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Backpacking with Dogs: what to pack and who carries it

Dogs can be fantastic backpacking companions when you are hiking along dog-friendly trails. But bringing a dog along means bringing more gear on your trip. Unlike car camping, backpacking requires you to limit your supplies to just the essentials. No one wants to carry extra pounds that they don’t have to for miles through rugged terrain. As a result, the challenge is determining what your dog truly needs for a night or two on the trail.

I have not completed a thru-hike yet, but I have spent many weekends backpacking with my dog, Glia. Over the course of several trips, we have worked on figuring out just what we need to keep her comfortable on the trail without weighing either her or I down overmuch.

What does a dog need for backpacking? The bare essentials are food, water, something to eat/drink out of, a sleeping space, and a leash/collar. But I also bring some first aid supplies, a sweater for cold nights, dog poop bags, and a tie out leash. Additionally, Glia wears a harness/backpack combination on our backpacking trips in order to help carry some of the lighter items.

If you are interested in what brands and types of gear Glia brings with, keep reading as we unpack Glia’s gear piece by piece. Weights of all items mentioned in this blog post are listed near the end of the post.

The Backpack/Harness System

Dogs do not need to wear a backpack when accompanying their human out on the trail. But I like to pack a few lightweight items in Glia’s pack to save space in my pack. If your dog is larger they might be able to help out with weight reduction too.

Another bonus of her packs, is that they are easier for me to access while hiking compared to the main compartment of my backpack. Plus, dogs look super cute in backpacks.

Glia has a Groundbird Gear backpack system. Yes, Groundbird Gear Harnesses and Roll-top Trekking Packs are one of the most expensive dog backpack systems. But Groundbird Gear is also the only tailor-made harness/backpack system that I am aware of on the market currently.

The harness is customed made for your dog based on 6 submitted measurements, guaranteeing a chafe-free fit. The harness is also fully breathable, light-weight, and quick drying.

The trekking packs come in 6 different sizes, allowing you to choose the correct size for your dog. Since Glia is only 40# and should only carry 10% of her body weight (or 4 lbs), we chose the size small saddlebags (which can fit 6-9 cups of kibble per side). Glia only eats 1.5 cups of kibble per day, so if she carries her own food, her saddlebags can fit 8+ days of food for her.

By the way, customer service at Groundbird Gear is top-notch. The owner of the company, Marie Sellnick is very easy to work with and extremely responsive to questions/concerns.

Leash

Whether day-hiking or backpacking, a leash is important no matter what type of trail you are hiking. While there are many trails where dogs can run off leash for much of the hike, it is important to have a leash on hand when needed.

Since my dogs do not have a solid enough recall to trust them in wild areas where a squirrel might tempt them off-trail, I typically backpack with a hands-free, waist-secured leash. Both of my hands-free leashes are comfortable to wear for hours and keep my hands free, so I can use them for picture taking, snack eating, and climbing over objects.

My TuffMutt leash is still my favorite hands-free leash and has been on several adventures. But my newer Ruffwear Flat Out leash is significantly lighter, which can be an advantage when backpacking.

In addition to the leash I use while we are hiking, I also bring a longer tie-out leash to attach around a tree (or another object) at our campsite. A lightweight paracord type tie-out can work great for this purpose. Just make sure that whatever leash you use for a tie out is strong enough to secure your dog.

Food

The most basic needs your dog will have out on the trail, are food and water. For Glia, I pack her normal dog food in individual plastic baggies. The amount of food in each bag is pre-measured so all I have to do is empty a bag into her bowl at mealtime. I typically bring about 25% more food for a trail meal than she would be fed at home. She burns more calories hiking all day than she does laying on the couch and taking a neighborhood walk. A baggie with a little over 3/4 cup of her food (Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach) weighs 3.6oz.

If you are going on longer backpacking trips with your dog, you could look into some of the “energy bars” created for dogs. We haven’t tried any of these personally yet, but the following five are worth looking into if you are interested in packing an energy bar for your dog.

The table below is a brief comparison of some popular dog energy/meal bar options. For reference, Glia’s regular dog food offers around 90 calories/oz.

WeightCalories/BarCalories/ozMeets AAFCO?
TurboPup2.20z210~95Yes
Ruff Bar~1 oz~84~84Yes
OUT Bar2.5oz326~130Yes
PowerBark4 oz380~95Yes
Kronch Pemmikan14oz2,558~182No

Four of the five bars lsited above are true meal bars in that they are formulated to meet AAFCO standards. (AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officers.) The only one that doesn’t is the Kronch Pemmikan Energy Bar, which is a supplemental energy bar, containing an impressive 2,558 calories per bar.

The Kronch Pemmikan Energy Bar can be found on Amazon if you are interested in making a purchase.

The photo above is an image link to Amazon for the Kronch Pemmikan bar. I am an Amazon Associate and earn with qualify purchases.

If you aren’t interested in purchasing a dog energy bar, you could also make your own at home. Check out You Did What With Your Weiner’s recipe.

Another option to bring more calories without carrying more weight or volume, is to consider an All Life Stages, puppy, or working dog food. These foods typically have more calories per cup than a standard adult dog food.

Or you could consider an AAFCO approved dehydrated dog food that you can rehydrate on the trail. his potentially the most lightweight option if you have readily available water sources near your campsites.

Water

Dogs can drink between 0.5 to 1.5 oz of water per pound per day. So for Glia, who is 40 pounds, this could be between 20 to 60 oz of water. When hiking, error on the high side of the range to ensure that your dog stays hydrated. Especially if it is a warm day outside.

If we are just day-hiking for a couple of hours, I often pack around 15-20oz of water for Glia. But if we will be backpacking for 24+ hours without other available water sources, we bring the full 60oz + a little extra just in case. Since this adds a lot of weight, we try to plan our hikes to include a water source near our campsite so we only have to carry one day’s worth of water at a time.

I share water from my hydration pack with Glia. If you pinch the spout of the tube and use gravity, the water will flow nicely from the hydration pouch into a water bowl.

I also bring a Sawyer Mini filter to filter our water on the trail. You will need to squeeze water through this filter for your dog, as gravity is not strong enough to get a good flow from the tubing with the Sawyer Mini in the line. (I have cut one of my lines to place the filter in the line after we have used up our potable water. I have one hydration pack for clean water and one for dirty water.)

This image is an Amazon link for the Sawyer Mini, and as an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

In order to squeeze the water through the filter, I bring one of Sawyer’s squeeze bags with when I know that I will need to filter water for Glia.

Why filter the water and not just let your dog drink straight from the lake or stream? A lot of parasites/pathogens can live in water. Find out more about waterborne pathogens by clicking the link below.

Food/Water Bowl

Lightweight and packable are the two most important considerations for your dog’s food and water bowl when out on the trail. For Glia, I typically pack a plastic bowl that we got for free at a veterinary conference years ago. This bowl only weighs 0.5 oz.

Since our bowl was a freebie, it has a company’s logo on it. But you can find similar unbranded bowls online.

The image below is a link to an H2FidO dog bowl on Amazon.

If we are backpacking with other people who can help carry some of the weight, a collapsible silicone bowl is another good option for backpacking. This style of bowl is easy to clean and doesn’t blow away in a wind gust when empty.

For a more detailed comparison of different dog water bowls designed to be carried with on a hike, check out our post:

Sleeping Set-up

To be honest, Glia mostly shares my sleeping set up. She prefers to sleep on my pad and sleeping bag. But this makes for tight quarters in the tent. So I bring a fleece blanket to lay down on the foot of my sleeping pad to try and expand the comfortable space a little.

If you are looking for a dog-specific sleeping system, there are several currently on the market that have good reviews.

RobinVentures reviews several of these sleeping bags in their Sleeping Bag Comparison post.

Another option, depending on your dog’s size, is to purchase a child’s backpacking sleeping bag and place it over a sit pad for some cushioning and insulation.

First Aid Kit

A small first aid kit is a must have when you are heading out into the backcountry. I personally recommend a small kit that includes the following:

  • Benedryl (diphenhydramine): This is the medication to administer if your dog has an allergic reaction. Have 2-3 doses for your dog in your first aid kit. Talk to your veterinarian to obtain your dog’s appropriate dosing. For Glia this is especially important as she sometimes swells up from too many mosquito bites. And we have a lot of mosquitoes in Minnesota
  • Bandaging supplies: I personally bring a small role of Vetwrap with on backpacking trips. I don’t typically pack gauze, but I will bring a few Kleenex’s with, which can absorb blood and cushion the Vetwrap in an emergency.
  • +/- Triple Antibiotic Ointment: I typically back a small tube of triple antibiotic ointment and a cleansing pad in my own first aid kit, so I don’t need to double up and bring a different tube for Glia.
  • +/- Pain medication: Depending on your dog, having a few doses of pain medication on the trail could be helpful if your dog is injured. Talk to your vet about whether or not they would recommend bringing pain medications along for your dog.
  • Dog Booties: While not strictly part of a first aid kit, paw pad injuries are some of the most common injuries dogs sustain out on the trail. I typically pack two dog booties in Glia’s pack in case I need to protect her paws from rough terrain or cover an injury. You can find out more about DogBooties.com dog booties here.

Another item to consider is a muzzle. Dogs in pain can bite. Since I normally have a length of paracord with me, I can make a shoestring muzzle out of that. But it is smart to consider how you will handle a painful dog who is biting when you try to assist him, before you are in a situation where your dog attempts to bite out of fear/pain.

And for those of you with large dogs, a sling may come in handy if you need to carry your dog out of the backcountry.

Miscellaneous Items

There are a handful of other items that we end up bringing on most backpacking trips.

Poop bags are a necessity on public trails. We use the Earth Rated dog bags, which weigh less than 1 oz each. I typically bring a larger ziplock bag to place filled bags inside. Or I double-bag the poop or place filled bags in a wide-mouth water bottle to contain the smell and protect my pack/Glia’s pack from any contamination.

The image above is another Amazon link.

You typically can also bury your dog’s poop on the trail, but this generally takes too much time to be convenient mid-hike. For more options about how to deal with your dog’s poop on the trail, click over to our article dedicated to this topic.

Another miscellaneous item to consider is a jacket, sweater, or coat for your dog. Glia is a short-coated dog without an undercoat. She gets cold easily and needs a sweater for sleeping overnight in cooler temperatures. So I typically pack one of her fleece sweaters.

Our final miscellaneous item of this post is a chew treat. This is not necessary if we are tight on space or weight, but I often bring a rawhide for her to chew on while we make camp. Typically, Glia is tired from the day of hiking, but she stills takes a little bit of time to settle at a new campsite. Bringing something for her to chew on, helps her relax and settle. Please note that rawhides aren’t the right treat for every dog, but we use them regularly as part of Glia’s dental care routine.

How Much Does Everything Weigh and Who Carries It?

Okay, so now that we have discussed all the gear we bring with for a night or two of backpacking, it is time to discuss how much everything weighs and who carries what items.

Groundbird Gear Harness and Trekking Packs13.3 oz
Ruffwear Flat Out Leash3.7 oz
TuffMutt Hands-Free Leash9.2 oz
Lightweight Water Bowl0.5 oz
Dog Food per Meal3.6 oz
Sawyer Squeeze0.6 oz
Sawyer Mini 1.3 oz
Poop Bags Roll or 4 Individual1.1 oz or 0.2 oz
Tissue/Gauze0.2 oz
VetWrap (partial roll)0.2 oz
Cleansing Wipe0.1 oz
Contact Case w/ 4 Diphenhydramine Tablets0.2 oz
2 Dog Booties0.4 oz to 0.7 oz
Fleece Blanket10.4 oz
Fleece Sweater4.8 oz
Cable Tie Out (Paracord is lighter)14.8 oz

It is generally accepted that dogs (and people) are most comfortable carrying 10% of their body weight or less. Glia is a 40 -lb dog, so that means that she can carry up to 4 pounds of gear.

All of the gear listed above (including that really heavy cable tie out, but without factoring in her food) is 55.1 to 56.3 oz or roughly 3.5 pounds.

Food is the most variable factor, as it changes significantly based on how long we will be backpacking. Anywhere from 2 to 6 meals is the most common. This totals from 7.2oz to 21.6 oz.

So you can see that if we don’t back the cable tie-out, which is almost a pound by itself, Glia could potentially carry all of her own gear.

Functionally, she doesn’t actually carry this much. First off, the blanket is rather bulky to fit in her trekking backs. Secondarily, I typically carry the Sawyer Mini filter as part of my hydration pack. Third, if we are backpacking in an area with bears, I like to keep Glia’s food in our bear container to limit the spread of food smells. And finally, the cable tie out is also to bully for Glia’s packs. So she only carries her tie-out if we backpack with the paracord version.

In our YouTube Video on this subject, I do have a bag of Glia’s food in her trekking packs, but you can see how everything fits in her packs.

Overall, realistically I carry about 1- 2 pounds of extra weight for Glia and she carries about 2-3 pounds of her own gear.

You may notice that I have not included water as I am calculating weight. This is because I don’t actually carry more water when I hike with Glia. I just plan to hike near rivers and streams and refill our water supply more often.

Conclusion

Okay, there you have it. That’s our backpacking set up.

If you want to read more blog posts regarding what gear to pack for your dog for a backpacking trip, check out Groundbird Gear’s resource list. There are several great articles listed there.

Alright, now it’s time to plan a hike and get out on an overnight backpacking trip with your own dog.

Happy Hiking Everyone!

Kate & Glia

2 replies on “Backpacking with Dogs: what to pack and who carries it”

Hi,
You mentioned AAFCO dehydrated dog food that could be used when taking your dog backpacking. Do you know where I could find a list of available products?
Thanks,
Larry

The brand that I have heard the most about (but haven’t in-depth researched or personally tried) is the Honest Kitchen dehydrated dog food. But it looks like there are several other brands out there. A quick google search revealed a few lists of options. Here is a fairly nice list by MyPetNeedsThat.com.

Hope that helps!
Kate

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