Backpacking With Dogs: What To Know Before You Go

Taking your dog backpacking is easy—if you go prepared.

Just make sure you check out these handy tips before your first backpacking trip.

Be Prepared

Always check the regulations for the areas you’ll be hiking, backpacking or camping. While most national parks don’t allow dogs on backcountry trails, leashed dogs are welcomed in national forests, BLM land, and state and other local parks.

Before you head out, make sure you brush up on your obedience training. Your dog needs to have a reliable recall, be calm when encountering other people and animals, and not bark at horses or bikes. It’s important to be in control of your pooch at all times—and if you’re not, it’s worth brushing up on your trail etiquette with small outings before heading out to a crowded trail.

Finally, familiarize yourself and educate your hiking partners on the principals of Leave No Trace, a baseline set of environmental ethics for the outdoors. On day hikes, pack out poop bags if possible; on longer backpacking trips, bury your pup’s poo at least eight inches deep in a place that’s more than 200 feet away from trails, landmarks, or water sources.

Prioritize Safety

Dogs are susceptible to many of the same dangers that humans are, but they’re less aware of the risks and unable to ask for help. Watch carefully to make sure that you’re not overdoing it, and take breaks in the shade if your dog’s breathing and heart rate seem out of control. Make sure your dog doesn’t chew or eat any wild plants, and keep an eye out for stinging nettles, poison oak, ivy, and sumac. Check your dog’s whole body carefully for ticks and other unwanted hitchhikers at the end of each day. Always keep immunizations up to date. And if your dog ever limps or acts as though it’s in pain, stop immediately.

Be careful around the water, too. If your dog isn’t a strong swimmer, consider carrying a doggie flotation device, and be prepared to assist any dog if he or she encounters whitewater. Since dogs can catch the same waterborne sicknesses as humans (giardia, typhoid, etc.), it’s safest to treat water for your dog the same way you’re treat it for human consumption—by boiling, with chemical purifiers or with a pump.

Get The Right Gear

First, find a dog pack that fits your dog properly. Then invest in a water container, portable doggie dishes, and booties, which offer protection from abrasive surfaces, sharp rocks, ice, and snow. It’s not uncommon to lose a bootie, so consider carrying an extra (or two). Keep a collar and tags on your dog at all times, and always carry a leash.

Other supplies to consider include a towel (to dry wet fur after swimming and/or wipe muddy paws before allowing your dog in the tent), a coat (especially if your dog has short fur), and a safety light (if you’ll be traveling or out of the tent after dark.)

Meet the Author: Charlotte Austin

Charlotte Austin is a Seattle-based writer and mountain guide. She has climbed, explored, and led expeditions in North and South America, Nepal, Europe, Alaska, and Patagonia. Her writing has been featured in Women's Adventure, Alpinist, Stay Wild, and other national and international publications. When she's not guiding in the Himalayas, she's exploring her hometown (Seattle, Washington), trying new recipes, and hanging out with Huckleberry, her giant black Great Dane-Lab mix. Read more about their adventures at www.charlotteaustin.com.

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