January 22, 2018

Taking a Backpacking or Hiking Trip with Your Dog?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Tips for Hiking With Dogs

Two people hiking with their dog

It’s officially summer, which means it’s time to get outside!

For the avid hikers out there, it means spending as much time as possible trekking through the woods. But sometimes it can get a little lonely out there with mother nature. Hiking with your furry friend can make the trails even more fun and give you the perfect companion to enjoy the trails with. But if you’re going to bring him along, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to get ready. Hiking with dogs is much more enjoyable when you’re both safe. Image Source


Take time to train for your hike

Two hikers talking while their dog looks in the distance

Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly makes things easier. So take some time to prepare for your big hike. Start by taking long walks with your dog a few weeks in advance, each one just a bit longer than the first. Upgrade to some local trails so your pup can get used to the terrain, too. By the time you set out for your adventure, you’ll both be pros! Image Source

Pro Tip: Only the best-behaved dogs should be taken for hikes off leash. If your dog doesn’t know basic commands like stop, leave it, stay, heel and drop it, stick to leashed hikes.

Research dog-friendly trails

A backpacking Shiba Inu enjoying nature

Not all hikes are made for pups. You’ll need to do a little research before you head out to make sure the trail is dog-friendly. Yes, dog-friendly literally refers to whether or not dogs are allowed on the trail, but you should also look at it as friendly to your dog’s skill level. Image Source

Pro Tip: Looking for some trails to hit up? Check out our free downloadable guide.


Make sure you pack enough food and water

Backpacking dog drinking from a waterbowl

You can bet that you and your pup will work up an appetite on the trails. Keep some energy-providing snacks in your bag so that you can refuel. You’re better off packing a little more than you think you’ll need, just in case. That way if your hike takes a little longer than expected, you don’t have to face the last leg of the trail on a growling stomach.

You’ll also need plenty of water. Staying hydrated is critical while you’re out on the trails. Most hiking experts recommend keeping 3 to 4 liters of water for a summer day hike. Keep that much on hand for your and another 1-2 liters for your dog. Image Source

Pro Tip: Plan ahead and schedule breaks for your hike. Maybe you’ll take a break every 30 minutes, or maybe after every mile. Whatever you decide, stick to the plan. You and your pup will have a much better time if you do.

Keep poop bags handy

A person holding a dog's poop bag

If you’re going to be out all day, you better be prepared to clean up after your dog. It’s inevitable that your dog will need to go #2 at some point on the hike. Leaving your dog’s droppings on the trail is bad manners, and it can be bad for the environment, too. There are millions of bacteria in dog droppings, and they can make both humans and other dogs sick.

So after your dog goes to the bathroom, grab a poop bag and pick up after him. You might need to keep a second bag on hand to toss the poop bags in after you’re done cleaning up. You could also pick up some biodegradable poop bags if you want to make it easier on you. Image Source

Don’t forget the sunscreen

A dog follows its owner as they travel through the woods

Spending hours in the great outdoors can be so refreshing, but it also means taking in a lot of sun. Make sure you’ve packed sunscreen for you and you furry trail partner. Yes, your dog needs sunscreen too. Dogs with short hair and light noses are particularly susceptible to sunburn. Image Source

Pro Tip: If your hike comes up last minute and you can’t find a sunscreen specifically made for dogs, pick up a brand that is safe for babies and sensitive skin.

Keep those bugs at bay

A travelling dog carrying its own backpack

No one likes to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and that includes your hiking dog. Bug bites can make him uncomfortable, and they can also put him at risk. Mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting heartworm and West Nile, both of which can be deadly to your dog. The best way to protect your dog is to give him regular prevention treatments. Image Source

Pro Tip: Most flea and tick medications also cover mosquitoes, but if you’re not sure, get something that specifically protects your pup from heartworms. You can also buy topical ointments and sprays for added protection.

Pack a first aid kit for both of you

Three dogs hiking with their owners

Accidents happen, which is why you should always be prepared! Make sure you’ve packed a first aid kit that has supplies for you and your dog. You get bandages, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, gauze, things like that. Your dog will need tick removal supplies, hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting in case your pup eats something bad for him) and numbers for your veterinarian. Image Source

Pro Tip: In case you need emergency help, make sure you have a charged cell phone and numbers for the park rangers where you’re hiking with your dog. A phone battery might be a good addition to your first aid kit.

Pack some toys

A hiker and his dog crossing a river

Once you get to your campsite, your dog is going to need something to keep him occupied while you set up camp. A Kong is the perfect thing! Just toss some treats inside and give it to your pup to play with. It’ll keep him out of your hair while you get the tent set up and he gets a yummy snack after putting in all that hard work on the trail. Image Source

Pro Tip: Packing light is key when you’re going on a hike. It can be hard not to go overboard when buying toys for your furry friend, but you’ll have to show some restraint when picking toys to bring with you. Just bring two of your pup’s favorites and you’ll be golden.

Pack some treats, too

A dog on a leash hiking across the woods with its owners

Treats keep your dog happy. Having a bag of snacks on hand will make your trek together easier. It will keep your pup motivated as you make your way through the woods and serve as a nice reward when you finish. Image Source

Pro Tip: Just like with humans, snacks are always best in moderation. Instead of packing the whole bag, pour some into a small container. This way your hiking dog gets a nice treat but you’re not overloading him with sweets.

A durable leash is a must

Hiking dog wearing a durable dog leash for travel

We mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Only the best-behaved dogs should be allowed to go hiking sans leash, and most trails are going to require your pup to be on a leash anyway. Make sure you’ve invested in something tough and durable for the hike. Leashes made out of climbing rope are a great pick. Image Source

Pro Tip: Stick with a leash that’s within the 4 to 6-foot range. That gives your dog enough room to roam without giving up too much control.

Try out a waist leash

A hiker with his dog wearing a waist leash

Having free hands on the trail will come in handy. So if you need your pet on a leash, consider giving a waist leash a try! Instead of holding a handle, your dog’s leash will attach to a band that you wear around your waist. Now if you need to check the map or grab your water bottle, you can without your dog restricting your movements. Image Source

Pro Tip: Practice walking your dog with the waist leash around the neighborhood before taking it on your hike. It might take a little adjusting for both of you to do it comfortably and at the right pace.

Outfit your dog in a harness

Two hiking dogs with a harness

Does your dog constantly yank and pull on the leash? Not only does this make it hard for you to keep control over your pet, it’s not good for him. Dogs that constantly fight the leash are at risk of neck and trachea injuries. A harness can solve all of these problems. It moves the pressure off your dog’s neck to prevent injuries and helps give you better control by placing pressure in the right areas. Image Source

Pro Tip: There are three main types of harnesses — front clip, back clip, and tightening. Read up on the pros and cons of each before making your purchase, and know that the first choice you make might not be the best for you and your dog.

Get a backpack for your dog

A hiking pup wearing a red dog backpack

Your dog likes to feel like he’s part of the team, so give him a job to do! Buying a small saddlebag for your dog and filling it with little knick knacks will make him feel important. Things like snacks, extra water or some dog toys will do the trick. Image Source

Pro Tip: Wearing a backpack will actually help keep your dog focused because it gives him a mission. Even if you don’t need him to carry anything, give him an empty bag to wear! It’ll keep his attention on the trail and make it easier for both of you. Backpacking with a dog is a fun and exciting activity for both of you.

Pack some extra clothes for the both of you

A hiker enjoying the calm river with her wet dog

You never know when the weather will change or if you’ll take a fall into the mud, so be prepared with some extra clothes. Yes, it’s summer, but pack a few long sleeve shirts in case the temperatures take a bit of a dip — it’s usually colder in the early morning and later in the evening, anyway. You should also have a rain poncho for you and your dog. No one likes to get rained on, and you don’t want that wet dog smell lingering all day. Image Source

Pro Tip: Pack a small laundry bag or packing cube to put your dirty clothes in. It’ll help keep your clean stuff from getting gross and stinky.

Your dog could use a life jacket

A woman kayaking across a lake with her dog

Did you know it’s a myth that all dogs are good swimmers? A lot of people think it’s part of their instincts, but that’s not always the case. Unless your dog is a strong swimmer, he or she should be wearing a life jacket when near the water. That way if you stop by a nearby lake or spend a day on the water, you don’t have to worry. Image Source

Pro Tip: When your dog is trying on life jackets, check where the straps are hitting. Straps and buckles should never be rubbing against your dog’s skin or sensitive areas on his body.

Encourage your pup to wear booties

Dog wearing dog shoes

Booties can be very helpful for your dog while on the hike. They’ll protect your dog’s sensitive paw pads from anything prickly on the ground, and provide some extra traction on the rough terrain. Image Source

Pro Tip: Teaching a dog to wear boots can take some time. Have your dog try them on at home and walk around, then take them off. Repeat this for a few minutes over the next few days until he looks comfortable. Then you’ll know it’s OK to take them on the trail!

Pack a brush and comb

A bulldog enjoys a hike through the mountains

Roughing it out in the woods is all fun and games … until you find a makeshift bird’s nest in your hair. The same is true for your dog. Keeping a brush and comb with you will help you clean your pup up. You don’t want any twigs nagging him all night when he’s trying to sleep! Image Source

Pro Tip: Does your dog not enjoy getting brushed? Give him a snack that will take some time to finish, like a rawhide, to munch on while you brush him out.

Capture your memories together!

A woman taking a selfie with her dog while sitting on grass

Don’t forget to bring a camera with you! Documenting your adventures with your furry friend will give you a great way to look back on all the fun. Any camera will do — from fancy GoPro to a disposable film camera you pick up at the local convenient store. For those of you with the fancy camera equipment, make sure you take the weight of the camera into account when packing. Also, please keep your camera on a strap to avoid accidents. Image Source

Pro Tip: For the perfect selfies with your pup, bring a selfie stick or mini tripod. That way you don’t have to stop fellow hikers every time you want a pic with your dog.

Bring a flashlight with you

Spotted dog standing on a rocky mountain edge

If your hike is extending later into the day, you don’t want to get caught in the dark without a flashlight. They’re also essential for once you make camp. Wandering around the campsite in pitch black darkness is no fun. The traditional hand-held flashlight isn’t always the most convenient thing to use while hiking, so consider upgrading to a head lamp. You can get your dog a little flashlight to clip on his collar to help him see where he’s going, too. Image Source

Pro Tip: Go for a LED flashlight. They produce the strongest light and are lighter than the others.

Get your dog a glow-in-the-dark collar

A black Labrador wearing a glow in the dark collar

Making sure your dog is visible is the best way to keep him or her safe. It will help you keep track of him or her while hanging out at the campsite after dark, and it helps others know there’s a dog nearby so they can take necessary precautions. Image Source

Pro Tip: You can actually find rechargeable glow-in-the-dark collars. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of camping or night walks with your pup, it’s worth the upgrade.

Have something to tie your dog down with

A woman and her husky enjoying the view on top of a mountain

You do not want your dog running away when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Well, you never want your dog to run away, but it’s even more serious of a risk out in the woods. Even if your dog has been well trained in obedience, a loud noise or a woodland creature could spook your dog and have him running. Keeping him tied down at the campsite will give you some peace of mind. Image Source

Pro Tip: Tie-downs are great for keeping your dog in place, but when used over long periods of time, they can make your dog feel isolated. Make sure he’s not spending too much time tied up or that you’re making regular visits to play with him while he’s tethered.

Use a GPS tracker to keep track of your pup

A hiking dog next to its owners large travel backpacks

There’s no shame in taking every precaution to keep your pup safe. After all, he is your best friend and fur baby. If you want to make sure you know where your dog is at all times, a GPS tracker is a must. You can simply attach it to your dog’s collar and track his location via an app. If you and your dog get separated for any reason, this will ensure the two of you are reunited as soon as possible. Image Source

Pro Tip: Your GPS device can’t help you track your pup if your phone is dead. Make sure you have a fully-charged phone before heading out on the trail, and keep an emergency battery pack in your bag.

Buckle up your dog on the way home

A hiker and her dog crossing a coursing river

Every year, thousands of dogs die in car accidents and yet only 16 percent of dog owners regularly use restraints when traveling with their furry companions. A dog seat belt could literally save your dog’s life. Make sure yours is wearing one on the drive to and from the campsite. Image Source

Pro tip: Seat belts are also a good reminder to your dog of what kind of behavior is acceptable while traveling. Not only will it keep your dog safer in an accident, but it keeps them still during the trip. That means less roaming around and distracting you while driving.

Monitor your dog and take breaks

A hiker and his husky dog looking at the distance

As you make your way through the woods, keep an eye on your dog to see how he’s doing. Is he panting more than normal? Does his stride look like it’s slowing down? You need to be constantly aware of your dog’s physical condition while hiking, and taking frequent breaks can help ensure he doesn’t get overworked. Every dog’s needs are different and will vary based on their experience — super athletic dogs who get lots of exercise can probably go longer without stopping than others. Know what your dog’s skill level is and take breaks accordingly. Image Source

Pro Tip: Your dog needs to stay hydrated. Make sure he’s getting a drink whenever you take a break to rest, and squeeze in a few shorter breaks just for rehydrating.

Check your dog for ticks before heading home

Dog sitting on a hiking trail

The last thing you need to do before heading home is check you and your dog for ticks. These nasty little bugs are responsible for spreading all sorts of illnesses, including lyme disease, which can be fatal if left untreated. Before you jump in the car, take a few minutes to really go over your dog’s fur.

If you find a tick, you’ll need to grab it as close to your dog’s skin as possible. A tick removal kit with a fine pair of tweezers will be helpful here. Just make sure you use a straight, steady motion to pull it out or else you could leave behind traces that could result in infection. Image Source

Pro Tip: Ticks’ favorite places to hide are in and around your dog’s ears, between his toes, under clothes/collars, his eyelids and in the groin area.

And that’s it! Now you and your dog are all set to spend the summer hiking and camping and having a blast together. You can make packing easier on yourself by downloading our free checklist here. Simply check the boxes as you go and you won’t forget anything!

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