Backpacking with your dog

Backpacking or hiking with your dog

A day hike or a weekend hike is nothing like backpacking with your dog for a couple of weeks or more. My dog is a labradoodle, half poodle and half lab. He enjoys nothing more than going off on the trails, but I did not take him on his first two week hike without experience. At the time, we lived near the mountains and either hiked or ran nearly every day. The first two weeks were harder for us than him. His energy seemed to never expend. However, you should take many things into factor before taking your dog for a weekend hike.

Rules and regulations

Always check the rules and regulations before backpacking with your dog.

  • Leashes — Some areas do not allow dogs and others may allow them leashed (often no longer than six foot) or unleashed.
  • Shots — Assure that your dog is current on shots.
  • Waste — Many trails require proper disposal of dog waste just as human waste. If there are no rules, you should still follow proper trail etiquette. No one likes stepping in dog poop.

One thing to take into consideration is that long-distance hikes are usually made easier with trekking poles. These take up both of your hands. What I do is wrap a belt around my waste and clip the leash with a carabiner or d-ring. However, for the safety of both the dog and I, his leash is never attached to my waste when going up or down trails that have ice or large rocks. For the same reason, I always use a dog harness or his dog pack. A fall could seriously injure him should he be leashed around his neck. You will notice in the picture above that he still has on a regular collar when at camp

The physical aspect

The dog’s paw pads are as important to us as shoes are to our feet. You should not take an inexperienced dog on a rugged trail for several days as the terrain could injure his pads. Slowly, prepare your dog with short hikes. Pick places with uneven terrain.

Food and water

  • Food — Your dog will eat up to 50% or more per day while backpacking. The amount of food may vary depending on the length of the hike and whether or not your dog is leashed. Cheaper dog foods often require a larger volume of food for the same calories and are not necessarily cheaper than grain-free or single-grain foods. You should also consider high-calorie dog treats to supplement their diet. Some people also use high calorie supplements. I feed my dog breakfast and supper and give him treats at lunch or as needed throughout the day. My dog is kept thin but the trails tend to take weight off both you and your dog. Before going on longer backpacking trips, consider increasing their caloric intake weeks prior to the trip to gain a few extra pounds.
  • Water — Dogs like mine always prefer muddy water to any other. Do your best to stop them from drinking non-filtered water from the trails. Dogs are not immune and are susceptible to parasites just like us. Use a water filter and carry water tablets in case of filter failure on longer trips. Allow them water often.
  • Dog pack — Get a dog pack such as the one pictured below, and allow your pooch to carry its own weight. Most healthy dogs can carry up to 25% of their weight. Store their food in waterproof bags, such as gallon zip bags. I would also carry two 16 ounce water bottles and place them in each side. With the dog, I have never been more than four days without resupply.
Maximus wearing his pack for the first time. He was not exactly thrilled. Now, he gets over excited when I pull it out.

Other considerations:

  • Pack a first aid kit.
  • If it is going to be cold, pack a sleeping bag for the dog as well. A cheaper $20 bag will be sufficient. I use a Rothco Gen III waffle top at camp for my dog or when the days may be extremely cold. Take care that you do not allow your dog to overheat when hiking if it is wearing clothing.
  • Swimming is allowed in some areas and not in others. You need to take caution not to let your dog drink the water as it could contain parasites as well.

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