For no particular reason at all, I found myself scrolling through adoption websites every day, searching for a friend I couldn’t yet name. I still can’t say what it was that prompted me to call about a white husky-lab mix with massive ears and a goofy grin, but I did.
I didn’t run through the proper channels and may embellished some facts on the application, but judgment lapsed and all reason fell by the wayside, trumped by a feeling I couldn’t yet name…an attachment I already felt.
When I met Kita, full of life with just the right amount of crazy in her two-toned eyes, I knew she was ready to take on the very same wilderness that captivated me. I promised both my new dog and myself that everywhere I went, I’d make sure she could come with me.
When it came time for an overnight backpacking excursion three months after her adoption, I prepared as much as I could. When it comes to backpacking with dogs, it’s important to know what to bring, how to respond to issues, and how to keep your dog safe miles into the wilderness.
I didn’t just decide one day that Kita seemed ready for hike-to camping. We’d car-camped with her at varying elevations and I began to understand her level of comfort for cold and the elements, as well as how she would sleep in the tent. I knew backpacking was something I wanted her to experience with me, so I began pushing her. We hiked 2-3 times a week, adding on distances and pushing speed and time. Much like training for a marathon, we finished our training with a long 12-mile hike, which would be 4 miles longer than the first backpacking trip I’d take her on.
This is where things get tricky. I have a 2-person tent specifically for backpacking. It’s around 3 lbs. and it fits two adults great–but two adults and a dog? Not so great. This may not be the case for others–we’re both tall and already take up a good bit of space. With Kita, we use our Alps Mountaineering 3p tent I bought four years ago. While it isn’t ultra-light, it does allow us to sleep comfortably. Test different options–if you have more than one dog, it could make sense to have a larger tent and split the weight between two packs. For us, it’s all about comfort and we’ll shoulder extra weight for that.
Sleeping Pad/ Bag or Blanket
I tested a few options while camping and it turned out that while there are sleeping bags and pads made specifically for dogs, Kita was able to use human gear we already had. She uses a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite foam accordion pad that I fold in half then we cover her up with a fleece blanket from Walmart and she snuggles between our sleeping bags.
When it gets cold, Kita loves her Ruffwear K-9 overcoat. It’s warm, light, and fits snugly enough that she can run around in it. It packs down small and fits into her pack. While she hasn’t been that cold on one of our trips yet, the higher we go in elevation, the more likely it is that she will, so I toss this jacket in her bag and she wears it to sleep.
Doggy packs make it easier on the owners, and the dog learns to carry his or her own supplies into camp. Kita carries her food, dog bowls, tie out, treats, waste bags (and packs out her own poo) and jacket. We tried a few options and, knowing her build and stamina, went with the Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack.
This probably isn’t something everyone needs, especially if your pooch is good off leash or doesn’t yank your arm out of the socket at the sight of a bird (lucky you). But if your dog does fancy pulling, a bungee leash makes it much easier going downhill by absorbing some of the shock.
Many of the places we camp are subject to wildlife roaming around campsites, dogs off leash, and other dangers lurking about, so I need to know that I’ll be able to keep Kita nearby when all she wants is to run after something. I found a 40-ft tie out cable on Amazon that we keep around tree in case we need it.
We haven’t needed these yet, but they can be a lifesaver in an emergency. If your dog has sensitive pads, or if you plan to hike on extremely hot or jagged surfaces, dog booties can keep your dog’s feet comfortable.
Dog First-Aid Kit
Our first trip, Kita’s paw started bothering her and she started to walk with a limp. While there wasn’t much we could do besides get her to rest and stay off it, had there been something lodged in there like glass or her nails were bleeding, a first-aid kit with items unique to canine needs would give us what needed to treat her miles away from civilization. Some dog-specific items I recommend having with you are:
- Styptic Pen
- Self-stick bandage
- Paw salve
- Hydrogen peroxide
Treats and Dog Food
This seems like a no-brainer, but I was surprised the first time just how much she ate after expending all that energy. Thankfully I’d packed her double the amount of food she normally eats, and she snarfed all of it. I also had protein-packed snacks on hand for her like pieces of steak and Zuke’s Power Bones. She can be a finicky eater, so I always have plenty of treats she loves on hand.
Wherever you roam, be sure to watch your dog carefully, are they acting anxious, do they seem exhausted, dehydrated, restless? Keeping your dog and those around you safe and comfortable is your number one priority when in the backcountry. Most of all…enjoy it. Because once they’re old and grey, and you’ve traveled hundreds of miles on foot through forests, beaches, hills, and mountains, hopefully when they close their eyes, they’ll see the moments you felt alive and wild…together.