7 Things to Know about Backpacking With Dogs (Part 1 of 2)

By Kayla Fratt  •   4 minute read

7 Things to Know about Backpacking With Dogs (Part 1 of 2)

I absolutely love backpacking with my border collie, Barley. There are few greater joys than watching his white-tipped tail flagging through the Minnesota underbrush, witnessing his discovery of an icy Colorado mountain stream, curling up with him in the cold of a Utah desert night.

In some ways, backpacking with your dog isn’t much different from hiking with your dog. But there are definitely some things to keep in mind when planning your dog-friendly backpacking trip.

  1. Your Dog’s Health

Taking your dog backpacking is about more than his physical conditioning – though that matters. You can read about how far dogs can hike here.

It’s important to make sure that your dog is physically fit enough for your planned trip. This means taking into account your dog’s:

  • Age – very young or very old dogs won’t be able to go as far as fit two- to six-year-old dogs.
  • Body shape – let’s face it: a Daschund will probably never keep up with a Kelpie.
  • Face shape – flat-nosed breeds are sub-par endurance athletes and do poorly in heat.
  • Coat type – Huskies do better in the cold than Whippets, the reverse is true in heat.
  • Conditioning – even my Border Collie will lag if he’s out of shape!
  • Enthusiasm – some dogs are physically capable of hiking mountains, but just would rather not. Some humans can probably relate!
  • Health history – a dog with a health condition or old injury will need more rest and care than an uninjured dog.
  • Vaccinations – some vaccinations, like leptospirosis, are a good idea in many parts of the US for dogs that hike. Check with your vet about recommended vaccinations for adventurous dogs.

Listen to your dog, and take it slow. If your dog has never hiked with a pack on before, make sure you take it easy when he’s weighed down. Build up in distance, terrain difficulty, and the weight of your dog’s pack.

2. The Trail and Destinations

Of course, backpacking with your dog isn’t just a question of whether or not your dog can physically complete the route you’ve selected. It’s also about the trail regulations.

In the United States (and many other countries, including Panama and Costa Rica), dogs are generally not allowed on trails in national parks. In some national parks, like Yosemite, dogs are only allowed on a few short, paved paths.

In the United States, many wilderness areas allow dogs only if they’re on a leash. Many of my favorite trails in Colorado even specified that it had to be a six-foot leash – no fudging the rules using my long line! Forest service land, state parks, and bureau of land management land often allow dogs – but not always.

It’s imperative that you know whether or not dogs are allowed and whether or not they need to be on leashes. While it can be tempting to break the rules, especially on deserted trails, this can ultimately lead to the perception of irresponsible dog owners that later hurts the rights of all dogs on trails!

Not to mention, you can get ticketed for breaking leash laws! I’ve seen people getting citations for breaking leash laws all across the country.

You generally can find info on the regulations for a trail on the official website for the trail. If not, call the park authorities and ask. It’s best to get information from the official source rather than apps like AllTrails!

Finally, be sure to check if your trail goes through multiple jurisdictions. I hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail last summer and found that parts of the trail are totally dog-friendly, while parts require the dog to be leashed. While I hiked through North Cascades National Park, Barley was allowed on the PCT but if we veered off-trail or onto a side trail, we were breaking rules!

3. Tent Matters

Sleeping in a tent with a dog is easy, right? Well.. not always. Some dogs curl up in tents and sleep as if they were born for it. Other dogs are fussy and claustrophobic.

Before you head out on a 10-day epic trip with your pup, you might want to consider sleeping in a tent in the backyard or at least going car-camping a few times. That way you can return to the house in the middle of the night if you need to stage a retreat!

My own dog doesn’t really like sleeping in tents all that much – but if he’s tired enough, he’s OK. Tent-sleeping is often easier for dogs who are already used to sleeping in the bed with you.

Be sure to bring a bit of foam padding for your dog to sleep on, especially if you’re camping on cool ground, shoulder seasons, or high-altitude areas. The insulation will help keep your pup warm!

Many dogs don’t need more than a pad. But some dogs really like to curl up inside of a doggie sleeping bag or a blanket! My dog Barley normally hates all that cuddly stuff – but if he’s cold enough while camping, especially if the tent walls are covered in condensation, he will snuggle up under a blanket.

Be sure to check out the next article for the next 4 things to know about backpacking with your dog! We’ll discuss waste matters, what to pack for your dog, nutrition and snacks, and basic doggie first-aid.

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