Backpacking with your Dog
The last two weeks I have been in Skåne a province in Southern Sweden with my boyfriend and dog. It was our first backpacking trip with a dog and Bobby’s first time in Sweden. We had a fantastic time and Bobby seemed to be the happiest dog on Earth. To make your backpacking trip a fun adventure to look back on, good preparation and planning is key. Some things are obvious and you can find lots of good tips on the internet, however some things you will learn by simply doing it. Here I want to share some things I found useful and important for our trip.
The Destination: Vaccinations, Endurance and Etiquette
Depending on the destination and trail you will have to take different steps to be prepared. Check whether your dogs needs special vaccinations for that country you will be hiking in or whether your dog needs re-vaccination. Simply ask your veterinarian, (s)he will know.
Plan your hike according to your and your dogs fitness level. There is no point in pushing too hard and ending up with injuries. If needed start an endurance training beforehand that will prepare you both for hour-long hikes in different terrain. If you plan on using a backpack for your dog, too collect enough background information about the do’s and dont’s and again, train your dog beforehand.
Check beforehand whether dogs are allowed on the trail. National Parks and National Forests can have different rules. Be a responsible hiker and leave no traces behind. Use a shovel or poop bags to collect all dog traces. Not all hikers are font of dogs and we want to maintain dogs’ welcome at all the beautiful trails.
My packing list:
Backpacking means that you have to make smart decisions about the stuff your are taking with you. Every item that you take with you should have an (important) function. I only take 1 or 2 items with me for comfort (a book and a camera) all the other stuff is necessary. The same should apply for the dog related items. Keep it simple, practical and lightweight!
I am not a big fan of collars. During hikes a harness can be more comfortable and safer. There were several times where we had to carry Bobby and a harness gives you more control and grip over your dog.
I recommend using a strong, easy to clean leash that you can attach easily to your backpack or a waist belt. This Biothane leash has been very great during our trip. You can adjust the length of the leash easily and attach a carabiner to it.
I brought only a few poo bags with me for times we would walk through a village. A small foldable shovel was used to bury dog waste. Just dig a hole and bury the poo. Same applies for your own poos.
A safety kit is a must but to keep it lightweight you can adjust the items inside since you probably will not be using/needing all of it inside. Be creative and try to minimize the size and weight of the items you want to bring with you. Instead of bringing the whole tube of toothpaste or Vaseline you can put some of it in a little travel sized bottle. Don’t forget to bring some tweezers with you in case your dog will get ticks!!! Like us humans, ticks can make dogs ill too so it is very important to check for ticks twice a day and remove them as soon as possible.
I also bought a little anchor which looks heavier than it is. This thing has been so handy for us because it enables you to set up a tent with both hands. You just attach the leash to it and you don’t have to constantly keep an eye on your dog. Especially handy for dogs that like to hunt.
Don’t forget to write down emergency phone numbers and to look up veterinarians that are nearby your hike. When having an emergency those numbers will become very important.
Another practical thing is to file rather than clipping your dog’s nails. That way the nails will have no sharp edges that could cut your tent or sleeping bag. Bring some duck tape or other stuff to quickly fix some holes.
Take a lightweight sleeping mat with you or something your dog is used to sleep on. I took this green rollable mat with me which is vert light. However, after a few days the mat began to smell since it would take quite long to dry. When getting wet the mat was not easy to dry or to clean so I recommend something that is not only lightweight but also easy to keep clean. At some point Bobby refused to sleep on it because the mat has become so dirty.
Another handy thing is to use is a microfiber towel which dries very fast. You can clean the paws before your dog is entering the tent and you can towel dry him quickly.
Bringing enough dog food with you without ending up with a super heavy backpack can be a challenge. Since this was our first backpacking trip with a dog I didn’t really know what to buy so I tried the K9 natural freeze dried beef. A package of 500 grams will result in 2.5 kg of dog food you simply have to add warm water to it and stir. With the package comes a measuring spoon so you don’t have to bring your own. At the back of the packaging they give some advice about the daily portions but you shouldn’t rely fully on them. During a backpacking trip your dog will use more food than normal so try to figure out which amount of food your dog will need. At the beginning Bobby seemed to like the food but after a few days you could see that he got bored. Usually he gets homemade raw food so I can understand that this freezedried food wasn’t as appealing and tasteful. At some point he didn’t even finished the meal so I had to go to a supermarket and buy some canned food which he ate immediately. I guess I have to come up with another solution for the next time we are going backpacking.
By using a foldable bowl for the food and water you can safe space, too. Unfortunately mine didn’t made it til the end so I have to replace it.
Keeping your dog comfortable
Not all dogs are used to being and sleeping outside. Let your dog getting used to being and sleeping in a tent. Set up your tent in your garden and spend some time with your dog in it. Use the zipper so he gets used to unfamiliar noises. Dogs sleep a lot in a day and they really need their rest. Therefore it is important to ensure that your dog can fully relax and sleep well during the trip. Does he get distracted a lot and looks up by every single noise? Than you should tried camping at a campsite first to train your dog sleeping in a tent. Is your dog afraid of thunder or hard wind? Than you should train those situations, too. Hard wind can really make your tent shake and your dog shouldn’t be afraid of it. Depending on your dog and the season your dog might need some extra blanket or sleeping bag to stay warm during the night when temperatures usually are dropping.
Bring a toy which is easy to clean and some snacks to have some play time with your dog.
A dog can be a great companion during a hiking trip. Although it certainly takes more energy hiking with a dog it is so much more fun and I enjoyed every minute of it. Don’t forget to use this quality time to strengthen your bond. Being together 24/7 can be such a great experience for both of you, if prepared well.