How to Backpack With a Dog

How to Backpack With a Dog
Backpacking with a dog can introduce a whole new level of enjoyment and bonding to the pet-human relationship--or it can be an awful hassle. Believe it or not, the outcome ultimately depends more on you than on your dog. Your dog can't pack a first aid kit, food or water for himself. Your dog can't select dog-friendly hikes well within his own capabilities, and probably won't be interested in pacing himself for the return trip. But you can do all of these, and more, to make a hike enjoyable for you both.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Collar and ID tags
  • Microchip (optional)
  • Leash
  • Tweezers
  • Mineral oil
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Liquid bandage
  • Water bowl
  • Ground cover
  • Dog food
Step 1
Make sure that all of your dog's vaccinations are up-to-date and that he's been given flea and tick preventatives before backpacking. Double-check to make sure that his collar and ID tags are securely fastened, and consider getting your dog microchipped. A microchip and the ID tags are the only things that might bring her back to you if she wanders away in the wilderness.
Step 2
Get to know your dog's capabilities through short and moderate day hikes before attempting long hikes or overnight trips. This will give you a chance to assess--and increase--his physical condition and toughen his paws, plus the opportunity to learn what sort of distractions are most likely to cause him trouble and how he'll behave when exposed to wildlife, people and other dogs.
Step 3
Make walking your dog on a leash a habit for both of you. Keeping dogs leashed is both a safety issue--it keeps them under control and helps ensure that they won't stumble into traps or aggressive wildlife--and it's often a strict rule in state or national parks and forests. Don't even consider taking your dog off leash in the backcountry unless she's completely reliable under voice control; otherwise, you might never get her back.
Step 4
Plan for weather. If your dog is short-haired and you're backpacking in cold weather, outfit him with a dog sweater and have a blanket ready for use at night if necessary. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs may need to be trimmed or even shaven before backpacking in hot weather.
Step 5
Consider packing a small first-aid kit for your dog. This could include tweezers for removing thorns or porcupine quills, mineral oil as a laxative, antibiotic ointment and a liquid bandage product for patching together torn footpads.
Step 6
Pack essential items either in a small backpack for your dog--dogs can safely carry up to a third of their body weight in most cases--or in your own pack. Essentials include, aside from the first aid kit, a water bowl, a ground cover to keep your dog from getting cold at night and dog food. Keep in mind that your dog may eat twice as much food as normal when he's highly active on the trail.
Step 7
Evaluate whether each hike is dog-friendly before setting out. The specific criteria for this will vary from dog to dog, but some things to watch out for and avoid with most dogs include boulder-hopping, dangerous heights and deep or swift-water crossings. Other dangerous terrain types that will be beyond the capabilities of most dogs include potential avalanche slopes, areas with frequent rock fall and unstable dirt, mud or rock slopes.
Step 8
Keep a careful eye on your dog during the hike; when something's making him uncomfortable, he may not be able to tell you about it, but if you're attentive and familiar with your dog's idiosyncrasies, you will probably notice. Be especially alert to the signs of dog health problems on the trail like heat stroke and hypothermia and know how to treat them. See the Resources section for links.

Tips & Warnings

Watching out for signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion is especially important when hiking with a dog because they don't have the same capacity for dissipating heat that we do.
Test everything you'll use on the trail--from a tent, if you expect your dog to sleep in it with you, to the doggie backpack and water filtration system--before leaving on your backpacking trip. Some dogs may not like to sleep in the tent, may turn their noses up at treated water or might balk at carrying a loaded pack. If this is true for your pet, you'll be glad to have found out before you were in the middle of the wilderness.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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