A pair of hikers treks through a snowy landscape with their pup at their side. 

Tips for Hiking With Your Dog

Your guide to introducing your pup to the joys of hiking
One of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors is with your dog at your side. Most four-legged friends love spending time outside, and hiking or backpacking with your dog is a great way for the two of you to bond. But while hitting the trail with your pup is a wonderful experience, it does add another level of care to your journey. Unlike hiking solo where you’re only responsible for yourself, hiking with your dog means you’re also responsible for their safety, as well as the impact they have on the trail, the environment, and other hikers. Read on for tips on how to enjoy hiking or backpacking with your dog.
On the left, a man hikes away from the camera with his dog; on the right, a sign that reads “Plum Trail” is pictured surrounded by green foliage.

Getting ready to hike

Before taking your dog hiking for the first time, make sure that your furry friend is up to the task. Consider visiting your vet to ensure that your dog is healthy and capable of going for an extended walk in the woods. This also includes getting all the vaccinations and medications they may need for the great outdoors.

There are lots of things to consider while hiking, such as parasites (like worms, ticks, and fleas), squirrels, unclean water, and other things that could pose a problem for a dog. Consider getting a canine first aid kit for hiking, and make sure you know how to administer first aid to your pup.

And if you’re hiking with a puppy, make sure they are old enough for the trek. The age at which puppies become trail ready varies among breeds, and dog to dog, so talk to your vet first. A lot will depend on their size and personality.

Finding a dog-friendly trail

Once you’re confident that you and your dog are both ready to hit the trail, check to make sure dogs are allowed where you plan to hike. Some regions or areas, including many national parks, prohibit dogs or limit them to very specific trails. So do some research beforehand to identify which spots are dog-friendly.

Keep in mind that many outdoors spaces require dogs to be kept on leash to prevent them from disturbing plants, wildlife, or other hikers. Follow all local and state regulations when it comes to leash laws and make sure your pup is trained to follow basic voice commands like “come” and “stay,” just in case they slip off their leash.

And don’t forget the principles of Leave No Trace—“pack it in, pack it out” applies to your dog’s waste too.
A white dog sits in the back of a truck camper ready for adventure.

Gearing up for your adventure

Essential gear for hiking with your dog:
  • Leash
  • Water
  • Food
  • Bowl
  • Waste bags
  • Dog pack (optional)
  • Dog booties (optional)
  • Dog first aid kit (optional)
Before you head out, you’ll want to have all of the dog hiking gear essentials. In addition to what we’ve listed here, you may want to consider booties and a first aid kit too, especially for backpacking or longer day hikes.

Consider a collapsible bowl, if possible, so it doesn’t take up so much space in your hiking backpack. Many dog bowls for hiking can even be clipped to the back of your bag. And don’t forget poop bags to “Leave No Trace.”

For dogs who are large enough (and strong enough) to carry their food and gear themselves, a dog pack for hiking can be a great option. Consult your vet to see if your dog is fit to go long distances with weight on their back, and if so, how much.

If you’ll be trekking through areas that are rocky, thorny, or cold, you may want booties to protect your pup's paws. Similar to hiking boots for humans, dog booties will protect their sensitive paw pads. It may take a few walks to get your dog used to wearing them, but dog booties can be real paw savers.

Lastly, make sure you have the right hiking gear. There’s no sense in dialing in Fido’s hiking gear if you’re uncomfortable and want to cut the adventure short. Invest in high-quality hiking pants or leggings, a hiking shirt with UPF-rated fabric, sturdy boots, and a hat with sun protection. This will ensure that you’re as happy and comfortable as your pup.
An adorable white pooch sits in a forest wearing a doggy hiking pack and looking toward the camera. 

Setting the right pace

Once you and your dog have made it to the trail, consider starting slow. Hiking with dogs is similar to hiking with kids in that you don’t want to overdo it at first. A 10-mile backpacking trip for their first hike is probably too much. Instead, consider a shorter, easier hike to get you and your pup used to the idea of hiking together. If your dog enjoys its first hike and is rewarded with treats for good behavior, it will associate hiking with positive experiences and adapt to it quickly.

While you’re hiking, you want to be sure you’re paying close attention to how your pooch is doing physically. Dogs love the sights, smells, and sounds of nature and can easily get distracted from taking care of their own needs. Make sure they aren’t too tired and are getting enough water. Remember that just like humans, dogs need snack breaks too, so be sure to check your pup’s appetite by occasionally offering a bit of food or a treat. Once you and your fur baby have gotten used to hiking short distances, you can take off the training wheels and try going for a longer hike.
A woman stands atop a beautiful hiking trail with trees and mountains in the background, and her small dog perched on her shoulder.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it safe to take my dog hiking?

While hiking always comes with some degree of risk, it is typically considered safe for dogs to go hiking, as long as you consult your vet first. Make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations and keep them on leash so they don’t wander off the trail. Be alert for other hikers and bikers, as well as wild animals—and check the weather ahead of time. As you hike, watch them carefully and don’t push them too hard. Things that may indicate your dog is getting tired or approaching the onset of heat stroke include stopping frequently, panting or drooling excessively, limping, refusing to move, or displaying bright red gums.

How far is too far for a dog to hike?

How far is too far depends on the type of dog and breed you have. In general, 5- to 10-mile hikes should be no problem for a healthy, good-sized adult dog. Smaller dogs or puppies may not be able to hike as far as larger dogs, while some breeds of dogs may be able to hike more than 10 miles with no problem at all. The best thing to do is talk to your vet beforehand, and keep a close eye on your pup during your hike to see how they’re handling the distance. Remember, however far you hike in, you’ll also have to hike out, and carrying an exhausted pup could be very uncomfortable for both of you.

How much water should I bring for my dog on a hike?

The amount of water your dog needs on a hike will depend on the distance of the hike and the size and breed of your dog. A general rule of thumb to follow is to carry at least 8 ounces of water per dog per hour of hiking, according to the American Hiking Society. Larger dogs will need more water, and you could break out about an ounce per pound of water to ensure you have enough. Larger dogs can carry their water in a dog pack, and don’t forget a collapsible bowl for them to drink out of on the trail.

How do I protect my dog’s paws while hiking?

Typically your dog’s paws will be fine for shorter day hikes in moderate weather and trail conditions. But if you’re planning a longer day hike, a backpacking trip, or any excursion with extreme heat, snow and ice, hot pavement, or rough, rocky trails, you’ll want to invest in a pair of dog booties. These are little shoes that go over your dog’s paws to provide them with extra protection. You can also opt for a wax or balm that protects their sensitive paw pads. These are designed specifically to protect dog’s paws from hot or icy surfaces as well as harmful chemicals or materials on the trail. Your pup’s paws will usually be just fine, but it’s important to be mindful of the conditions, avoid surfaces that are too hot or cold, check their paws after each hike, and keep their nails trimmed.

What are the best dog breeds for hiking?

While you can hike with almost any dog for some amount of time, more energetic breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, Vizslas, Golden Retrievers, or Australian Shepherds tend to do better on the trail. These dogs typically love hiking and have the endurance for longer adventures.

That’s not to say that smaller dogs can’t hike. There’s a wide array of small dog breeds that can also enjoy hitting the trails such as Corgis, Jack Russell Terriers, Miniature Dachshunds, Beagles, Whippets, and even Miniature Poodles. But smaller dogs have shorter legs so they may tire more quickly than bigger pups.

The main point to consider when hiking with smaller dogs is the same as with all dogs—start slow and work your way up. The best way to find your hiking companion is to work with a reputable rescue who can help you find a buddy with the perfect athletic abilities to meet your needs.
Ready to hit the trail with your dog? Check out Columbia Sportwear’s hiking gear for you, and our pet accessories for your pooch .