7 Essential Tips for Backpacking with your Dog

Written by Patrick Bautista

Whether they’re big or small, dogs are trusty friends and will stay loyal through and through. This is exactly why your four-legged friend can be your best camping companion yet. Bring your pup on an adventure, and they can make your trip a journey to remember. 

But in order for everything to go as smoothly as possible, be prepared to take care of your dog and give them extra attention if you are both new at backpacking together.

Here are 8 essential tips for first-time backpacking with your dog.

Choose the right trail 

Probably the most important step when deciding to take your dog on a first serious hike. Make sure your pup is allowed to be on the trail. For example, some national parks harbor all kinds of sensitive ecosystems, where dogs can be off-limits for various reasons. 

Most national parks allow dogs in specific areas as long as they're leashed. A few parks are also closed to dogs, while others provide access to campgrounds and developed areas. Regulations vary from state to state, so if you are not sure or it is not specified, you can do some research beforehand. Knowing is the first step, after all!

Make sure your dog can join you for the adventure

There are several types of camping styles and different breeds of dog, so make sure your pet is fit for the ride. Some breeds react differently to the outdoors, so try to gauge out how well your pet might react to new surroundings. 

Puppies and old dogs require different care, so it might not be a great idea to take them with you for long hikes. If you can, bring a carrier to put your pup in, so it can rest its paws while still enjoying the hike together.

Do some training walks before you go

Just because your dog can run in the park or walk around the neighborhood for an hour doesn't mean they're ready for long distances. You might need to keep your dog on a leash at all times or have them in a tent for the night. 

Animals, like humans, need to build up to distance and elevation, so take your pet on some training walks and day hikes before attempting anything more challenging. Furthermore, dogs may not express exhaustion until it's too late, so pay close attention to their breathing and behavior when you're out, especially in the heat and on long walks. Excessive panting or drooling are the first signs you need to take a break.

Think about all the extra things your dog needs

Depending on the trail, think about what your pet needs for safety. Protect your dog’s paws and body from heat or cold if necessary. Some trail surfaces, such as lava rock or shale, are too rough or too hot for a dog's paws. 

Most puppies struggle to adjust to dog booties, so give it time to feel adjusted before venturing into the terrain where they're required. Some dogs require special clothes for extreme weather. 

Give your dog a backpack

When backpacking with a dog, you'll need to bring extra supplies such as dog food, treats, toys, and poop bags. By using a doggy backpack, you can allow your dog to participate and carry its weight. Your pup can carry most of its things with its own gear!

You should measure your dog around the chest and then select a pack based on those measurements. Load it up at home and ensure that the weight is evenly distributed so that the pack does not become lopsided when your dog wears it. 

Check with your dog beforehand to make sure he can handle it. A good starting point is loading it at 10% of your dog's body weight. If everything goes well, you can increase it to 25%, depending on your dog’s ability to carry some extra weight.

Keep your dog safe, always

Your dog needs enough food, water, treats, and especially a bed. You can bring a special bed for camping with a dog in the tent or car. Make sure your dog is comfortable and leashed if needed, you don’t want your dog to run away in an open environment like that. 

Give your dog time to adjust to this activity

Practice makes perfect! Take it easy and start with short, easy hikes. Always stay aware of your surroundings and keep your eyes on your pet. Your dog will get used to it and know how to behave next time. Make sure you have all the items needed, don’t forget about your gear, and once you've gotten the hang of it, congratulations, you can now enjoy backpacking with your four-legged buddy!

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