help carry some of the weight and allow me to take a little heavier, more comfortable gear. He can also carry bulkier items that are hard for me to fit in or carry attached to my pack. I can take a thicker sleeping pad and a blanket to make my sleeping bag warmer. Since the donkey will be carrying those items, I’ll have free space in my pack for extra warm clothes and small luxury items, like better food and a flask of whiskey to warm my cold bones. To be clear, I do still intend to carry a pack. The donkey won’t be doing all the work, but he will enable me to bring things I otherwise couldn’t.
You may ask why I don’t just get into horse packing. Believe me, I have thought about it. I could ride my mule, but I would have to pack even lighter in order to accommodate all of the items my mule would need. If I wanted any luxuries at all, I would need a pack horse to carry our gear. That’s just too complicated for me. I don’t want to be riding one horse and ponying another one. With two horses there are twice as many things that can go wrong. It’s more hassle than I’m willing to deal with.
My donkey eats way less food than my big mule. My little donkey can get by on a little grain, some alfalfa pellets, and whatever grazing we happen to come across on our travels. My mule and my horse would need pounds of grain and forage in order to maintain their weight, especially my thoroughbred. Taking the donkey will be far simpler in terms of feeding him.
Another issue with taking the horse or the mule is that I honestly don’t want to ride alone in the backcountry. There are just so many things that can go wrong, and I feel safer standing on my own two feet with my little donkey beside me. I really enjoy hiking; I like the exercise I get as well as the feeling of accomplishment when I hike all those miles. For me, hiking isn’t a hardship. It’s part of the fun!
Taking the donkey and hiking means my kids can go too. If I were riding, I wouldn’t have enough horses for both my kids to ride and neither of my kids are experienced riders yet. If I were going to go that route, I would have no option but to do it alone. Taking the donkey means the whole family can go.
The donkey makes the whole trip more fun. He is such a little character and I’m constantly laughing at his antics. If I ever do a solo trip with him and my kids don’t go, he will provide plenty of companionship. Hiking with an animal, whether it’s a dog or a donkey, is a million times more enjoyable than hiking alone. There’s no pressure to make conversation, but I still get the feeling of companionship and having a partner in the wilderness. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to go on vacation because I can’t take my animals. Going out into the woods is something that I love to do, but I love it a whole lot more when I get to take my animal friends.