How To Hike With Your Dog - Moosejaw.com

Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking and camping with a dog can be tricky, but very rewarding. You just need to overcome the slight communication gap. It can be tough to get a read on your pet in a new, vast environment, even if you have taught them to speak. Make sure you know your dog very well before you take him/her on a backcountry hiking trip. Once you're confident that you're both ready, then it's time for you to partner up with the second most adorable hiking companion on the planet, your dog (my dog, Marco, is the first most adorable). There are a number of products on the market that are aimed at making both of your hiking experiences as enjoyable as possible.

This is Marco, you guys
This is Marco, you guys. He is a dog.


It's like the boy scouts always say, "Be prepared" and "No, we don't sell cookies."

Some things to keep in mind.

You don't want to venture out into the backcountry with your best friend unprepared. Here's a quick list to go through as you plan your trip.

• Confirm that your destination allows dogs.
• Make sure the trail has soft terrain and isn't brimming with sharp rocks.
• Verify that your pup is up-to-date on shots, heartworm preventative and flea/tick medication.
• Check that your dog's tags have an up-to-date phone number and address (and preferably have your dog microchipped).
• Make sure your pooch wants to go (ask them excitedly, they'll be down).
• Round up all the requisite gear for you and for your dog.

"Please bring a couple of my favorite toys. Like maybe my stick. Don't want to run the risk of there not being any sticks." - Marco

Dog Packs. Make them carry a bunch of stuff.
Make your dog carry some of your gear. They'll probably love it.

Dog Packs

Don't let your dog pack his own pack; he'll fill it with cheese and wrappers.

Man's best friend, or man's best sherpa?

I swear, my dog acts differently when he's wearing a pack. He gets this confident air about him, like he's on a super important mission. The fact remains, most dogs love wearing packs, and we love the extra pack space.

Carrying a pack is a heavy load to bear, even for yourself. When bringing your dog along, you'll have to carry extra gear and food so they can survive too. The dog pack comes in handy, as this way your dog can carry his or her own food, water and gear. You may want to throw in some doggy first aid too. Just be sure to keep the load weight under 25% of your dog's weight and make sure it's evenly distributed. There are adjustment straps to ensure a secure fit and stable load.

Any gear they can't handle, you'll have to carry for them. If going on a shorter day-hike, you can get away with having your dog carry some of your stuff for a change. Like beef jerky.

"I like wearing a pack because it means I'm on a super important mission. Plus my pack smells like jerky and trash, two of my favorite things." - Marco

Dog Beds
Give your dog a space for sleeping so they stay off your sleeping bag.

Dog Beds

Sometimes I get so excited about taking a nap that I can't sleep.

Physical and psychological comfort.

Packable dog beds are super useful on the trail. They are portable and easy to clean. Just like humans, the cold ground will suck out any of your dog's body heat, so you'll want to keep them elevated off the ground, especially on cool/cold weather adventures. Sleeping pad is to human as dog bed is to canine.

Pad - The bed or pad will also protect the floor of your tent. A puncture in the floor of your tent could really cause a damper on your camp. Having their own special bed will also isolate them from you if they're gross and wet. No guarantees they won't snuggle up come 2am.

Looking to cut some corners when it comes to cash? Your dog probably won't notice, so grab your old closed-cell foam sleeping pad (or pick up a new one), then cut it down to your dog's size. No worries about punctures with this type of pad and weight is minimal.

Blanket - During hot summer nights in the backcountry, your dog might not need or even want a blanket. But who knows, some lil pups have to have their security blanket. On colder adventures, pick up a dog sleeping bag. Seriously, you can zip them right in and everything. You could also go with a kids' sleeping bag if you'd rather not go with a dog-specific option. Short haired and smaller dogs will probably appreciate the extra warmth.

Clean Up - Pack a camp towel to dry them off with before letting them into the tent. Label it or get a color that is different from your own towel, so you don't mix them up. Nobody likes that wet dog smell, except dogs probably.

"I don't know why he keeps calling me Marco. My mom named me Greg." - Marco

Packable bowls makes it easy to give a dog food and water on the trail.

Dog Bowls

So do Pavlov's dogs salivate every time an angel gets its wings?

You are what you eat, so dogs are whatever was just on the ground.

If your dog is anything like my dog or any dog that has ever walked this planet, they'll be zipping around smelling every bit of nature they come across. They'll need plenty of water and food to replenish their energy reserves. Keep a keen eye on your crazy dog though, making sure they don't eat any of the local wildlife. It could be poisonous to them, or even just hurt their stomach, which could in turn create a load of problems for you. Carrying a sick dog off the trail is not ideal.

Bowls - Luckily there are handy folding or collapsible bowls that fit nicely into their dog packs. Pick up one for food and one for water. Be sure to take frequent water breaks, filtering their water the same way you do your own. Animals are subject to bacteria and viruses in water too! When it's feeding time, give them more food than they normally eat (based on exertion level).

"The whole world is a food bowl." - Marco

Dog Safety gear
Safety first when it comes your dogs too.
Dog Safety gear
A harness with reflective trim is ideal for overnight camping trips.


Who's Where's a good boy? Who's Where's a good boy?

The Buddy System.

Leash - It's a good idea to keep your dog leashed at all times. Even if they are a seasoned hiking vet, there are too many variables at play in nature. For instance, your dog might be accustomed to seeing squirrels, but what if they saw a flying squirrel? It might turn their world upside down and send them running for their life. Plus, there may be some fellow hikers out on the trail that are a little scared of super-excited dogs. A leash can go a long way in making everyone feel more comfortable while enjoying nature. Make sure your leash is durable and strong, and perhaps not one of those designer ones. The outdoors are dirty, muddy places and your dog will find the biggest puddle to drag it through.

Collar or Harness? - The collar is a great way to keep your dog identified at all times. It's comfortable and a better option in hotter temperatures. Shorter, less technical trips don't need much more than the collar they are used to. Super easy to get on and off your little fur ball.

The harness is another way to go if you'd rather not use a standard collar. The harness distributes the pressure out more evenly from the leash. This is especially helpful in more technical terrain, giving you a little more control. Especially if your dog pulls a lot, the harness could be a better option for your friend. Some harnesses are built to offer more protection to the chest against burrs and sharp rocks or sticks whenever they crash through the brush. Get a harness with a handle at the top, ready for grabbing to help your dog up a ledge or out of water.

Reflective or Light Up Vest - For added safety, you can get a reflective vest and/or LED lights for greater visibility at night. If you put a ton of blinking lights on them and pump some techno, you've got yourself a literal party animal. A bright orange vest can go a long way when hiking in hunting territory. You never know when a hunter may mistake your dog for another type of animal.

GPS - For an especially flighty pooch, a GPS collar and tracker is the perfect fail-safe. There is inevitably a time where you're either going to take them off the leash, or the leash escapes your hand. A GPS can trim down the time spent searching and add piece of mind.

Boots - Dog boots will protect your pup's pads while also offering a tad more reflectivity. Especially on cold, winter snowshoe trips, boots can prevent ice from building up and add grip in slippery situations.

"I would never run away. Unless there are smells over there." - Marco

Dog seat covers and harnesses for travel.
Marco was NOT having this shot, so this is his stunt double.

Dog Travel

Buckle up, Buckles.

A dog bouncing around the backseat is not safe for him. Or you. Or other drivers.

There are some super convenient ways to keep your dog and your vehicle safe en route to your hiking spot or back home.

Seat Covers - You can get your hands on a no-slip seat cover for your car's back seat to stabilize your pup and prevent a bit of sliding. A sliding dog in a car is a bad thing. They might bump their head and will most likely scratch up your seats. Certain rear seat covers can attach to the head rests of your front seats to create a hammock which will keep your dog from tumbling to the floor where the strange middle floor hump could do some damage. Best part about seat covers? Less use of the industrial vacuum at the car wash.

Car Seat Harness - For extra safety, check out a car seat harness that attaches your dog to a seat belt system. Then you can let them look out the window without the persistent fear of them jumping out.

"I swear, I won't slip around the back seat like a maniac this time." - Every dog, every time

Dog Jackets so your dog can look better than you
A dog jacket can offer both warmth and protection from harsh elements.

Dog Jackets

Give a dog a jacket and he'll be warm for a day. Teach a dog to jacket and.... I forget how this saying goes.

Coats on coats.

Cold Weather - If you're packing a bunch of layers for your backcountry trip, chances are your dog might need some layers as well. This depends on breed, of course. Big dogs with ample body fat and thick coats could be fine au naturale, but other breeds might need the help of a warm jacket, especially at night. There are fleece or synthetic insulated options for cold weather.

Wet Weather - Waterproof jackets will preserve your pup's core temp in wet conditions. They're built with tough materials that can handle some romps through the brush. Plus they'll reduce the chances of bug bites and burrs.

Hot Weather - Alternatively, on really hot trips you may consider a cooling jacket. They work by just getting them wet, wringing them out, and then putting them on your dog. Innovation is incredible. You'll have to make sure you have plenty of water on hand, because you'll have to squirt water from your bottle (or theirs) to soak it, while still having enough water to drink.

Dog jackets will also apply constant, gentle pressure which may help some pups feel less anxious in new environments. It's like they're wearing a big hug.

"It feels great, but nothing like wearing a hug. I don't even know what that means." - Marco

Always clean up after your dogs, you guys.
"Daaaaaad, I pooped on the trail again."

Leave No Trace + Exiting

Pick up that poop, you guys.

Make sure your pup is free of ticks and burrs before heading home.

Leave No Trace applies just as much to dogs as it does humans. Since your dog has no idea what Leave No Trace means, you're responsible. When it comes to pooh, you have two choices. One, bring along some baggies and pack it out. Two, bury it, just as you would your own. Generally option #1 will be for short day hikes, double bag it so you don't have to endure the smell. Option #2 will be for longer backpacking adventures.

Once you exit the trail, there are a few things you can do before jumping in the car. Keep a brush in the car and give your pal a quick brushing, checking for ticks and burrs along the way. Getting rid of these nuisances right after exiting the trail can be a huge help. No transferring of ticks and other troublesome characters to your car seat or your home. You can do a more thorough job once you arrive home and give them the full-on bath.

"Pick up my traces, please." - Marco


It's important to remember that not all hiking trips are dog-friendly. If you're looking to do big miles or head out in extreme conditions, your dog might not be physically up to the trip. I can't offer any hard distance or temperature limits, as it varies greatly on dog breed. You'll have to do a little research on your breed to make sure your trip is tailored to your best friend. Dogs are too adventurous to say no to any trip, so you need to keep their best interests in mind.

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