Ruffing It: Outdoor Gear for Dogs

August 3, 2010

Compared to us backpack-toting gear haulers, dogs are remarkably self-sufficient. Most come pre-equipped with warm layers, excellent traction, and a capacity to drink whatever water they find. On longer trips, most can even haul their own stuff, plus a bit of yours. So what gear does your hiking Buddy really need?

The Essentials
You’ll need to bring Buddy some food, whether it’s meals or just motivational snacks. If you’re providing a full meal, carry a container for feeding time. A variety of dog-specific, collapsible bowls are available (2-6 ounces, $10-$25); a Frisbee or Tupperware container also works well. If you’re traveling somewhere with limited water, carry extra for Buddy—that same bowl can be used for drinking. Finally, carry a leash for situations when total canine control is essential or required.

Saddle Up!
On longer backcountry adventures, saddle up Buddy with a dog pack. Like horse saddlebags, dog packs feature two large pouches that hang off either side. They are sized based on specific canine dimensions (chest girth and back length, among others), though weight can be used as a general guideline: small (dogs under 50 pounds), medium (50-80 pounds), and large (80 pounds and up). Dogs can carry their own food and bowl, plus a few items of your own for quick access. Keep in mind, however, that dogs should not carry more than a third of their body weight. When loading up, make sure both sides weigh the same; the pack will otherwise list to the heavier side and become awkward for Buddy to carry. Expect to pay about $50-$100 for a dog pack; more expensive models usually feature better padding and a more adjustable fit.

Nice Booties?
Does Buddy need hiking booties? Not in the summer, unless extra paw protection is required due to some sort of injury. Does Buddy ever need booties? Maybe. In winter, dog booties can be an invaluable addition. Dogs expel a lot of heat through their paws (they actually have sweat glands in their feet). This melts the snow, which then refreezes between their toes. As the ice balls expand, they cause increasing discomfort and even pain (you’ll see dogs biting the ice out of their paws at this point). Dog booties prevent this from happening in the first place. Most dogs in Alaska’s Iditarod sled dog race wear them, though keep in mind that temperatures must be below freezing for this to be an issue. Booties are sized according to paw dimensions; expect to pay $30-$50 for a quality set of four.

Other Accessories
For dogs who like to wander, having an audible jangle on their collar will help you keep tabs on their location. At night, Buddy might appreciate a small foam sleeping pad. In cold conditions, short-haired dogs may need a doggie sweater for extra warmth. When it comes to emergency veterinary care in the backcountry, many items in your first aid kit are applicable to dogs as well. Note that ibuprofen is deadly poisonous to dogs, however, and should never be given; if necessary, try small amounts of aspirin instead. And once you’re back at the trailhead, have a towel handy for the post-hike, mud-dog wipe-down!

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.