Updated March 2017
I wanted to do a quick write-up on all of the gear that Sierra, our dog, currently uses when we go on our hiking trips. Just like you have probably heard about being prepared yourself before going out into nature, it’s just as important for your dog to be prepared as well. This is not an all-inclusive list of everything you will need while hiking, because each hike is unique and requires different equipment based on length, terrain, weather, and much more. However, everything on this list has been a huge help for us, and will hopefully give you some ideas on what to look for, so you too can be prepared before you go outdoors with your dog. If you want more info about the products listed below, click on them to be directed to Amazon for additional reviews and pricing.
Updated 11.2016: a newer version of this pack was released, the link above will take you there.
This pack was the first one that we purchased for Sierra. It’s adjustable and has a decent amount of storage for a few hour hike. We were able to fit a water bottle on each side, as well as a collapsible water bowl and some treats. At less than $30, this pack is great for hikes up to 4 hours, and is a great first time pack for dogs that are just starting to go outdoors. It’s breathable and doesn’t really restrict natural air flow around your dog, which makes it great for warmer days. This pack also has reflective strips, which makes it safer when walking your dog at night. It’s also relatively easy to take on and off, so you don’t have to hassle with it when you want to take it off for a bit when giving your dog a rest break. The only two complaints I have about this pack are: Its cargo capacity limits how long you can hike because it would be hard to store enough water, and food to take on an all day hike with your dog. Secondly, although it comes off relatively easy, you have to take the entire pack off if you want to give your dog a break. Some of the higher end packs will actually allow you to detach just the cargo bags, which allows the harness to stay on and makes it even easier to take the pack on and off.
If you and your dog are already experienced hikers, and you are looking at taking all day or multi-day trip, the Ruffwear Palisades pack is for you. At $150, it’s definitely on the pricier side, but it does come with some added advantages over the cheaper packs. This pack will hold about twice as much as the Kurgo pack. I am able to fit two water bottles in each side, and still have plenty of room for food, a water bowl, treats, first aid, and any other accessories I might need for the dog during the hike.
One of the main determining factors on how far you can hike with a dog is how much water you can carry. Our longest trip we took with Sierra with this pack so far was 15 miles up in Tahoe, and we had plenty of water storage in the pack for that trip. If you are going on a extremely long or multi-day hike, and you know there will be fresh water sources, you can purchase a portable water filter to refill your bottles. I use The Sawyer Mini water filter because it fits in Sierra’s pack, it’s easy to use, and is also decently durable. You can also use this filter for your water source as well. The pack itself comes with two platypus style water bottles that make it convenient to store when the water is gone. When I go for a really long hike, I like to freeze the platypus bottles the night before and place them on the inside of the storage compartments next to my dog’s skin. This helps keep her cool for the first part of the hike because they usually take a few hours to melt. I will also pack two water bottles from the fridge, so she has drinking water for the first part of the hike. As your pack starts to empty from water use, you can actually tighten down the cargo packs with a built-in elastic cord so the pack stays closer to the dog’s body. This helps prevent the pack from getting stuck on branches and is just one more small thing that makes this pack so functional.
Another great thing about this backpack is the pack actually separates from the harness. This comes in really handy when I want to give my dog a break. I just un-clip, and take the cargo pack off while she stays strapped into her harness, I never have to un-clip the leash from the harness, so it keeps me in full control of my dog the entire time. This pack also seem to be more comfortable for my dog than the other packs I’ve tried. They put a little more cushion on all of the straps which is just one more reason this pack is good for long hikes. This pack’s compartments all have weather sealed zippers so if you run into some less than ideal weather while hiking, you don’t have to worry about things inside the pack getting soaked. One final feature that has come in “handy” is the handle on the top of the pack. If I need to lift my dog over a hazardous area, or just need to have full control over her, this handle makes it easy. Over the last year and a half, I’ve taken this pack on multiple vacations and hikes and it seems to be holding up well with no signs of rips or tears. I fully recommend this for any avid hikers.
Tip: Make sure you don’t overload your dog’s pack. If your dog has never worn a pack before, put it on and take a walk without anything in it so your dog can get used to the feel of it on their back. After they are good with that, add some water or weights that are about 10% of their body weight. Depending on your dog’s physical condition, and age, you can add more weight gradually, but never add more than 25% of your dog’s total body weight into the pack.
If you want to hike hands free, and want to have your dog help you up those steep inclines on hikes, the next three products are for you. The ROK leash is the leash I use in-between Sierra’s backpack and my skijoring belt. I’ve tested a few other types of leashes, but this one works the best for hiking if your dog is pulling. The leash puts the least amount of strain on your back while your dog pulls. The unique thing about this leash, is that it works like a rubber band and shock absorber. Let me explain the benefit of this leash while hiking.
On a typical walk around the block, you are holding a leash in your hand, your arm acts like the shock absorber, so when your dog pulls a little one way or another, your arm can extend, which keeps your from being jerked forward with your dog, at least most of the time! When you have your dog attached to a skijoring harness around your waist, there is no shock absorption, so if your dog pulls, you feel the jerk in your back every time. From personal experience, after a few miles of this jerking motion, your back starts to get pretty sore. This is why the ROK Leash works so well. It’s elastic, so it absorbs most of the shock that comes from your dog pulling while you hike, which is a life saver for your back.
The ROK leash also comes with a traffic handle built-in, which makes it easy to grab the leash close to the dog when you need more control. This is a great leash for normal day-to-day use as well, it helps keep dogs from pulling on the walk and it contains reflective material throughout the leash, which makes it safer to walk your dog at night. The only down side to this leash is that it is a little heavier than a standard leash, but overall, you can buy this leash knowing that you will use it often.
It took me a while to find a good belt that would allow me to walk hands free with my dog pulling me on a hike. There are a few companies that make the belts/harnesses but if you are just using it for hiking, a lot of them come with un-needed straps and supports that are used more for skiing. The belt I finally chose came from Alpine Outfitters, which is a great company for anyone looking for any gear related to dog pulling activities. I have purchases a few custom harnesses, as well as biking related gear from here, and it has always been great quality. This particular belt appealed to me because it had padding in the back and was just a simple single strap that goes around the waist. It’s also very well made and durable, I don’t think I’ll ever wear this one out. It’s easy to put on and adjust, once you get it to the right fit, you never have to mess with it again, just clip it on and go!
I use this carabiner to attach my ROK leash to my skijoring belt. I spent a little extra on this because of the durability and safety features. It has a triple lock design, which basically means that it will never open from just applying pressure to it. However, it is still easy to clip and un-clip, once you get the hang of it, it only takes a half second to open. This added security is just to make sure I don’t accidentally hit the carabiner during a hike and free my dog from the leash. If you have a dog with an extremely good recall, than the added feature might not be necessary, but with Sierra, even if she listens 95% of the time, if she sees something she wants to chase, she would be gone.
Here is a picture of the whole hands free hiking set up:
These boots are a must have if you are doing long hikes on rocky paths. We learned this the hard way last summer when we took Sierra up to Tahoe for a week. One of the hikes we went on had a majority of the path covered in sharp granite rocks. Sierra’s pads were sore for 2 days after that hike because we didn’t use her boots. Here is a picture of the path, click on the image to read more about the hike:
(Beware of Sharp Rocks!)
I usually use these boots during the winter season when we are doing more bike riding because of the cooler weather. After a weeks of frequent riding, her nails will be ground down to the quick and start to bleed and her pads will get roughed up. These boots help protect her feet so they don’t have any issues. If you do a lot of hiking in rocky areas, I highly recommend getting a pair of these to help keep your dog happy while on the trail. These boots also have great grip, so if you are hiking in a wet area that has slipping hazards, these will give your dog better grip on any slick surfaces you might encounter.
This product is another way to protect your dogs feet while out on a hike. It coats your dogs pads with a Vaseline like substance, which keeps the pad hydrated and helps prevent pad splitting. This is also great if you live in an area that snows often because it also keeps the harmful salts they use to de-ice the roads, from contacting your dogs feet. I use this stuff every time I go on a hike that lasts more than 5 miles, and if I’m camping I will apply it to her feet not only before, but after the hike to help keep them crack free. Notice how I said that I only apply it before and AFTER a hike when we are camping. The only down side of this product is that it can make a mess in the house or car if you apply it after a hike. Always apply it before a walk or hike, that way, any excess product will be left outside on the walk and not covering your house. We learned the hard way with this, we applied it before we took her on a quick 5 minute walk around the neighborhood and it wasn’t all off by the time we got back. Over the next week we saw black paw prints mysteriously appear all over our carpet. We eventually figured out that it was from dirt sticking to the left over Musher’s Secret that our dog tracked into the house after that short walk. It was not fun to clean up! After that incident, we purchased reusable dog booties to apply over her feet after we put the Musher’s Secret on so it didn’t go all over the carpet again. Now we can put it on in the house, leave the booties on for a few hours and then take them off without any issues. It’s amazing how effective this product is at conditioning and repairing cracked pads. This is another product I recommend for any dog with an active lifestyle.
I have tried a few different type of portable water bowls, and this one seems to work the best for me. The main reason I like it over other types of bowls is because, I can fold it, and then zip it up after using it. This allows me to put it in my pocket or backpack without worrying about left over water that I couldn’t shake off it, getting all over my pants or pack. It also comes with a snapping clip on the top so I can hang it from a belt loop if I needed.
You can pre-mix this hydration powder with your dog’s water before heading out, so it’s ready to go when you stop for your first water break. It’s a mix of electrolytes and fuel for you dog and has many of the same benefits as gatorade does for us.
Treats and Meals
For hiking, I have three requirements for any treats I bring along for Sierra: 1) Loaded with calories 2) Non-dehydrated and preferably semi-moist 3) Low or no mess. Just like humans, dogs burn through a large amount of calories while hiking, so you need something that will be able to replace the energy that is lost. Look for the calorie count on the back of the treat bag before you buy it, most bags will have it listed. I recommend staying away from the dehydrated treats during a hike just because those treats suck up moisture in a dogs stomach which the dog then has to replace to aid with digestion. This accelerates your dog’s dehydration while on the trail. Lastly, if you bring treats that crumble or are greasy, they make it hard to easily hand out to your dog during the hike. You want something that will be easy to carry, and ideally something you can keep in your pocket.
True Chews are my favorite on the trail dog treat. They are semi-moist, are high in calories, and I can stick them in my pocket and break off pieces without making a mess. You can find these at most higher end pet supply stores, some Costcos, and of course, Amazon. My second favorite trail treat for my dog is cut up boiled chicken. If you know you are going on a longer hike, cook some de-boned chicken the night before, and cut it up into small pieces. The next morning stick it in a zip-lock bag and you are ready to hit the trail with a high calorie delicious treat!
If you are planning on taking a hike long enough that you want to be able to feed your dog a meal, the Ruffwear collapsible dog bowl is a good way to get the job done. This thing is durable, easy to clean, and collapses and crunches to fit almost anywhere. If I bring a meal for my dog, I will usually pre-measure it into a Zip-lock bag and pour it into the bowl when it’s time to feed.
I always pack one of these when ever I go hiking, even if it’s a day hike. As soon as we head out on the trail, I turn it on and leave it on until we get back. I do this for my dogs safety, if for some reason she got off leash, and out of sight, I can see the blinking light even during the day. If by chance, your dog decides to go roaming off without you, this could be a life saver if you have to search for her in the dark. This light is bright enough to be visible from a decent distance, which can dramatically increase your chances of someone spotting her. This light is also great to have on around the campground at night. It allows you to quickly glance over and see where your dog is in seconds. I also use this while biking Sierra after the sun starts to set, this makes her much more visible to passing cars.
Just like us, dogs can get into unexpected trouble while on the trail. It’s always a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit for your dog while hiking, especially if you are going to a remote area where help is hours away. This kit has some of the essentials, especially when it comes to bandaging, and is easy to shove into a dog or human backpack. I also recommended adding some doggie Aspirin and some Benadryl to your kit to help with any allergic reactions or injuries your dog may encounter while on the trail. It is commonly recommended to give 1mg. of Benadryl per 1lb. of body weight for most dogs. As always, consult with your vet before giving your dog any medications. Finally, I also pack some liquid bandage on most of my hikes as well. Each hike is different, so as with most first aid kits, you can change what’s in them based on where you are going and how long you will be gone.
Not the most glamorous subject on here, but it still needs to be discussed, poop! While out in the wilderness, you still have a responsibility, as a pet owner, to clean up after your dog. I don’t mind holding onto a full baggie for a mile or two, but if you are going on an all day hike, it’s not something you want to carry around in your hand. The PoopPac will hold bagged poop and comes with a replaceable charcoal filter to help keep the oder down. (If you want even more odor control, you can buy scented poop bags that will make the poop even harder to smell.) You can either clip the PoopPac onto your pants with the included belt clip, or hang it off of one of your packs. As long as you keep the poop compartment zipped, you will often forget that it’s even attached to you.
Hopefully this has given you a good starting point for preparing your dog to take an outdoor adventure. The products above have helped me get through every hike I have taken with my dog, and I recommend them all. As always, if you have a product that you think is essential while hiking with your dog, please let me know! I love to test out new products and am always looking for the next new product to buy my dog.