Is there anything better than strapping on your backpack, leashing up your dog, and heading outside for a day of hiking? Dogs make the best adventure partners for many reasons — they are happy to venture just about anywhere, provided you are by their side, they don’t care a bit about nasty weather, and they won’t complain if you can’t keep up.
The best part? Hiking with dogs is easy to do, and is suitable for people and dogs of all abilities. All you need is two legs, your favorite dog, and some basic gear to get started. Below you’ll find an overview of our favorite gear for hiking with dogs — everything you need to get started.
Essential Hiking Gear for Dogs
You don’t need a lot of gear to get started hiking with your dog.
A Sturdy Leash
Your leash is probably the most important piece of gear for hiking with your dog. No matter how well-trained your dog is, there are times when a leash will be crucial. Many parks have rules about keeping your dog on a leash, and dangerous conditions, wildlife, and other hikers make using a leash important for everyone’s safety. I recommend using a rugged 6-foot leash for most situations. Our favorite leashes are made of biothane, which is sturdy and waterproof. I don’t recommend using any type of retractable leash, as these pose dangers for both you and your pup on the trail.
Collar and Harness
Your dog’s collar should be well-made and durable. These collars by Mighty Paw are completely waterproof and feature a reflective strip for walking in the dark. They’re made of coated nylon, which also makes them smell-proof and easy to clean. Be sure to attach your dog’s identification tags securely to the collar in case you become separated during a hike.
While some dog owners will opt to attach the leash directly to their dog’s collar, a harness is safer for dogs that pull excessively or are in training. Using a harness prevents neck and trachea injuries, and is more comfortable on long hikes. The Ruffwear Front Range Harness features two leash attachment points — at the front of the chest to resist pulling, and on the back for everyday walks.
LED Safety Light
Even if you don’t think you’ll be hiking in the dark, it’s important to be prepared in case your hike keeps you out past nightfall. That means a headlamp for you and a safety light for your dog. The SpotLit clip-on LED light attaches securely to your dog’s collar and provides a bright, long-lasting light for night-time adventures. A safety light also alerts other hikers and vehicles of your presence, and it’s a great way to keep track of your off-leash dog after sunset.
While dog boots aren’t critical for hiking with your dog, there are many situations where they can be very useful. Booties are great for dealing with temperature extremes, icy conditions, hiking on rocky terrain, and foot injuries. Get your dog used to wearing boots around the house and in the yard, so if they have to wear them hiking, it won’t be a big deal. We’ve tried a lot of different brands, and so far, our favorite dog boot is the Ruffwear Grip Trex. As long as you get the right size for your dog, these will not come off when you’re hiking. They’re also really great for walking on hot pavement.
A Treat Pouch and Treats
A treat pouch comes in handy for training on the trail.
As someone who uses positive reinforcement training methods with dogs who LOVE food, I find a sturdy treat pouch and yummy treats essential for all our outdoor excursions. The Rapid Rewards Treat Pouch from Doggone Good features a clip and a belt for easy attachment, and it also comes with a few extra pockets for your keys, phone, and poop bags. Of course, you could always keep your dog treats in your pocket, but there’s a good chance you’ll forget about them and find bits of dog food in with your clean laundry.
No matter how deep into the woods you venture, it’s important to pick up after your dog. Domestic animal waste in the backcountry has the potential to spread diseases to wildlife, contaminate rain run-off, and create algae blooms in nearby water sources. Keep a roll of biodegradable pet waste bags in the pocket of your treat pouch, and you’ll always be prepared when sh*!%t happens.
Water and a Collapsible Water Bowl
Clean drinking water on the trail is as important for your dog as it is for you. Unless you know that you’ll be hiking near reliable water sources, pack enough water to keep your dog hydrated on your hike. Whenever you stop for a water break, offer your dog a drink as well. A collapsible water bowl is the perfect lightweight solution for hiking with dogs and will fit easily into your day pack.
Dog First Aid Kit
Many of the essentials you carry in your own first aid kit can also be used for dogs. This includes gauze pads, bandaging, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, and Benadryl for bites and allergies. I would add a roll of Vetrap bandaging to your hiking first aid kit, as well as a tick remover. In addition to packing a small first aid kit, be sure to program the number of your dog’s veterinarian and the closest emergency animal hospital into your phone, just in case.
Additional Gear for Backpacking with Dogs
If you’re heading out on a multi-day hike with your dog, you will need some additional gear. Here’s what you need to get started backpacking with your dog.
A dog backpack is perfect for longer hiking trips.
Provided your dog is in reasonable shape, is full grown, and isn’t elderly, you should be able to train him to carry a backpack on longer hikes. Look for a pack with padding under the clasps and an adjustable fit. Whatever pack you choose should also be rugged and water resistant. The Kurgo Baxter Backpack for dogs comes in three sizes, and features an integrated harness with reflective trim, two saddlebags, and a handle for easy lifting. No matter which backpack you choose, be sure that your dog never carries more than 20% of his weight. Anything heavier could result in excess strain on muscles and joints.
Portable Bed or Sleeping Bag
Perhaps your dog cuddles right into your sleeping bag when you turn in, or maybe his thick fur coat allows him to sleep comfortably right on the ground. How you plan for sleeping outdoors with your dog will depend on many factors, including the size and breed of your dog and whether you want to share your own bed. Carrying a sleeping bag for your dog will definitely add extra weight to your pack, but it also adds a level of comfort that your dog will certainly appreciate. The Ruffwear Highlands Sleeping Bag weighs in at just 12.7 ounces, and is perfect for dogs of all sizes.
Dehydrated Dog Food
Every pound counts when you have to carry all of your weight on your back, and the same goes for your dog. Dry dog food is heavy, and the best way to cut weight from your pack (or your dog’s), is to switch to dehydrated food for backpacking trips. A 10 pound box of Honest Kitchen dog food makes 40 pounds of human-grade dog kibble. All you have to do is add water while you’re on the trail. It is made in the USA and comes in chicken, turkey, or beef.
Hiking with dogs is a fabulous way to get some exercise and get outside, and it’s the perfect opportunity to explore and bond with your favorite companion. With some extra gear and a little advanced preparation, you’ll be tail-ready in no time.