Volunteer Packers

Photo by Meg Killen

Volunteer Packer Pre-Project Details

Hats Off to Our Volunteer Packers!  

Without your generosity and commitment to service, we wouldn’t be able to access the trails most in need of our volunteer efforts. Thank you so very much for all your help!

First Things First: Volunteer Packer Requirements

To keep our safety history untarnished and to be sure we're meeting all USFS standards, all packers who work with MWA must meet the requirements listed below. Thank you in advance for keeping the bar high. 

  • All packers must
    • Have current USFS-approved defensive horsemenship training. Provide upon request to MWA staff. It's assumed you have this certification when you register for a volunteer project.
    • Acknowledge, agree to, and accept USFS Job Hazard Analaysis. The analysis is also provided during your online registration.
    • Complete MWA online registration. It's imperative that we know your health background and other personal info in case of emergency while you're in the field with us.
    • Be in good standing and play well with other trail and land-agency partners.
    • Understand and agree that MWA staff have the right to respectfully decline services at any time if safety standards are not being upheld or volunteers, agency staff, or MWA staff are otherwise at risk.

Questions? Contact MWA Stewardship Coordinator Sonny Mazzullo at smazzullo@wildmontana.org or 406.334.7378.

Volunteering is Easy – Here's How it Works

  1. Check out the schedule and select a date/project that fits your schedule. Be sure to review the trailhead information, camp information, and all available details provided by MWA staff. 
  2. Review our standard packing list to get idea of our loads, tools we pack, and other equipment we provide.
  3. Call our MWA office to reserve your space for the project. Important: From this point on, we’ll be counting on you, so please take your commitment seriously.
  4. Every packer on the trip needs to complete this volunteer registration form. All packers need to fill out this form one week before the project start in order to receive reimbursement.
  5. For final check-in, MWA staff will call you two to three weeks before the project to make sure we are all on the same page about dates, details, meeting times etc.

Project Reimbursement

It’s important to us that these trips are worth your while! Aside from our unwavering gratitude, we also offer the following options for  mileage reimbursement:

  1. Request a letter from MWA outlining the value of your services to our program. This may be tax deductible. Consult a financial expert.
  2. Alternatively, request a mileage reimbursement from MWA:
  • Each packer who drives a rig to support our project can submit a mileage reimbursement request at $.56/mile/person up to $400 one-way for the group.
  • MWA can reimburse individuals or BCH clubs for their mileage - the lead packer from your group will need to submit a reimbursement form (the form will be sent after your trip) so we know who to reimburse and for how much.
  • Please note that reimbursements only apply to active packers and support team members helping the lead packer. This reimbursement cannot be applied to companion riders that are accompanying only for a fun ride.

Standard Packing Loads with MWA Volunteer Trail Crew Projects

Depending on the number of volunteers (more or less stuff) we can usually get into camp with five tightly packed stock. If six pack animals are available, loads are much lighter and we can fit everything very easily. This is our standard packing list for backcountry projects:

  • 1st Animal = One bear box set (crew food), about 70-75 lbs.
    These are the boxes we use. It's recommended to sling load these boxes and to wrap these loads with manty tarps. Standard size: 24" long x 18" wide x 12" deep. Welded aluminum structure. 
  • 2nd Animal = Second bear box set* (crew food), about 70-75 lbs. 
  • 3rd Animal = Bear-proof coolers (crew food), about 50-60 lbs.
    Standard size: 25" long x 15" wide x 15" deep. We also have an extra manty tarp to top load soft duffle with these coolers if packers are comfortable top loading.
  • 4th Animal = Kitchen Kit set in wood pack boxes.
    Carries mix of kitchen gear (utensils, pots/pans, etc), two-burner cook stove, ropes, tarps, propane tank. Roughly measures 30" long x 15" wide x 12" deep. This is usually our lightest load, around 60-70 lbs. 
  • 5th Animal = Tool Box Set, pushing 80-100lbs
  • 6th Animal = (Optional) Large, bulky duffle like tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads. These items are  usually intermixed with tool boxes to help secure rattling equipment and take up empty space.

​Important Notes Regarding Packing and Safety: 

  • MWA volunteers are NOT permitted to touch or assist stock per USFS guidelines. All packers must be able to rely on their own packing team to pack gear to camp. MWA staff have horsemanship training to help in a pinch. However, remember that MWA staff are required to travel with crew volunteers and will likely hit the trail before the packers to get a head start to camp. 

  • MWA provides nine manty tarps and ropes for each crew. We will assist in manty wrapping all loads to protect equipment and reduce risk of box corners and loads from irritating your stock.  

Packing Day Logistics 

  • Pack In: Crew will be ready by 8 a.m. for gear to be loaded and hit the trail. Often, we will be camping at the trailhead the night before to help volunteers organize their gear and go over morning details. Crew will hike in before packers to get a head start and clear any blowdown. If the hike is long (8+ miles), the crew will likely stop for lunch and packers may catch up somewhere along the way. We invite you to have dinner with us (our treat) if you'd like to stay overnight, but please let us know a head count and food preferences so we can make sure there is enough to share. 
  • Pack Out: Crew will have gear ready by 9 a.m. (or sooner if pre-arranged with packer) in the backcountry and staged for packing, but you should make final packing adjustments to fit your critters. Crew will hike out as soon as packers arrive and meet you at the trailhead at the end of the project. 
  • Again, we are flexible on some of these logistics and happy to compromise to match your needs.