Bring on the summer trail rides!
I am no stranger to the all-day ride: I recall fondly one cattle drive from hell when I worked on a guest ranch in Wyoming which found eight or nine of us scattered throughout the National Forest pushing a reluctant herd of Angus up into known wolf territory (needless to say, the cattle were not cooperative.) Nothing tasted better to me than the now-kind-of-warm ham and cheese sandwich that had been smashed into an unrecognizable blob in my saddle bag after miles of chasing wayward cattle. Hunger, as they say, is the best sauce.
I figured that’s just how it was if you were going to put your lunch into a bag which would then be lashed to the back of your saddle for the day — your food would be a little smushed, your beverages kind of warm but still mostly refreshing. Our favorite part of the picnic ride used to be sucking the melted chocolate bar out of the wrapper. (Look, we always packed napkins; we weren’t total heathens.) But there is, in fact, a better way: Noble Outfitters has perfected the old cowboy saddle bag into the ultimate tool for the trail with the insulated Trailblazer Saddle Bag.
The Trailblazer Saddle Bag is designed and constructed to withstand whatever you’re riding through, from foul weather to scraping branches: the exterior is 600-denier polyester canvas and has a water-repellent finish so it can take a beating. With velcro (on the right pouch) and a pair of zippers with velcro (on the left insulated pouch) the bags are secure, but still easy to open from the saddle to grab a snack or a trail map along the ride. Two mesh water bottle pockets positioned on the front of the pouches puts your bottles in the perfect place to grab them easily almost without even turning around.
The bags have a carry strap on the middle, so moving them around your camp or lunch spot is super easy even when fully loaded. Four reinforced grommets provide ideally-located tie locations to anchor the bags securely to the saddle for minimal bouncing. Finished in a universally-matching black, the bags are designed to be versatile with most western, English and Australian saddles.
Fun feature: the Noble Outfitters logo patch is actually velcro, and the company will send you a free patch for your discipline of choice to customize your bag.
Okay, so they look cool, but it’s the storage capacity that counts — and again, Noble Outfitters doesn’t disappoint. The right pouch is designed for maximum storage, with three small pockets, a mesh zip pocket, a carabiner clip and two exterior pockets as well as the main compartment. For fun, I decided to see what exactly I could fit in there and included a first-aid kit, a lighter, some dry fire-starter material, two sets of camp silverware, paper plates and napkins, my keys, chapstick, bug spray and sunscreen — with plenty of room left to add lunch and dinner supplies. Noble Outfitters even added an ID patch on the inside of the top flap, with room for personal and horse info. I backpack much more than I overnight horse camp, and I wish that my weekender backpack had half as many organizational features.
The left pouch is insulated and waterproof: you could slip a couple of ice packs in there and keep your food cold literally all day long. Noble Outfitters claims that the insulated pouch is large enough to hold a 12-pack, and while I didn’t have a 12-pack handy to test this out with I have no reason to doubt this claim — it appears that there’s enough room in here to comfortably pack enough food to feed a family of four (or, more realistically for me at least, enough food to feed two people with room leftover for beer.)
The Test Ride
I decided to put all of these wonderful features to the test: after all, anything can look good sitting on the kitchen table but it’s another story entirely to actually use these things. While I would have loved to have the capacity to organize a day-long trail culinary extravaganza, necessity and the weather dictated a shorter trip. So we loaded up the saddle bags at home with fixings for campfire hot dogs (and yes, threw a few beers in there too) and headed to the barn for an evening jaunt to the cow pasture.
The bags were very easy to load onto my saddle and tie down; the entire process took about thirty seconds. The bags fit the contour of my saddle nicely and only overhung the saddle pad by a small margin, so they weren’t brushing Red in the sensitive flank or rubbing over his hips. Joined by my intrepid fiance Erik aboard his Dutch, we headed out to the cow pasture to “Cow Camp,” the tiny one-room cabin with a fire ring where the family has little cookouts in the summer.
When we arrived at the cabin, I unloaded the bag to see how our cold foods had fared: it had been about an hour and a half since loading the bags at home, then driving to the barn, then catching, grooming and tacking the horses, then ambling leisurely out to the pasture. We didn’t throw any ice or frozen packs into the bags, so I was pleased to find that our ‘dogs and beer were just as cold as if they had been in the fridge. Added bonus: because of the integrity of the bags, the buns weren’t even a little bit smashed, and the dog food we packed along for our canine companion was still mercifully sealed and intact. While I didn’t pack the bags to capacity for our little cookout, there was plenty of room for additional food and beverages had I chosen to put together a meal more complete than campfire hot dogs.
Bottom line: at $54.99 direct from Noble Outfitters, these bags are definitely worth the investment for a summer of horse camping and long trail rides.