Backpacking with dogs that thrive in the outdoors can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Taking the first steps to introduce your dog to backpacking can seem daunting, but I can help you get there.
During October of 2018, my dog, Dobby and I hiked the Long Trail in Vermont. Dobby had never gone backpacking, but he quickly became a hiking pro and performed wonderfully for the entire 273-mile trek. I am going to use the experience of Dobby and I to discuss the following aspects of backpacking with your dog:
What to work on with your dog to prepare for the hike
How much food and water needed for backpacking with your dog
Instragrammers hiking with their dogs to give you some inspiration
Preparing Your Dog For Backpacking
Just like you, your dog needs regular exercise leading up to a backpacking trip. Proper fitness training decreases the likelihood of an injury and will ensure your dog will be ready for a long-distance trek.
Begin training with short, easy hiking trips that slowly progress to longer and more strenuous hikes. If you plan on having your dog wear a pack, start without the pack and add weight to your dog later on.
You should train your dogbasic obedience commands. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’, ‘freeze’, and ‘come’ are essential commands that your dog should follow without hesitation. These commands are for your dog’s safety and the safety of other animals or people you may encounter. You can even teach them to play fetch with these steps.
You are responsible for your dog actions and behavior on the trail. Do not be the dog parent who gives other backpacking dogs a bad name and potentially causes banning dogs from a particular area. If [your dog] does not have a phenomenal recall (returning to you immediately when you call), I strongly encourage you to keep your dog on a leash. Keep in mind that you should practice recall when there are distractions (toys, food, etc.) because the trail will be full of smells and noises that will split your dog’s focus.
You must pay close attention to how your dog is handling the additional weight, as they cannot tell you when something is beginning to hurt. Catching problems promptly can be the difference between a successful backpacking trip and carrying your dog for miles out of the wilderness.
Snacks on Snacks
Backpacking with dogs leads to them burning more calories than any old walk, and they need to eat roughly double the calories backpacking than what they consume at home (you can also use this nifty dog hike calorie calculator to get more exact numbers). Needing all that food can provide a unique challenge with both weight and space when you plan meals for your dog.
There are a couple of food options:
Regular Diet: Especially on shorter trips, you can bring [your dog’s] regular dry kibble and double the amount they usually eat.
Calorie-dense Kibble: Some dog brands make their food much more calories-dense, providing more calories per cup. Denser food means [your dog] does not need to eat as much to get the same number of calories.
Dehydrated kibble: Some brands offer dehydrated kibble, usually the lightest (but most expensive) option.
Make sure you split all this extra food across more than two meals; when you stop for a snack on the trail, give [your dog] something to munch on as well. If you plan to change your dog’s food for your backpacking trip, make sure to gradually change their diet over several days so they can acclimate before entering the backcountry.
Dogs need approximately one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. So a 50 lb dog needs around 50 ounces of water each day. This amount changes based on both the environment and your dog. Temperature, humidity, terrain, hiking speed, your dog’s age, fitness level, and breed are all contributing factors to how much water your dog requires.
Research the area in which you are hiking to determine whether you will need to carry water for your dog. Note that if your dog drinks out of natural water sources, they are susceptible to water-borne pathogens like Giardia,
Instagrammers Who Backpack With Their Dogs
Want some inspiration for your doggy hiking adventures? Here are some instagram accounts you can follow to see how much fun you and your dog can have on the trail!
Amanda and her dog, Frank, live in a self-converted van named Truck. They live sustainably and off the grid. The duo has backpacked much of the Pacific Crest Trail together, and you can see some beautiful scenery (with a cute dog as a bonus!) on their instagram page.
Nicole does a variety of outdoor activities with her German Shepherd, including backpacking some of the best views in the world!
Bring Your Dog Backpacking
If you’re as obsessed with your dog as I am, the last thing you want to do is leave them at home when you head into the wilderness. You don’t have to be a backpacking professional to enjoy the woods with your canine companion, but you need to plan, prepare, and use caution to keep both you and your dog happy and healthy.
Do you backpack with your adventure dog? What do you always make sure you bring with you? Let your fellow Spotters know your must-haves and tips in the comments below!