Time to Hit the Trail!
First, let me preface this post with I love being in the woods and backpacking affords me with that opportunity. Second, I love my fur babies. They are part of my family and so naturally I want to take them everywhere with me. I'm sure that holds true for everyone reading this. So since I'm a little OCD about safety and being prepared I did what any person would do in this situation. I started researching the topic online. What I found was mostly lists of things to bring rather than what to expect or why certain items are more important than others. I mean what makes poop bags so important? So what do you need to make your dogs hiking experience awesome and how should you prepare before hand? Below is what I have found to be important, but this is certainly not a comprehensive list for every situation. However, I hope it can get you started on your dog friendly journey.
This may seem like a strange thing to list but there could be other dogs or animals on the trail and you want to make sure your furry friend is protected.
Dogs are like people when it comes to conditioning. Most people don't just wake up one day and say, "today I think I'll run that triathlon." They train for it. If your dog has never been on extended hikes, perhaps start out slow. See how they do and go from there. What you don't want to do is push a 20 mile hike on the Appalachian trail and find out your dog can't do it. That will not be fun for either of you.
On or off leash? That is the question!
While I was doing my research I read tons of posts about how your dog should ALWAYS be on a leash. People were pretty adamant about this fact. Sure, there are benefits to having your dog on a leash such as avoiding confrontations with wild animals, but lets be real here for a second. There are some times when the trail may be narrow or you are far enough from civilizations that it's time for your dog to have some run space. They are in the woods after all. I think there is a time and place for your dog to be on and off leash and much of that decision should be based on the environment and your dog. For example, some dogs are more aggressive than other dogs and may need to be on a leash more frequently. That's perfectly okay! Just be smart on the trail and know your pup.
So your fury friend is coming along and that means extra weight. If your an ultralight packer like me you know every ounce counts. I cut my toothbrush in half and cut out every tag I could find because that adds weight. Since your dog is coming should they be carrying gear? Absolutely! But, you don't want to overload your dog and especially not when your just starting out. So how much should they carry? According to REI your very healthy and fit dog should carry no more then 25 percent of their own body weight, but for some breeds and less fit dogs they should carry no more then 10 to 15 percent. Both of my puppies weigh about 50 pounds and they generally carry a pack between 2 and 10 pounds depending on what we are doing. I have used a couple different packs from various companies and so far I like Ruffwear the best. The packs are a little pricey but its like any other camping gear…an investment. When I pack their bags I try to keep the sides as even as possible. This helps distribute the weight and keep the pack from sliding. Its also a good idea to get your dog used to wearing the pack before heading out on the trail. I started out with just the pack on walks around my neighborhood and then I added some weight to that. My goal was to get them acclimated to wearing weight so it wouldn’t be something new when we headed out.
Dogs need to stay hydrated just like you do so make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water throughout the day. According to petMD, dogs should consume one ounce of water for every pound they weigh in a one day period. For example, a fifty pound dog should consume about 50 ounces or 1.4 liters of water per day. One of my dogs drinks like a fish and one like a camel so the amount can also be dependent on your dog.
I HIGHLY recommend dry food only for backpacking trips. It only took one time of adding a pouch of wet food to some dry food to realize I made a HUGE mistake. It was very messy and hard to clean. Live and learn, right? For food and water I like using the Fozzils bowls. They are lightweight, easy to clean and come in different sizes.
Poop! Yay, everyone's favorite topic! In the woods it seems counterintuitive to pick up poop. It's not like your dog just pooped in your neighbors front yard. However, other dogs and wild animals may stumble upon this wonderful present, which in some cases can spread disease. Its recommend that you bury poop six inches underground or pack it out with you. If I know I am going to be packing out dog poop I carry a baby diaper bag. It keeps the smell out and if for some reason a bag leaked it won’t be all over your stuff.
The first time I took Sydney backpacking I wasn’t really sure what to bring for her to sleep on. I mean she sleeps on a super squishy bed at home, but I wasn’t about to carry that thing into the woods. I also didn’t want to just have her sleep on the cold ground in the tent. I took an old foam bed roll I had and cut it down to her size. I grabbed a tiny blanket that fit over that and turned that into her bed. She curled up on it in the tent and had no problems sleeping. Plus, it was super light to carry.
I wanted to mention a collar my mom found on a groupon that lights up. At night it can be hard to see your dog, but having a collar that lit up made a huge difference. Adding a glow stick to your dogs collar would also work. The picture on the left is Sydney with my headlamp and camera flash on. The picture on the right is no headlamp and no flash. If she wasn’t wearing the glowing collar I wouldn’t have been able to see her.
Camping season in Florida coincides with hunting season, which just means you have to be a little more careful in the woods. I found orange reflective vests for dogs made by Redhead at bass pro shop. Unfortunately, I can’t find them online at bass pro anymore, but I did find one made by Remington (found at the link below). The one I have works great!! If you know you are going to be somewhere where there may be hunters, this vest is totally worth the money.
Treats: You can’t go hiking without treats!