Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Backpacking with Dogs

Share this Post Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
Backpacking with your dog is one of the most enjoyable bonding activities you can do together. Whenever I pull out Charlie's Ruffwear Pack he starts jumping around - he knows that another adventure is around the corner. There's nothing that compares to seeing Charlie's smiling face as he runs free in the back country, then having him snuggle me by the campfire after a long day of hiking and exploring. With the right planning and preparation, your trip will be fun, safe, & memorable!

Here are some Do's & Don'ts when shopping for a dog pack.

DO select a backpack specifically designed for dogs. 
You want a backpack that can withstand the elements, carry objects, and keep your dog comfortable and safe. Look for one made with water-resistant, durable, and breathable materials. Another important feature is proper padding. With added weight, there's extra pressure on your dog's chest and straps, so check those areas to ensure your dog's comfort.
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs

DON'T rely solely on your dogs weight for sizing.
Measure around the largest part of your dog's chest to get the right fit. Use a cloth tape measure around the deepest part of your dog's chest. If you buy a pack at REI, they will help fit your dog to a pack. Usually they will come out to your car and measure and fit them, since they aren't allowed in the store.

For most dogs, 10%-12%  of their body weight is a good starting point. This would be 5-6 pounds for a 50 lb dog.
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
DON'T guess the weight of your dog's backpack. 
After you've loaded the backpack, you may find that you accidentily went over the weight limit. Keep a scale in a convenient location so can verify the load your dog carries before the hike.

DO get creative with what your dog carries.
Many people stress about how to add weight to the backpack. Allow him/her to carry their own toy, water bottles, poop bags, or other items you might need on the hike (ahem, beer). If you allow him/her to carry car keys or other pointy objects, make sure they aren't poking through, causing discomfort to him/her.
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
DON'T give up if you dog is initially resistant. 
Many dog's find the backpack strange at first and may try to paw it off. Start by letting your dog get used to the backpack without any weight. Keep the experience short, and make it positive by associating the backpack with feeding time, treats, or praise. Gradually increase the weight you allow your dog to carry. 
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
When Charlie first wore his pack he always tried to paw it off. I just sprayed the Sour Apple Dog Spray on the pack, then he was ok with it. It's important to note that "resistance" isn't the same as "pain". If you have any concerns about your dogs ability to carry the backpack, remove it immediately. 

Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
I highly recommend the pack Charlie has, the Ruffwear Approach Pack. It's kind of pricey, but it is really well built, comfortable for him, and has several pockets to carry items. It's also a good idea to bring a Dog First Aid Kit, but make sure you actually know how to use the items or replace items out with things your dog may need. For instance, I put extra gauze in there because most of the issues Charlie has had on the trail is cutting himself by a branch or from rocks. Super Glue is also a handy item, in case you need a quick suture.

What does Charlie carry?
His food, in ziplock baggies
At the end of the trip, he carries some trash for me
In Summer, his own water bottles

Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs

Where should my dog sleep?
This depends on what the weather is going to be like, or how extreme it might get, for the days you'll be on the trail. It also depends on if you're dog likes to sleep near you or not. Charlie will not sleep outside the tent - he likes to snuggle too much and I'm not complaining about him providing some extra warmth. However, one of my friends never lets the dogs into the tent, and they sleep outside where they please. When Charlie and I backpack I bring his camping bed. If it's a really cold night, I will put his down coat on him.

Where can I backpack with my dog?
This depends what you live. Most State Parks require dogs on leashes and can do most trails; most National Parks don't even let dogs in the park. Sometimes they will allow dogs in on one or two trails, but not usually the popular, fun trails. The best type of area to backpack are the back country trails, which are usually on National Forest land. In Utah, the Uinta Mountains are perfect for taking your pup on an adventure because dogs can be off leash on all trails, plus it's free to camp. Click here to see a list of all the Utah National Forest areas. Be sure to check each trail to make sure dogs are allowed before heading out, and always carry poop bags in & out with you.
9 Items to Keep in Your Dog's First Aid Kit while Hiking
Backpacking with Dogs, Hiking in Utah with Dogs
Charlie & I hope you have a blast backpacking with your dog! 

Was this post helpful? Please share, PIN, and post!

Backpacking with Dogs
Have any other tips or advice? Post it in the comments section below!


Katie Arruda said...

Love the ruffwear packs! So durable! Charlie looks adorable sporting his pack around Utah :) I use mine when I want to slow Olive down, and to carry her stuff! The issue i commonly have is properly weighting both sides equally- it doesn't take much to throw it off when I am constantly taking water and other gadgets out of her bag.

Katie @ Katie Wanders

Alicia Baker said...

I have the same issue of making sure both sides are even weight. I keep a water bottle on both sides and alternate using them to keep it even, and that seems to help.

Jessie Gipson said...

Hi, I'm currently thinking about backpacking with a dog that I have yet to buy. Do u think that in the winter or snow, a dog should wear protective booties so his feet don't get hypothermic?

Alicia Baker said...

Hi Jessie! My dog never wears those booties. My opinion on those, is that they are a marketing ploy. Dogs have been around for thousands of years and have never needed booties...until 5-ish years ago when Ruffwear made them?? If you take your dog hiking frequently, their pads will roughen up and they get use to hiking a lot and in snow. My one recommendation for an after-snow hike is to re-moisturize their pads with Musher's Secret ( I put this on Charlie's paws once a week or every two weeks depending on how much we hike and depending on the terrain. -Alicia

Annie said...

I am wanting to take my dogs with me backpacking but the only time they've ever been off leash is in the backyard or the dog park. I'm nervous about 1) chasing after wild animals and then not being able to find their way home 2) seeing other hikers on the trail and going up to "bother" them and 3) attracting wild animals like coyotes or bears.. any advice???

Alicia Baker said...

If you are nervous about those things, I would start by doing day hikes with them off leash to see how well they do. I've hiked with Charlie every since he was 10 weeks old, so that's all he's ever known. I have commands for him when I feel like he's gone too far. "Far Enough!" for when I can't see him and "Wait" to sit and wait until I reach him. Other than that he usually stays close to me on the trail. He also doesn't bark when we see a deer or moose - he just sits and stares at them. BUT, I know that most dogs will chase after them. When that happens, you just need to keep calling them to come back. There's nothing else you can do - at that point they are so focused they won't listen. As for bothering hikers - most people on trails are outdoorsy people and like dogs and are happy to see one. However there are the few "angry hikers" as I call them, and don't want to be bothered. If Charlie goes up to say hi, but they don't like it, I just say sorry, put his leash on, and continue down the trail. Once we are far enough away from them, I let the leash back off. As for attracting wild animals - they don't attract them. Wild animals are more likely going to be attracted to YOU and if you have food. I always carry bear spray while backpacking just in case we do come across wildlife, but it's rare. So long story short - start by day hiking then work your way up to backpacking and start using commands (and bring treats) to help your dog learn what you want him/her to do. Hope this helps! -Alicia

Jessica Olsen said...

The Ruffwear Quinzee coat you linked to isn't a down coat. It's actually polyester filled. Just a heads up.

Rick Clarke said...

Great post. I hike with my Labrador Retriever and use a very lightweight leash. I clip her when people approach, free her when we're clear. She isn't perfectly trained but will stop when I command (yell), even if its mid-squirrel pursuit. I recommend this very much as it may save the dog's life. Cementing SIT-STAY-COME whether they are by your side or across the street is enormous, and not hard (read Richard Wolters) I have found having my dog in my tent/camp while backpacking probably deters wildlife from approaching maybe due to her canine scent. I think moose and black bear may be less curious and more wary due to her scent being like coyote/predator. I still use a bear box though, and dont recommend keeping food near the tent/camp. We had a trail encounter with a large moose, we yielded the trail by moving well into the woods. The interesting part was the moose was looking at, and focusing on my dog the entire encounter. It was not concerned with me.
Conditioning the dog's feet is great advice, and has worked for me. I will try the Musher's Secret though, thanks for that.
Rick & Dazer

Romilda Gareth said...


Cassidy said...

Hi- I have a trip planned to coyote gulch around escalante. I also just adopted a dog. Is she allowed there? Where are the photos of your dog in the desert taken?

Alicia Baker said...

Hi Cassidy - Congrats on your new family member! Unfortunately dogs are banned from Coyote Gulch :( You can read my post on backpacking there here: However there are plenty of awesome places to visit in the Escalante area that are dog friendly. Some of those photos were from Little Wildhorse Slot Canyon (on my blog), hiking to the Golden Cathedral (not on my blog, I went like 2-3 years ago), and Crack Canyon (also not on my blog since it was before I started blogging). Hope you find some awesome places to take your new pup! -Alicia

Romilda Gareth said...


L said...

Actually booties are really important if you are hiking a lot in the snow or if you are in desert conditions. Ruffwear did not invent dog booties. They've been around for a VERY long time. Im sure you wont be doing the iditarod any time soon but they are a requirement. Dogs feet are extremely susceptible to injury from cold or heat. You're right when you say they can build up a tolerance but only to an extent. Even asphalt on a hot day is very dangerous. Google paw pad burns or dog feet burns for some examples.

Alisa Stevenson said...


Anonymous said...

Hi there - where are those photos of your pup in the slot canyon taken? I want to head to Utah for some backpacking with my pup, and I'm primarily interested in canyon terrain. Something like Coyote Gulch or Canyonlands, but I know those places don't allow dogs. Thanks!

Tthorsen said...

That's true! I have a boxer and was walking him one summer. It was a really hot day and he ended up burning one of his pads on one foot. I've always had dogs and it never happened before, but with him stuff always happens to his feet. Not in a really long time. But now I make sure he wears something on his feet. I plan to take my dogs hiking a lot more so I need to invest in good booties for all 4 of my pups and these backpacks so they can carry there stuff.