With welcoming a new dog into my active life, I knew I’d be taking him along my backpacking adventures! I’ve learned a few lessons so far, and know I’ll learn more on each trip. Here’s a few tips for getting started backpacking with your dog.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
If you have a dog, you probably already know that dogs are not allowed on many national park trails, especially the backcountry. Some trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, like the Enchantments and Ingalls Lake also do not allow dogs, so double-check in advance! I found the book Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington had tons of great overnight options. Keep in mind nearly all dog-friendly backpacking sites are first-come, first-served. WTA has filters for trails with established campsites and that are dog-friendly as well. If it is your first time backpacking with a dog, maybe aim for something easier. We chose Lizard & Lily Lake, with the knowledge if we did need to throw in the towel and head home, it would be a relatively short hike back to the car.
PREP AT HOME
The biggest tip I got for backpacking with a dog is to practice in the tent at home if the plan is for the dog to stay in the tent. Some dogs do not enjoy the confined feeling from a tent and can panic, but luckily Schooner snoozed through the night just fine. This also worked out well as it proved to the boyfriendo that we did in fact need a 3-person tent for us and the dog. I’ve heard some people say their dogs sleep outside the tent but in the vestibule area, but I would not do that to my spoiled pup! Other things you can do at home are to make sure your pup’s nails are trimmed or ground before the trip, as sharp nails can pop an inflatable sleeping pad or tear a quilt and put a major downer on the trip. Lastly, pack a little extra food for Fido. Your dog can get Hiker Hunger too!
Besides all of your gear for day hikes you bring for your dog, I found the single-best piece of gear I wouldn’t backpack without to be a long-line leash. I was told it was great for if your dog has to be let out of the tent in the middle of the night, but we rigged a set up with a 50-foot long line clipped to his hands-free leash that acted as almost a tether system for at camp. With my dog’s recall not being great (and an insanely high prey drive), we try to not let him off leash much outside of controlled areas. This way he still got to run around camp, but stay within eyesight of us. We also brought both a water dish and a tiny food bowl, but you could certainly just use one at a time to save on weight.
After that, we were pretty good on gear, surprisingly. I had debated buying a dog sleeping bag, but especially on a warm summer night, Schooner was perfectly content to hog our quilts and nestle in with us. The one piece of gear I might buy is a good small pad to put between the two human sleeping pads. Some people cut up closed-cell foam pads to fit their dog, but that seems a little wasteful to me. I had hoped to use my Therm-a-Rest Z Seat butt pad, but it was too small for him, but a 4-foot Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest SOLite pad seems perfect for dogs, if it’s ever back in stock.
Don’t forget, dog food and treats should be treated as human food or treats, and kept in a bear can or hung to not attract critters. As I said above, a nice long-line leash can be super helpful both at camp during the day and at night, if someone needs a late-night potty but you’re dreading getting out of the warmth of your sleeping bag. Overall, I was kind of surprised that for all of his dayhiking gear, we didn’t need that much more for summer backpacking. Most things we brought for Schooner were lightweight enough for him to carry himself in his Ruffwear pack, which made everything even easier. We finished our trip with one tired but content pooch. I am sure as we take him on more trips, we will learn more and more about the best ways to backpack with him, and I cannot wait!