February 15, 2017

Tips for Hiking with Dogs - Part 2: What to Bring

How long does it take you to throw a pack together for a hike? If you're anything like me, it always takes longer than you expect.

I want to be prepared for whatever situation I might find myself in out there, so in addition to water and snacks, I think about what kind of extra layers I might need, is my gps charged, do I have a way to start a fire if things get really bad, etc.

When you take on the responsibility of bringing your best friend on the trail, you'll want to consider their needs out there as well, and that can warrant putting together a different packing list altogether.

In our first post on How to Prepare for a hike with a dog, we addressed the things you'll want to do well in advance to ensure Fido has a good hike. In this post, we'll be running through the next 14 of our 29 tips for hiking with dogs, which focus on what things you should consider bringing along.
Here's Part 2:

What to Bring

Alright, so you've done your prep work and now it's time to pack. If you've strolled the aisles of your local outdoor gear shop lately, you probably know how easy it is to be tempted by all kinds of different gadgets and goodies that will undoubtedly come in handy on your next adventure. Adding a dog to the mix only adds more possibilities.

Although you may not need everything on this list, these are the items that we think make the most sense to consider bringing along:

DISCLOSURE: We have provided links to purchase some of the items on our list through They are mostly affiliate links that provide a small commission to "Douglas", our Navy SEAL contributor, if a purchase is made.

10. Dog Backpack

Wilderness dog!
You've got enough stuff to carry, so why not get your pup to haul their own gear with a backpack specially designed for them? Unless you want the extra workout for yourself, it's possible that they can carry around 25% of their weight in a pack, depending on their age and breed. Some dogs may be more likely to overheat with a pack on, so you'll obviously want to consult your vet for more specific guidelines for your own pooch.

Assuming your doggy doc gives you the green light, you'll want to measure the circumference of your dog's chest in order to determine the ideal size. Find a pack that fits snugly, to where you can fit just two fingers under the straps, because you want your dog to be able to breathe, but you also don't want the pack to fall off. When you load the pack up, make sure that both sides are equally weighted.

Some nifty features that you can find on dog packs include:
  • Reflective strips or even lights for low light visibility.
  • A top handle, which can make it easier to keep control or even help lift them over obstacles.
  • Cooling insert pocket that accepts a freezer pack to help keep Fido cool.
  • Waterproofing for wetter climates.

11. Water Bowl

It's not ideal to let your dog drink right from a natural source, since they're susceptible to many of the same pathogens (like Giardia, for example) that we are, but you probably don't want them chewing on your hydration hose either, so pack a collapsible bowl that you can break out when it's time for a water break.

12. Water

As we just mentioned, it's important for your four legged friend to have safe drinking water just like you. If you wouldn't drink it, don't make them. So be sure to filter and/or treat any water you serve up from a natural source, or plan on bringing enough with you from home. Pay attention to your own water consumption and use that as a guide for when your dog might need some fluids as well, which could be quite frequently on a hot day.

13. Food

Picking up and moving 4 legs instead of 2 burns a lot of energy, especially when it's on a trail to the top of a mountain. Consequently, Fido is going to need a lot of fuel on for his wilderness romp.

Once again, you should definitely check with your vet for specific recommendations, but a good rule of thumb is that your dog should eat about one cup of food per day for every 20 pounds they weigh. On a hike, it can be a good idea to plan on increasing that by up to 50%, depending on the intensity of the hike. If you're only going to be out there for a few hours, it might be good for both of you to avoid unnecessary snacking. But if you're taking your dog on a dawn to dusk full day hike, or an overnight backpack, then you'll definitely want to be well supplied.

Pack your dog's regular brand of food in a water tight container so that it stays dry and be sure to feed them sparingly at least 30 minutes before or after a strenuous push to help guard against over eating and the dangerous bloating that can follow.

14. Treats

Notice we didn't say to only pack the regular food? Chances are that you brought along a few "pick-me-ups" for yourself and your dog will likely appreciate having a few edible morale boosters as well. Pack some special treats so that you can savor your snacks together while you both revel in your accomplishments.

15. Leash

We've already mentioned that it's crucial to maintain control of your pup while you're on the trail, and that many areas won't allow dogs off leash, so it should be a no-brainer that a leash is an essential piece of gear. Most places that require a leash do not allow them to be longer than 6 feet, and that actually makes a lot of sense since it can be difficult to assert influence through a 25 foot long cord.

We know how fun it can be to let Rover wander around off leash, and how clumsy it can be to try to hike with him always less than six feet from you, but there are many good reasons to respect the regulations of a given area. For instance:

  1. It's the law - Too many natural resources are ruined for everyone because a few people act as though the rules (or sometimes common sense) don't apply to them. Don't give people a reason to ban dogs from an area altogether by disregarding the rules that are in place.
  2. Your dog's safety - Keeping a short leash can prevent your pup from poking their nose in a porcupine hole, falling off of a ledge, romping through poison ivy, or just plain getting lost.
  3. Other dogs - Your little angel might be super well behaved, but what happens when someone else lets their aggressive animal off leash nearby and the two dogs run into one another. Whatever the context for encountering other dogs on the trail, such situations tend to rile up and lead to unpredictable outcomes.
  4. Other hikers - Again, your fluffy cherub may well be the sweetest thing on all fours, but the stranger coming down the trail doesn't know that and you know nothing about them. Do they have a fear of dogs? Are they allergic? Are they hostile? Mountain bikers may have to yield to hikers, and hikers going downhill should yield to those headed up, but trail etiquette necessitates that hikers with dogs yield to everyone else. That is difficult to do when your dog is off leash.
Now that you're fully persuaded to keep your dog leashed whenever necessary, here are a couple of bonus tips to make compliance easier:
  • Bring a locking carabiner so that you can attach the leash to your pack for those times that you need the use of both hands.
  • Bring some rope to use as either a spare leash or as an anchor to secure the main leash to a rock or a tree when it's time for a break.

16. Boots

Although it's true that few dogs like wearing them, and all dogs look pretty silly with them on, boots can make a huge difference in their enjoyment of a hike. Sure, the ideal trail would be a cool, soft, and shady one littered with leaves, but that's just not going to always be the case. When your dog ends up walking on sharp stones, cold snow, thorny debris, or hot rocks, you'll both be grateful for those ridiculous things.

Taking care of your feet on a long hike is extremely important. You won't want to take another step when you end up with a sprained ankle, blisters, and black toe because your feet are hurting so badly. The same principle applies to your pooch, so take care of their feet for them.

Yes, they will look silly walking in them at first.

17. Cooling Collar or Cold Weather Vest

Right up there at the top of the ridicu-list next to dog booties is doggy apparel. However, some canine fashions can actually serve a useful function. In warmer climates, it might be wise to adorn Fido with a cooling collar or vest that can be soaked with water and help fend off the heat while the moisture evaporates. At the other end of the thermometer, cold weather clothing might be very appropriate if your trek is likely to get a bit nippy or put their low body in contact with snow.

18. Blanket

Obviously a blanket is not essential, but it could make the hike a lot more comfortable for your best friend when it comes time to rest, whether that be to lay down on or to keep warm.

19. Brush

When you take your pooch for a walk in the woods, chances are good that their coat is going to pick up debris like a magnet. Brushing out their fur periodically can help avoid ticks and tangled hair, which can keep a dog from going anywhere if the knots get bad enough.

20. Tick Repellent

Speaking of those little devils, it may be a good idea to take preventative action against them by administering a dose of tick repellent from time to time. Use caution though, because just like some people, dogs can have strong negative reactions to repellents containing DEET. As always, it's best to consult your vet for advice, but it would be a good idea to test your dog's response to DEET well before a hike by dabbing a small amount on a patch or their fur to see if there is any reaction. Assuming things go well, you'll want to limit the application to only the areas where your dog cannot lick (shoulders, neck, and top of the head) so that they do not ingest any of the repellent.

21. Sunscreen

Did you know that dogs can get sunburned too? Ear tips, noses (especially if light in color), and bellies (especially on short hairs) are all susceptible to burning if exposed to the Sun for too long. Talk to your vet about appropriate preventative measures if you're likely to be spending a lot of time on the trail together in full exposure.

22. First Aid Kit

If something unfortunate should happen, it would be good to be prepared to address the most likely issues that could arise on the trail while you work to get the dog to a vet. As a result, your kit should include some basic things like:
  • Bandages - Pretty much the foundation of every first-aid kit.
  • Antiseptic (such as iodine) - For cleaning wounds prior to bandaging.
  • Liquid Bandage - This stuff can come in super handy for split or cut paw pads
  • Tweezers - For removing ticks and thorns
  • Comb - For removing cholla cactus on desert hikes 
  • First-aid Instructions - Ideally you would have already gone through a proper training course, but even still, it can be helpful to have clear and simple instructions to follow when emotions are running strong and it's difficult to remember what you were taught.
  • Vaccination records - If you followed our advice in the "How to Prepare" section, you've already got your dog vaccinated, and having those records with you could come in handy if there should be some kind of emergency where they need veterinary care.
  • Your vet's phone number - Because if your best friend gets injured on the trail, the last thing that you want to be doing is trying to find service so that you can Google it while trying to care for a whimpering dog and get them to where they need to be.

23. Poop Kit

Hopefully you won't need the first-aid kit, but it's a near certainty that you will need this kit. Just because your dog shares some DNA with the local coyotes and wolves, doesn't mean their waste is okay to leave out in the wild. The reality is that your dog's diet can produce poop containing seeds and bacteria that can do a number on the native ecosystem, so you'll need to deal with it in the same way you take care of your own, by following Leave No Trace principles.

You basically have two options:
  1. Bring plastic bags that can be attached to your leash so that you can pick up and pack out your dog's waster, just like on your daily walks.
  2. Bring a shovel so that you can dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites to bury the poop in. Unless you're going to be out there for days, this is more work than simply picking it up, so you're probably better off to just pack it out.

What do you think?

What do you pack for a hike with your pup? Did we miss anything that you've found to be helpful when hitting the trail with your best friend? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!


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