Hiking With Your Dog: Practical Gear and Advice

Last Updated: January 2021

Hiking with your dog on any outdoor adventure can be a blast. It adds an entirely new element to your relationship with your four-legged companion. Yet, it can also become complicated or even dangerous.

In this article, we will break down the must-know aspects of hitting the trail with your dog. So you can ensure their safety and save yourself a headache.

Quick Gear Guide

Practical Hiking Gear For Your Dog

Beyond the necessary preparations below, you may want to invest in some gear to keep you and your pup healthy and happy on the trail.

dog wearing a dogpack

Dog Pack

Most medium-sized dogs and large dogs can handle carrying some of their own gear. They won’t be carrying everything, but they should be able to carry at least some (or all) of their food, treats, and doggie poop bags. How much they can carry will depend on their size and endurance.

If you are investing in a dog pack, have your dog practice wearing it. They can practice walking/hiking with it while carrying weight.

Even if your dog takes daily walks in the neighborhood, it doesn’t mean they’re always ready for a rugged trail. Especially carrying extra weight on them.

If you are planning on hiking in winter, we also recommend getting a winter jacket to keep your pooch warm and cozy.

dog laying on a pad inside a tent

Sleeping System

As you'll need a place to rest after a long day of hiking, your tired dog will need one too. Your pup can share your tent with you as their shelter, but there are some things you need to be mindful of. 

First, make sure your tent has reinforced floor to prevent rips from your dog's nails. If your tent does not have this, we recommend adding a tarp as a protective layer.

Second, your dog deserves a soft and padded place to sleep. A sleeping pad will provide cushion between the hard ground and your dog. Do avoid inflatable pads as they can be punctured. 

Lastly, depending on the time of year you take your four-legged partner out to the backcountry, you may need a sleeping bag or a pet blanket to keep them warm overnight. 

dogs drinking river water

Food and Water

For any backpacking trip, you will need to plan for your food and water along the way. You have to do the same for your dog. Always plan for at least one day’s extra food and always filter your dog’s water when hiking.

Not all water is safe for us to drink, and, thus, it is not safe for them to run up to a lake or stream and lap up water. There have been several instances where dogs drink from a pond and die due to pollution or poisons algae blooms.

Learn more about water filters and purifiers in our article  Best Backpacking Water Purifiers.

If the trail doesn't offer running water, remember to pack extra water for your dog on the hike. Also, pack lightweight, collapsible bowls for them to drink and eat out of. Encourage your dog to drink water in the morning of the hike and at night. Also, make water accessible during their meals.

Your dog will be burning extra calories on a backpacking trip. So, along with their regular food, bring some treats. This can help with obedience, as well.

Pet First Aid, LED Collars, & Boots

Just as you pack a first aid kit for yourself, you will need to pack one for your dog. Some of the first aid materials will overlap, so you can keep them all together.

We recommend to pack extra materials for repairing paw related injuries. These are the most common.

To prevent paw injuries, you can always opt to have them wear booties. These can take some getting used to. So have your dog wear them on practice hikes.

Boots are better for colder weather. They’re not advised for hot weather conditions because dogs sweat through their paws. Boots can inhibit this natural cooling and can cause heat exhaustion.

A good alternative to boots is paw protective wax. This adds a protective layer to their pads without inhibiting their ability to sweat.

If you’re planning for an overnight trip, having an LED dog collar can help you to keep your dog more visible at night. These will ensure that you can see your dog around camp or hiking late in the day or early in the morning.

dog wearing a body harness

Leash and Harness

The most favorable leash for backpacking is a runner’s leash. These leashes will attach around your waist to keep your hands free while you walk. This makes it easier to manage your dog and your gear since you aren’t holding a leash in one hand.

If you need to leashed your dog, we recommend that you have them wear a harness. Walking them with a harness is far more comfortable and safer as they’re less likely to slip out. Plus, if you have a dog that pulls on a leash, a harness can help keep them under control.

small dog being carried in a dog backpack

Know Your Dog’s Abilities

One of the most important aspects of hiking with your dog is understanding their abilities and endurance levels. You'll find most adventure pups to be medium to large dogs.

However, you can bring small dogs on day hikes or even backpacking treks. Become familiar with how far they can hike and how to recognize exhaustion.

Dogs love going on outdoor adventures with their humans. Yet, they are not always the best at regulating their exercise.

Most dogs will go and go until you instruct them to stop. It won’t matter how tired, sore, or how painful their paws feel from hiking over rocks.

Before embarking on an overnight hiking trip, take several day hikes with your dog first. This way you get a feel for how far they can safely hike. This will help you plan your daily mileage and other gear you may need.

Some small dog owners will have them hike for part of the trail distance and carry them in a carrier the rest of the time.

Beyond the size of your dog, age will play a role as well. You will need to be careful when planning a hike with a young dog or an old dog.

Puppies should have regulated amounts of exercise to ensure they do not injure themselves while they’re growing. Your puppy also will not receive all of their vaccinations until about 5 months of age. So, you’ll at least have to wait that long.

Elderly dogs have limits as well. While they may be enthusiastic about the trek, it could cause pain or injury very quickly, depending on the terrain.

dog and girl hiking

Vaccinations and Medications

While you'll likely be up to date on these, you must make sure your dog has all vaccinations and medications. You’ll be hiking out in the woods where many wild animals call their homes. This means that your dog will be coming into contact with wildlife that they wouldn’t typically encounter.

Make sure you protect your dog from rabies, distemper, bordetella, heartworm, and fleas/ticks. These are one of the first things to plan before a backpacking trip.

Tags, Microchips, and GPS Trackers

Having tags that identify that your dog is up to date on their vaccinations is one thing. Still, if your dog accidentally wanders away from the group, you’ll need to have identification beyond that.

Tags on a collar can be too basic for backpacking as collars can come off. However, this is fast way for another hiker to see that your dog is not a stray and may reach out to you that same day.

A microchip is ideal if your dog’s collar does manage to come off, and they’re lost. Most veterinary offices and dog rescues will perform microchipping and registration for a small fee.

What’s great about microchips is that you can input your contact information. If your dog ends up in a shelter, they can scan your dog and look up your information in the national database.

If you’re anxious about your dog running off, you can also invest in a GPS tracking system. You can attach this to your dog’s collar. This will only work if their collar is on and within certain distances. It can help you find four-legged partner within a matter of minutes.

man and dog hiking

Know Area Rules and Regulations

It is worth noting that not all parks or wilderness areas allow dogs to hike or camp. If the area you are hiking does allow dogs, be sure to check regulations on leashes. If a hiking area requires a leash at all times, it is likely for safety reasons about the wildlife. Take these warnings and rules seriously, and keep your dog leashed.

Other than leash laws, all hiking areas encourage dog owners to pick up dog poop. This goes for backpackers too. While it is somewhat unpleasant, it is a part of packing it in and packing it out. Be prepared to pick up and carry your dog’s poop for the duration of your trip.

Depending on the area, you may also be able to dig cat holes and bury your dog’s poop. Please note, you'll need to bury it at least 8” deep. Also, you need to keep it 200 feet away from campsites, trails, and water sources (including washes).

white dog hiking trail towards mountain

Off-Leash Training

If you find a hiking area that allows dogs off-leash, you should be 100% sure you train your dog to handle this. The best way to work on this is to take several small hikes with them off-leash. Also, work on recall training continually.

When hiking off-leash, your dog should be within your sight at all times. If you cannot see them, call them back. You can also work on training your dog to stay on the trail, which is an integral part of avoiding injury.

Be mindful of other hikers or bikers when you are on the trail as well. This is why it is crucial to always be able to see your dog. If another hiker is approaching you, your dog needs to be able to heel on command. If they also have a dog, having your dog heel is one thing, but they’ll need to be obedient enough to stay.

If your dog cannot handle these things, it may be best to keep them leashed when hiking. You can work on off-leash training at home until they are ready for the trail

Happy Hiking

Hiking with your dog is rewarding for both you and them. It takes time and patience to get to a point where both of you can be safe and happy on the trail. Investing in proper training and gear is one way to ensure that both parties have an enjoyable backpacking experience.

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