Hiking With A Dog: What To Bring And General Tips (In Summer + Winter)
December 27th, 2020
Table of Contents
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Planning a hike with your dog? Before embarking on your journey, let’s make sure both of you are ready.
Yuna and I have done a few hikes in the great Pacific Northwest, both in the summer and winter. We’ve since leveled up from complete hiking noobs to wandering enthusiasts.
While we aren’t hiking pros just yet, we decided to create this comprehensive article for all our tips on casual hiking with a dog. In this article, we’ll share a complete packing list, and tips before and after your hike!
First Things First: Before You Go
Let’s start with some tips before you venture out.
Make sure the trail is dog-friendly.
It may sound obvious, but always check first to see that your trail is indeed dog-friendly.
Nowadays, most trails should have this information available online. Sources include the Washington Trails Association if you’re in the PNW like us, or BringFido which is a great general source for finding dog-friendly trails and establishments.
Failing to abide by trail rules can result in a citation and fine, so don’t overlook this.
Make sure the trail difficulty is suitable for the both of you.
When researching trails, don’t just consider the distance as a measure of difficulty. Also consider the elevation and quality of the trail.
Whereas a flat mile may take around 25 minutes to walk, on the trails this could easily become upwards of 40 minutes per mile due to elevation.
Make sure your dog has the stamina to handle the trail. You know them best. If you have doubts, choose an easier trail, and build up their stamina over time.
Because of all the rough, uneven surfaces, your dog may also need to “toughen up those citified paws” before taking on the more arduous hikes.
It’s always a good idea to know the latest details about a trail, in case there are any gotchas. Trail conditions can change drastically with the changing seasons.
You can often find reviews of hikes online, where people share recent accounts of their trail experience (slippery ice, blocked paths, be careful of wildlife, etc.).
Make sure your dog walks reasonably well (at least) on leash.
Hiking trails are narrow. On dog-friendly ones, you will frequently pass by other humans and dogs, and there’s a lot of stepping aside to allow others to pass.
Your dog doesn’t have to be the best leash walker. But they shouldn’t be lunging at everyone and everypup that passes by!
This could make it dangerous for you and other hikers, and some may be uncomfortable with dogs altogether. Everybody has a right to enjoy the trails in peace.
Having a dog that walks nicely on leash will also improve your own hiking experience. Consider having your dog master the following commands before heading out: sit, stay, come, leave it, drop it, heel.
Make sure your dog is protected against fleas and ticks, and is vaccinated.
Fleas and ticks can be more common on the trails. However you choose to protect your dog against them, make sure you do so before your trip.
In addition, since you will likely come in close contact with other dogs, ensure your dog is up to date with their vaccines.
Know the weather and trail conditions and gear up accordingly.
Make sure you and your dog are both dressed for the occasion. How you dress will depend a lot on the weather and trail conditions.
Whether you’re hiking in summer or winter also affects your gear and packing list! Speaking of that, let’s dedicate a full section to talking about that now.
What To Bring: Full Checklist!
We’ll present everything in a detailed list here. At the end we will have an infographic summarizing all of this in a handy laundry list.
For the both of you! Super important. Bring more than you think you need.
2. Dog Water Bottle or Bowl
Bring some sustenance for your dog. Use them as treats during the journey–nothing like a good long hike to teach and reinforce good walking behaviors.
4. Poop Bags
Make sure it has your contact information on the tag, in case your dog gets lost and found.
We recommend using any standard 4-6 foot leash. Any longer and it’s really likely to get tangled up on the trails (we talk a bit more about leashes later in the article).
As for the leash material, any nylon will do, but a rope leash really complements the hiking look!
7. First-Aid Kit
Since vets don’t live on the trails, it’s a good idea to bring some common supplies along.
Bear Foot Theory has a handy resource summarizing what to put in a dog first-aid kit. We’d say the basics are styptic (“stop bleeding”) powder, tweezers (to remove stingers, ticks), gauze pads (bandages), tape wrap, a small flashlight, and over-the-counter Benadryl.
8. Harness (optional)
When hiking with your dog, we highly recommend using a harness–especially one with a handle on the back, so you can hold your dog from a short distance. This is perfect for keeping your dog by your side while letting others pass by.
We use our Kurgo dog harness for hikes.
9. Dog Pack (optional)
For an upgrade over a harness, you can try a dog pack instead. We don’t use one of these personally, but it can be really useful to have your dog carry some weight.
Remember to fit a dog pack properly, and familiarize your dog with the feeling of it before going on the trails. It can be really off-putting for a dog who has never worn one before.
Also, be mindful of what you load the dog pack with–don’t fill it with more than a couple pounds to start. Work up to bigger loads, just as with hiking stamina.
Start out with this lightweight pack, also by Kurgo.
10. Dog Booties (optional)
Some dogs absolutely hate booties. Luckily, in most cases, your dog probably doesn’t have to wear them, but I’d recommend bringing them along in case the terrain gets too rough or they injure their paws.
11. Towel(s) (optional)
Honestly, this is not optional for us. We always bring along a microfiber towel to wipe off wet and muddy paws post-hike.
12. Dog Carrier (optional)
Smaller dogs may not have the stamina for the whole journey, and that’s okay! They can hitch a ride up in a dog carrier.
13. Dog Brush (optional)
It’s generally a good idea to have a dog brush handy after the hike, to remove foxtails from fur, and to check for fleas and ticks.
14. Dog Car Seat Protector (optional)
Chances are, your drive to the trail is longer than usual. That makes it more important for your dog to have more space to get comfortable during the ride.
We like to convert our backseat row into an entire area for Yuna to rest, and this dog “hammock” car seat protector does the job. Not only does this make it safer for her, but it also prevents her shedding and muddy paws from ruining my seats.
15. Camera (optional)
After all, your dog will be super adorable during the hike, so capture those moments!
Note: we don’t use anything fancy for our pictures–we’ve been rocking a Nikon entry DSLR and that’s been working great for us.
If it’s a real bright and sunny day, you may need to use dog sunscreen (yes, dogs can get sunburned too). Only use ones, like this one by Bodhi, that are specifically for canine use.
Extra Cold Water
We recommend bringing along some extra (cold) water, not necessarily intended for drinking, but for gently applying to your dog in case they start overheating.
If you stop to catch a breath and your dog’s fur is wet, it’s easier for them to get cold. Dry them off with a towel, and wrap a warm dog blanket around them.
Extra Warm Water
In the winter, we recommend bringing along some extra (warm) water, not necessarily intended for drinking, but for dabbing your dog’s paws in after the hike to warm them back up.
Technically, healthy dog paws can handle direct contact with ice and snow, but I like to do this and feel Yuna’s warm paws for peace of mind.
Like humans, dogs can suffer eye injuries on a hike if the sun is bright, since it reflects off the pure white snow.
Consider familiarizing your dog with a pair of protection goggles in case they need extra eye protection.
Spikes (for you)
Spikes may seem like “pro hiking gear,” but trails get real slippery due to ice in the winter. On top of wearing waterproof shoes or boots, steel spikes are a good investment for your safety.
Gloves (for you)
As you head up the mountains, it will get real cold. Gloves are all the more important for dog owners, because your hands are out holding your dog’s leash the whole time.
There also may be times where you need to drop the leash in order to safely climb up or down a slippery ledge. And since the ground is covered in snow, this makes the leash itself wet and icy to the touch. It’s no fun to have to hold that when it’s already cold (I’ve been there).
Tips On The Trail
Now that you’re all packed up and ready to go, keep these tips in mind while you’re out there.
Always Practice Good Hiking Etiquette.
Trail etiquette is largely an extension of regular dog walking etiquette. This includes:
- Obeying leash laws. Like we touched on before, it’s understandable if you have to let go of the leash temporarily to help yourself up or down a steep ledge. But always pick it back up after. Leash laws exist for the collective safety of all hikers, dog and human alike.
- Letting others pass. If you have a dog, it’s common practice to allow others to pass. When you do, position yourself so that your dog is on the outside, in case passers by aren’t comfortable around dogs.
- Communicating with approaching hikers (especially if they have a dog). Let others know if your dog is friendly or reactive.
- Leave no trace. Clean up after your dog! When you bag the poop, try to leave a long section of the bag at the top to make it easier to tie to you or your dog’s backpack (yes, you’ll have to bring it up and down the mountain).
Monitor Your Dog
Just as with any other more strenuous exercise activity, monitor your dog throughout the hike.
Even though you may feel like you are slowing your dog down, always keep an eye out for signs of fatigue or injury.
Use The Trail As A Training Opportunity
So your dog’s walking isn’t perfect yet? Perfect! A long hike is a great opportunity to reinforce good walking behaviors, and adds additional mental stimulation for your dog.
What Length Leash Do I Use?
I’m surprised there aren’t more resources out there talking about this, because after my first hike I noticed that this was quite a dilemma for me. We have tried both long and short leashes, and even retractable leashes.
Intuitively, shorter leashes made more sense to me, since I wanted to keep Yuna close by at all times.
However, I noticed that a short lead actually made my hike more difficult, since if Yuna suddenly hops down a ledge, I often got jerked down as well, losing my balance. This can be extremely dangerous on an icy trail.
(By the way, for this reason I never recommend a hands-free approach where you attach your dog’s leash onto yourself. Hold the leash in your hand.)
At the same time, longer leashes can be a problem because it can get tangled up in branches, rocks, or even between your dog’s legs. You might also need to constantly readjust the length of the lead as you pass by other hikers.
Given all this, we advocate going for a standard 4-6 foot leash (depending on your dog’s size). We recommend attaching this to the back (and not front) of your dog’s harness (and not collar), to reduce the chances of it getting tangled.
As discussed a few times before in this article, if you need to drop the leash to safely complete a portion of the hike, do so. Your dog should be well-trained enough to not wander off. This is where knowing the “sit” and “stay” commands is important.
What If My Dog Gets Injured?
There might be nothing scarier than if your dog suddenly starts limping during your hike. Don’t panic. Run through this checklist first:
- Check your dog’s paws. It’s possible that something like a small pebble, thorn, or foxtail has gotten lodged between your dog’s toes or paw pads. You may have to use a pair of tweezers and some styptic powder on the wound. After you remove it, consider putting a bandage around your dog’s paw and use booties for the rest of the hike.
- Check your dog’s body. Look for wounds, rashes, animal/insect bites, or otherwise swollen areas. Consider giving your dog some Benadryl for bites or other environmental allergic reactions. In most cases, your dog should still be able to continue the hike, but go at a slower pace and stop more often to check on them.
- Is your dog showing signs of serious fatigue? Note the signs of dehydration and exhaustion. Always pack some extra water for your trip. Don’t push it and use your intuition to know when to head back.
- If all else fails? If your dog is seriously injured and cannot walk on their own, hopefully they are small enough to tuck into a dog carrier. But if not, you may need to abort the hike and carry them down the mountain to prevent exacerbating any injury. Enlist help from fellow hikers who are willing to lend a hand.
It can be very helpful to know where the nearest vet is, so you can rush there afterwards if needed.
Congratulations on a great hiking trip with your dog! I know your legs are probably tired at this point, but before you start the car and head home, give your dog one last inspection.
Dry Them Off
Use a towel and dry off your dog. And wipe their paws clean. This can reduce the amount of cleanup you have to do later (for your car seat cover, trunk, crate, etc.).
In the winter, you may want to wet the towel with some warm water and bring those paws back up to room temperature.
Brush Their Fur
We highly recommend brushing your dog’s fur after a hike with a dog brush. The point isn’t necessarily to smooth out their coat, but rather it forces you to check their entire body for fleas and ticks. You don’t want to bring those home!
If you do notice something strange, like a tick or foxtail, you may need to whip out the tweezers and carefully remove them.
If you’ve got a free day, going hiking with your dog is one of the best activities you can do to spend quality time with them.
Not only will it take care of your dog’s exercise needs, but you can feel good about completing a hike yourself. And hopefully the view at the top was worth it!
Just be sure you know what to do before, after, and during your hiking adventure. Being prepared will help make the experience even better.