A pack animal, also known as a sumpter animal or beast of burden, is an individual or type of working animal used by humans as means of transporting materials by attaching them so their weight bears on the animal's back, in contrast to draft animals which pull loads but do not carry them.
The term pack animal is traditionally used in contrast to draft animal, which is a working animal that typically pulls a load behind itself (such as a plow, a cart, a sled or a heavy log) rather than carrying cargo directly on its back. For instance, sled dogs pull loads but do not normally carry them, while working elephants have been used for centuries to haul logs out of forests.
The term pack animal can also refer to animals which naturally live and hunt in packs in the wild, such as wolves, hyenas, dogs etc.
Traditional pack animals include ungulates such as camels, the domestic yak, reindeer, goats,water buffaloes and llama, and domesticated members of the horse family including horses, donkeys, and mules. Occasionally, dogs can be used to carry small loads.
While traditional usage of pack animals by nomadic tribespeople is declining, a new market is growing in the tourist expeditions industry in regions such as the High Atlas mountains of Morocco, allowing visitors the comfort of backpacking with animals. The use of pack animals "is considered a valid means of viewing and experiencing" some National Parks in America, subject to guidelines and closed areas.
The maximum load for a camel is roughly 300 kg.
Yaks are loaded differently according to region. In Sichuan, 165 pounds (75 kg) is carried for 30 km in 6 hours. In Qinghai, at 4100 m altitude, packs of up to 660 pounds (300 kg) are routinely carried, while up to 860 pounds (390 kg) is carried by the heaviest steers for short periods.
Llamas can carry roughly a quarter of their body weight, so an adult male of 440 pounds (200 kg) can carry some 110 pounds (50 kg).
Loads for equids are disputed. The US Army specifies a maximum of 20 percent of body weight for mules walking up to 20 miles a day in mountains, giving a load of up to about 200 pounds (91 kg). However an 1867 text mentioned a load of up to 800 pounds (360 kg). In India, the prevention of cruelty rules (1965) limit mules to 440 pounds (200 kg) and ponies to 154 pounds (70 kg).
Reindeer can carry up to 40 kg for a prolonged period in mountains.