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We absolutely loved our dude ranch vacation last year and put a dude ranch trip on our list of “must do” family trips. Being an East Coast suburban family, I had no idea what to pack for a dude ranch. Cowboy boots, cowboy hat, riding jeans? How do I pick and where do I even find those things? Well, I scouted out some resources and put together a list of what to wear on a dude ranch and the must have items to pack for a dude ranch trip to make your trip planning go more smoothly.
What to Wear on a Dude Ranch
- Cowboy boots — the number one thing you will need are good riding boots with a heel to hook onto your stirrups. Most ranches ride Western, so even if you ride English, you may want to invest in a pair of cowboy boots. That said, during our ranch trip, the Brits in our group all wore English riding gear. It definitely helps to try on a few to find the style that is right for you. I never thought of myself as a cowboy boot gal, but I love my Tony Lama boots and have found myself wearing that quite a bit. And with all the walking and riding I did, they were comfortable the whole time. I do recommend wearing them around home a bit before your trip to break them in.
2. Riding jeans — you can buy English riding pants, but if you are going for the Western look, boot cut riding jeans is the way to go. I listen to the advice Colleen from the Dude Ranchers Association gave on our dude ranch podcast episode, a picked Wrangler. Little known fact — Wrangler jeans have the seams on the outside so they don’t rub on the inside of your legs when you are riding. I can’t tell you how many people I heard complaining of chafing but my jeans were comfortable every ride.
3. Long-sleeved shirts — you will want long sleeve shirts for riding to protect your arms from the sun and branches during trail rides through the woods. Plus, depending on where you and when you go, it may be chilly on your rides and you will want that extra layer. Hiking shirts are good and Wrangler also has some great Western wear.
4. Cowboy hat — most ranches do not offer riding helmets so if you want one, you should plan on bringing your own (but do ask ahead just in case.) If you aren’t wearing a helmet, you will certainly need a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your eyes. One thing to keep in mind is that you definitely want to get a hat with a chin strap or buy one that you can attach. You don’t want your hat blowing off on the ride.
5. Vest — on some mornings, I needed a warm fleece, but often it would warm up throughout the ride and just a vest was enough to get by. Even if you are riding in warmer temps (we were in Montana in late August), a vest can still be helpful to store some items you might want throughout your ride such as chapstick, tissues, or a small phone/camera. You may also borrow a small sidebag from the ranch but then your little extras aren’t as easy to get to when you need them.
6. Warm clothes and pajamas— think in layers. You may want a tank or t-shirt under your long-sleeve shirt and you will certainly want a warm jacket and sweatshirt for cold mountain nights. As I mentioned, we were in Montana in late August and it got below freezing at night. Unless you are at a luxury ranch, chances are the heat in your cabin will be from a wood stove or fireplace. It helps to have some cozy PJs.
8. Sneakers / Hiking boots / Flip flops — no matter how comfortable your riding boots are, you will want to take them off after a long ride. Bring a pair of sneakers to wear around the ranch (and for activities like a guest/staff softball game.) You will also want hiking boots if you are doing any hiking nearby. And, even when the mornings and nights are cold, the days can be quite warm. I’d recommend flip flops for relaxing on those warm days.
9. Shorts and maybe a bathing suit — as I mentioned, it does get warm during the day so bring along shorts to change into after riding. If there is a pool or lake (ask ahead), you may also want a bathing suit. Or if you are at a luxury ranch, there may even be a spa.
10. Barn dance clothes — most ranches have a capstone event in a barn dance/square dance on Saturday evening so come prepared. A fun western-style dress, a jean skirt, a fringe vest, really anything goes. Luckily when we went western-style clothing was “in” so we even found some cute, inexpensive outfits at target to supplement our wardrobes.
11. Bandanas — if your ranch is dry and dusty, it won’t take long of choking down dust during your rides to realize why cowboys always have bandanas.
12. Raincoat — rides go out rain or shine. You can always choose not to go, but if it isn’t raining hard and you want to get out on the trail, you’ll be happy for some protection from the rain.
13. Breathable socks — I found that a good summer hiking sock worked perfectly in my riding boots, but you will want to try them out at home so it isn’t too tight.
What to Pack for a Dude Ranch
There are also some essentials you will need for your trip:
- Flashlight — it is dark out on a ranch so if you will be going from the lodge to your cabin after dark, a flashlight will be helpful
- Bug spray — apply liberally before rides and especially at night
- Sunscreen — look out for noses and ears and don’t forget lip balm too
- Bear spray — this is something you can buy locally but if you are doing any backcountry hiking, better safe than sorry
- Refillable water bottles — chances are the water will be fresh and good from the tap. Especially if you are at a high elevation, make sure to stay hydrated (I love this one because it keeps liquids cold!)
- Snacks — we were fed heartily at our ranch so we were rarely hungry in between meals (and often if we were, there were cookies up at the kitchen), but if you have picky eaters or big snackers, bring snacks or stop and pick some up on the way
- Shoe bags / laundry bags — your clothes are going to get dusty and dirty so plan on bringing some bags to either contain the dirty or protect your clean clothes for the trip home
- Laundry detergent — to that end, if you don’t want to pack too heavily, you can check and see if your ranch has laundry facilities and bring along some travel-sized laundry detergent
- Wine/beer — if alcohol isn’t included in your meals, you may want to BYOB and stop on your way to stock up. Check first on your ranch’s policy
- Books & games — you will have some downtime. Chances are the kids will group together and find something to play, plus there will be some games on loan, but best to bring some of your own games and books too
- Muscle rub — unless you ride a lot, you will be using muscle you aren’t used to. A good muscle rub or essential oils (and maybe even some Advil) will help with those aches and pains.
- Riding gloves — these aren’t really essential for most trail rides, but if you are going on an all-day or a more challenging ride, then riding gloves will protect your hands from the rubbing of the reins
- Sun glasses — even with a wide-brimmed hat, I’d recommend polarized sun glasses for the best protection and shade
- Lotion — it can be sooo dry in the mountains or desert so moisturizer is an absolute must
- Shampoo / conditioner — check in advance to see what your ranch provides, but this may be something that you need (or want) to bring yourself
Lastly, don’t forget travel insurance. A ranch vacation is a big expense and you want to be covered not just for trip cancellation, but also for medical coverage and evacuation just in case something happens when you are out on the range. I have an annual policy with Allianz and I have found their customer service and claims turn around to be terrific.
Are you heading out on a ranch vacation? Tell me which one in the comments!
- 10 Reasons to Plan a Dude Ranch Vacation
- Tips for Planning a Dude Ranch Trip
- Nine Quarter Circle Ranch review
- Dude Ranchers Association