Backpacking with Dogs

Backpacking with Dogs

All about hiking with dogs and camping with dogs

Backpacking with Dogs

Backpacking with dogs is awesome! I have found that the true meaning behind “Man’s best friend” comes out when you are solo camping with your dog. In not too long, your conversations with your dog...

7 Things to bring when day hiking with a dog

Day hiking is a great way to introduce your dog to the trails and helps build stamina and ability. You will get to appreciate the aspects of hiking with a dog while still enjoying the...

3 Things to take camping with a dog

Camping with a dog is great fun and not overwhelming for you or your dog if you do it right. First be prepared and take it easy the first time, plenty of first night camping...

7 Things to bring when day hiking with a dog

Day hiking is a great way to introduce your dog to the trails and helps build stamina and ability. You will get to appreciate the aspects of hiking with a dog while still enjoying the outdoors and time with your dog. There are 7 key items to bring when hiking with your dog on a day hike of a few hours or more.

hiking with a dog and backpack
Credit: Mitch Barrie/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you that helps me offset the cost of the website.  All opinions remain my own. Learn more.

1. A Leash

Nature is a pretty exciting place for any dog and they will probably want to go everywhere.  So a leash is good for control when hiking with a dog. But even if your dog is perfectly trained and you are comfortable going off leash at times (check the park regulations), it’s a good idea to have a leash handy for when you encounter other hikers, dogs, and wildlife.

Parents like to take their kids hiking and not all kids like dogs.  We don’t need to traumatize anyone today. For that part some grown ups don’t like dogs either, crazy right? But also, my Golden Retriever loves people! He will run right past any dog that wants to play and sit on the other person’s feet and lean on them. Sounds fun until the other hiker is an 80 year old with a cane and gets knocked over. No mal-intent and everyone survived but lesson learned, control and caution is never a bad thing.

hiking dog leash

Your existing leash should be good enough to get by, but if you are looking for a hiking leash that you can fasten around your waist and has some variability and added handle grips for tight control the RUFFWEAR Bungee leash is a common recommendation.

A Word of Caution on Wildlife

Deer and squirrels are cute and you might lose the dog on a quick diversionary chase, generally no big deal. But snakes and other pointy critters are a little different. Know your environment and the inhabitants of the area. I was hiking on the AT in Pennsylvania and came upon a rattlesnake crossing the trail. The snake was close enough to give me a warning rattle and I quickly leashed my dog. I was lucky because I had instructed my dog to follow rather than lead and I had a leash in hand. If your dog is creative on their interpretation of your commands, then be cautious when on the trail. 

Also, there is a rattlesnake vaccine for dogs if you plan to be a regular hiker in rattlesnake country. There is a healthy debate on the vaccine, so you should decide for yourself. The below video summarizes the debate pretty well, its not anti-venom but it might give you more time to deal with the consequences of a bite.

One dog owner’s opinion.

2. A Dog Harness or Dog Backpack

Dog harnesses have a lot of advantages over your typical collar for hiking. The harness configuration prevents the leash and collar from choking your dog under stress and will not slip off once the harness is attached.

If your dog is a manageable weight the harness is a reliable way to pick up your dog when dealing with hazards on the hike.  Lifting a dog up a steep rock face or over some white water.

Many harnesses have pockets or serve as a full dog backpack. See the list on Amazon.

hiking dog backpack

The RUFFWEAR Palisades multiday pack is on my personal shopping list and when I try it out I will be sure to write a review.

Fitting a harness is important to ensure there is no chaffing and to prevent injuries. At the simplest level you should ensure the harness has a vertical chest strap to support the dog and keep the harness in its desired configuration. The maximum weight a dog should carry is 25% of their body weight and I would stay under that.

3. Hydration

Its important to remember that dogs are susceptible to most of the same water borne pathogens as humans. You should filter, treat, or pack-in the water your dog drinks just as you do for yourself. Remember, you are the brains of the operation here.

Most dogs are good with 1-1.5 ounces of water per day per pound of body weight. For day-hikes bring extra water and keep a bottle in the car for when you’re done.

hiking dog bowl

Unless your dog has figured out how to drink from a bottle, a collapsible bowl is the way to go.  They fit easily into your backpack and some have clips to keep them on the outside.  If you dog has a pouch on their harness, let the dog carry it!

These have a reputation for breaking and wearing out, so buy a two pack and don’t over invest.

4. Nutrition

Bring food for your dog. They will probably eat whatever your bring for yourself and my dog has grown fond of granola but this is supposed to be enjoyable for them so bring some treats for your day hikes and pack in their normal food for overnighters to keep some consistency.

My dog loves Greenies Dental Chews as a treat which helps when we’re sleeping in the same tent or riding in the car for an extended period.

5. First Aid

hiking dog first aid

Hopefully you are already packing a basic set of first aid for yourself to get you through any emergencies. You should have a tweezer, some anti-septic wipes, sterile pads, and tape.

Most of the same gear works for the dog.  A good addition is a first aid field guide for dogs and a muzzle. I’ve never had to use a muzzle, but if my dog is hurt and I need to pick him up or wrap a broken bone, I will use a muzzle.

Another minimalist addition to the first aid kit is a set of dog boots.  A dog isn’t walking on trail shoes and regardless of how tough their paws are there are plenty of sharp rocks and thorns to injure their paws. My dog doesn’t hike with boots on all the time. But I do have a set for winter hikes to keep the snow from getting between his toes. You can keep a good set of winter Kurgo Boots in the first aid kit just in case.

There are dedicated dog first aid kits that you should evaluate if you plan on backpacking with your dog regularly. And its not a bad idea to either read up or carry a book on dog first aid.

6. Flea and tick prevention

I like quick checks at the end of my hikes rather than full body scans through the fur so I keep a month long treatment on my dog. It definitely works and I don’t have to worry about bringing anything home on the dog.  I spray some picaridin on myself, so I give some thought to my dog too.

7. Grooming

At the end of hike, my dog can be muddy and seems to pick up burrs and leaves regardless of where we have been hiking.  Two things I keep to deal with this.

First, a water bottle shower head from Kurgo. I don’t know why I didn’t get one of these earlier.  Its handy for myself as much as for the dog and the price is right. I keep it at the car for when I return. Also, keep a towel handy for the drying. The one downsides of the Kurgo is that it requires a 2 liter soda bottle and won’t fit a regular water bottle tightly enough to stay on.

Second, a fur brush. To be honest, I don’t go overboard here but I do work out anything excessive that I want off the dog before he jumps in the truck. A double sided brush with pins and bristles is useful to deal with tangles and work out any dirt as needed.

That’s the basics for day hiking with a dog and the gear is useful as you get into overnighting and thru hiking. So, start with a day hike pack and build up the training for the dog while you build up your equipment.

3 Things to take camping with a dog

hiking with a dog on trails

Camping with a dog is great fun and not overwhelming for you or your dog if you do it right. First be prepared and take it easy the first time, plenty of first night camping is done in a tent in the backyard. Second, create a space for your dog that they know is theirs, a bedding spot. They are part of your pack and you are the leader, they trust and look to you for safety and stability.

Getting Started

If you are going to be hiking with a dog to the campsite, you should begin by bringing the 7 things to bring when day hiking with a dog:

  • Leash for Control and Safety
  • Harness/Backpack for helping carry the load
  • Hydration & Bowl
  • Nutrition
  • First Aid for Dogs
  • Fleas, Ticks, & Insect repellant
  • Grooming and Cleanup equipment

In addition to equipment for the hike, there are a few key items to make the overnight portion of camping suitable for your dog. These are helpful at the end of a hike or at the end of a drive when car camping.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you that helps me offset the cost of the website.  All opinions remain my own. Learn more.

  1. Lighting

When I camp I keep flashlights handy so that I can see what I’m doing.  Dogs don’t need the light to see what they’re doing but a light on your dog is useful for knowing where your dog is at all times. A rechargeable USB LED dog collar is a cost effective and reliable solution. They also have clip-on versions to attach to their collar. Both work effectively and the clip-on might have more utility in the long run. Here is a review of the various options available.

If you are in a campground or staying over in a trail shelter, keeping a collar light on your dog will help calm others who might find the dark shadow approaching their tent a little alarming.

  1. Thermal Sleeping Pad & Bag

Like us, dogs can lose a lot of heat by sleeping on the cold ground so a foam pad as a thermal barrier is a must for sleeping if the ground is cold.  Plus a sleeping pad clearly denotes your dog’s area and helps create a routine.  A foam pad will also absorb any damage from your dog’s nails, saving your tent. There are specialized dog pads like RUFFWEAR sleeping pad but I bought a new Thermarest for myself and shortened my old pad by a few segments and designated it for my dog.

If the temperature is low enough either bring some blankets or look into dog sleeping bags. Many people get away with blankets.

Its okay if your dog doesn’t use a sleeping bag!

Dog next to dog bed

Even when spending a few nights in primitive cabin, my dog doesn’t always make it to the bed. So if I am really going light weight, I bring a sturdy blanket and call it done.

  1. Dog Backpacks

Once you have all the basic requirements for your dog the next challenge is transporting the additional items and weight to the campsite.  Unless you are car camping, a dog backpack is very useful to get the items to the campsite.

Dog packs range from day packs to expedition packs and come in sizes to match your dog. I recently tried a couple of harnesses and a bag so I’ll be sure to write a review and guide about my purchase shortly. Ruffwear Backpacks make a lot of consideration lists and ultimate recommendations, so check them out first. I have a review of the Palisades backpack here.

Resources for Hiking with a Dog

First Aid for a Dog

Basic Procedures for First Aid for Dogs by the American Veterinary Medical Association

Cat & Dog First Aid online course provided by the American Red Cross is a free 35 minute online course with certification

Pet First Aid Kit Infographic by the ASPCA. This is good for at home where poisoning is very common but one thing this doesn’t include is a muzzle, but you should include one if you plan on touching your dog after they have a broken bone or other painful injury. Check out the First Aid section of our guide.

National Scenic Trail Guides and Regulations

Appalachian Trail (AT) Guide for Hiking with Dogs by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Arizona Trail (AZT) Resources for hiking with a Dog by the Arizona Trail Association

Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Planning Guide by the Continental Divide Conservancy is very useful but has no real information for Hiking with a Dog.

Florida Trail FAQ by the Florida Trail Association has a brief mention that directs you to check with each jurisdiction.

Ice Age Trail Resources for hiking with a dog by the Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Natchez Trace Trail Pet Guide by the National Park Service covers resources for hiking with a dog and even cats!

New England Trail (NET) FAQs by the New England Trail Association identifies the sections of the trail that do not allow dogs.

North Country Trail Planning Guide by the North Country Trail Alliance has a paragraph on Hiking with a dog and the regulations and laws.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Resources for Hiking with a Dog by the Pacific Crest Trail Association

Pacific Northwest Trail (PWT) FAQs including Dog regulations by the Pacific North West Trail Association

Potomac Heritage Trail Guide by the National Park Service lists out each park and trail in the network allowing you to find the regulations and guides for any section you will be hiking through.

Product Reviews

Backpacking With Dogs

Going Backpacking with a dog is fun and rewarding. Here are the top things to bring and consider when going backpacking with your dogs.

Hiking with a Dog on the Appalachian Trail

My dog and I spent 4 nights on the trail and I have captured a guide to getting started when backpacking with a dog, a top things to bring list when day hiking and for when overnight camping.

You can get some good gear at amazon and plenty of material to consider.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you that helps me offset the cost of the website.  All opinions remain my own. Learn more.

Ruffwear Palisades Pack

The Ruffwear Palisades Pack is a great pack because it is a two-piece system that includes a harness and the detachable packs. The pack is large but includes compression straps to help reduce the size and limit any movement when the pack isn’t completely full.  This means that you can buy one pack and use it for a little or a lot of gear. The pack comes in any color you want as long as the color is Red Sumac. It’s important to size the pack appropriately for your dog based on their chest measurements.  The bag includes tons of features and details that deserve noting. 

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you that helps me offset the cost of the website.  All opinions remain my own. Learn more.

Right now, the pack can be difficult to find, but there were some still online here.

Comfort & Configuration

Perhaps the most important part of any pack is how it fits your dog.  The Ruffwear Palisades Pack is designed with five points of adjustability and all of the straps are padded across the chest and underbelly. The saddle bags have a compression straps to keep cargo secure in place and a special clip that keeps the bags from flopping as your dog runs.

A big feature of the Ruffwear Palisades Pack is that the pack is quickly detachable from the harness.  This means that when you stop for lunch you do not have to undo the harnesses to lighten the load.  This is extremely convenient when your dog is crossing water and you want to carry the pack for a little bit.  Overall the harness is a good utility just around the camp to keep a tracking light on the dog and an easy leash point on the back of the harness.

Construction

The Pack is more rugged and durable since its upgrade in 2022 thanks to an upgrade in the materials and fabric.  Dogs tend to brush trees and other trailside items when they are wearing packs. The pack and zippers are water resistant but not waterproof.  The top of the pack has breathable mesh to help keep the dog cool. And all of the piping is made of reflective material for good nighttime visibility.

The harness structure has been upgraded in 2022.  The harness has some more rigidity through a molded foam inner core.  This helps with structure, stability, and weight distribution.

Storage

Ruffwear Palisades Pack

The bag has 6 pockets in all, three on each side.  The top and inner most pocket is small handy for leashes and treats.  Its not really big enough to fit a collapsible bowl,  The outer and lowest pocket is a moderate size and can fit a 5” collapsible water bowl.  This outer pocket also contains the compression straps.  Simply pull the straps to compress and then tug on the release cord for a quick release.  The last pocket on each side is much larger and even contains a divider.  The divider can easily be pushed to one side without affecting the storage capacity.  The pocket also has a small hole for drainage should anything leak in the pack.

Other Features of the Ruffwear Palisades Pack

The pack includes two 1-liter water bladders that fit nicely into the pack. Also, the pack attaches to the harness in a way that does not interfere with either the leashing clip or the handle of the harness, allowing quick control and assistance for your dog. The pack comes with a good set of instructions on its use and loading techniques. And lastly the pack has daisy chain elastic connection ribbons on both sides so you can attach pads or larger items to the outside of the pack.

Specifications – Ruffwear Palisades Pack

The Palisades Pack has three sizes, and each has different weights and capacities.  Click here to see the details.

Fitting the Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Fitting the pack for your dog is very important but not difficult.  Measure your dog around the widest part of their rib cage and buy the appropriate size.  For 22”-27” you should buy a small, for 27”-32” a medium and for 32”-42” a large. Here is a handy sizing guide visual.