Camping with a canine friend along is a great way to commune with nature without spoiling the serenity. As much as we want to hit the great outdoors whenever possible, Man’s Best Friend must love being out in the backcountry even more.
If you’re going to take your dog camping with you, a few pieces of dog camping gear are essential. All the things we humans need, such as tents, first aid kits, life jackets, insect repellent, and a water bottle all have to be accounted for. But that’s not all you should bring if you want to make sure your furry friend is comfortable.
Read on for a rundown of the most essential dog camping gear so you know what to pack next time you take Fido with you on a backcountry camping adventure!
Safety concerns when camping with dogs
Dogs are bound to be excited when they reach a campsite that has plenty of space to run around and tons of new smells to enjoy. Depending on their training and personality, a dog might be inclined to sprint off into the woods at some point.
Lost dogs are certainly one of the top concerns for campers who bring them along. A dog may also come into contact with a dangerous wild animal, pesky insects, or poison ivy. Other issues that humans also face are risks for dogs as well, such as dehydration, warmth or overheating, and protection during the night.
Luckily, many manufacturers of dog camping gear sell convenient items that can help your dog adjust to the harsher elements of the backcountry.
Basic packing list to go backpacking with a dog
Addressing these safety concerns doesn’t mean you have to bring tons and tons of heavy supplies with you. Depending on where you plan to camp, you might even be able to maintain an ultralight packing style and still bring a few nice things for Rex. Here’s a brief list of the absolute essentials for camping with a dog:
- Dog Collar & Leash: This is not only to keep your doggy on the campsite but also to comply with rules and regulations at many hiking trails and campsites that require dogs to be on a leash at all times. Flexi leads are usually unfit for this purpose as they can’t withstand backcountry conditions for long.
- Dog Bed: You might have a peaceful pooch who doesn’t mind sleeping outdoors, but if it gets cold at night it will be helpful to have a dog bed. Plus, it might help keep your Good Boy from trying to crawl into your sleeping bag.
- Water Bottle & Water Bowls: Ultralight packers might be able to so with a big plastic jug and something to cut it open. Some people rely on natural water sources if there’s one handy close enough to the campsite, but having a collapsible dog bowl is the best way to keep water on hand and reduce the risk of waterborne illness.
- Bungee & Carabiner: If you plan on doing a lot of hiking you can keep your dog near the train and trail with a simple bungee attached to a dog collar. It serves much the same purpose as a leach but allows the pooch to explore a little bit more without technically being off a leash of some kind.
- Insect Repellent: Natural bug spray with ingredients like lemongrass and citronella are perfect for keeping bugs off your dog. Most dogs whine, but you don’t want to know how long they can drag on about it if mosquitos have eaten them up.
- Life Jacket & Floatation Device: Camping near water is tons of fun with dogs who love to swim, although you have to make sure they don’t try to shake off near your sleeping bag. Small dogs and species such as bulldogs and dachshunds that can’t swim will need a life jacket or some kind of flotation device to be completely safe around the water, even if they don’t get in the water.
- Flashlights: Keep an eye on your doggo with LED lights that clip to a dog collar. There are a few other ways you can accomplish this task, but the LED lights are the best because they’re usually reasonably tricky for dogs to pull off.
- ID Tags: Also a requirement in some campsites, ID tags will help you find your pup if it sneaks off somewhere. Many also have noisemaking capabilities which are helpful if you’re trying to find your dog and can’t see it, or if the LED lights come off the dog collar.
What kind of dog food is best for camping?
Those 2-ton bags of kibble you have hidden away somewhere at home are gonna be a huge pain to drag out into the middle of the woods. For shorter trips, small portions of that same kibble from home are a good baseline meal, perhaps with wet food to balance out the dog’s diet.
Unfortunately, dogs can’t eat all the same things humans can. Many people feed their dogs from the humans’ meal when they’re at a campsite, but this might not always be the best idea.
DO Feed Your Dog:
- Peanut butter
- Eggs (cooked, of course)
DON’T Feed Your Dog:
- Yeast dough
- Xylitol (a sugar found in baked goods, candy, toothpaste, etc.)
As you can see, Fido can survive on human food, but since dogs can become ill from a wide variety of human food, you might be better off sticking with kibble and dedicated dog food brands.
Freeze-dried and dehydrated dog foods are available and work much like the human foods favored by ultralight hikers. All you need is a lightweight backpacking stove and a bit of water and dinner is ready in no time. Canned food is a more traditional option.
They even make dog energy bars, although they aren’t that easy to come across in most places just yet. Remember that your dog is probably going to burn way more energy in the great outdoors than it does at home, so pack at least 25 – 50% more food than you would normally need for the same period at home.
Optional camping gear for dogs
Not all camping locations or weather conditions call for the same dog camping gear. For example, you might want packable booties for your dog’s paws if they’re particularly sensitive or the terrain is challenging. Don’t forget that especially hot or cold surfaces can hurt a dog’s paws.
If there will be significant moisture on the ground, make sure those booties are water-resistant. Durability is key when it comes to camping booties for dogs because Fido is almost surely going to put them through a ringer as he explores all that nature has to offer. If the booties are machine washable, so much the better.
Some dog owners also like to invest in packable, machine-washable cooling vests when they take their pets camping in higher temperatures. If you want to try one of these out, go ahead and get a water-resistant one. Your pooch is going to drench it with sweat or lake water more than likely.
Saddlebags are one of the most convenient pieces of dog camping gear. Most models go over the back of the dog and fasten with velcro or plastic buckles. If your dog is big enough to carry a few items in a saddlebag, you can use one to save some weight in your pack.
Picking up after your dog
Look, we get it. The forest is theoretically filled with droppings from wild animals anyway, so many people try to get away with leaving their dogs’ business wherever it lands. If you’re primitive camping and truly out in the middle of nowhere, you’ll almost definitely get away with it.
The real problem is people who go to shared campgrounds and leave dog bombs for other campers to step in. Short of a skunk encounter, tracking dog excrement into your tent or sleeping bag on the bottom of your hiking boots is a great way to stink the place up quickly.
You can bring the same pick-up bags you use on your regular walks and use them to Leave No Trace on your next camping trip. The only difficult part about using poop bags to clean up after your dog is that there might not be a suitable place to drop them off, meaning you’ll possibly be carrying a strange bag of small shopping with you for a while.
We recommend a camping shovel that will allow you to bury dog poop in a cathole a few inches deep. Make sure not to bury it near water if you’ll be drinking that water later. If you’re hiking and not near any camp, you can shovel the poop into the woods. Just make sure it’s not left where other hikers or campers will put their foot in it.
What’s in a basic dog first aid kit?
First aid kits are an essential piece of camping gear for dog owners and dogless campers alike. A basic dog first aid kit usually has all or some of the following:
- Self-adhesive bandages
- Open-weave bandages
- Non-adhesive absorbent dressings
- Sticky surgical tape
- Cotton wool
- Curved, blunt-tip scissors
Some models are more involved and have other bits of gear included. Hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, milk of magnesia, a thermometer, tweezers, a magnifying glass, and a soft muzzle are all good things to add to your dog’s first aid kit if they aren’t already included.
Keeping your dog safe on a camping trip
If you don’t know how to use some or all the items in the dog’s first aid kit, get some training before you go on long or intensive camping trips. It won’t take long to learn some basic tricks that can keep small injuries from ruining your pup’s fun time in the great outdoors.
There are a few rules you can follow if you want to make sure your dog stays safe and some inventive ways to use dog camping gear to keep a watchful eye on them without keeping them tied to a lead the entire time. Here are some things to try to keep your pooch safe next time you go camping:
- Establish Boundaries: This is easier said than done with some obstinate breeds, but where possible you should take the time to show your dog how far it’s safe to go. You can do this by scolding it for going too far and reinforcing good behavior with kibbles or treats.
- Always Use LED Lighting: Solar-powered LED lights are the best because they’ll shut off and charge during the day. Losing a dog at night in the woods is a nightmare, especially if your flashlights aren’t strong enough to beam way off in the distance.
- Keep Dog Food Hidden: Bears and other animals that have developed a taste for human food aren’t going to be discerning enough to know when they’ve got Fido’s kibbles and not your hot dogs and hamburgers. Make sure your dog’s food is kept outside the tent a safe distance from camp and don’t leave any food bowls out if you’re in bear country.
- Hike With a Leash: A dog collar and leash is the rule in most state parks. Keeping your pup on a leash will keep it from running off and finding poisonous plants or big wildlife that could potentially cause injury. Not to mention you’ll be preventing your doggo from interfering with another hiker’s dog.
- Remember to Rest: Dogs get excited when they have new territory to explore, but remember to give Fido a rest and rehydrate. If you’re out in particularly hot conditions, investing in collapsible water bowls and a cooling vest will go a long way in preventing your pup from passing out.
- Train Your Dog With Booties: Most dogs hate the feeling of booties when they first start using them. But you can keep your dog’s paws safe and prevent injury with booties. Take the time to let the dog get used to wearing booties before you go out on a hiking or camping trip.
- See the Vet: Dogs can have vaccines and medications just like we can. Hit the vet before you start taking Fido out on camping trips to make sure all the preparations have been made that can be. You should also take the time to find out where the closest vet will be to your camping site just in case there are any issues.
- Crate Training & Obedience Training: Both of these methods will make your camping trip much more relaxing for both you and your dog. If it’s crate trained, you can bring a crate and leave the dog there for brief periods if you can’t be there to watch it. On crowded shared campgrounds, this is a great help. Obedience training will help on and away from the campsite.
- Train With Saddlebags: If you’re going to have your dog carrying anything in a saddlebag, make sure it can handle the extra weight without getting exhausted. You should also make sure your dog won’t give up and refuse to budge, which can happen with some testier breeds when they don’t feel like working.
- Have a Picture of Your Dog: Many people don’t think about doing this until it’s too late, but if the dog runs away or gets lost having a picture is the best way to show people what your buddy looks like. Take a clear, visible picture of your dog and its most standout features so people can help you find it. Don’t get stuck with a grainy picture from Facebook if your dog gets lost on a camping trip.
Camping with a furry friend is a great way to enhance the outdoor experience. Fido will probably be happier than you are to reach a campsite and stretch out the old legs.
When you do go camping with your dog, there are a few essential pieces of gear you’ll need, like a leash, water bowls, food, and a dog first aid kit. Additional gear like booties, saddlebags, and LED lights can make it easier to keep both you and your dog safe on a camping trip.
Hopefully, the pointers in this guide will help make your next outdoor adventure with your puppy a memorable and safe one.
Bonus tip: Learn what you need to pack to go camping with dogs in this video!