UPDATED: May 2018
I go camping with my dog, Sierra, multiple times every year, and each time it’s a new adventure. I know she has as much fun, if not more, than we do when taking a trip to explore the great outdoors. In my opinion, if you can bring your 4-legged friend along for the adventure, it makes the whole experience better for everyone involved. If you’ve been thinking about taking your dog camping, try it out! Just make sure you are prepared. Before you head outdoors, you’ll need to make sure you, and your dog, are prepared with the right equipment. Planning starts before you even book the camping trip. When looking for a place to camp, it’s important to verify your dog is allowed in the campground. The worst way to start a trip is to get to the campsite only to be turned away because you have your dog with you. Most National and State parks will allow dogs, but have different restrictions, always check before you plan a trip. Once you get your trip booked, it’s time to start gathering everything you’ll need to make sure you dog stays safe and comfortable during your trip. Below, I have compiled a list of some of the essential gear that I’ve used while camping. Every trip is different(weather, terrain, length of trip, etc) so this is not an all inclusive list, but it’s a great starting point for the basics for most camping adventures.
Food and Water
This might seem stupid to bring up, because it’s so basic, but it’s always the first thing we pack before heading out to ensure we don’t get complacent and forget it. Before you go out on your camping adventure, you will need to have a basic understanding of what activities you will be doing, and what water sources are available to you in the campground and surrounding areas.
For food, a good rule of thumb is to pack at least 25% more food than your dog usually eats, because just like you, they will be burning more calories per day than they usually would at home. If you don’t have an easily portable and packable food container, check out the one from Ruffwear that stores up to 42 cups of food, is collapsible after it’s empty, and is rugged enough to stand up to outdoor use.
If that one is too rich for your blood, try out a similar, and cheaper, version from Kurgo
Which every container you chose to store your food, one thing to remember while camping is that it’s food! Other critters are going to want to chow down on it as well. Based on your camping location, make sure you either put it in your car, or bear locker when finished feeding. You don’t want to come back your campsite to find out squirrels have taken all of your dog’s food for the trip! Remember they can chew through everything from fabric to thick plastic containers.
When it comes to water, make sure you know where it will be available during your trip. Some places like Joshua Tree National Park, have no available water sources, so you will need to pack your own. Just like food, make sure you pack at least 25% extra, I usually aim for 50% just in case. If the campsite has water, verify it’s safe for drinking before you leave for the trip. If not, you will have to treat, or boil, the water before it’s safe to give to your dog. Some campsites will have natural running streams, rivers, or lakes near-by. Although it might be tempting to just let your dog drink “fresh mountain stream water”, remember, the last thing you want is a dog with explosive diarrhea in the campground that needs veterinary attention. Although dogs have better stomachs than us, if you plan ahead, you won’t have to risk it. Most campground websites will tell you all the water sourcing information you need, so use those as a reference.
As for food and water bowls, my main consideration is to have something easily visible, even at night, that can also be easily cleaned after each use. If you have the space to pack some stainless steel bowls, go for it, if not, Ruffwear makes some outdoor water and food bowls that are bright, reflective, and collapsible for easy storage.
Leash and Tie Out
After food and water is taken care of, make sure you have good leash and tie-out for the campground. Most campgrounds that allow dogs will require that you keep them on a leash at all times. Because there are so many varieties, and most of them are good for a campground situation, I don’t think I need to give any specific recommendations for a standard leash other than make sure it’s well made, and won’t break. I usually bring a 6ft as well as a flexi-leash when I go camping. I use the flexi-leash when we go on non-crowded hikes to give my dog a little more freedom to sniff around while still having her under complete control.
In regards to the tie-out, I recommend one made of metal so your dog can’t chew through it when you are not watching her at the campsite. I have a 30ft tie-out that seems to be about the right length to let Sierra explore the site without her being able to disturb our camping neighbors. Make sure you look at the weight rating of the tie-out before buying it so you know it won’t snap if your dog decides to bolt.
Along with the tie-out, you need something to attach it to. If you are camping someplace with a lot of trees, you might be able to get away with putting it around one of them in your campsite. The only warning I have is if the trees are on the exterior area of the site, your dog might not be able to hang out in the middle of camp, and if you have neighbors, they probably wont appreciate your dog walking through their site. Because of this, I always bring a tie-out stake as well. Make sure the one you purchase is well-built, and metal. Those stakes take a lot of abuse not only from the dog pulling on them, but also from you having to pound them into the ground. I usually camp places with rocks so I just grab a big one and pound it in, but if you want to make sure you have something to get it into the ground, make sure you pack a hammer as well. Also, a word of caution, make sure you put the stake away from main traffic areas. This is not something you want to stub your toe on while attempting to us the restroom late at night, believe me, I won’t make that mistake again.
Important: The mistake that I made, and I see other campers make all of the time, is you buy a great quality tie-out and stake, and then attach it directly to your dog’s collar. This can be very dangerous for your dog. With a 30ft tie-out, a dog has a maximum of 60ft to chase a squirrel taunting it from across the site, or run out to greet a camper as they enter the site. They build up enough momentum to seriously damage their neck when they get to the end of the line and are yanked to a sudden stop. This is why I always recommend using a harness when using a tie-out with a dog. If they do decide to run across the campsite, and hit the end of the leash, all of the tension is transferred into the dogs chest, which is much more stable than the neck of the dog. I have seen a dog get seriously injured from not using a harness so please make sure you bring one with you if you plan on using a tie-out with your furry friend. I use the same harness that I have for Bikejoring with Sierra. I got it custom-made from Alpine Outfitters and it works great. If you don’t want to wait for them to make you a harness, Ruffwear has a new harness out that will work well.
I know I recommend their products often, but I swear, I have no affiliation with them! 🙂 They just make the most reliable and well made products I have been able to find so far, and all of their products are geared toward outdoor use and have worked out well for me.
Just like you, dogs like to be comfortable when they sleep. Although many dogs, including mine, have no problem sleeping directly on the dirt/tent floor, it’s nice to give them the option of someplace soft that is insulated from the cold ground. If you have short-haired dogs, this is more of a necessity because the dog’s skin will be in direct contact with the ground, which will prevent them from staying warm on a cold night. The bed I use on every camping trip is the Kurgo Wander Bed. I like it for three reasons: 1) It rolls up and is easy to store and travel with 2) It provides enough cushion to keep my dog off the ground 3) The bottom is water proof and is easy to clean after you place it on a dirt surface.
If you need something even lighter, and more compact, Ruffwear sells a bed that will fit into most dog and human backpacks. It’s a little on the pricy side, but if size and weight is more important to you, this might be another viable option.
The Ruffwear light beacon is great to have around the campground at night. It allows you to quickly glance over and see where your dog is. I can even see the blinking light during the day. If by chance, your dog decides to go roaming for a midnight stroll 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. I also use this while biking Sierra after the sun starts to set, this makes her easily visible to passing cars.
Just like us, dogs can get into unexpected trouble in the great outdoors. It’s always a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit for your dog while camping, especially if you are going to a remote area where help is hours away. The kit below 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, liquid bandage, Pepto-Bismol, and some Benadryl to your kit to help with any allergic reactions, stomach issues, or injuries your dog may encounter while camping. It’s commonly recommended to give 1mg. of Benadryl per 1lb. of body weight for most dogs. For example, if your dogs weights 50lb., you would give him 50mg. of Benadryl. As for Pepto-Bismol, it’s also considered safe to use for most dogs(not cats), the dosage is determined by the strength of the product, so as always, consult with your vet before giving your dog any medications. Each trip is different, so as with all first aid kits, you can change what’s in them based on where you are going, and how long you will be gone.
Even though you are not walking around your city block, you still need to pick up after your dog while camping. Poop can contain worms, viruses, and bacteria that can harm local wildlife and pollute natural water sources. When I camp, I usually pack bags from the Earth Rated brand. They are easy to find in most pet stores, and decompose faster than most.
When we go camping, we have card games, corn hole, and campfires to entertain us, but what about your dog? You want to make sure you bring something for them to play with while hanging around the campsite too! If you are using a tie-out, I recommend keeping ball-shaped toys out of the campsite. They tend to roll out of range on the tie-out on the uneven ground, and every time they do, you just end up playing fetch with yourself. I also recommend against any squeaky toys. These tend to get your neighbors upset rather quickly. Instead, I end up bring at least a rope toy, and a non squeaky stuffed toy for each trip. I try to pick out something dirt colored because we all know it will end up that color in a few minutes anyway :). My favorite line of toys to bring camping are Aussie Natural Animals. They have a bunch of different animals including monkeys, buffalos, and my dog’s favorite, ducks. They are decently durable, don’t collect dirt easily, and are made of natural materials. If your dog rips it open, they just contain coconut fibers instead of some type of synthetic material, found in most dog toys, that can spread into the surrounding environment.
Nothing too complicated here. I’m sure your dog loves to enjoy mid-day snacks from time-to-time, and even more so while you’re outdoors. When selecting treats, make sure you have something high in calories, to compensate for the higher activity level, as well as something you know your dog doesn’t have problems with. Camping is usually not a good time to introduce new treats to your dog’s diet. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a tent with a dog that has bad gas, trust me on this one. 🙂
Flea and Tick Prevention
If you are currently doing a monthly flea and tick treatment, then you are already set, for the most part at least. Even if I am using a monthly flea and tick treatment, I still bring along natural flea and tick spray to periodically spray on my dog during the trip. This seems to do a better job at repelling the bugs so they never get on her in the first place. It also helps with repelling flies and mosquitos(which spread heart worm), so it’s always something I bring with me.
Also, make sure your monthly flea protection protects against ticks. Some products like Advantage, won’t protect your dog against ticks, which spread lyme disease, and are found almost everywhere you might camp. Comfortis and Trifexis are both popular internal monthly flea treatments that require a vet’s prescription, but also have no effect on ticks. Frontline and Advantix are probably the most popular topical solutions available to you which guard against both fleas and ticks, so I usually use one of those before I go camping. I also make sure to time the application so I’m able to put it on her the night before we leave, this will guarantee the best protection during the tip.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but based on my camping experience, it should be a good place for you to start. If you plan on doing any hiking with your dog during your camping trips, check out my previous blog on hiking gear to consider bringing as well. Some other items you might also want to think about picking up for your trip, based on where you are going, are: Dog Sunscreen, Life Jacket, Paw Protection, Tick Removal Tool, and Dog Boots. Remember, camping with a dog is a unique and unforgettable experience, go as often as you can, your dog will thank you!
For some more info on what else to consider when planning a camping trip with a dog, take a look at this REI article HERE.