I can attest that dogs make the best trail companions! Most times than not I prefer hiking with dogs i.e. my crazy and adventurous GSD, Monty, than anyone else (no offense, friends!).
But, hiking with dogs comes with a responsibly. You’ll first need to be sure they are healthy and ready for hiking, have the proper dog hiking essentials, brush up on proper dog trail etiquette, and start training them for the trails.
If you’re here you’re probably wondering, what in the world do I need to bring when hiking with my dog?
I got you.
This post is going to guide you through how to pack for a day hike with your dog. If you plan on backpacking a more inclusive list may be required.
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Benefits Of Hiking With Dogs
If you’re an experienced fur-hiking-parent then you already understand, but if you’re new to this, or considering getting a dog for the trails, you’re soon going to find out why they make the best trail buddies.
Here are a few perks I found from experience in hiking with dogs:
- Hiking keeps dogs in good physical shape and emotionally happy.
- You feel protected and safe no matter where you go.
- Seeing your dog run the trails, tongue out, excited as ever puts a smile on your face.
- You’re always hiking in silence which gives you time to get lost in your thoughts.
- You can hike at your own speed for peak physical activity or a more relaxing outing.
- You’re hiking solo, but am not completely alone.
Hiking With Dogs: Things To Consider Beforehand
I can feel your excitement! But hold up. The unfortunate reality is not every dog is equipped for the trails right away. There are a few things you should consider before hitting the trails with your dog.
1. How Is Your Dog’s Physical Shape?
They could be too young to start on the trails or too old to keep up with you. Consider their capabilities and plan hikes accordingly.
2. Consult Your Vet First.
The vet will be be able to tell you if your dog is ready or capable of the physical activity and get them up to date on any vaccinations or preventatives.
They’ll also be able to advise if your dog is able to carry a pack and how much weight they can begin carrying.
3. Learn Trail Etiquette.
It is imperative that you and your dog both know how to act on the trails- such as yielding to other hikers, bikers and horses. You must be able to maintain control of your dog at all times.
You’ll also be responsible for your dog’s poo. The leave no trace principles apply to both you and your dog.
4. Start Training For The Trails
It will be beneficial for you both to begin basic training before hitting the trails. Of course a lot of it is done on the trails themselves, but basic car training or leash training will help beforehand.
5. Do Your Research!
Where will you be hiking? Some climates are cold while others are extremely hot or wet. This will help you plan your visit and pack the correct essentials.
The Dog Hiking Essentials
There are many different types of dog hiking gear and you certainly don’t need anything crazy in order to begin hiking with your dog.
Below we’ll go over the basics including the type of gear that works best for hiking with dogs, and additional items that are nice to have, but not required.
1. Backpack Or Harness
First thing first- you’ll need something attached to your dog so you can attach the leash.
A lot of hikers prefer to use a harness or backpack versus a collar when hiking with dogs. This may be for a few reasons:
- It is easier to control the dog.
- More comfortable for the dog
- The dog can carry their own gear with a backpack.
I prefer using a dog saddle bag like the Ruffwear Front Range Dog Daypack over a harness. I do this for two reasons:
- Monty knows when he wears his backpack we are going for an adventure versus when he wears his harness we are going for a walk or out in more public areas.
- He can carry his own gear!
If you choose to use a harness I’d suggest picking one that is sturdy but still lightweight and breathable, and reflective in case you get stuck in the dark. This Ruffwear dog harness is one of the best out there.
When first starting your dog out with a backpack let them wear it around the house to get use to it first. Over time, slowly start adding items to the backpack to gradually get them accustomed. Consult your vet regarding the amount of weight your dog can carry.
If you opt out of using a backpack or harness you’ll still need a collar. You may also want to pair a collar with a backpack/harness in case you want to take it off for any reason.
If you opt to use a collar you can use the dog’s every day one or get a waterproof collar if you know your adventures will be wet!
You may also consider using an LED Collar if you’re going to be hiking before sunrise or sunset. I use one for Monty and love being able to see him wherever he goes.
Most trails will require your dog to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet long. You’ll want to be sure the leash you select will allow you to properly handle your dog at all times, following one of the trail etiquette principles for hiking with dogs.
Popular leash types for the trails are 4-6′ rope leashes, hands free leash that ties around your waist, and a training dog lead for recall training.
I’d refrain from using the retractable leashes for they are not as sturdy and it is more difficult to control your dog.
I use a hands free bungee leash that has a handle near the clasp for additional control when needed. This makes it so much easier for me to hike and scramble because my arms and hands are free. It also gives more slack for Monty to move about, thus creating a better experience for us both.
If you’re going to be hiking in wet areas, getting a waterproof leash would be ideal. They won’t get soggy and will stay clean during your adventures!
4. Collapsible Bowl
These are probably one of my favorite dog hiking essentials- thank you to whomever had the brilliant idea! These collapsible bowls are so useful and a necessity for anyone hiking with dogs. Clip it to your backpack with a carabiner or slip it in your dog’s pack and you’re ready to go.
If you’re thinking of skimping out on this I’d suggest thinking twice. Pouring water out of a water bottle and ‘waterfalling’ it to your dog wastes water and they are not able to retrieve ample amounts needed.
5. Poop Bags
Remember leave no trace? One of the ‘absolute must’ dog hiking essentials are poop bags. It is always best practice to have an entire roll packed for the trail or road so you can pick up after your dog.
Nothing is more embarrassing than people hiking past as you’re standing there unprepared to pick up your dog’s doo. Because you know they’re judging.
6. Poop Carrier
If your hiking with dogs and they poop deep in the wilderness it can sometimes be gross to pack it back out (but necessary). You don’t want to just bag it and then put it your backpack- gross!
One of my favorite dog hiking essentials is this poop carrier. It doubles as a two for one- it holds the poop bags but also has a pouch to store it until you can get to a trash can. It doesn’t help with the stench as much, but it does keep the poop bag separate from all other things. Monty carries this in his saddle bag so I don’t have to!
7. First Aid Kit
Unfortunate things happen out on the trails, and you should be prepared to take care of both you and your pup. Having a first aid kit of some sort is a smart idea!
I carry this first aid kit with me everywhere we go. In addition I’ve added some Benadryl and anti-inflammatory meds (with the vet’s approval) for Monty.
There are dog specific medical kits, however I’ve gotten by the last 6.5 years with this medical kit. We’ve only had to use it once when Monty cut one of his paws during a hike.
8. Boots + Socks
Dog paws are pretty tough! But not indestructible. They get dry, crack and can get sliced open easily. Please use extreme caution when hiking in the heat, on sand, or during the cold/snow for long periods of time.
Every dog’s limit will be different so pay attention to yours! It is always best to have a pair of boots on hand just in-case.
It may seem silly, but pairing dog socks with the boots will help prevent blisters and make it easier to slip the boots on and keep them secure.
Be sure to get the accustomed to wearing dog boots prior to hitting the trails!
An extra tool I like to have that you may not need to always pack is Musher’s Secret. I frequently treat Monty’s paws with this wax to keep them durable. I like to keep some nearby in the car during our long adventures to treat Monty’s paws after rough excursions.
9. Identification Tag / Microchip
If your dog is micro-chipped then you are set. If they are not, it is a good idea to make sure they have their identification tags or some form of ID. I have an ID card for Monty both in his backpack and on me with all our information should anything happen.
10. Dog Sweater/Jacket, Cooling Vest, or Poncho
You may think that because your dog has fur, they’ll be fine. Fact is they do get over heated and cold in certain climates. Pay attention to your dog’s needs and pack along a cooling vest, sweater, poncho, or jacket to make them more comfortable.
11. Food and Water
I cannot stress enough how important it is that you pack enough food and water for not only yourself, but also for your dog! Not every hike has a source of water and even then dogs are still susceptible to the same diseases we are from un-purified water.
Monty always has 2L of water for himself on our hikes. He usually goes through all of it and I fill him up from my supply since I use less water than him. We also pack dog treats and kibble on extremely long or strenuous hikes.
You should not be hiking with dogs unless you’re willing to carry extra supplies for them!
If you are hungry or thirsty then chances are your pup is too. Don’t forget to provide food and water for your dog during breaks!
BONUS ESSENTIAL: Emergency Dog Carrying Harness
Recommended by Veterinarians and Search and Rescue, this dog carrying harness will help you carry your dog to safety during emergencies. This is especially useful for medium to large size dogs that are difficult to carry without a harness.
This is an item you should highly consider investing in and carrying when you and your dog adventure into the backcountry!
Other Dog Hiking Essentials You May Want To Pack
- Bug repellant collar or spray
- Training treats
- Dog goggles for very bright adventures
- Muzzle if your dog is reactive/aggressive
Final Thoughts On Dog Hiking Essentials
While there may be more preparation when it comes to hiking with dogs, it is all worth it in the end.
It may be tempting to skip the essentials but I highly urge you to refrain from doing this. Your dog has needs just like you, and it is better to be safe than sorry.
Our dog’s rely on us to keep them safe and healthy. It is our job to be sure they have everything they need for their day hikes!
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- Hike Longbow Arch- A Dog Friendly Arch In Moab