What makes backpacking even better? Backpacking with your furry best friend, of course! Dogs bring us so much joy in the front country, so we might as well continue the fun in the backcountry. Packing for yourself is one thing, but packing for someone else is a whole different ball game. Before you take off for the trail with your best hiking partner, there are a couple tips to keep in mind. Fun is best, but safety is key!
#1: Pick an Easy Route To Begin
I hate to break it to you, but just because you want to walk 800 miles through the desert, doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready. When you are first starting out backpacking with your pup, start out doing a couple single-night trips. This will get your dog comfortable being out there with you, without totally overstimulating all at once. A single overnight trip will allow you to spend more time paying attention to how the dog is doing, rather than just focusing on getting miles in for the day. Another tid bip that falls into this tip is making sure the trail you are interested in doing actually allows dogs. I would recommend checking out the exact location you’re thinking about before you get the pup all jazzed about going.
#2 Protect Their Paws
I’m putting this one at the top due to its importance. We, humans have shoes to protect our tootsies from the scorching pavement, rocks, pokeys, and whatever else we may encounter. Our pups, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Dog booties are usually the first things that come to mind when you think about paw protection. These are not always an easy thing for dogs to get used to, so be prepared for patience. On rough surfaces like lava rock or cactus in the desert, dog booties would be perfect. Something very important to keep in mind about these are that dogs sweat through their paws, meaning that if you keep these booties on the dog for too long, they have a risk of overheating. If you aren’t interested in the bootie route but still want to put something on the paws, there are lots of different creams that can be bought.
#3 Dog Proof Your Gear
If your pup is anything like my girl Indi, there is no such thing as keeping her off of anything. In terms of tenting with a dog, I would recommend sizing up to a two person tent. If it’s a SMD Lunar Solo however, it’s perfect for one human and one dog. To help keep the claws from digging into the floor of the tent, put a piece of tyvek INSIDE the tent, plus the regular one underneath. This will provide another layer to keep the tent floor free of snags. Sleeping pads are tricky. You can either wait to inflate it once you’re going to bed, or you can inflate it right away and keep gear on top of to keep the dog’s nails from digging into it. Or, you could ditch the air pad all together and just use a foam pad. Once you have a night under your belt with your pup, you’ll figure out what works best with the pad. In terms of sleeping bags/quilts, I don’t have much advice. I know people that bring sleeping bags for their dogs or maybe extra blankets. Regardless of what I bring, Indi always burrows down into whatever quilt I’m in, whether she fits comfortably or not. There’s nothing like waking up on top of a mountain with your best friend so like I said, after a few test runs, you’ll have it down pat.
#4 Bring Extra Treats, Obviously
You know how you can’t get enough of Sour Patch Kids on trail? Your pup can’t get enough of their treats either. Maybe new people walking past can be scary. Treat time. Maybe the pups’ recall is getting better and better. Treat time. Maybe they didn’t try to chase after a ground squirrel this time around. Treat time. Your dog is also burning a ton more calories on trail than they probably are when they’re napping on the couch, so an extra treat here and there would be good.
#5 Leave No Trace
The LNT principles should be followed on all trails, at all times, by all trail users. Just like we bury our scat, dogs should have their scat buried too. Please, please, please, don’t leave the dang poop bags just hanging out on the side of the trail. We call that dog pollution. Don’t be a dog polluter.
#6 Test Gear At Home
What do you do when you’re 100 miles from home and you realize your dogs’ pack is the wrong size? You sit there wishing you would have tested your gear at home. A dogs’ pack weight should not exceed more than 25% of their body weight. Allowing them to walk around with the pack on at home, empty, will give your pup time to get used to the feeling of something sitting on their backs and hips. Remember to test the dog booties as well if you are going to be bringing them. Test a doggy sleeping bag at home as well. If your dog usually sleeps with you but is expected to sleep inside the bag on trail, that could be a switch for them. Don’t forget to add the pups’ first aid gear into your first aid kit as well.