Top50 Ranches’ guide to what to pack for a dude ranch vacation
Words: Mel Rutherford – Editor, Top50 Ranches; Photo courtesy of Lone Mountain Ranch
Dude ranch vacations are a great excuse to invest in some authentic cowboy gear. Top50Ranches has come up with some packing tips so you can be sure your suitcase is well
stocked with everything you need for a ranch vacation, whether it’s a pack trip adventure,
cattle drive vacation or at luxury dude ranches with spas.
Cowboy boots are an iconic part of western culture, but it’s up to you whether you opt for a
snazzy pair of colourful cowboy boots or a more subtle – and practical – pair of work boots.
Either way, you will need to pack at least one pair of low-heeled boots for horseback riding.
Working ranch vacations could see your cowboy boots getting a bit scruffy, so bear this in
mind if you’re going for style over practicality.
Backcountry riding? Lynn Minty, owner of Top50’s Beaumont High Country Experience, in
New Zealand, advises: “Normal riding boots without a tread are not suitable for walking on
hills and tussock grasslands – go for leather tramping boots with a small heel or comfortable
footwear suitable for walking on uneven terrain.”
For luxury dude ranch vacations with spas and/or swimming pools, pack a pair of flip flops.
Remember sneakers for non-riding activities, and bring smart shoes for evenings if your
chosen dude ranch has formal dining.
Jeans will be your best friend on your dude ranch vacation! Invest in some specialized riding
jeans, ie those without an inside leg-seam so they don’t rub your leg while in the saddle. If
you’re not used to long days’ riding and are going to be doing lots of horseback riding on
your ranch vacation – eg on cattle drives, pack trips, or all-day trail rides – then it’s worth
packing some padded underwear, like those designed for cycling. It may sound strange, but
your butt will thank you for it!
If you’re taking your dude ranch vacation in the middle of summer or in a particularly hot
location, not only should you pack plenty of vest tops and sleeveless shirts, but also some
sleeved riding shirts to protect you from the sun. Choose light cotton materials that will keep
you cool, and remember lighter colors work better in sunnier climes, as they help reflect the
sun’s rays. A light neckscarf will protect your neck from the sun, and your face from sand
and dust when horseback riding through desert and dry/sandy terrain.
Long-sleeve shirts are also a must for wetter and cooler climates – just make sure you pack
plenty of layers so you can add or remove as necessary. Spring and fall ranch vacations
often see freezing temperatures first thing in the morning and much hotter temperatures as
the day unfolds, so layers you can easily remove and tie to your saddle are a must for all-
While most dude ranches recommend wearing a hard hat and often provide them for guests,
if you can fit your riding hat into your suitcase then do take it, to ensure the best fit. If you prefer the authentic cowboy look, invest in a brimmed hat – just make sure it fits to your
head and won’t fly off every time you lope or the wind blows! In the case of a Stetson, it’s
always wise to try for both size and comfort before you buy. If you’d rather go for a more
subtle look, a baseball cap will do a good job of protecting your head and face from the sun.
Mexico horseback riding holidays may not call for a waterproof coat, but spring and fall
ranch vacations, as well as those taken in the more northern US states and Canada, can
be hit by the odd downpour. Says Lynn from Beaumont: “We provide our guests with half
chaps and long, oilskin riding coats. Half chaps not only prevent rubbing but, along with the
raincoats, also help riders stay dry.” Check with your chosen dude ranch as to what coats
and waterproofs they provide for guests, and don’t leave it to chance – a soggy horseback
ride will do nothing for your health or your hairstyle!
Pack a scarf, strong leather gloves to protect your hands, and well-fitting sunglasses (the
kind that won’t fall off your head mid-lope). You may also want to pack a belt to complete the
cowboy look – oversize belt buckle optional!
Aside from the usual toiletries, be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent.
To save space, you could even buy the essentials once you reach your destination. Most
ranches will provide basic shower items and hairdryers anyway, so check before you set off.
Don’t forget it! Compact models that you can easily slip into your pocket or saddlebag are
best, and remember to fix a wrist loop before you set off, to make sure you don’t drop it
during those horseback snaps. You will take more photos than you ever thought possible
on your dude ranch vacation, so pack spare memory cards and, of course, your camera
Going on a horseback pack trip?
Jim Yost of Latigo Ranch, a Colorado guest ranch offering overnight pack trips, says: “We
provide guests with canteens and rain slickers for pack trips, but suggest they bring lots of
layers and changes of socks, plastic bags to keep personal items in their saddle bags dry,
a stocking cap, and long underwear!” Think ‘small and light’ for pack trips – remember that
your pack horse will be carrying all of your items up steep mountain paths, so be considerate
Drinking lots of water to keep you well hydrated is essential on long rides, especially in hot
climates. If your chosen dude ranch doesn’t provide them, bring a water canteen that will
hold enough to last you a day – opt for the round, flat-sided canteens that will lay flat against
Top50 Ranches’ top packing tips…
Stock up on western gear such as cowboy boots and a hat whilst on dude ranch
vacation. Shopping around the local western clothing stores can be fun!
Try to leave about ¼ space free in your suitcase for the above – more if you develop
an obsession for cowboy boots! Leave room for souvenirs and gifts, too.
If you’re unsure of what to pack, ask your chosen ranch or other guests on the Top50 Ranches Forum, who are on hand to advise what to bring with you.
Thanks to Lynn Minty of Beaumont High Country Experience, New Zealand, and Jim Yost of
Latigo Ranch, Colorado, for their help with this feature.
For a great selection of the world’s best ranch vacations, visit Top50Ranches.com or email