This past weekend, the intrepid dog and I are struck out on our first attempt at an overnight backpacking trip. We were joined by two good friends (one human and one canine). Although there were both significant pros and cons encountered on this 24 hour adventure, overall I would say that the experience was a success.
Preparation for Backpacking with a Dog
A few days before departure, I spent the afternoon attempting to pack a tent, a sleeping pad, and a sleeping bag in a backpack. Then I managed to add a few basic supplies – like clothes and a tooth brush. I ended up staring at a full pack and wondering where the food and water were supposed to go.
A little finagling and the addition of a day pack later and both the dog and I had enough supplies to get through a night in the woods. However, if I were to ever backpack alone, I think I would need to invest in some more compact supplies.
(At the time of original publication of this post, I was using a men’s Osprey back that was also designed for airplane travel. I have since upgraded to a women’s Gregory Deva pack. This pack has a lot more to offer in the way of pockets and storage arrangement. And, I have since learned to narrow down my gear to the essentials.)
Hitting the Trail
On Saturday morning, we loaded up the car and drove to our starting point. We picked a segment of the Ice Age Trail that starts near New Auburn, WI. For those of you who have not heard of the Ice Age Trail before, I would highly recommend exploring this relatively low-use trail. I am used to camping in highly populated state parks. Compared to those, we felt like the only people on the trail. (We did run into one trail runner, three pairs of hikers, one boy scout troop, and shared our campsite with a fellow pair of backpackers. But that was all the human contact we had during the hike.)
The section of the trail that we chose had numerous lakes which was a blessing as the early June temperatures were higher than expected (over 80 degrees for most of the hike). The dogs really enjoyed being able to cool off frequently. Plus, our canine friend is a big fan of swimming and playing in the water. Besides the happiness it brought the dogs, the humans enjoyed the lakes as it meant hauling less water. We both had purchased a relatively inexpensive water filter (The Sawyer Mini) prior to the trip, so lake water was a decent source of hydration.
The hike itself was beautiful and the dogs were well behaved. We spent the first hour or so adjusting our packs to fit correctly, but once adjusted the packs performed well. My only other complaint on the way out was the number of bugs. The mosquitoes were pretty tame compared to what they can be during the summer in northern Wisconsin, but the ticks were horrible. So here’s a friendly reminder to have your dog on a tick prevention -especially when hiking.
Campsite CH11 on the Ice Age Trail
We hiked for about 4 hours and then set up camp at a beautiful campsite between two lakes (CH 11 on the trail maps if you are wondering). It was a wonderful place to camp, complete with a log “bench” and a small campfire ring. Dog friend continued to swim as we set up camp. Now that we were stationary, the ticks covering us, our packs, and the dogs became pretty obvious. We spent some time performing tick removals. Then we turned on our portable stove and made dinner.
The largest con of the trip ensued when we packed two dogs and two humans into the REI Half Dome 2+ tent. I think we could have fit 2 humans and one dog, but the extra dog made it a tight squeeze. And just when everyone was settled, more ticks would be found and need to be removed from the tent, causing another round of movement and readjustment. Overall, sleep was in significantly short supply.
As a result, we were up by 5am on Sunday and set back out on our return trip by 7am. The early morning was a great temperature for hiking. We enjoyed the return trek as much as the original trip out.
Will we backpack again?
Overall, this trip was wonderful and I would happily visit the trail again. Might be fun to try it a little earlier or later in the year to cut down on bug populations. The other big adjustment I would make is that if the pups are coming again, we need a little more sleeping room.
Anyone out there have any suggestions for other good Midwest trails to backpack on?
This post was written in August of 2017. Since then, I have backpacked again, both with and without dogs. Overall, Glia and I love being able to head deep into the woods and get off the day hiking trails. We even went on our first solo backpacking trip last summer. If you are curious about that trip, check out our post: The Great Backpacking Misadventure. And coming soon, plans are in the works for a backpacking trip with dogs to Yellow River State Forest in Iowa this spring.