Expert Advice

Backpacking With Your Dog

While we appreciate the convenience of camping, there’s nothing quite like spending a night under the stars in a place where no cars go.  Backpacking for the first time can be intimidating and while bringing your pooch along means there are a few more things to consider it can be very rewarding for both of you.

Know before you go

This one isn’t really unique to backpacking with your dog, humans should be prepared too, but it becomes 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.  For example, if you’re going to be crossing scree you may want to bring boots, if it’s going to take a full day pack their meal in an accessible place.  Letting someone know where you’re going means if anything happens on the trail 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)? It’s also 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.

Photo credit: Jenna Hollman @atlastheadventuredog

Know your pup’s limits

You wouldn’t summit a mountain if all you’ve ever done is walk around the neighbourhood and you shouldn’t expect anything different from your pup.  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 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: Stephanie White @farley_the_labrador

Know what gear to bring

We all love the latest and greatest gear for ourselves but our pups need gear 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.

  • Collar, Harness, and 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 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 so when you’re on the trail they’ll expect some level of comfort as well.  Our current favorite sleeping bags are the Hurtta Outback Dreamer and the Whyld River DoggyBag but your pup may be fine with a fleece blanket or sharing your sleeping bag with you. You’ll want to make sure that your dog is appropriately insulated from the ground.  If your pup isn’t sharing your sleeping bag, consider something like the Thermarest Z-Lite 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!  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.  Your pup will likely be burning a lot of energy on the trail so you may want to consider bringing extra food.  To lighten your load consider bringing dehydrated food (eg. Orijen or Honest Kitchen) to top of a regular meal.  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 a pouch like the P.L.A.Y. Deluxe Training Pouch or the Kurgo Go Stuff It Treat Bag.
  • 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 like the Kurgo Dog Core Cooling Vest, the Hurtta Cooling Vest, or the Ruffwear Swap Cooler 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.  When you’re hanging out at the campsite, can they still stay warm or do they need a sweater like the Ruffwear Fernie or jacket like the Hurtta Extreme Warmer?
  • Paw protection: To protect your pups paws choose what will be best for 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 it is 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.
  • Backpack (optional): You can lighten your load a bit by getting your pup to carry some of their gear.  If your pup will be carrying their own gear we recommend not more than 15% of their body weight.  We also strongly recommend that you take the time to properly fit the pack and condition your pup to carrying weight.  It important to get the right pack for your pup be it a custom pack like the Groundbird Gear Trail Pack and Harness, a pack with with detachable bags like the Hurtta Trail Pack or a regular pack like the Ruffwear Approach Pack.
Photo credit: Crystal Penney @mountainmuttandgirl

With a little planning and preparation backpacking with your pup can be great experience for all!

Additional photos by: @atlastheadventuredog / @farley_the_labrador / @mountainmuttandgirl

Originally posted: Spring 2017

Last updated: Spring 2020

3 replies on “Backpacking With Your Dog”

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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