“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” - John Muir
Weverton Cliffs, MD
I love hiking. I am nomadic. I will go into snow or rain to hike. The hottest days. Days so cold that my sinuses freeze solid inside my head. I seek waterfalls with a passion, feel calm walking alongside of wild rivers, and I climb straight up rocky mountains until I am panting at the top and looking out over the land below. Over and over and over again. I will go anywhere, and do so with great joy. Yes, I am passionate about hiking to a fault. Being in nature centers me. It gives me time to think, to breathe. In a chaotic world, I treasure my times on the trail the most. One foot in front of the other, it’s just that simple.
And of course, by my side has always been my little corgi, Ein. Ein was with me when I became rabidly interested in hiking. We conquered the local county park together, and proceeded on to the secluded river trails in the area. We climbed mountains together and ate snacks on top of them and let the wind blow over us. Pure silence, pure peace. Just a girl and her dog. Perfect.
What this post is about is backpacking with dogs. Much like hiking, I am entirely in love with backpacking. And why? Backpacking is a sleepover with hiking. You hike all day, sleep in the woods, and then hike more the next day. Hey, it’s not for everybody. But it is for me. And I love to have a dog or two along with me.
Double ended leashes loop easily around my hip belt for hands-free leashing.
Leashes. I am a big fan of off leash hikes for dogs. A solid recall and leashing up when other hikers are in sight is a given, however. Other hikers or not, when I am in it for the long haul, I like to keep my dogs leashed. My Molly, for example, tends to run circles around me until she is dragging and exhausted. My most recent trip was 31 miles, and keeping Molly leashed is a way to “help” her conserve her energy. Keeping my dogs leashed also keeps them from finding things to roll in. There are no showers in the woods, and if my dog rolls in a dead possum…that dog and all of her disgusting aromas will be coming in my tent with me at night. No way.
Perri is tethered to a tree with the Ultimate Leash while I set up my tent.
My leash of choice is The Ultimate Leash. The leash is adjustable to three different lengths. I can have my dog at one, three or six feet. There are clips on both ends of the leash, so I can either hook the leash to both the harness and collar at once, or I can hook one leash to two dogs.
After a day of hiking, when camp needs to be set up, I like to tether my dogs to a tree. Again, I do love to let my dogs be off of their leashes when the situation is appropriate. But in respect to other hikers, it is best to have my dogs under control – and while I am concentrating on putting up my tent and getting dinner cooked, I cannot keep a close eye on my dogs.
Water. Water is the lifeblood of backpacking. It is necessary for staying hydrated, cooking food, making coffee…all of those human essentials. Whenever I go out backpacking, I plan my campsite for the night around a reliable water source.
Water is heavy. Water weighs roughly eight pounds per gallon, and carrying enough to stay hydrated can add up fast. Adding thirsty dogs to the equation means one simple thing: MORE water must be carried and therefore your pack will weigh MORE.
Ein Soaking in a Stream
When I plan a backpacking trip, I find a trail guide for the area that I will be hiking in. This trail guide will let me know every spring, river, lake or stream that I will pass along the way – as well as how many miles will come between those water sources. The greater the amount of miles, the more water I will have to carry. If my dogs drink up at a great stream and the next water source is only a few miles down the trail, then I will not carry a large amount of water for them – I know that they will be able to drink at the next water source.
To maximize the enjoyment of backpacking with dogs, it is best to plan ahead and find a hike with plentiful water sources. You will keep your pack weight down and your trail dog will stay hydrated and maybe enjoy a good swim all at the same time.
Doggie Pack? Absolutely! I have walked and hiked Molly with a pack on since she was old enough to safely carry the weight. It is good exercise and whittles down her energy. So when the time came for our first backpacking trip, Molly was more than able to carry her own food and bowl.
Molly rests easy with her pack on her back.
I feel that it is kind to get a dog used to wearing a pack before asking her to walk long distances with any amount of weight. I started Molly off on a few walks with an entirely empty pack. Add a few more walks with a small bottle of water on either side of the pack. Weight can be increased from there – with respect to the dog’s size, stamina and age. It can be a juggling act to keep each side of the pack at equal weight – if the pack is lopsided then it can be uncomfortable for the dog.
Heading out to the trail with pack on back is simple enough. I measure out enough food with two extra servings and divide the amount into ziploc bags. Molly handles her pack well. I always have an extra carabiner clipped to my pack, so that if Molly is struggling up a steep hill or seems tired, I can clip her pack onto mine. My golden rule is that my dog did not ask to go backpacking, I took her along with me. She may enjoy it, but it is my job to keep her as happy and comfortable as possible. (and sometimes that may mean carrying her pack as well as my own.)
All The Comforts of Home.
A dog bowl goes without saying – I prefer a collapsible fabric bowl because it is small and
Pro Sleeping Bag Thief
lightweight. (I stash this in Molly’s pack.) It is much easier to pour water into a bowl than to have a dog drink out of a water bottle. This goes the same for when it is dinner time for your dog. A dog bowl is not a deal breaker for a comfortable hike-with-dogs, but it certainly makes everything go more smoothly.
Bed Time. My tent weighs an absurd eight pounds and is easily the heaviest single item that I carry with me on overnight hikes. I specifically selected my four man tent from REI so that there would be plenty of room for myself, my husband and any dogs that we may bring along with us. I also wanted a tent that was sturdy and able to stand up to dog paws and claws.
I am admittedly clueless when it comes to Dog Comfort in the tent at night. Molly and I have sleeping bag wars since I am not willing to carry and extra bed for her. Ein and Perri are willing to just lay on the tent floor. You learn something new every time you backpack, and I am still learning when it comes to bed time.
Deanna being doctored trailside after slicing her carpal pad.
Be Prepared. A first aid kit is an absolute must for human and dog alike. I will refer back to Kelsey’s post on creating a first aid kit for dogs, Be Prepared. Kelsey absolutely covers all items that I consider a must when backpacking with dogs.
The photo to the left is my sister’s beagle, Deanna. This photo was taken on my last hike without a first aid kid. Deanna somehow sliced her carpal pad and it was bleeding, badly. I had absolutely nothing in the way of supplies. Thankfully my husband had a knife with him. He took his sock off and cut it into strips. We rinsed her paw with water and wrapped the wrist tight in order to stop the bleeding. Everything would have been easier with a first aid kit (and my husband would have one more sock to his name!)
It’s Not For Everybody. Being a good overnight “trail dog” is a talent that I do not feel that all dogs are blessed with. Many good dogs are just not suited for roughing it out in nature – and that is not a bad thing.
My corgi, Ein, is eight years old. He is fast becoming too old for the long miles. But in his day, he was a hell of a trail dog. Ein conserves his energy at a steady trot out ahead of me. He drinks liberally whenever opportunity presents and cools off by laying down in streams. Ein’s shaggy fur cools him in the heat, and keeps him warm when temps drop. Ein will lay down on rocks, dirt, leaves, or dirty socks in the corner of a tent. He is not picky. He will alert bark when he hears something or sees somebody approach. Ein knows how to “go with the flow” when he is out in nature.
My pitbull Molly, is not such a good trail dog. Molly’s short fur leaves her shivering at the slightest chill. Molly despises being tethered and screams and digs if she is left unattended for any period of time. Molly does not drink up at every water source, she may only take a few laps at a time. And at night in the tent, Molly WILL muscle me off of my sleeping pad and monopolize my sleeping bag. No hard feelings, a girl’s got to be comfortable. Molly is best suited for a great day hike, with her cozy couch waiting for her at the end of the day.
Hiking twenty to thirty miles at a stretch can be fun for a dog. On the other hand, at the end of the day when it is time to sleep out in nature, it can be confusing and strange. Many dogs are creatures of routine, and backpacking will certainly turn their schedule upside down. Some dogs are more resilient than others, some dogs find it difficult to adapt when their predictable routine is altered. This is an important consideration.
Backpacking is not easy, you have to work hard for your food, drink and rest – having dogs along increases that work. For me, a little bit of extra planning and pack weight is completely worth having my dogs along with me on my “vacation” out in the woods. Exploring the beauty and peace of nature on foot is one of my greatest joys, and having my best friends by my side makes that experience all the more priceless.