Backpacking with dogs is the best – but it’s a lot different than backpacking with a human friend.
Not only is planning and preparation more complicated, but your time on the trail comes with much more responsibility. You must make sure your dog is properly outfitted, has plenty of food and water, and stays safe on the trail.
Our ultimate guide to backpacking with dogs covers everything you need to know for a safe and fun outdoor trip with your favorite four-legged friend.
What to Bring
Let’s start with gear and equipment. What do you need to pack for a smooth backpacking trip with dogs?
1. Food and Water
Your pup burns a lot of energy out on the trail. Prepare for their extra exertion by packing plenty of food and water.
REI suggests feeding your dog their normal amount of food plus one extra cup for every 20 pounds of weight.
An additional tip, offered by LiveOutdoors, is to invest 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 me and my dog.
Here are a few water-related dog hiking products to consider:
MSR DromLite Bag – The best ultralight way to carry a lot of water while backpacking with dogs.
Nalgene Water Bottles – These fit easily into a dog hiking backpack so your dog can help carry some of the water weight.
Mini Water Filtration System – A water filter helps clean up any freshwater you do come across. Dogs have heartier systems than humans, but they’re still susceptible to many of the same viruses and bacteria (including giardia).
Additional Tip – Talk to your vet before leaving for expert recommendations on the best amount of food and water to pack for your dog.
2. Dog Bowls
Special lightweight dog bowls designed for backpacking collapse down for easier storage. My favorite is the Ruffwear Quencher Collapsible Dog Bowl available at REI for wood and water.
3. 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 (REI) give your dogs a specially formulated energy boost for the next leg of the trail.
4. First-Aid Kit
Keep your dog safe on the trail by taking a dog first-aid and CPR course and investing in a basic dog first-aid kit.
Remember to pack any special medications your dog takes in your hiking first-aid kit.
5. Doggie Backpack
Consider buying a doggie backpack to use on all your dog backpacking trips.
These special-made packs allow your hiking dog to comfortably carry some of their supplies, including some of their food and water.
LiveOutdoors suggests measuring the circumference of your dog’s chest to find the right size dog pack for backpacking. This measurement will correspond with the sizing used by most manufacturers.
My favorite dog hiking pack is the (above-pictured) Ruffwear Approach Dog Bag. It’s a small, comfortable, and affordable pack that’s perfect for one or two night backpacking trips.
Other great dog packs for backpacking include:
Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack – Fully adjustable with removable saddle bags and built-in hydration reservoirs.
Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack – Fully adjustable with top haul handle and air mesh panels for better ventilation.
Additional Tip – Don’t over pack your dog hiking backpack. Mountaineers Books states the general rule as “1 pound in the pack per 20 pounds of dog.”
6. Leash, Harness, and Collar
A leash is another essential piece of dog backpacking gear. Even if trail regulations allow your dog to roam off leash, always bring one with you (in case you come across an unfriendly dog or a child hiker scared of dogs).
My favorite dog leash for backpacking is the (above pictured) Chaco Dog Leash. It’s six feet long with reflective thread. It’s available in a lot of great looking designs.
Prefer a flexible lead? You can’t beat the OllyDog Mt. Tam II Leash. Not only is it flexible, but it also wraps around your waist for hands-free hiking.
The Chaco Dog Collar is my favorite dog collar for hiking. It’s sturdy, comfortable for my dog, and matches her leash.
On overnight backpacking trips, I usually pack my Nite Ize Nite Dawg LED Collar Cover. Slip it over your dog’s collar and it provides a bright beacon so you don’t lose them in the dark.
Finally, for backpacking with dogs on a long trip where leashes are required the entire hike, I sometimes opt for a harness instead of a collar. The Ruffwear Web Master Dog Harness is my harness of choice.
7. Sleeping Pad/Dog Bed
Saving every ounce you can is essential when it comes to backpacking with dogs. For that reason, I don’t usually like to pack a separate sleeping pad for my dog. If you do want to, the Ruffwear Highlands Pad is a comfortable, lightweight choice.
Instead of packing my dog a dedicated sleeping pad, I usually let her share mine. To prevent popping and other damage, I opt for a foam sleeping pad like the ALPS Mountaineering Foam Camping Mat instead of an inflatable version.
Any dog bed will do if you’re car camping with your dog instead of backpacking. My dog’s favorite is her Carhartt Duck Dog Bed.
8. Plenty of Dog Bags
Clean up your dog’s waste while hiking and backpacking!
Some areas allow you to bury it, but most want you to pack it out. Few dog bags are better than AmazonBasics Dog Waste Bags.
Worried about breakage? Double bag them. Or check out the nifty new dog poop bag carrier known as Turdlebag.
Leaving bags on the side of the trail is tempting on a short “in-and-out” hike, but it’s considered poor trail etiquette.
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 backpacking with your dog is so essential. I swear by the Nemo Dagger Ultralight Backpacking Tent.
It has an extremely durable floor that even the sharpest dog nails won’t tear open. It’s also very light and surprisingly spacious for a solo hiker and their furry companion!
Our ultimate tent buyer’s guide offers dozens of other great recommendations on the best tents for camping and backpacking.
10. 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 or jacket for sleeping. 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 prefer a standard sleeping bag while I’m camping with dogs.
I like the NorthFace Dolomite 20. It’s a warm and cozy bag with a little extra room for your furry friend. You might even consider a 2-person sleeping bag, like the Black Pine Grizzly, if your dog is a large breed.
Our ultimate sleeping bag buyer’s guide has more information on how to buy the best bag for camping or backpacking.
Additional Items to Consider
Additional items to consider that are useful, if not strictly essential, when backpacking with dogs include:
Insect Repellent – Never use DEET or another human insect repellent on your dog. Opt for K9 Advantix or another vet-recommended dog-friendly insect repellent instead. The best keep ticks, fleas, and mosquitos at bay.
Brush or Comb – I like to bring my Rosmax Dog Brush on long backpacking trips to comb out mats and plant material each night. Regular brushing on the trail also prevents problems with ticks.
Towel – Backpacking with your dog can turn into a dirt-fest fast. Bring a towel with you to clean your dog before letting them in your tent at night. A towel also gets your dog up off the dirt when you’re sitting around the campfire at night.
Dog Booties – 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 favorites are the Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Boots.
Reflective Dog Jacket – Invest in a brightly colored dog jacket like the Ruffwear Dog Track Jacket if you go hiking with your dog during hunting season.
Cooling Vest – A dog cooling vest like the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Dog Cooling Vest is essential when backpacking with dogs in extreme heat.
Warm Dog Jacket – Headed out in cold temperatures or snow? Then a warm jacket like the Kurgo Loft Dog Jacket is an essential piece of dog backpacking gear.
Dog Life Jacket – Pack a dog life jacket if you expect a fast-moving water crossing, even if your dog is an excellent swimmer. I recommend the Ruffwear Float Coat Dog PFD.
Before You Leave
Investing in the right backpacking equipment for your dog is only part of the equation. Equally as important is proper preparation.
Keep the following pre-trail tips in mind to ensure the safety and success of your next backpacking trip with your dog.
- Obedience Training – Other dogs, hikers, wildlife, and trail conditions can be dangerous for untrained dogs. Ensure your dog knows basic commands like sit, come, down, stay, and leave it before hitting the trail.
- Hiking Experience – Condition your dog for backpacking by taking several short hikes to build up their conditioning and get them used to the trail before embarking on an overnight trip.
- Gear Experience – Make sure your dog is comfortable wearing booties or a backpack before your trip if you plan to use this hiking gear for dogs.
- Practice Night – A smart idea for dogs that have never camped overnight before is to do a practice night in the tent in the backyard.
- Basic First-Aid – Familiarize yourself with basic first-aid for dogs before going on your backpacking trip. Better yet, take a pet first-aid course.
- 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 measure in case they get lost. These small chips are implanted in their skin (so they can never fall off) and they 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 on a trail far away from home.
- Updated Vaccinations – Take your dog for a visit to the vet before hiking season to ensure they have all the proper vaccinations for backpacking 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.
Choosing a Trail
Not every trail is right for backpacking with dogs. Consider the following tips when looking for a good trail for your trip.
- Dog Friendly – Of course, the most important thing to do is find a trail that actually allows dogs!
- Leash Regulations – As mentioned above, it’s essential to 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.
- Water Source – Plentiful freshwater sources can make backpacking with dogs a whole lot easier. Pack a water filter so you don’t have to haul as much weight in your pack.
- Distance – Base the daily distance of your backpacking trip on the amount of hiking your dog can safely handle.
- Weather – The time of year influences the type of dog backpacking equipment you’ll need to pack for the trip. Hot weather backpacking also requires a lot more water.
- Young Dogs – Naturally, backpacking with puppies and younger dogs should consist of much shorter trips than mature adult dogs.
Look for a similar organization in your local area to find the best hikes for dogs and to talk to other dog owners about backpacking with dogs.
On the Trail
Finally, we get to the fun part – getting on the trail and actually backpacking with your dog!
Keep these tips in mind to make sure the trip is fun not only for you and your best friend, but for everyone else you encounter on the trail.
- Pack Light – Caesar’s Way recommends your dog pack 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 – Leave no trace means leaving the area you backpack through the same as how you found it. Sierra Trading Post describes the best principles, including 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.
Backpacking and hiking with dogs isn’t without its hazards.
In fact, on-trail hazards are so numerous when backpacking with dogs that we’ve dedicated a separate section of our complete guide just to them.
- 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 backpacking trip.
Backpacking with Dogs Checklist
Printing a backpacking checklist is the best way to ensure you don’t leave anything behind while packing for your trip.
When it comes to backpacking with dogs, the items you can’t do without include:
- Food and Water
- Dog Bowls
- Trail Snacks
- First-Aid Kit
- Leash and Collar (or Harness) with ID Tag
- Plenty of Dog Bags
For my dog’s safety if she gets lost or hurt on the trail, I also keep these items in my glove box:
- Picture ID
- Updated Health Records
My personal dog backpacking checklist also includes:
- Dog Hiking Backpack
- Sleeping Pad (for me and my dog)
- Flea (/Tick/Mosquito) Medicine
- Dog Brush
- Old Towel
Other items I pack depending on the trail conditions include:
- Dog Booties
- Dog Cooling or Warm Jacket
- Dog Life Jacket
My advice is to create a dog backpacking checklist and keep it with your backpacking and camping supplies.
I keep mine with my normal backpacking checklist and my family camping checklist, so I never forget to pack anything important.
What are your thoughts on backpacking with your dog?
Do you love it just as much as I do? Do you have any additional tips? Are there any other pieces of dog hiking equipment you can’t leave behind?
Let me know your favorite stories about backpacking with dogs in the comments below!