The therapy and joy a dog can bring to your life on a daily basis is like no medication a doctor can provide. They make you smile, comfort you even when you think you don’t need it and give you unconditional love. It is only natural we seek adventures to share with our four-legged companions. Backpacking with dogs makes perfect sense, as dogs have a great sense of their surroundings. They can be great at alerting you if something’s not right, such as wildlife close by.

When we started backpacking in early 2015, we became addicted. The spots you could reach that did not have vehicle access were breathtaking. Your mind settles and you are able to take in the fresh air and be in the presence of something that seems lost within a busy life. I remember one spot, it was over 2 hours of uphill switchbacks, it felt brutal with our packs. When we arrived at this glacier-fed lake with mountain views, I realized I could have done it a hundred times over. Let me tell you, so could the dogs. Backpacking with dogs is easy, they are machines. As soon as we exit the truck, the dogs are full of energy; so excited to get going. By the time you reach your spot to set up camp for the night, they are exhausted, ready to sit by the fire and get a rested sleep in the tent.

dog in tent

Just like us, exercise, being outdoors and fresh air do our dogs’ health good. Before a planned backpacking trip, we make a list of all the essentials we need to have a comfortable and safe time. This is no different for dogs. They too have essentials they require to be comfortable and safe. Hence the reason behind this list.

The 10 Essentials for Backpacking with Dogs


  1. Navigation: Leash
  2. Insulation: Insulated Jacket or Fleece
  3. Sun protection: Cooling jacket: They wear a fur coat all the time. Keep them cool in hot weather
  4. Safety: Bells and lights to help keep track of your dog and keep other hikers and wildlife aware. ID tags
  5. First-aid: special considerations for paw care
  6. Fire:  Toys for distractions while you do crucial tasks.
  7. Repair Kit and Tools: Repair the trail with poop bags and trowel.
  8. Nutrition (extra food): Food and treats
  9. Hydration (extra water): Their own bowl and water bladder
  10. Shelter: footprint, Z Lite or other needs while in the tent.

To avoid any possible injuries to your dog, start with smaller hikes to get your dog used to hiking terrain and build strength and endurance. Over a few weeks, you will build up to longer day hikes.

dog backpacking gear

If you plan to have your dog wear a pack and carry some of the load, start with your dog wearing a harness if they typically wear collars. After a few times wearing the harness, do a few hikes with an empty pack. Slowly add weight to the pack. It is recommended your dog carry no more than 25% of its body weight.

dogs on leashes

1. Navigation

Things to consider when backpacking with dogs. Make sure you research your backpacking destination. Some parks have certain regulations around dogs in parks, possibly requiring your dog to be on a leash. You want to make sure where you plan on going allows for dogs. Always have a leash with you. While your dog may be great with people and other dogs, not all dogs may be great with your dog, and not all people like dogs. Be considerate and when you see people and dogs approaching. Keep your dog close to you. A great leash to pack is a waist leash so you can be hands-free when you need to leash up your dog.

dogs backpacking in snow

2. Insulation

Keep the elements in mind, if you are backpacking in the winter, you may want to think about an insulated jacket or fleece. Yes, dogs have a coat, but some are not adapted for harsh cold weather. When temperatures drop at night, it’s important to keep your dog safe from their body temperatures dropping. If they are not wearing it, this is an item they can carry in their pack

3. Sun Protection

In the summer, the heat can be a huge concern and even deadly for dogs. Always plan ahead. Talk to others who have done trails you want to check out and ensure there’s plenty of shade to seek out for breaks. Cooling coats are excellent for dogs to keep cool on hot days. All that is required is water to soak the cooling coat. This is also an item they can carry in their pack.

backpacking dog harness

4. Safety

Always remember to have current up-to-date ID tags. Prepare for the unexpected. Something could scare your dog to take off running. Having a current ID tag with your phone number and a secondary contact can up the chances of your dog returning home safely if another hiker or camper gets ahold of them.

A night light gives added visibility to know where your dog is at all times. Keep Bear bells on your dog for safety. Bear bells alert wildlife and other trail users.

dog first aid kit

5. First Aid

Many items in a first aid kit can be used on your dog, however, adding a couple of extra items will have you better prepared. Adjust your dog to boots to protect its paws from the elements or even sharp rock terrain. Cuts can happen, and having boots in your kit can be used to protect a wound. Another great alternative can be a pad balm to protect and moisturize a dog’s pads. Most kits will have tweezers which you can use to remove ticks, or you can add a tick remover to your first aid kit.

6. Toys

I usually pack a toy for the dogs to play with. Sometimes we backpack to a lake and the dogs love to fetch water toys. Toys are great distractions for dogs in addition to providing comfort from home. A dog’s favorite toy is a great stress relief for new situations.  This is an item they can carry in their pack.

backpacking dog gear

7. Tools

Be respectful of the trails. Carry poop bags and a trowel and clean up after your dog. Better yet, have your dog carry them. Ask about waste bags next time you buy. Some are biodegradable and can be tossed in outhouse toilets.

8. Nutrition

Pack extra food for your dog. Backpacking burns a lot of calories in dogs too and they will need the extra nutrition for energy. Make sure you provide your dog with clean drinking water, they too can get sick from contaminated water. Food is a good thing for your dog to carry.

backpacking dogs water break

9. Hydration

Make sure you provide your dog with clean drinking water as they can get sick from contaminated water. Follow the same practice you would with your own drinking water.

dogs sitting in tent

10. Shelter

After a long day of hiking, nothing beats a cozy area to rest. I bring a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite for the dogs to sleep on. They are spoiled and they also sleep with the Therm-a-Rest Corus Quilt. Both have been great at providing warmth from the ground.

Keep in mind, that most of these items for your dog are things your dog can carry in their own pack. The item I carry for them is the Corus Quilt, which is shared between me and the dogs. Another item I carry is the first aid kit. Remember to put all items in a zip lock bag so they stay dry in case it rains or your dog decided to trek through any rivers along the way. Packing these ten essentials for backpacking with dogs will provide you and your dog with a better camping experience together.

Happy Camping!

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Originally Published August 21, 2018