When I Go Backpacking with the Dog, She Loves It!

Backpacking with the dog: Whenever I get out my backpacking or hiking gear, it's my dogs, Bindi and Oreo, who are the most excited about the trip! It's important for any dog owner who is planning on heading out into the wilderness with a furry companion to keep her or him safe and to be knowledgeable of your pet's physical boundaries, but they love coming along.

Joe With Bindi & Oriole
Joe, Bindi and Oreo, backpacking with dog

Bindi, Oreo, my wife Dolores and I have been on an outdoor adventure several times, ranging from backpacking five miles on the west coast of Florida at Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park to much smaller local hikes. We just did an 8 mile hike last Sunday, February 12, 2012 at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area here in Florida. When I go backpacking by myself, I usually only take one of the dogs. It's much easier on me that way. Here's what I've learned...

Backpacking with the Dog, Trail Etiquette and Regulations

For the areas where you'll be backpacking, always check on the dog regulations. For example, most U.S. national parks, do not allow dogs to share the trail.

At all times, maintain control of your dog. At most maintained public trails, dogs are required to be on a leash 6 feet or less in length. Extended leashes are rarely sturdy enough to live up to trail conditions, but they may be great for everyday romps around the neighborhood to give your dog more freedom.

It isn't enough having your dog on a leash. As other pooches and people pass by, you should also be sure to keep her or him calm. Be aware of what situations will aggravate or upset your dog. You might want to hold off on hiking for now, if she or he is still getting used to other dogs.

I was careful to pick trails that didn't have a lot of traffic, when I was helping Bindi and Oreo learn trail manners. Especially when hiking trails are shared with mountain bikers, I usually make the choice to keep Bindi and Oreo on leashes, although some trails don't require them. I prefer to keep them on a leash, because my dogs love to chase after other animals and squirrels. They often want to run up to children and dogs when they see them, so I play it safe, though Bindi and Oreo are great hiking companions! Don't put your dog in danger and doing research on the area you will be visiting is the most important thing you can do to make sure you are knowledgeable.

Backpacking with the Dog, Physical Training

Ease your dog into hiking slowly. Start off by having her or him wear a backpack around the house, then on short hikes, then longer hikes, if you want your pet to carry some of the load!

Also, start with lighter loads. If your dog is in healthy physical condition, it's safe to work up to 1/3 of your dog's weight. Dogs will be much safer and happier, who are in poor physical condition or older, leaving them at home with friends.

Backpacking with the Dog, Packing

For an active dog, hydration is crucial. For watering dogs, dog packs such as the Ruff Wear Singletrak Hydration Dog Pack offer a nifty built in hydration system. Also, you can consider collapsible water and food dishes.

Your dog should usually be able to carry her or his own water and food, depending on size. Where you will be backpacking, do your research to make sure there is going to be plenty of water to filter. If there is nowhere to get more, be sure to pack enough for you both. Be sure to filter or/and treat their water just as you would if you were going to consume it, because dogs are susceptible to giardia protozoa much like humans.

If it's a really strenuous hike, I feed Bindi and Oreo nearly double the food I would on a daily basis. For the estimated energy that will be expended, check with your vet to ensure your dog will be getting the right amount of calories. To advise on the exercise level that is right for your dog, your vet is also a great resource.

You can mix some Pedialyte with your dog's water, to prevent dehydration. To see how much is safe for your dog, be sure to check with your vet beforehand.

Backpacking with the Dog, Sleeping Gear

For the days you'll be on the trail, this depends on what the weather is going to be like, or how extreme it might get.

You need to bring along a sleeping bag as well, as temps drop below about 50 degrees, but a self inflating sleeping pad would usually be enough.

An ultralight two person bag so that you can snuggle with your pooch when the temperature drops very low, or a kid's bag. It all depends on learning what they need to be comfortable, the breed and your pup. To keep your dog cozy, it's better to learn than bring too little and overpack the first time.

Until they dry off a bit, when it's raining I'll usually have them rest under the rainfly on their mat. Especially when it's going to get really chilly, sleeping is no fun when you're a sopping wet dog.

Depending on your pet and your situation, there is other gear that you can purchase (shoes, clothes, etc). After you gain some experience with your loved one, you can grow the list and this information I have given you is a good place to start. Have fun and stay safe!

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