Packing Essentials for Outdoor Adventures With Your Dog

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Packing Essentials for Outdoor Adventures With Your Dog

Golden aspens line the trail, leaves crunch under your boots, the fresh aroma of vanilla fills the air — autumn has arrived. It’s the perfect time to get outside with your four-legged companion to explore new sights, sounds and smells. Whether you are planning a day hike or a weekend getaway, here are some essentials to pack for you and your pup to ensure you both enjoy the experience.

Kami and Bella

What to Pack for Your Pup

As with packing for yourself, exactly what you need to bring for an outdoor adventure with your dog will vary depending on the excursion. A quick hike after work won’t require the same amount of gear as a week-long wilderness backpacking trip. Let’s start with the basic essentials you should bring on every outing, then work down to the specialized gear.

Leash: If it’s the law, you should always follow local regulations and keep your pup on a leash. Other people who don’t like canines or have leash-reactive dogs should also be free to enjoy public areas free of worry and annoyance. If off-leash hiking is allowed, it’s still always good to have a leash handy for situations where you have to quickly secure your dog.

ID Tag and Microchip: We all hope this never happens, but you want to make sure your dog can be easily identified if you're separated on the trail. Having your name and phone number on their collar or ID tag can save a lot of stress if your adventure buddy wanders off. A microchip is helpful, too, in case your dog’s collar or ID tag somehow falls off. It’s more common than you might think, especially in dense woods.

Poop Bags: Dog poop can contain bacteria that’s harmful to people, other pets and wildlife, and it’s crucial to always pick up after your pup. That’s doubly-true in high-traffic areas. Not only can it hurt the environment by taking longer to breakdown, it’s a stinky eyesore that could diminish someone else’s experience. The grossness factor can be mitigated by using scented and/or multiple bags, and by putting it in your dog’s pack instead of your own.

Water and Collapsible Bowl: It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an unfortunate truth that distressed and dehydrated dogs are common on the trail. Even if you know your route includes numerous water sources, carry plenty of extra water for your pup. I can’t stress this one enough. Especially during the searing days of summer, a situation can turn dangerous incredibly fast if a dog isn’t getting enough regular H2O. The easiest way to hydrate your best friend is carrying a collapsible dish such as Ruffwear’s Bivy Bowl.

Kami and Zia

Treats: A dog needs energy, just as humans do. Make sure they’re consuming the right nutrients along the way or they might start to lose steam before returning to the trailhead. Treats that have a healthy amount of protein and fat, such as Zuke’s PureNZ Cords jerky, will help your adventure buddy stay energized and speed recovery. Treats also work well for training on the trail. A pup that knows she’ll get regular rewards for obeying your commands is more likely to stay well-behaved in the midst of so many intriguing distractions.

Booties: Some dogs have pawpads so hardened and tough they can spend hours on rough talus without a thought, while others will be torn and bloody after a quarter-mile on the same trail. It’s important to know your dog and always err on the side of caution. In particular, booties are helpful on snow, ice, hot pavement and long stretches of rock. Whatever the usage, establish comfort with wearing them well before heading into the field. Put them on around the house or for short walks to avoid your best friend totally freaking out about the weird things on his feet when they’re actually needed.

Dog Jacket: This is a catch-all category because, like humans, dogs can have a quiver of jackets for every occasion. Rainwear, life jackets, warm coats, cooling vests — you name it, a company probably makes it. Different dogs will have different needs based on their coat, your location, the season and so on. For my short-haired border collie, two personal favorites are a synthetic “puffy” jacket and a blaze-orange safety vest. The synthetic coat is perfect as a warm layer for winter outings, as a “wearable sleeping bag” for camping and as an emergency layer. The safety vest is great for hunting season, or at night and during other low-light situations.

Illumination: If you’re going to be hiking or camping or doing anything when it’s dark, some sort of light you can put on your dog can go a long way toward keeping them safe. Some people prefer LED collars or simply wrapping a human headlamp around their dog’s neck. Personally, I use Ruffwear’s The Beacon. It can attach to a collar or most Ruffwear packs, harnesses and jackets, and it has several settings. Even if you plan to be back at the trailhead before dark, carrying illumination is never a bad idea in case you’re caught out longer than expected.

Dog Pack: Many dogs have energy to spare. Why not use that to lighten your load a little? Dogs can comfortably carry, in general, about 25 percent of their body weight. Even for smaller dogs, that usually means at least their own food and water. Many packs also serve as harnesses with multiple leash attachments and a handle for securing your pup or assisting her in navigating certain terrain. As a bonus, it’s also a receptacle for used poop bags that doesn’t involve being within two feet of your nostrils at all times.

Bear Bell: A bear bell is also not a bad idea in certain regions. It will alert nearby animals and people that you’re approaching, and help you locate your dog if they range a little too far.

What to Pack for You

Daypack or Backpacking Bag: In addition to your dog’s gear, you’ll have plenty to bring with you too so a comfortable pack is a must. Look for one that fits both the activity and length of time you’ll be on the trail; the longer you venture out, the more gear you’ll carry. If you live in a hot climate, a ventilated pack, such as the Osprey Stratos or Sirrus, that allows air to flow between you and the pack will help keep you cool, while a Talon or Tempest is perfect for an everyday adventure. Depending on your packing style, a 20-30L bag is great for day hikes while a 40L+ is good for overnights.

Extras: While out for a hike, the weather can change in an instant so it’s good to be prepared with extra gear. Be sure to pack a rain jacket, fleece layer, long-sleeve shirt and extra socks in case your fist pair gets wet. There is nothing worse than being sweaty and cold! Also, don’t forget snacks, plenty of water, sunscreen, bug spray and your phone. You’ll no doubt want to snap pictures along the way and it’s nice having snacks (especially chocolate) waiting for you at the summit.

First Aid Kit: Pets can get into all sorts of things on the trail, so it’s a great idea to keep both a pet-specific and non-pet specific first aid kit in your pack. This can help you doctor any bites, burns, scrapes or sprains you or your pup might suffer on the trail. Adventure Medical Kits make some great options for under $50 that include everything you need to treat injuries away from home.

Trail Map: Even if you know the area where you’re hiking like the back of your hand, it can’t hurt to keep a map on hand in case something goes wrong. There are a lot of great apps that allow you to download a trail map for offline viewing such as All Trails or Gaia GPS. Don’t forget to do that before you lose cell service so you and your pup can spend time enjoying the scenery instead of worrying if you’re on course.

The 10 Essentials: Everything already mentioned is included as part of the “Ten Essentials” list compiled by various mountaineering clubs and guide services. It’s a good mental checklist to run through before every hike. In addition to a map, first-aid supplies, extra layers, food, water and sun protection, the Ten Essentials list also recommends you always carry illumination, a fire starter, an emergency shelter and anything necessary to repair critical gear. For a full rundown of the Ten Essentials, check out this video from our friends at the Colorado Mountain Club:

Whether you like to take your pup out for day hikes or week-long expeditions into the backcountry, it’s good to be prepared. You’re bound to have an adventure buddy for life if you can keep them safe and happy on the trail. Happy exploring!

Kami, Bella, Jeff and Zia


Kami and BellaKami York-Feirn, social media specialist with Osprey Packs, contributed to this post. Kami and her Bernese Mountain Dog, Bella, are also featured in the hiking photos, along with Dog Blog writer Jeff Golden and his adventure pup, Zia.

Cover image of the pup in a pack by Zuke's Pack ambassador and photographer Elena Pressprich.



About the Author

Jeff Golden

Jeff Golden and his rescued rez dog, Zia, spend most of their off days wandering above treeline in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Jeff finished climbing all of Colorado’s famed 14ers in 2012 and has continued his alpine love affair alongside his pup, with the pair pursuing 13,000- and 14,000-foot summits nearly every weekend year-round. Their other hobbies include ice climbing, hiking, snowshoeing, cursing marmots, ranting against the Oxford comma, watching the heart-wrenching display that is Carolina Panthers football and experiencing separation anxiety when Jeff’s girlfriend Liz isn’t in sight. The former daily newspaper journalist enjoys sharing his outdoor knowledge as an instructor for the Colorado Mountain Club and on his blog at www.iceandtrail.com. You can follow Jeff's more photogenic half on Instagram at @climbingcollie.

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Jeff Golden