How to Take Your Dog Backpacking

By Mercedes Mack, Sunnyvale Merchandising Lead

Human's best friend can be an excellent backpacking buddy! And now's the perfect time to start training your dog at home so you're both ready to hit the trail when parks and trails re-open. Sunnyvale merchandiser, Mercedes Mack has tons of backpacking experience with her dog Lulo and put together this guide for backpacking with your pup!



Backpacking with dogs is really fun! Northern California has a bunch of backpacking and hiking trails you can enjoy with your pup both near and far. It's always a great time to get ready bring 'em along by researching and getting gear. And when your canine is ready to come along, we've got some solid tips to train them and keep them safe!




    As a general rule, if it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot, it’s too hot for your pup. I don’t usually put them on my dog right away, as they chafe a bit, but I usually end up putting them on mid hike.


    It’s always a good idea to carry extra water, especially in the summer. Not all dogs will let you know they need water so as a rule of thumb, every time I stop for a drink, I offer some to Lulo. I like using the Quencher for longer breaks but I also have a bottle for Lulo if we're doing a shorter stop.


    Consider a cooling vest for hot summer days. Lulo never used to hike with a cooling vest, but since buying a Ruffwear add on for Lulo’s pack, I’ve found that she is way more comfortable.


    It’s a good idea to bring a coat for your dog if you’ll be hiking in temps lower than 35-40 degrees or if it's going to be rainy. This of course depends on what breed of dog you have and the weather. Also, making sure they have a pad or something to sleep on at night to provide warmth is vital.




    Consult your vet to make sure your dog is old enough to embark on a backpacking trip. A backpacking trip could be too much physical activity for a pup under a year old. Slowly build mileage and weight to increase your dog’s stamina for weight bearing over long miles. It’s important to do this slowly to build muscle, comfort, and toughen your dog’s paw pads for the difficulty of the hike.

    SIP Tip: Add some weight to your dog’s pack and start building their conditioning and endurance over walks now. This builds both confidence maneuvering with a weighted pack, as well as physicality.


    I don’t recommend going backpacking with your dog until they have mastered some basic training and you are pretty confident with their recall capability. You will encounter a lot of interesting wildlife and be in situations where it is vital your dog responds to your commands. 

    SIP Tip: Work on some recall techniques, building up to getting back out on a hike. Dogs learn faster with less distractions, and easing out onto trail with a solid foundation is the best way to set you and your dog up for success!


    Try out and practice with all gear before you head out. This will help your dog get comfortable with all gear, and also help you spot any gear that doesn’t fit well.


    The general rule for packing a dog’s pack is to keep it at about 15-25% of their body weight. This includes the weight of the pack, and potential water. It’s recommended to load about 15% or less if your dog has joint issues, is older, or is not in prime physical shape for the hike.

    SIP Tip: Create a checklist for all your dog’s camping gear, and include estimated pack weight on there so you don’t go over. If you've got a scale at home, make sure to weigh the pack.



    Research and know the laws of an area before you go including:

    • Regulations around dog waste (pack it out or bury it?)
    • Leash laws (off leash or six foot leash?)
    • Route permits (does the route you’re taking go through a wilderness or national park area where dogs are not allowed? For example, on Lost Coast Trail dogs are allowed on the northern section, but not the southern section.)


    It’s recommended to add about 25% more per each meal and supplement with treats. In the past I’ve brought dry food and a few dental chews for the evening, but more recently experimented with dehydrating homemade dog food (ground turkey, peas, carrots, squash). It’s lighter to carry and Lulo is way more stoked to eat at the end of the day. If you have a dehydrator, try it!


    Same as for a human, dig a little cat-hole for that stuff if you can (again, make sure to consult laws & regulations of the area first). If I’m going for only a few nights, I’ll collect Lulo’s poop in doggie bags and pack it out at the end. I like to go as Leave No Trace as possible, but, each wilderness area has its own rules about it.



    Pay closer attention to your dog's behavior:

    • Weird behavior (Are they nervous? Anxious? Do they sense something?)
    • Feet licking (Check their paws for cuts or irritation.)
    • Excessive panting or lagging behind,  excessive salivation, bright red tongue (Are they overheating and/or dehydrated? It might be time for a break.)


    Dogs are not affected by poison oak, but will carry the oil on their fur, and pass it onto you. I bring a towel and Technu on the trail and wipe Lulo down a few times before letting her in the tent.


    Dogs are susceptible to Giardia. I give Lulo both filtered and unfiltered water depending upon research on the trail and availability of water. I also carry some anti-diarrheal just in case.


    I recommend doing a series of checks at the end of the day:

    • Check for ticks
    • Check paws and rub paw salve on them
    • Wipe her down with a towel and feel her body for any unusual bumps or abrasions

    I highly recommend a few practice runs around the neighborhood and backyard! With a little bit of planning and training, you and your pup will be able to hit the trail soon. And trust me when I say it's worth it to see a face like this:

    1 comment

    • jonathan says...

      Best post ever! I love taking my lab backpacking. She was born to be outdoors and I can tell she is having the time of her life.

      On April 24, 2020

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