Backpacking With Your Dog

Spring has sprung and camping season is in full swing!  While we appreciate the convenience of car camping, there’s nothing quite like spending a night under the stars in a place where no cars can go.  Backpacking for the first time can be intimidating on its own but bringing your pooch along means there are a few more things to think about.

Know before you go

This one isn’t really unique to backpacking with your dog, humans should be prepared too, but it does become a little more important when Fido is coming.  So what do you need to know? You should know your route and let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you expect to be back.  Knowing your route means also knowing your terrain and what the weather conditions will be so you know what you need to bring for your pup (e.g. if you’re going to be crossing scree you may want to bring boots, if it’s going to take a full day you can keep snacks and food for your pup in an accessible place).  Letting someone know where you’re going means if anything happens on the trail you know someone at home has got your back.

What else do you need to consider? Are there water sources on your trek or do you need to pack in enough water for the whole trip? What potential wildlife will you be facing on the trail and what can you do to avoid them? Are there any plants in the area that might cause an irritation to your dog (e.g. foxtails)? Lastly, it’s good to know how long it will take you to get to and from the trailhead.  If it’s a long drive you may want to have some extra food and water in the car for the drive home.

Photo credit: @thelifeofdelilah

Know your pup’s limits

You wouldn’t summit a mountain if all you’ve ever done is flat walks around the neighbourhood and you shouldn’t expect your pup to do the same.  Take the time to get them used to hiking before you expect them to do an overnight adventure.  Condition them to the changes in elevation you might face and the terrain you might come across.  You should also familiarize them with the equipment you’ll be using – not all dogs are comfortable with tents, will yours keep you up at night? Is there something you can bring along to soothe them and help them sleep?  If you’re not sure how your pup will handle backpacking, try looking for some easier backpacking trips near where you live where.  There are plenty of treks that have organized backcountry campsites only a few miles from the trailhead and they are a great place to take your pup for your first trek.

Photo credit: @atlastheadventuredog

Know what gear to bring

We all love the latest and greatest gear for ourselves but our pups need things on the trail too!  Here are the most common items that you should consider when taking your pup backpacking.  Keep in mind, this list isn’t exhaustive and what you need to bring will depend on your pup, the time of year, the trail conditions and the expected weather.  If you’re looking for gear we’ve added links to some of our previous reviews in our list below.

  • Collar, Harness, and Leash: Personally, we prefer a harness over a collar as our pup walks better on a harness and it makes to easier to assist her when she’s off leash.  Whether you go with a collar or a harness make sure that it something your pup is comfortable with and it fits properly before you head out on the trail.  Leash rules are usually in place for a reason – it’s not only to keep you and your pup safe but to protect the environment and wildlife.  Before you go know what the rules are and bring the appropriate leash.
  • Sleep system: Most of our pups are pretty spoiled at home with beds and blankets and mayyyybe pillows, when you’re on the trail they’ll expect some level of comfort as well.  If you read our review earlier this week you’ll know our current favorite sleeping bag is the Hurtta Outback Dreamer but given that we live in the Rockies we also need something to insulate from the ground.  We use a Thermarest Z-Lite for our pups sleeping pad as it is cheap, light and can double as a seat for yourself when your pup isn’t sleeping.
  • Eats and treats: Don’t forget to bring a bowl!  We’ve done this before and then had to share our bowl with our pup.  There are different types of bowls on the market like the Wildhound Outfitters Waxed Canvas Bowl or the Ruffwear Bivy Cinch Bowl so take a look and find the best one for you.  In addition to a bowl, make sure you bring enough food for the trek as well as the ride home.  Your pup will likely be burning a lot of energy on the trail so you may want to consider bringing extra food.  We bring along dehydrated food (eg. Orijen or Honest Kitchen) to top of her regular meal and to keep the weight in our pack down.  Not every pup is able to handle a change in diet so if you are bringing along a topper test it out before you hit the trail.  And of course you can’t forget the trail treats.  It’s good to keep them handy to reward your pup for good trail behavior and to distract them if needed.  Consider keeping some food for them in a pouch designed to carry their treats – as with bowls there are many different options like the P.L.A.Y. Deluxe Training Pouch or the Kurgo Go Stuff It Treat Bag so find the one that’s right for you.
  • Water: Do you know how much water your pup consumes on a daily basis? What about when they’re active? Take notes on their drinking habits and make sure you bring enough for what they will need. It’s often tempting to just let them drink from rivers and streams when you’re exploring the backcountry but you’re not always guaranteed that these water sources will be safe to drink.
  • Safety and First Aid: If you haven’t already check out our article on First Aid for Fido on the Trail as it will give you a rundown of what you should be bringing for your pup. Keeping safe is more than just bringing a first aid kit.  Will you be up when it’s dark? If so, you should bring a light or light up collar for your pup to wear at night, or opt for a collar like the Head-Lites collar that can be used both day and night.  Will it be hot when you’re out there? You may want to bring along some cooling gear so that your pup stays cool and happy.  What other potential safety hazards will you run in to on the trail that are unique to your environment?
  • Clothing: How much clothing you bring, if any, will vary greatly for every backpacker.  Consider your pups needs and what conditions you’re backpacking in.  If you’re heading out in winter and they are not fortunate enough to have a double coat of their own you may want to bring a jacket for them.  Your pup may be fine on a day hike but that’s because they’re moving – you’ll be hanging out at the campsite, can they still stay warm?  In cold weather we bring our Hurtta Extreme Warmer but in the summer we don’t bring clothing for the day but do bring a light fleece suit for bed.
  • Paw protection: We say paw protection because what you choose will be based on your environment. If you’re heading over screen you may want rubber bottom boots, if you’re out in the winter you might want to consider a wax/balm. If it’s muddy conditions you may want to consider bringing along a towel to clean their paws before letting them in to the tent.  Additionally, if there is a chance that it will be cold or cool at night keeping your pups paws warm helps keep them warm.
  • Poop bags and/or trowel: You’re heading out overnight so your dog will have to poop at some point. This means you will either need to bury it or pack it out in accordance with the rules where you’re backpacking. Leaving their poop out can not only ruin things for other hikers but can attract unwanted wildlife.
Photo credit: @thenortherndogs

Our gear list for your dog is pretty long but it doesn’t have to be that heavy if you pack smart.  Additionally, if you’ve got bigger pup you can always use a pack with detachable bags like the Hurtta Trail Pack (so you can detach the bags if they are slowing down your pup) or a regular pack like the Docooler Pet Backpack to get them to carry some of their own items.  If you’re not sure on what pack is right for your pup or how to pack it check back in a few weeks as we’ll be information to help you choose the right pack for your pup as well as providing some tips and tricks to make sure they stay comfortable.

We hope this has been helpful to you and as always if you don’t know ask!

Additional photos by:  @thelifeofdelilah / @atlastheadventuredog ( / @thenortherndogs


    • The humans use human brand backpacks, brands like Deuter and Osprey are usually the go to packs but there are many other great brands out there. The pups use dog specific backpacks but what each pup uses varies depending on what’s most comfortable for them / what they’ll be carrying – Hurtta and Ruffwear are often the most popular choices.

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