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Your Guide to Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping with Dogs

Your Guide to Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping with Dogs

Camping with dogs is the best. There’s no denying that.

But heading out into the wilderness with your canine companion is quite a bit different than taking the same adventure with a human friend.

Not only is planning and preparation more complicated, but your time on the trail comes with more responsibility. You must ensure your dog has the right gear and plenty of food and water. It’s up to you to keep your dog safe on the trail and in the backcountry.

Whether you plan to go camping, hiking, or backpacking with dogs, our ultimate guide breaks down everything you need to know for a fun outdoor trip with your furry friend!

Table of Contents

  1. Before Your Trip
  2. Select the Best Trail/Campground
  3. On the Trail/At Camp
  4. Trail Hazards
  5. Dog Camping Gear Checklist

Before Your Dog Camping Trip

Two Dogs in a Camping Tent

Proper preparation is vital to the success of your dog camping trip. Keep the following tips in mind while on the trail and at your campsite.

  • Obedience Training – Other dogs, hikers, wildlife, and trail conditions can be dangerous to untrained dogs. Ensure your dog knows basic commands like sit, come, down, stay, and leave it before hitting the trail.
  • Hiking Shape – Get your dog in hiking shape by taking several short hikes to build up their conditioning before long hikes. A short overnight backpacking trip is a perfect warmup for a longer, multi-night trip.
  • Gear Familiarity – Make sure your dog is comfortable with all their dog hiking gear and equipment, including harnesses, dog booties, and doggie backpacks before you hit the trail.
  • Practice Night – If this is your dog’s first ever time camping, try a practice run at home. Pitch your tent in your backyard (or inside) for a trial run.
  • ID Tag – There’s always a chance your dog will get lost on the trail. Yours should always wear an easily readable ID tag with your phone number on it.
  • Microchip – Consider investing in a dog microchip as an additional safety measure in case they get lost. These small chips are implanted in their skin (so they can never fall off) and contain all your contact information.
  • Picture ID – A picture of your dog to show area residents is essential if your dog gets lost while hiking or camping. Having such a picture ready to go is vital as every minute counts if your dog gets lost in the woods.
  • Updated Vaccinations – Take your dog in to the vet before hiking season to ensure they have all the recommended vaccinations for adventurous dogs.
  • Health Records – I always keep a copy of my dog’s most recent health records in my glove compartment in case we need to make an emergency trip to an out-of-town vet.

Do you have any additional tips on how to prepare for your first dog camping trip?


Select the Best Trail or Campground

Large Dog Sitting Outside Tent

Just as important as proper preparation is selecting the right hiking or backpacking trail or campground. Use the following tips to select the best dog-friendly trail or campsite for you and your pup.

  • Dog Friendly – Of course, the most important thing to do is find a hiking trail and/or campground that actually allows dogs!
  • Leash Regulations – Always bring a leash even when one isn’t required. With that said, keep your eyes open for tails without leash regulations if your dog loves to run free. Most campgrounds, aside from some free camping areas, also require your dog stay on a leash (or at least fully under your control) at all times.
  • Water Source – Plentiful freshwater sources can make backpacking with dogs a whole lot easier. Bring a water filter so you don’t have to carry as much weight in your pack.
  • Distance – Base the daily distance of your hiking or backpacking trip on the amount of hiking your dog can safely handle. Never push your dog beyond their limits. And, remember, your dog often tell you when they’re too tired, so keep an eye open for signs of fatigue. Stop and rest often.
  • Weather – The time of year influences the type of dog camping gear you’ll need to pack for your trip. Winter camping with a dog is possible with the right winter gear (consider a winter tent heater). Of course, hiking or backpacking in hot weather requires a lot of water!
  • Young Dogs – Hiking and backpacking with puppies and younger dogs must consist of much shorter trips than mature adult dogs. In fact, it’s usually best to wait until between 12 months and 18 months before you hike, depending on the breed. Check with your vet before you take your dog on their first hike to be safe!

For example, in my home state of Washington, Washington Trails Association is an excellent resource for finding dog-friendly hikes for all seasons. Look for a similar hiking organization near you to find the best hikes for dogs in your local area.


On the Trail and At Camp

Border Collie Camping

Finally, we get to the fun part – getting to the campground or the trail and actually camping or backpacking with your dog! The following tips will help ensure a safe and enjoyable time in nature.

  • Pack Light – Caesar’s Way recommends your dog backpack weigh a maximum of 25% of your dog’s weight. Check with your vet for the best safe weight recommendation for your dog’s breed, age, and activity level.
  • Leave no Trace – The leave no trace principles means leaving the area you backpack through the same as how you found it. For hiking with dogs, this includes picking up waste, keeping your dog on the established trail, and limiting digging.
  • Leash or Not – Some trails don’t require dogs to be on leash. If you want to go leash-less, The Outbound Collective guide on how to hike off-leash with your dog (and not have people hate you) is a fantastic resource.
  • Trail Etiquette – Abiding by leash laws, yielding the right of way to non-dog hikers and horses, treading gently over sensitive terrain, and packing out waste are the basics of trail etiquette for backpacking with dogs.
  • Monitor Your Dog – Pay close attention to how your dog does on the trail. If you’re hungry or thirsty, they’re probably hungry or thirsty. If you’re tired, they’re probably tired. Don’t be afraid to take breaks to rest, eat, drink, and otherwise recharge.
  • Check Paws and Fur – Eagle’s Nest Outfitters recommends checking your dog’s paws and fur regularly, at least every night, for cuts, ticks, fox tales, and other injuries or annoyances when camping with your dog.

Avoid Common Trail Hazards for Dogs

Dog Looking Out of Small RV

Backpacking, hiking, and camping with dogs isn’t without its hazards. In fact, on-trail hazards are so numerous in the woods that we want to focus specifically on them for a moment.

  • Wildlife – Keep your dog leashed in bear, cougar, and wolf territory. Watch out for snakes. Check for ticks at the end of each day.
  • Plants – Ensure your dog doesn’t chew on any wild plants. Know how to identify poison oak and other plants like nettles and sumac that cause discomfort. Be on the alert for thorns and burrs.
  • Foxtails – Know the symptoms of foxtails in your dog’s ears, eyes, and nasal passages as this can cause serious, even fatal, problems.
  • Fast Water – Never attempt to cross a whitewater creek without lifting and carrying your dog (a dog life jacket is a nice touch).
  • Cold Water – Ensure plenty of time for your dog to dry off if they take an afternoon or evening swim. Towel them off before bedtime to prevent a chill.
  • Contaminated Water – A lot of people do, but I never let my dog drink untreated water on the trail. I treat all of our water before we drink it.
  • Heat Stroke – Hiking with a dog in summer can have serious consequences. Start early in the morning, limit distance hiked, and provide plenty of water. Take regular breaks to rest in shady areas.
  • Overexertion – Keep an eye on your dog’s breathing and heart rate. If they take too long to normalize during breaks, consider calling it quits for the day.

Take note of these trail hazards to keep your dog safe on your next hiking, backpacking, or camping trip.


Best Dog Camping Gear Checklist

Border Collie Wearing a Dog Backpacking Backpack

For a short hike, you don’t need much additional gear beyond a collar or harness, leash, dog bags, and a little extra water for your pooch. For actual camping or backpacking trips, however, there’s quite a bit of gear you’ll want to have in stow.

Food & Water

Bring plenty of food and water to prepare for your dog’s exertion on the trail. Even for a day hike, a little extra food (and, of course, a lot of water) is vital.

Dogs burn a lot of energy while hiking. REI suggests feeding your dog their normal amount of food plus one extra cup for every 20 pounds of weight. LiveOutdoors recommends investing in a meat-based dog food specifically designed for hiking dogs. These protein-rich foods offer even more calories without nearly as much weight.

Most dogs drink between 0.5 and 1.5 ounces of water per pound of weight each day. The exact amount of water a dog needs depends on their breed, the weather conditions, and the difficulty of your hike. I never rely on freshwater water sources while hiking with dogs. I always carry enough water for both myself and my dog (or I bring a water filter).

To be safe, always talk to your vet before your hiking trip for their expert recommendation on the right amount of wood and water to pack for your dog.

Dog Bowls

Look for a lightweight, collapsible dog bowl for hiking or backpacking with dogs. The Ruffwear Quencher Dog Bowl is one of my favorites.

Trail Snacks

Dogs need trail snacks just like humans. You might be tempted to give your dog some leftovers of whatever you eat, but remember that hiking dog treats are specially designed with canine nutrition in mind. Cycle Dog Trail Buddy Dog Treats give your dogs a specially formulated boost of energy (and dogs seem to love how they taste!).

First-Aid Kit

Take a basic dog first-aid and CPR course and invest in a basic dog first-aid kit before you hit the trail. A pre-made first-aid kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Dog First-Aid Kit is an excellent option. Or, build your own by following these guidelines from the The Humane Society. Remember to pack any special medications your dogs before your camping trip.

Dog Backpack

A doggie backpack lets your dog help carry some of their supplies, such as food and water, while hiking or backpacking. LiveOutdoors suggests measuring the circumference of your dog’s chest to find the right size dog backpack. This measurement corresponds with the sizing used by most manufacturers.

My favorite dog hiking pack is the Ruffwear Approach Dog Bag. It’s lightweight, seemingly comfortable, and affordable. It comes in a variety of sizes.

Remember to only pack around one pound in the backpack per 20 pounds of dog, although this depends on breed and conditioning.

Leash, Harness, and Collar

A leash and collar/harness is perhaps the most important piece of dog hiking gear. Even if trail regulations allow your dog to run off leash, you should always bring one with you.

My favorite dog hiking leash is the Ruffwear Roamer Dog Leash. It has stretch webbing to absorb shock. You can wrap it around your waist or hold it in your hands.

For dog hiking collars, I like the Nite Ize Nite Dawg LED Dog Collar. It provides a bright beacon so you don’t lose your best friend once night falls over your campsite.

That said, I almost always bring a dog hiking harness, especially when backpacking with my dog. It’s hard to beat the Ruffwear Web Master Dog Harness in terms of weight, comfort, and durability.

Dog Bed (Or Sleeping Pad)

When car camping, I always bring my dog their own dog bed. The Carhartt Dog Bed is my dog’s favorite. Plus, it’s tough enough for the rigors of camping!

For backpacking, I almost never bring a separate dog bed. To save weight and space, I let my dog join me on my own backpacking sleeping pad. However, the Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad Dog Bed is a great dog-specific sleeping pad for backpacking.

8. Dog Waste Bags

Clean up your dog’s waste while hiking and backpacking! Although some camping and hiking areas allow you to bury it, most want you to pack it out. Few dog bags are better (or cheaper) than AmazonBasics Dog Waste Bags.

Remember that leaving full bags on the side of the trail is tempting on a short “in-and-out” hike, but it’s considered poor trail etiquette!

Dog-Friendly Tent 

Camping with your dog presents a whole new world of wear and tear for your camping equipment. Your tent is likely hit the hardest. Not only will your dog track in a lot of dirt and other debris, but their nails have the potential to scratch the floor.

That’s why selecting a durable tent for camping with dogs is so essential. Look for a model with a durable floor that even the sharpest nails won’t tear. Of course, if you’re backpacking, a lightweight backpacking tent is a must.

Warm Blanket or Spacious Sleeping Bag

Your dog gets cold just like you when the weather is chilly. So, make sure that you pack them a warm blanket for sleeping on. Or, if you’re like me, you can invest in a spacious sleeping bag that your dog can crawl inside with you.

Instead of a more angular and lightweight mummy bag, I bring a rectangular sleeping bag while I’m camping with dogs. You might even consider a two-person double sleeping bag if your dog is a large breed that likes to snuggle!

Dog-Friendly Insect Repellant

Never use DEET or another human insect repellent on your dog. Talk to your veterinarian for the best vet-recommended dog-friendly insect repellent for your dog. The best keep ticks, fleas, and mosquitos at bay.

Comb or Brush

I like to bring a comb or brush on long backpacking and camping trips to comb out mats and plant material each night. Regular brushing on the trail also prevents problems with ticks.

Towel

Camping with dogs can turn into a dirt-fest fast. Bring a towel to clean off your dog before letting them inside your tent at night. A towel also gets your dog up off the dirt when you’re sitting around the campfire at night.

Dog Boots

Hiking boots for dogs are essential for rocky, snowy, and very hot terrain, as well as for dogs with soft pads that don’t hike often. My favorite dog botties are the Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Boots.


What Do You Think?

Dog Wearing Doggie Backpack

Now, I’d like to hear from you…

Do you prefer hiking, backpacking, or camping with your dog the most? What type of dog do you have? Are there any additional dog camping tricks or dog hiking gear you’d like us to know about?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kriz

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Planning a road trip with my service dog and my companion. It will take six hours to get to the coastal destination and for my own health I need to stop halfway. I decided that a tented adventure would be a cool way to remember my late dad. I thought of this a few days after his birthday and the trip would be a few days before the day he passed on so finaly I can say goodbye in his favourite language because I don't think Charlie would enjoy a motorcycle ride nor my companion. We have two old safari tents and I intend to inspect them tomorrow to pick the best and see how Charlie feels about this. Then it would be back in the car for the coastal destination where we'll explore a few places to move to from a guesthouse. Going back We'll stop at another petfriendly guesthouse. Any tips on bedding. If he is hot he wants tiles if he is cold he climbs into my arms under the blanket

Kevin Still

Thursday 22nd of August 2019

The dog collapsible bowl is really a need. What I do is I just attached it on my waist so I can get it anytime since my poodle is usually thirsty when we hike. Another thing I should get is the vest both for colling and another for warmth.

Gia

Tuesday 29th of January 2019

Do you know of any organized camping/hiking/backpacking trips I could do with my 16lb. dog in California?

Jake Walnut

Friday 8th of February 2019

What area of California are you in? Sometimes you can find a dog-friendly hiking group on Meetup.com or HikingProject.com - SoCalHiker.net is another way to find hiking partners in Southern California.

Bob Harman, DVM

Tuesday 24th of July 2018

Nice checklist! I am a veterinarian that hikes with my hearing service dog. Of I take a lot more meds that average hiker, but they should check with their vet if going multi-day hiking away from easy exit off trail. Items to consider are anti-inflammatory med (they get sore too), possible antibiotics or giardia meds if in area where they might get exposed. I carry a pair of small pliers and scissors in case need to pull out thorn or cut something out of hair. THe standard kits should have telfa pads, vetwrap and tape. KTape actually works nice to help keep on those troublesome booties. In warm weather I have now experienced need for booties. Another tip, an old down vest makes nice sleeping gear for a dog!

Tracy

Thursday 15th of August 2019

Thank you for sharing this!!

Allycia

Tuesday 15th of May 2018

Hey! I'm wondering what kind of tent you would recommend for a solo hiker, plus their dog??

Jake Walnut

Tuesday 15th of May 2018

Hey Allycia! It depends on your budget and the size of your dog. I'm using the Nemo Dagger 2 with my 65-pound Golden Retriever this spring/summer. It weighs less than 5 pounds and is plenty big for both of us. My dog has long nails so I need a tent with a really durable floor - this one checks out. A cheaper option that I've used in the past is the Passage 2 from REI. I could probably get away with a one-person tent even with my dog, but our backpacking trips are usually fairly leisurely so I prefer the extra room in favor of saving more weight. Hope that helps!