7 Tips for Backpacking with Dogs

7 Tips for Backpacking with Dogs

Taking your dog backpacking can be fun and exciting. However, adding your dog to your backpacking party can make things a bit more complicated. After all, you have to consider your dog’s needs and abilities as well.

That isn’t even mentioning the complexities of local regulations and policies when it comes to hiking with your canine.

Before you head out the door with your canine, you should prepare carefully. Below, we’ve listed some essential tips to keep in mind when backpacking with your dog. After all, planning is often key to a successful backpacking experience.

1. Double-Check Local Regulations

When it comes to hiking with dogs, nearly every area has its own policies. Typically, state parks will have different regulations from national parks. Even within the same state, parks can have different policies of where your dog can go.

Often, the policies include some pretty straightforward things, like always keeping your dog on a leash. However, some parks may be completely closed to dogs, and others may have specific trails that are off-limits.

Either way, it’s essential to check before you head out the door. The last thing you want to do is get there and realize that your dog can’t actually go with you.

2. Not Every Dog Is Suitable for Backpacking

Before you decide to hit the trail with your dog, it’s essential to understand that not all canines are suitable for long backpacking trips. Breeds like German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are very commonly seen on the trail because they’re obedient and athletic enough to thrive in that sort of environment.

However, many toy breeds are not a good option for backpacking. For instance, pugs and Shih Tzus are prone to exercise-induced collapse due to their smaller faces.

Even Bulldogs aren’t necessarily the best choice since their flattened faces affect their respiration. They cannot take deep breaths, which is a problem when you’re hiking.

Furthermore, just because your dog is suitable for the trail on paper doesn’t mean that it’ll translate to real life. If your Labrador has never hiked before, it will be out of its element. They won’t have the stamina of other dog breeds and will likely not be quite as obedient, either.

Practice often makes perfect. So, before taking your dog on a long backpacking trip, be sure that they’re used to being on the trail.

3. Get the Proper Training

Backpacking requires a specific type of training for your canine. Sure, you can take a completely untrained dog backpacking, but you’re going to spend most of the time fighting with your dog. When you have a campsite to get to, this is often the last thing you need to be doing.

Therefore, we highly recommend seeking out the proper training for your dog before you go anywhere.

At the very least, your dog needs to know basic obedience commands. This includes “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it.” “Leave it” is particularly important, as it can prevent your dog from eating things they shouldn’t be along the trail. It is also useful if you encounter wildlife or other hikers. Your dog needs to know when to leave something alone and keep moving.

A reliable recall is also very helpful, but this is an understandably very difficult command for dogs to master. Most dogs on the trail probably don’t know this command, but if you can teach your dog to come back when called all the time, then you’ll have a fail-safe should your canine get off the leash.

4. Consider Your Gear

What gear works for a short hike probably isn’t going to work for a longer hike. While you may use a leash and collar just fine for a mile or two, you likely don’t want to have that amount of pressure on your dog’s neck all day. Therefore, investing in a harness is essential for hiking.

And that’s only one piece of gear. You also have to consider how your dog will eat and drink while they’re on the trail. Where will they sleep? What happens if they accidentally get into the mud?

Lightweight, practical options are the way to go when backpacking. After all, you’ll be carrying all the gear for your dog – unless your dog is larger and can carry some of their own gear.

Before you hit the trail, be sure that you test the gear on a shorter hike as well. It’s best to figure out something doesn’t work before you’re actually on your trip.

5. Check Your Gear Too

Your tent might be great for you, but can it withstand your dog’s paws? Most camping gear is not made with dogs in mind, after all. You need to purchase a larger tent in all likelihood and ensure that it is made to withstand your dog’s claws.

Consider your other gear, as well. If your dog is going to come into contact with it, it’s essential that it is able to withstand your dog’s nails and teeth.

6. Invest in a Cable Line

If you’re going to be camping at all, you need to invest in a cable line. Your dog will want to explore their surroundings. However, letting your dog roam around without a leash is downright dangerous.

When you’re busy putting up the tent or doing anything else that requires two hands, this cable line will allow your dog to explore the campsite a bit without wandering off. It’s much easier to lug around than a playpen as well. Plus, it works with dogs of all sizes.

You can easily DIY your own line with a cable and your dog’s leash. However, they do make several commercial options as well.

7. Don’t Forget First Aid

You never know what is going to happen when you’re on the trail. Therefore, it’s essential for you to take any necessary first-aid gear your dog might need. Generally, this should include things like gauze and tweezers.

Be prepared for ticks and fleas as well, preferably with a preventative medication. Just in case, you should also invest in a spot treatment.

Consider packing a dog-safe anti-histamine just in case your dog has an allergic reaction to something. If your dog has any underlying medical conditions, don’t forget to take their medications as well.

You may want to speak with your vet if your dog has an underlying condition. In some cases, your vet may suggest a change in medication while your dog is on the trail since they will be more active.


As long as you plan it correctly, taking your dog backpacking can be a lot of fun. After all, you have constant companionship, and you can show your dog all the sights and sounds this world has to offer.

Our tips should help you plan some of the easily forgettable parts of backpacking with your canine. Generally, the more practice you do, the better. Give yourself plenty of time to test out the equipment and get your dog in shape before you head out on a longer backpacking trip.

Of course, the local laws and regulations should be taken into account as well. You should always check them before you even start planning. 

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8th Nov 2021 Steffi Trott, SpiritDog Training

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