How to Tie a Basket Hitch
By Stan Walchuk, Jr.
We are born to live, born to move forward, and born to search. We are always searching for something — money, happiness, adventure, and who knows what — attempting to fulfill our needs and desires. Recent studies have shown that as a generation we are less happy than those that came before us, even though we have more money and more amenities. Studies have also shown that although having money may appear to make us more happy, success and accomplishment are what truly makes us happier, not the money itself.
Think back to the memories that give you a warm feeling, a smile, or a chuckle. They’re rarely to do with money; more often they’re about a situation, place, or people we know or love.
You do not need lots of money, expensive tack, or the latest gear to enjoy time spent in the wilderness with your horse.
Trail riding and wilderness travel have certainly provided me with many precious memories, and I hope they have done the same for you. None of these memories have much to do with money. Are our trips more fun, more adventurous, or more fulfilling now than they were 30 years ago because our pack boxes, saddles, footwear, and clothing is of better quality?
Not a chance. Some of my best memories are of places, people, and country enjoyed and explored in years gone by when sleeping bags were rickety, saddles old and plain, gear without a stitch of Gore-Tex®, and a canvas top tarp for a tent.
You do not need the latest camping gear or packing equipment to enjoy packing your horse, and I have the hitch to prove it. The simple basket hitch will tie a couple of sleeping bags, a couple of hockey bags or duffel bags, or a couple of just about anything on to a packsaddle or a riding saddle. All you need to go on your overnight trip or extended picnic is a couple of items in rectangle or barrel shaped packs (matched in weight), a saddle, and a 40 to 50 foot rope around three-eights of an inch to a half inch in diameter. A rope with some “bite” is better than a slippery rope.
As explained in previous articles, there are two categories of hitches: those that hang the load on the horse and those that wrap the load around the horse in a secure package. The latter group includes the various diamond hitches, square hitch, box hitch, and others. The barrel hitch and the basket hitch are the two most common hanging type hitches, and of the two the basket hitch is likely the most used and most versatile. The barrel hitch may be the best for securing long lateral loads on each side of the saddle, like lumber, firewood, or gear bags. The basket hitch secures long lateral loads, vertical loads, rectangle loads like pack boxes, manties, bales of hay, and even full size backpacks equally well.
The Basket Hitch can be used on a riding saddle or a pack saddle.
Typically, a basket hitch is used to hang the gear and then the whole deal is wrapped with a diamond hitch. However, the basket hitch can be created to be secure enough on its own so that you can head out without throwing a diamond. If we had to learn just two hitches, they would be a basket and a diamond. Using a basket hitch on a riding saddle allows the rider to pack their saddle horse, walk into a remote campsite rather than ride, set up camp, and head out on day rides. If you use a riding saddle rather than a pack saddle, then a roping type saddle with some weight, a snug back cinch, and a chest collar works best.
When practicing your basket hitch just remember to keep the ropes tight as you snug up the load to the forks. Do not let the load hang low and loose. Be sure that the load is the same height on both sides of the horse. Keep the weights on the lighter side — 40 pounds per side is plenty. If you place a top pack on top of your basket-hitched load it will be more secure with a diamond or a similar hitch to secure the entire load. Whether or not we throw a diamond to secure the entire load, we prefer to bring the tail of the rope through the front cinch ring (see photo) to help secure the load.
For extended journeys and rugged country most riders use tough pack boxes and top tarps to protect loads and experience to see them through. But for now I hope you have fun trying the basket hitch. Just remember to use a calm horse, a well fitting saddle, and keep your weights down until you gain confidence. Best of all, you don’t have to be loaded with cash to pull it off!
Basket Hitch Instructions
#1 Begin by finding the halfway point in a 40 to 50 foot rope. Secure it to the front forks of the pack saddle or the saddle horn of a riding saddle with a couple simple half hitches or a clove hitch (see "Four Trail Knots" for instructions for the Clove Hitch).
#2 Slip the rope over the back forks or behind the cantle, so that the tail of the rope hangs down behind the lower rope loop, against the horse.
At this point you can take a duffel bag, bale of hay, pack box, or what-have-you and place it against the side of the horse. Make sure the loop of rope is big enough so that it will loop over the load.
#3A There are two ways that the bottom loop can be brought up and over the load.
The first way is for loads like a pack box, manty, or rectangular shaped load, placed vertically. Bring the loop up and around the box, so that the box is hung by the loop. On pack boxes with handles, the loop is positioned under the handles.
Take the tail section of the rope and pull it up over the loop around the box. Take up the rope slack until the load is positioned correctly. Then secure the tail around the loop rope with a knot.
#3B The second way to position the loop over the load is for horizontally placed loads such as a duffel bag, firewood, bales of hay, or other long loads.
Bring the loop directly upwards and slip it over the forks of the packsaddle. The hanging rope tail is then brought up and around the loop and tightened. Secure the tail with a knot around the loop rope.
#4 For either way, a good addition is placing the tail through the front cinch ring of the girth cinch, or through a ring on the front cinch ring (as shown in photo), then brought up and tight off. This will help stabilize the load by keeping it from bouncing against the sides of the horse.
Use this knot to secure the Basket Hitch.
More information on how to pack horses is always better than less. Pick up a good book or find an experienced hand to learn more about pack gear, adjusting saddles and rigging, and a variety of packing methods. Have fun on the trail!
All photos courtesy of Stan Walchuk, Jr.
Main article photo: Two duffel bags secured with basket hitches.