I'm a freelance writer, blogger, self-published author, and retired Soldier with a "thing" for adventure in the great outdoors with my dog.
Head Into Nature Prepared
Camping trips are always more enjoyable and memorable when shared with friends and loved ones. Dogs are the ideal companions for these kinds of trips because they often enjoy engaging in physical activities like running, playing, and exploring just as much as you do, if not more.
Before you go romping off into the wild though, make sure your dog is healthy, trained, and suited for such activities to ensure the experience is great for both of you. Much like you wouldn't go out and run a marathon without proper training, you shouldn't expect your dog to carry his own pack for a 10-mile hike at the height of summer without adequate conditioning.
If you're going on an extended trip, having a great time with your furry best friend can be enhanced by local pet facilities in the selected area of your excursion. For instance, many campgrounds offer "Bark Parks" or areas specifically designated for off-leash play for your dog, and it's always good to research ahead of time where the closest boarding kennel and veterinarian are located, just in case an emergency pops up.
It can seem like our dogs are bottomless fountains of energy, bursting at the seams with curiosity and courage. Even so, it’s always best to pop into your veterinarian for a pre-trip checkup to update vaccinations and pick up a refill of any prescription medications your pet is currently taking, along with any preventative measures for fleas, ticks, and heartworms.
Next, make sure you put as much effort into packing for your dog as you do for yourself. Here's a list of the most commonly needed (yet often forgotten) items to pack for a camping trip with your dog.
Must Have Items: Collar, Leash, Harness, and Tether Pack
Almost every campground, trail system, park, and managed forest has a leash law. Additionally, restraining your pet will be necessary at times to prevent them from running off after a squirrel. Here is the collar, harness, leash, and pack system I use with Mesa.
- Kong Reflective Collar: This collar is seriously tough. He's had the same one for at least three years, with minimal fading even through at least a hundred washes in the machine.
- Kong Harness: Although I love Kong brand items for their durability, this harness isn't a favorite of mine. No matter how much I adjust the straps, it tends to shift sideways so that the handle ends up down on the side of his ribs rather than remaining in line with his spine. Because I'm frugal (read: cheap), I can't make myself replace a perfectly good harness that actually works quite well otherwise.
- 16’ Retractable Leash with Accessory Bag (holds my keys, phone, and poopy bags)
- Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack: Mesa is not a huge fan of wearing his own pack, but he tolerates this one well. The two separate pouches provide plenty of space for all his provisions and make weight distribution a breeze.
Not that your camping trip is about them, but other campers will also appreciate you being a responsible pet owner by keeping your dog tethered in the campground, rather than letting it run amuck. And not being harassed about your dog by campground neighbors and hosts during your outing will make it that much better. I like to use the Sureswivel because it has a 360-degree swivel radius which prevents Mesa from becoming tangled up like he normally would on the corkscrew ground anchors.
Identification and Rabies Vaccination Tags
Micro-chipping is a relatively inexpensive and effective means of tagging your dog for easy identification in case she catches the scent of a deer and runs off. Keeping your dog’s chip updated with current contact details is an important thing to do even when not traveling. Double checking chip data online in addition to ensuring current name tags are on your dog’s collar or harness are critical to a timely return of your pet should you become separated for any reason. I don't like listening to tags jingle in the middle of the night (and I surmise Mesa likes it even less), so I use the Lucky Pet ID tag on his collar. It utilizes a Velcro lashing which securely affixes the ID tag to your dog's collar, and despite Mesa's international and backcountry travels, his tag has always remained firmly in place (even when his collar is being cleaned in the washing machine).
Extra Medications and Vaccination Record
As mentioned previously, a pre-trip visit to the vet should see you leaving with enough (and maybe even a little extra) of any medications prescribed for your dog. Packing copies of your pup's most updated vaccination records and medical information in a Ziploc back can be a bonus if emergency veterinary care is needed during your trip. Another item that falls into this category is motion sickness medicines prescribed by your veterinarian to help calm and sedate your dog to allow for motorized travel.
First Aid Kit and Flea and Tick Prevention
Packing a first aid kit for your dog closely mirrors the one you'd pack for yourself. I always include essentials like bandages, tweezers for tick removal and splinters, hydrogen peroxide, scissors, a digital thermometer, Benadryl, and other basics make the handling of allergic reactions and minor dog injuries like scrapes and cuts a lot easier.
Flea and tick prevention could be as simple as packing an extra flea collar or a vial of flea drops (apply drops only if you haven’t already applied them within the last 30 days, or if the 30-day window will expire during your travels). It's also a good idea to check your dog a few times daily for ticks during your camping adventure.
Housing: Crate, Kennel, and Tent
Whichever you call it, traveling with your pet's crate or kennel when possible is important because whether you are camping out of your car, RV, tent, or spending time in cabins or hotels along the way, there are times when crating your dog is necessary. Having a safe space that your dog is already familiar with helps them adjust to the new environment and overcome separation anxiety when you step out without them. It also helps you maintain your sanity when the need to restrain your pooch arises and helps save money by crating your dog at your own campsite instead of paying the exorbitant fees many boarding facilities charge.
Depending on where we’re going and how long we’re staying, I use two different types of crates for Mesa:
- Collapsible Metal Wire Kennel (I use this type when traveling by car because it folds flat to fit in the trunk and can withstand other items being stacked on top of it)
- Petmate Sky Kennel (commercial airline approved—Mesa is 95 pounds and flew to Panama, Central America and back as "cargo" in the 700 series size of this model)
After a day of romping in the woods or splashing through mud puddles, you might not want your soggy dog within the close confines of your tent, laying on top of your sleeping bag. There are a wide variety of pet tents available to choose from in lieu of a crate or kennel for backcountry camping. Here are a couple I've read good things about and plan on checking out:
- Lumsing Pop Up Dog Tent
- Pawhut Pop Up Dog Tent
Extra Food, Feeding, and Water Bowls
Dogs often experience GI issues when their regular food is swapped out for a substitute (especially those with special diets or food allergies), leading to bouts of diarrhea. This can make even the most fun and exciting camping trip a real downer for your pet and you. Always plan to bring a bit more food than your dog would typically eat at each feeding because, with the increased activity, their calorie expenditure and appetite will increase, much like yours does.
Planning for plenty of water is also critical when camping with your dog. Dogs don't sweat and can only release their excess body heat by panting. Keeping your 4-legged friend well-hydrated helps them to maintain a safe core temperature and stave off heat injuries.
It should go without saying, but you'll need at least one bowl to be able to feed and water your dog – two is optimal. These are the two different types I use for Mesa, again, depending on the type of trip we're taking and whether he's carrying a pack or not:
- Comsun Collapsible Dog Bowl (silicone, BPA free, 2-pack comes with a carabiner to clip onto Mesa's harness if we're just out for a short overnight trip and not using his pack)
- Dog-gone Dish (canvas-like fabric exterior, waterproof interior, 2-pack folds up nearly flat and fits nicely into the pouches on Mesa's pack)
For day hikes, we use the Highwave Dog Water Bottle. It's lightweight and convenient. Mesa took to it on the first presentation out on the trail.
Our Video Review of the Highwave Auto Dog Mug
Toys and Comfort Items
Dogs often take a little longer to settle in at a new location, so having familiar items handy helps them become comfortable more quickly. When not actively engaged, dogs can get bored, too. Bringing along some of his favorite chew toys and his bed will help him to pass the time comfortably.
Depending on the particular location and activities of your camping trip, the following items are useful additions to your dog's packing list: towels, plastic bags (for poop cleanup), weather appropriate “clothing” items (raincoat, jacket, or blanket coat) and booties for protecting their foot pads (this selection is what Mesa wears, weather and terrain dependent).
Is there anything I’ve missed? Add your dog’s packing list items to the comments and share with everyone reading.
© 2017 Abby Perretti-Blaisdell