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How to Hike and Camp With Your Dog in the Winter

Nov 6th, 2023

With decreased daylight and chillier temperatures, it can sometimes be more difficult to get outside in the winter. Getting out for a hike or overnight camp is a great way to soak up some sunshine and enjoy nature. Depending on your dog’s temperament, breed and type of coat, chilly temperatures and snow might be where they thrive. Double-coated dogs, for instance, tend to love all things snow and are relatively unfazed by the cold. Even if your pup isn’t cut out for the sub-freezing temps, there is still the possibility of enjoying some outdoor time together in the winter. 

Before getting ahead of yourself, it is important to really assess yourself and your dog. What winter hiking experience do you already have together? Are they comfortable in the cold? If you are unsure of these answers, definitely start with a few shorter day hikes before building to overnight stays. 

Whether it is a day hike or an overnight hike to a campsite, here are a few considerations for taking your dog out in the cold and snow.

12 Tips to Enjoy Hiking and Snow Camping with Your Dog

Check the weather

We can’t always choose the weather available to us when we have time to enjoy the outdoors, but we can take steps to aim for the best weather window. Starting earlier in the day will give you more daylight but the trade-off is that this is typically the coldest time of day. If cold and snow hiking is a new activity for you or your furry friend, try and go on a day with full sun or that is mostly sunny. The direct sunlight makes the feels-like temperature more enjoyable, and if your dog has dark fur they will absorb more light making them feel warmer. It’s best to avoid rainy or wet days on freezing days because it is much more difficult to stay warm while wet. 

Bring booties

Dog boots and shoes can do a great job of providing a barrier from the cold on your dog’s paws. They also have a rubber traction layer to help with slipping and sliding on ice. Additionally, the boots can protect their paws from getting cut by sharp or jagged ice. It can take some time for your dog to adjust to wearing boots, but lots of encouragement and treats can help speed it along. Ruffwear and Canada Pooch make great boots and shoes for dogs.  

Don a dog coat

Some dogs, like double-coated dogs, thrive in the cold and don’t need any additional warmth layers. Short-haired and small dogs tend to get cold easier. If you know your dog is prone to getting cold or you are worried they might, getting them a dog coat is a great way to add warmth. You can find dog coats from a wide variety of stores and retailers – the most important part is ensuring you have a good fit. Most manufacturers provide sizing guides, so be sure to measure your dog before buying. 

Pack food

Just like us, dogs get hungry when they work hard on a hike; if you are going to be out all day make sure you bring some food for the trip. Dogs also burn more calories in the cold when their body is working hard to keep them warm, so extra treats or snacks will help keep their metabolism fueled and is always great for morale too. 

Bring water

Water sources on trails are unreliable in the winter and sometimes it can be best to avoid even . Dogs lose a lot of hydration through their panting and will need water on the hike to stay hydrated — proper hydration in turn allows the body to be efficient in staying warm. Don’t forget to bring a water bowl! It is best to avoid water sources if your dog is likely to try for a swim. Ice layers may be unstable leading to dangerous situations with bodies of water. It is also a lot harder to stay warm once wet, so preventing mid-hike swims is best in the winter.

Pack paw balm

The air tends to be a lot drier in the winter which can lead to cracked paw pads. Using a quality balm will keep those paws hydrated and ready for adventure. A favorite of many is Musher’s Secret which was originally developed for sledding dogs. 

Long haired dogs tend to get lots of snow built up between their paw pads when snow gets stuck and tangled in their hair. This can cause great discomfort as the snow builds and gets compact or turns into ice. Applying Musher’s Secret to the hairs between the paw pads just prior to the snow adventure can significantly reduce this snow build-up.  

First aid kit, always!

As with any adventure it is always smart to have a first aid kit for both you and your pup. There are quality first aid kits designed specifically for our furry friends. Check out what one veterinarian says regarding pet first aid kits here.

Know the signs of hypothermia 

If you’re going to spend extended periods of time in the cold with your dog, be sure you know the signs of hypothermia in dogs. Signs include:

  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Stumbling
  • Weakness 
  • Cool body surfaces
  • Confusion 

If you suspect your dog is cold and headed towards hypothermia, act immediately. You need to take steps to rewarm them. Retreat to warm places out of the cold such as a building or call and consult your vet as soon as you can. 

Extra tips for overnight camping in the winter

Sleeping bag

Once the sun goes down the temperature will drop. Just as you look forward to climbing into your warm sleeping bag, your dog will enjoy the perks of a warm bed, too.

Dog sleeping bags can range from budget-friendly to quite technical and expensive. Regardless of what you choose, be sure to get a sleeping bag that fits your dog and practice at home before taking it out for the night. Bringing along a small piece of a closed cell foam pad for under their sleeping bag also provides a great deal of insulation from the cold.

Extra food and water

Make sure to bring quality, nutrient-dense food to keep your dog fed, happy and warm through the night. Eating kick starts the metabolism which in turn produces warmth and aids in staying warm. It is smart to bring extra food in case you get delayed in exiting or you simply want to extend your trip. Packing in extra water or having the tools to “make water” is essential for your dog just as much as it is for you.

Hi-vis collar & equipment

Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean the party has to end. With more darkness in the winter, especially further north, we aren’t always ready for bed at sunset. Whether you’re hanging around a fire at camp or enjoy the quiet darkness in camp, tools such as a light up collar or hi-vis dog coat are great ways to keep an eye on where your dog is in the dark. Being able to keep an eye on your pup in the dark is helpful and can save you from a late night hide and seek. Be sure to follow leash laws wherever your adventure takes you.

Enrichment toys

While it is likely your dog will be tired from the day hike, bringing along their favorite toy from home or an enrichment activity can give them something to do while you set up camp. Frozen bones make great enrichment activities and travel very well in a pack in the winter. Bringing a favorite toy from home can be fun and comforting to your dog. 

Getting into the outdoors can be a year-round activity for both you and your pup. With the right tools and equipment, any day outside can be a good day!

Have fun!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/confused_me

Author of Article

Amy has lived most of her life in Washington state and enjoys baking and adventuring with her dog, Ki. Her favorite thing about the Pacific Northwest is the four seasons and the access to mountains and other outdoor activities.

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