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Ten Things You Should Bring on a Hike with Your Pup

Don’t forget these hiking essentials.

by Dan Nelson
June 1, 2021
A German Shepherd dog wearing a red hiking backpack on a rocky trail.
Photo: Adobe St

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On the hiking trail, away from cell phones and other distractions, you and your pup can bond as you feel the terrain beneath your feet, take in the unfiltered beauty of nature and stop to smell the clover (or anything else that crosses your dog’s nose). But no hiker should venture far up a trail without being properly equipped.

When heading out on a hike with your dog on a backcountry trail, the old tenet “be prepared” should be taken seriously. The items you pack will vary from trip to trip and dog to dog, but there are a few things each and every hiker should have packed. Each member of your hiking party — human or dog — should have a pack loaded with these essentials, including items you might need in an emergency.

Ten Dog Hiking Essentials

1. Obedience training.

This isn’t something you can pack, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Before you set foot on a trail, make sure your dog is trained and can be trusted to behave when faced with other hikers, other dogs, wildlife, and an assortment of strange scents and sights along the trail. If they can’t reliably behave, don’t take them hiking.

2. Doggy backpack (for longer hikes).

Let your dog carry their own gear in a dog backpack. Dogs can be trained to carry gear in their backpacks, but don’t put packs on dogs younger than a year old to avoid developmental problems.

3. Basic first aid kit.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends a checklist of items for your dog’s first aid kit. The Red Cross also offers classes in pet first aid.

4. Dog food (and trail treats).

You should pack more food than your dog normally eats because they will be burning more calories than usual, and if you do end up having to spend an extra night out there, you need to keep your pup fed. Trail treats serve the same purpose for the dog as they do for you — quick energy and a pick-me-up during a strenuous day of hiking.

5. Water (and water bowl).

Don’t count on there being water along the trail for the dog. Pack enough extra water to meet all your dog’s drinking needs and a collapsible water bowl.

6. Equipment (leash and collar, or harness).

Even if your pup is absolutely trained to voice command and stays at heel without a leash, sometimes they are required by law or just by common courtesy, so you should have a leash handy at all times.

7. Dog-friendly insect repellent.

Be aware that some animals, and some people, have strong negative reactions to certain insect repellents. So, before leaving home, dab a little repellent on a patch of your dog’s fur to test your dog’s reaction to it. Look for signs of drowsiness, lethargy, or nausea. Remember to restrict repellent applications to those places the dog can’t lick — the shoulders, the back of the neck, and around the ears (staying well clear of the ears and inner ears). These areas are also near the most logical places mosquitoes will be looking for exposed skin (at the eyes, nose, and inner ears) to bite. And don’t forget to check your dog’s entire body for ticks, foxtails, and other trail troublemakers after your hike.

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8. ID tags (and a picture).

Your dog should always wear ID tags, and since a dog lost in the woods can lose their collar, I’d heartily recommend microchipping them and using a GPS device with them as well. Carry a photo of your dog in your pack. If your dog gets lost far from home, you can use the image to make flyers to post in the surrounding communities.

9. Dog booties.

Another must-have are dog booties. These help protect your dog’s feet from rough ground or harsh vegetation. They also keep bandages secure if your dog damages its pads.

10. Poop bags (and trowel).

You’ll need poop bags to clean up after your dog on popular trails. When conditions warrant, you can use the trowel to take care of your dog’s poop. Just pretend you are a cat — dig a small hole six to eight inches deep in the forest duff, deposit the dog waste, and fill in the hole.

Remember, the only way you can be sure your dog is safe on the trail is if you stay safe, warm, and well-fed. So, here’s a list of hiking essentials for you to take on a hike.

Ten Hiking Gear Essentials for Pet Parents

1. Navigation (map and compass).

Carry a topographic map of the area you plan to be in and know how to read it. Likewise, carry a compass — again, make sure you know how to use it.

2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen).

In addition to sunglasses and sunscreen (SPF 15 or better), take along physical sun barriers, such as a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants.

3. Insulation (extra clothing).

This means more clothing than you would wear during the worst weather of the planned outing. If you get injured or lost, you won’t be moving around generating heat, so you’ll need to be able to bundle up.

4. Lights (flashlight/headlamp).

If caught after dark with your dog, you’ll need a headlamp or flashlight to be able to follow the trail. If forced to spend the night, you’ll need it to set up an emergency camp, gather wood, and so on. Carry extra batteries and bulbs, too.

5. First aid supplies.

Make sure you have plastic bandages, gauze bandages, some aspirin, and other supplies recommended by the Red Cross. At a minimum, a Red Cross first aid training course is recommended. Better still, sign up for a Mountaineering-Oriented First Aid (MOFA) course if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the woods.

6. Fire (fire starter and matches).

Campfires should be avoided in most backcountry camps, but they can be lifesavers in an emergency. An emergency campfire provides warmth, but it also has a calming effect on most people. Without one, the night can be cold, dark, and intimidating. With one, the night is held at arm’s length. A candle or tube of fire-starting ribbon is essential for starting a fire with wet wood. And, of course, matches are important. You can’t start a fire easily without them. Pack them in a waterproof container and/or buy the waterproof/windproof variety. Book matches are useless in the wind or wet weather, and disposable lighters are unreliable. Be sure to build an emergency fire in a safe location where the fire can’t spread.

7. Repair kit and tools (including a knife).

A pocketknife is helpful; a multi-tool is better. You never know when you might need a small pair of pliers or scissors, both of which are commonly found on compact multi-tools. A basic repair kit includes a 20-foot length of nylon cord, a small roll of duct tape, some 1-inch webbing and extra webbing buckles (to fix broken pack straps), and a small tube of super glue.

8. Nutrition (extra food).

Just as you packed for your pup, pack enough food for yourself so that you’ll have some left over after an uneventful trip — the extra food will keep you fed and fueled during an emergency.

9. Hydration (extra water).

Figure what you’ll drink between water sources, and then add an extra liter. If you plan to rely on wilderness water sources, be sure to include some method of purification, whether a chemical additive, such as iodine, or a filtration device.

10. Emergency shelter.

This can be as simple as a few extra-large garbage bags or something more efficient, such as a reflective space blanket or tube tent. In addition to these essentials, I add an emergency survival kit. This tiny package at the bottom of my pack holds a small metal mirror, an emergency Mylar blanket, a whistle, and a tiny signal smoke canister — all useful for signaling to search parties whether they are on the ground or in the air.

This information has been adapted with permission from Dan Nelson’s Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington, 2nd Ed.published by The Mountaineers Books.

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Dan Nelson

Dan Nelson

Dan Nelson is the author of several guidebooks, and creator of three best-selling national series: Snowshoe Routes series, Best Hikes with Dogs series, and Day Hiking series.