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What to Know Before Going Backpacking With Your Dog

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, around 45% of dog owners take their pets along when they go on a trip. And hiking is one of the most popular activities.


But when you’re thinking of going backpacking across America with your dog, hiking is just one of the things you need to prep for.


In this blog, we’ll use all the wisdom we’ve gained scouring these beautiful lands with our pups and tell you everything you need to know before you head off on the adventure of a lifetime.


First though, is backpacking with your pooch even a thing? Like… do people do it?


Woman in a tent with her dog admiring a lake and mountainous view. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash


Can You Go Backpacking with Your Dog?

Yes, you absolutely can go backpacking with your dog!


In fact, many dynamic backpacking duos believe taking an adventure together is one of the best things for cementing your bond.


However, like any adventure, there are a few things to consider before you grab your backpack and leash. Here's what you need to know.


Is Backpacking With Your Dog Hard?

The short answer is; it can be.


There are many more variables and preparations to consider when backpacking with your dog including:

  • Your dog’s health

  • Pack weight

  • Terrain

  • Weather

  • Staying safe

But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a) incredibly fun and b) super rewarding. Let's break those elements down in a little more detail to find out what makes them so challenging.


Woman with her dog on a cliff overlooking a pine forest. Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash


Dog Health

You wouldn’t take on a huge physical challenge like backpacking without making sure you were in decent condition first, right?


The same goes for your dog. Have a chat with your vet a few months before getting your adventure on the road and see what they have to say.


Typically, if your dog is over the of 1, is not too old, doesn't chase wildlife, and has decent recall, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy an adventure together.


Pack Weight

Whether you like it or not, heading out with your pooch means carrying a few extra bits in your pack. The same as it does when you go for an afternoon walk on your own vs. with them.


We’ll cover off the essentials you’ll need in your back shortly, but the main thing to remember when packing is; don't make it too heavy. Or getting up and hitting the trails again each morning will be a killer.

Terrain

One huge part of pre-trip prep is nailing your trails. Where are you going to go and what does the terrain look like?


For example, if you’re going backpacking with your dog in California the terrain across the state can be super changeable. You can go from the lush Central Valley to the harsh landscapes of the Mojave.


To combat these changing conditions, think about investing in a coat and some boots for your dog to negotiate the rough terrain without damaging their paws.


Weather

The only thing that can be more changeable than the ground is the sky. Ensure you have everything you need to battle all the elements.


Staying Safe

Backpacking can be risky. Injuries to you and your canine companion can happen at any moment - and this could be from rolling your ankle on a rock to exhaustion from constant hiking.


Taking a couple of doggie first aid packs, as well as human ones, is essential to staying safe on the trails.


How To Start Backpacking With Your Dog

Even after taking all those precautions, there can still be some things about backpacking with Fido that can catch you out.


10 Tips for Backpacking With Your Dog

Here are 11 things we would definitely recommend checking out before striking out with your pup.


1. Breed Matters

All of that prep could be for nothing if you don’t have the “right” dog for the trails. But this is more about common sense than hard & fast rules.


You may need to manage your adventure a little differently if you have a small inactive dog vs. a larger athletic one.


Getting out there is still possible with a lazy pup. However, you should be more realistic about what they can achieve. Your pug might have an adventurous spirit, but an hour in the dog park is probably all he can muster, right?


With that in mind, some perfect dog breeds for hiking are:

  • Labrador

  • Golden retriever

  • Border collie

  • Vizsla

  • Pointer

  • Rhodesian Ridgeback


2. Trail Research is a Must

Scout out dog-friendly trails that match your dog's fitness level and your hiking preferences. Things to consider when choosing your trails include:

  • Are there shaded areas?

  • When are you going

  • Daytime temperatures

  • Nighttime temperatures

  • Are there drinking water sources along the way

  • Is there open water: huge consideration is you’re not planning on leashing your dog

  • Are you going through farmland?

The final point there is super important as rural landowners don’t take too kindly to strange dogs roaming their lands and stressing the cattle.



3. Prep Your Pup's Training

Solid obedience skills are essential on the trail. Work on commands like "stay," "come," and "leave it." A well-behaved dog is safer, happier, and much more fun to hike with.


4. Give Them a Backpack

It’s super important that you’re not just carrying the whole load on your trip. Your athletic pup can handle the responsibility too. But, there’s a lot to say on this topic, so we’ll circle back in a moment.


5. Pack Smart for Your Pup

Just like you need essentials, so does your dog. Bring enough food, treats, and medication for the trip.


Collapsible bowls, waste bags, and a cozy blanket for chilly nights are a must. And while we’re on the subject of dog backpacking essentials…


6. Invest in Dog-Friendly Gear

Choose dog hiking gear that's comfortable, durable, and safe. A well-fitting harness, paw protection, and a collapsible water bowl are worth their weight in gold.


Leashes are a contentious subject in this field. Some doggy backpackers swear by them, others hate them and prefer to have their pup roaming free in the big country.


Ultimately, the choice is yours. If your dog has good recall and is well trained then keeping them off-leash shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure they don’t go investigating any miscellaneous holes up bumping into any unfriendly snakes etc.



7. Ease Into Long Hikes

This one comes down to training again. Don’t just launch into your first adventure because, chances are, no matter how fit your pooch is - they’re not ready for days of back-to-back trekking.


If your pup isn't used to long hikes, start with shorter ones and gradually increase the distance. Just like us, dogs need to build up their stamina over time.


8. Regular Breaks and Hydration

Dogs can't tell us when they're thirsty, so make sure to offer water breaks frequently. Plan for rests in shaded areas to avoid overheating.


9. Nutrition is Key

Both you and your dog will be burning calories left, right & center on the trails. So it’s important to ensure you have the right food for them and plan regular eating breaks.


Not only will this allow them to restock their metabolic energy levels, but it will also give their paws and mind a decent rest too.


Think about adding a couple of extra meals to their pack. This will make up for the additional calories lost.


10. Leave No Trace

Just like humans, dogs should leave no trace. Pack out waste, stick to designated trails, and respect wildlife to keep nature pristine for everyone.


What to Take With You?

With all these variables to think about, you’re gonna need a checklist of essentials to take on your journey. Well, we kinda got you covered there too.


It’s not a “checklist” but it’s a solid outline nonetheless:


Three men and a dog with camping gear in a wooded area. Photo by Jorge Flores on Unsplash


Essentials For Backpacking with Your Dog

Appropriate Gear and Accessories

  • Harness and Leash: Choose a comfortable and secure harness for your dog, preferably one that's designed for hiking. A hands-free leash can also be a game-changer.

  • Paw Protection

  • Backpack: Some dogs can carry a portion of their gear in a backpack designed for them. Just ensure the load is appropriate for their size and fitness.

Nutritious Food and Treats

  • Portable Food Containers: Opt for lightweight, airtight containers to carry your dog's meals. Consider freeze-dried or dehydrated options to save on weight.

  • High-Energy Treats: Pack treats that are easily digestible and provide a quick energy boost during breaks and training sessions.

Hydration Essentials:

  • Collapsible Water Bowl: Lightweight and easy to pack, collapsible bowls are perfect for offering water to your dog during rest stops.

Water Filter: If you're hiking in areas with natural water sources, a portable water filter can provide clean drinking water for both you and your pup.



Comfort and Rest:

  • Sleeping Pad or Blanket: Help your dog sleep comfortably by providing a lightweight pad or blanket to insulate them from the ground.

  • Cozy Bed: A compact, comfortable bed can provide a sense of familiarity and comfort during your dog's rest periods.

Health and Safety Supplies:

  • Dog First Aid Kit: Assemble a first aid kit tailored to your dog's needs, including items like antiseptic wipes, bandages, and tweezers for tick removal.

  • Medications: Pack any necessary medications your dog takes regularly, along with a copy of their medical records.

  • Tick and Flea Prevention: Depending on the location and season, you might want to use preventative measures to protect your dog from ticks and fleas.

Waste Management:

  • Biodegradable Waste Bags: Always clean up after your dog and pack out their waste in biodegradable bags.

  • Trowel: If you're camping in areas without restroom facilities, a trowel can be handy for burying waste.

Identification and Documentation:

  • ID Tags: Ensure your dog wears an ID tag with your contact information, in addition to their microchip.

  • Copy of Vaccination Records: Some trails and campgrounds might require proof of vaccination, so keep a copy handy.

Dig with a backpack on sitting on a large rock. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash


So, Why Should You Train Your Dog To Carry a Backpack?

Training your dog to carry a backpack isn't just about making them look adorable (although they totally do).


It serves multiple purposes that enhance both your experience and your pup's adventure. But why is it so necessary? How do you get them to wear one? And how do you put a backpack on your dog in the first place?


We’re glad you asked.

  1. Shared Load: Distributing some of the weight to your dog lightens your load and makes the overall hiking experience more enjoyable.

  2. Physical and Mental Stimulation: Carrying a backpack engages your dog's mind and body, providing an extra challenge and preventing boredom during hikes.

  3. Sense of Purpose: Many dogs thrive on having a "job" to do, and carrying a backpack gives them a clear purpose on the trail.

  4. Building Confidence: Successfully learning to carry a pack can boost your dog's confidence and overall sense of accomplishment.



How To Put on the Backpack:

  1. Proper Fitting: Adjust the backpack straps so it fits snugly but not too tight. Ensure your dog can move comfortably.

  2. Test Run: Let your dog wear the backpack indoors for short periods before hitting the trail. This helps them get accustomed to the feel.

  3. Check for Comfort: While they’re getting used to it and through your hikes, it pays to periodically check the fit and make sure it isn't causing any discomfort or chafing.

Training Your Dog to Carry a Backpack

So, now you know how important it is to get your pooch involved with sharing the load. How do you get them used to carrying the weight?

  1. Positive Association: Introduce the backpack as a positive object. Let your dog sniff it, play near it, and associate it with treats and praise.

  2. Gradual Introduction: Begin by putting a lightweight object in the backpack and have your dog wear it around the house for short periods.

  3. Increasing Weight: Slowly add weight over time to help your dog build strength and get used to the feeling of a loaded pack. Start with about 5-10% of your dog's body weight.

  4. Balance is Key: Make sure the weight is evenly distributed on both sides of the pack to prevent discomfort or strain.

  5. Positive Reinforcement: Use treats, praise, and commands to encourage your dog while they're wearing the pack.

How Heavy Can the Pack Be?

The weight your dog can carry depends on their size, breed, age, and fitness level. As a general guideline, aim for:

  • Small Dogs (under 20 lbs): Up to 10-15% of their body weight.

  • Medium Dogs (20-50 lbs): 10% of their body weight.

  • Large Dogs (50 lbs and above): 5-7% of their body weight.

Determining The Appropriate Weight For Your Dog's Backpack:

Dog's Weight

Backpack Weight

Under 20 lbs

2-3 lbs

20-50 lbs

2-5 lbs

50+ lbs

3-7 lbs



Best Places to Backpack With Your Dog In the US

If you’re a little nervous about getting your big dog on a plane, you could always opt for a hiking holiday in the great outdoors instead.


There are incredible backpacking trails littered across these United States just begging for you and your pooch to get out and explore them.


If you need a hint, here are some of our top locations.


1. Appalachian Trail - Virginia to Maine

Spanning over 2,180 miles, this iconic trail is perfect for long-distance hiking with your pup. Offering stunning views, diverse terrain, and plenty of water sources for your furry friend there’s so much to keep you both entertained and (more importantly) safe.


Trail regulations vary, so research dog-friendly sections before setting out.


2. Glacier National Park - Montana

Known for its pristine wilderness and striking alpine scenery, Glacier National Park offers a range of trails, from easy day hikes to challenging backcountry routes.


Leashed dogs are welcome on most trails, making it a great destination for adventurous duos.



3. Olympic National Park - Washington

This diverse park features lush rainforests, rugged coastlines, and snow-capped peaks - so pretty much everything you could want!


The better news is, dogs are allowed on several trails, including the stunning coastline of Rialto Beach.


4. Pisgah National Forest - North Carolina

Pisgah delivers a network of trails that cater to every skill level and preference. Known for its waterfalls, streams, and lush landscapes, creating a picturesque backdrop for your adventure won’t be too tough.


5. Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado

A paradise for hikers and their furry chums, with breathtaking alpine scenery and abundant wildlife. Although, Rocky Mountain National Park is a challenging beast. So be prepared for high-altitude conditions.


6. Big Sur - California

If beaches and stunning sunsets are more your vibe, then Big Sur is perfect. Delivering some of the most enchanting coastal scenery in the US, dogs can enjoy the Sand Dollar Beach Trail, where playtime on the sandy shores includes splashing in the waves.


Keep an eye out for dog-friendly camping options too!



Have Fun Out There

Getting out into the big world with your trusty sidekick is incredibly rewarding.


However, whether you're a first-time backpacker or a seasoned pro, it pays to remember the key to a successful trip lies in thoughtful planning, training, and respect for nature.


Pack your essentials, be mindful of trail regulations, and ensure your dog's well-being every step of the way. And, if you don’t fancy it, there are plenty of pet-friendly hotels in the US you could try instead!


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