Camping is better with dogs. Dogs have a way of reminding you to savor the small joys, to take in your surroundings one sense at a time, slow down or speed up, be here now, and provide a sixth sense (and 5 others 10 times sharper than yours) that can come in very handy when out in the wilderness.
Like any adventure, camping with your dogs will need some planning, and in order to make the most out of it and make it an enjoyable experience for all, there are some basic items we shouldn’t leave home without.
Whether your dog is a seasoned camper, or you are planning your first adventure with your brand new puppy, I hope this is useful to you, and may it enhance your camping experience for years to come.
Finding dog-friendly campsites is a breeze on Hipcamp—just toggle the “Pets” option under “Amenities” on the lefthand side of the discover map. There is a lot you can do to make sure these sites remain a welcoming place to our canines. Check in with your host, let them know you have a dog with you, tell them a little bit about her/him (if they haven’t asked you already). Some sites may have resident animals that you’ll need to be aware of. Remember that you are a visitor and that getting to bring our dogs along is a much-valued privilege. Let’s lead by example and protect it as such.
Discover dog-friendly camps near me
This list focused on car camping. For backpacking, the basics can be minimized to their most functional state to stay true to the “every ounce counts” rule. I divide the gear into three sections, this way you can decide how to customize your packing list depending on your adventure.
A collar or harness with a set of tags and license is essential. My dogs wear theirs on their collar, but I keep an extra set on their harness. If you want to be extra cautious, keep a current copy of their vaccine records in their pack. If your dog is microchipped, make sure the contact information is up to date.
Carry one for you, one for your dog. Make your own or get one like this one from Adventure Medical Kits.
Life happens, you never know when you’ll need an extra leash. Besides, you can clip the two together to give your dog a bit more freedom while still under control. Something that is bright or reflective is great to have, especially if like me, you have dogs as black as night.I am an advocate for a harness when out adventuring, especially if your dog needs to stay on a leash. Spare their sensitive windpipes, and get one with a quick access handle in case you need to grab a hold or help them scale something. Hurtta and Ruffwear make some of my favorite active dog harnesses, designed for mobility, comfort, and safety.
Pack it in, pack it out or bury it, but don’t leave it behind, especially near bodies of water or high-traffic areas. Please be considerate of everyone and pick up after your dog.
I love the collapsible silicone bowls from Messy Mutts the best, they are lightweight, take very little space and are easy to clean.
Depending on your dog’s age, fitness and the level of activities you’ll be enjoying during your trip, your dog’s nutrition is just as important as yours. To avoid a mess, get a stuff-sack built for dog food. Planet Dog, Kurgo and Orvis make some good ones. Treats or toys, whatever your dog finds most rewarding will be important to bring along, especially since you will be competing against the wonderful wild for their attention.
A small, unobtrusive, weatherproof safety light that clips to your dog’s collar is a must in my gear list. Know where your hound friend is in low light conditions or sketchy weather. Ruffwear’s Beacon is a great one.
A first-aid healing balm for your dog’s foot pads is a nice addition to your first-aid kit, or as a staple in your hiking pack. Scuffed, scraped or cut pads due to rocks, hot sand or ice is enough to render your hound uncomfortable on her feet, and if you have ever had a blister, you’ll know that’s no fun. I like Loyal Canine Co. or Musher’s Secret.
While raising and training our dog Willow, a long line was my best friend. She has an independent streak and a love of exploring which often pair with selective hearing! While we developed her recall, and to this day, when I feel I need a tiny ounce of control in a new place, I’ll clip her long line on. A long line is a great training tool because it allows your dog more freedom to make choices you can reward them for, give them more freedom to explore, but still keep control of them if you need to. Palomine Lines makes my favorite long lines.
I learned this the hard way, when we got caught in the rain and had to then share my towel or sleep next to a cold, wet dog in a small tent. I keep one in the car and another in our pack.
Depending on your dog’s needs, age and weather tolerance, you may need a coat or jacket to keep them warm, especially at night. Our dogs use their coats as wearable sleeping bags. Willow, our younger dog, does not have much of an undercoat, and our 13-year-old Corbin can have a tough time with stiff joints in cooler weather, so the coat helps keep him comfortable. An added benefit to their coats is the visibility at night. With bright colors or reflective piping, I can easily spot my black dogs around the campsite. Pick a coat that will not hinder your dog’s movement and provide protection from the elements. I love Ruffwear’s Powder Hound coats. Hurtta makes some great ones too, ready to defy any kind of weather. For extra furry hounds, coats can help minimize the amount of dirt and leaves that get tracked into the tent, especially if they cover the belly area.
You have books, board games, and friends. Give your dog the equivalent in something to do while relaxing on his mat. I use puzzle feeders such as a Kong or similar to teach my dogs to settle on a mat since puppyhood. I find it essential when camping, so while my dog chills with a toy, I can set up camp, build a fire or prepare (and eat) dinner. The mental stimulation that these toys provide help a dog wind down and self-entertain. I often feed them their dinner that way, but stuffing it with healthy treats, and dog-friendly fruit or veggies is great too.
Dogs are individuals, and some are just peachy laying on the cool earth, grass or wherever you are. Others like/may need their creature comforts, especially the oldies (like our Corbin) or the sensitive souls that need a quiet place to retreat to. P.L.A.Y. and Alcott make some nifty tents and travel mats/beds.
Bloodsuckers are not only a nuisance to humans; if given the chance, they will make a meal out of your dog too. Take into account the location, weather and time of year and decide which product best suits your dog. I tend to prefer more natural solutions, but will not hesitate to up the protection if need be. Loyal Canine Co. and Mercola Healthy Pets make my favorite natural repellents.
Depending on where you go, you may come across wildlife. A small bell attached to your dog’s pack or harness helps alert wildlife of your presence and give them a chance to scurry. Depending on your dog’s sound sensitivity however, you may need to opt for one that does not render everyone deaf.
Training your dogs to come to you by calling their name or giving them a magic word like “here!” or “cookies!” is a key tool, but what happens when your dog is out of range to hear your call? Or what if you happen to have lost your voice due to a cold? Train them to come to the sound of a whistle and you’ll have a handy emergency recall. Make the reward for that whistle the best thing on earth so it is special and not to be confused with a normal recall. A whistle is great to have in any case, for any type of urgent situation.
You may think of these as a luxury item, and they may be for some dogs with super tough pads, but spend a weekend hiking through the Desolation Wilderness or the Lost Coast and you’ll know that rocky terrain or hot sand can be brutal on those paws. Be prepared and pack your dog’s booties and socks in their pack. Buy extras in case you lose one (read; you will lose one).
Though I am in the camp (no pun intended) of “my dogs are family,” I believe preserving our wild places is my responsibility too. By being respectful of the location we visit, abiding by leash laws, giving other humans (and dogs) their space and leaving no trace, I always err on the side of caution and opt for kindness. Being responsible with our dogs will allow us to go more places together.
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