International Dog Day with Kaia and Nicol: Tips for backpacking with your pup

I was scrolling through a local hiker’s blog, invested in the various places they’d been and the incredible adventures they’d been on, as one does on a Monday night after a long day of work. I stumbled upon Mount Assiniboine National Park in this way. The pointy mountain, the pristine lakes, it was all so perfect. The only problem? It was going to be a long walk, since I couldn’t take the helicopter with my dog!

I could always leave my dog behind…

But that’d be ridiculous! This wouldn’t be International Dog Day without our best furry friends!

A woman and her corgi dog on a rock with mountains in the background Happy International Dog Day from Kaia and Nicol!

Hello, again! It’s us, Kaia and Nicol(Opens in a new window). We previously wrote about preparing for your first hikes with your dog, and now that it’s been a whole year, I’m sure you’re dying to get out on those big trails that loop through the forest, scale mountains, and wind along lakeshores to watch the sun go down, the stars creep between the tree leaves, and the next day to come with even more places to see. OR… Maybe you want to prepare for a future zombie apocalypse. Who knows? The end is near and we’ve got survival skills to train.

A woman and her dog on trail, wearing backpacking gear and holding trekking poles Are you ready to hit the trail with your furry friend?

My first backpacking trip was with a group of friends on a whim. We decided we really wanted to try lugging 30 lbs of weight on our backs and walking with our dogs to a lake riddled with mosquitos in order to eat dinner outside and bask in the glory of nature.

Best. Decision. Ever.

A corgi dog sitting in front of an alpine lake, with one paw raised Kaia ranks these views: 10/10

From that trip, I’ve felt more confident to backpack and sleep in the backcountry, often solo, with my dog! We’ve backpacked in various parts of North America! So let me share some of my best tips and tricks for backpacking with your dog.

A woman and her dog sitting outside their tent looking out at the mountainous view ahead Who better to soak in these moments with than your furry pal?

Before we get into backpacking, we should review what backpacking is: Oxford Dictionary defines “backpack” as a verb, to “travel or hike, carrying one’s belongings in a backpack”. Some people carry a backpack for months and travel throughout different parts of the world. Some people do quick overnight trips. Essentially, everything you need to hike and camp is in one backpack.

If you haven’t yet brought your dog on a camping trip, that’s going to be your first step before you start backpacking–even if it’s just outside in your backyard! The best advice I have for those going on a first camping trip with a dog is introducing them to the tent.

I remember when I first introduced Kaia to my tent, Kaia had been very intrigued by this mysterious contraption that enclosed her into a tiny space! She didn’t quite understand the zippers and had tried to dig her way out. We unzipped the tent and allowed her to explore it herself, dropping treats both inside and outside of the tent. It helped to put her bed inside to allow her to settle in it as well. The fly that goes on top of the tent, the zipper sounds, and the rustling of the material of the tent could also be surprising and different for your dog! These are all things to consider when introducing the tent.

A corgi sitting in a tent "I could get used to this"

After a few camping trips, I actually noticed Kaia didn’t like sleeping on the hard ground. We humans really appreciate a good camping pad to keep us insulated and away from the cold ground. It’s worthwhile to consider your dog’s sleep system too! This doesn’t mean you have to invest in a whole new sleeping pad for them. Perhaps, just a longer one for yourself if they sleep with you, or even a lightweight seat they can settle on. There are even sleeping bags for dogs now!

Some other items to bring for your dog on camping trips include extra water, long-lasting chews for their downtime or to support them while they grapple with being in a faraway place, and a tether, or long line.

Now let’s use all of that information to get us into backpacking!

A woman and her corgi on the trail, equipped in backpacking gear And they're off!

Learning from my first backpacking trip

When I first started backpacking, I had only ever hiked before, so I didn’t have any gear. I went to my local thrift store and found a huge backpack that didn’t fit well, threw it over my shoulder after packing what I thought were essentials including a 7 lbs tent and a 5 lbs sleeping bag!!

My friends with larger dogs had trained their dogs to wear harnesses that had saddles on either side so they could hold some of their own things. They started with building their muscles with just the harness, and then they added the saddles on either side, before starting to fill it, first with a roll of poop bags in each and finally their own water and food. Corgis are prone to back problems so I didn’t want to stress her even further. I ended up carrying extra weight to help her out! 

I think it was an informative experience for me to lug all of these items, because after that night, I realized I loved it and I needed to upgrade/downsize things in my backpack. This is what I recommend for everyone just starting out with backpacking, too. After every backcountry hike, I make sure that I’ve noted down all of the items that I used, which ones I probably didn’t end up needing, and what would be useful in the future.

Gear

So, learning from that first experience, I realized there were a few things I needed to do if I ever wanted to backpack again. Firstly, it was important to get fitted with a proper backpack. One that wouldn’t cut into my hips or dig into my shoulders – one that actually fit my body type!

That backpack for me, was the Osprey Aura 50.

And then.. over the years, I’ve been able to upgrade a lot of my gear. It is an expensive hobby but there are tons of buy/sell/trade groups on social media that have used gear for sale, and be sure to check out outdoor retailers for used/returned items too! 

So what are the essentials? It’s everything that you hike and camp with, plus more water!:

  • Shelter (tent, sleeping bag, pad, pillow)
  • Food system (stove, fuel, lighter, cookware, utensils, meals, bear canister, water filter, trash bag) 
  • Pack (navigation, satellite, bear spray, first aid, clothes, toiletries, headlamp)

When bringing your dog, consider the essentials as it relates to them:

  • Shelter (pad or blanket)
  • Food system (kibble or dehydrated food is lighter and easier than raw or wet food, collapsible silicone bowls, more water, chews, treats)
  • Pack (light collar, harness or collar, first aid, wipes, poop bags, leash or long line)

Some items that changed my life include:

  • A packable backpack (for hikes without taking your giant backpack or nothing at all)
  • A sleeping quilt (so much lighter and more free for those that toss and turn!)
  • A dog sleeping bag (she would frequently sleep on top of my sleep system so she needed her own)

Backpacking gear laid on in an organized fashion on the floor What's on your gear list when you head out on a backpacking trip?

Trails

After working in Northern Alberta for ten months, I had a long drive to head back home for the summer. With that in mind, I started planning a fun road trip through Northern British Columbia, including some camping. As I began researching the area, I learned there were many different places that one could hike to, and then camp at the end of!

When finding campgrounds, it’s as easy as opening up your maps app and searching “camp”, looking on local websites, or even just driving around to find signs that indicate it’s a campground! However.. when finding backpacking trails, it’s a little bit more difficult. The best resource to find a variety of trails, no matter what country you’re in, are books! The local library probably has an “outdoors/travel” section that has tons of guidebooks you can peruse. 

For a first backpacking trip, it was important to me to find a trail that hit all of the below:

  • Dogs were permitted
  • Relatively short and easy trail (I recommend keeping your dog’s first trip to under 10 km/5 miles roundtrip)
  • Water access

There are tons of blogs online, and many Facebook groups that discuss different areas to backpack. These are great resources when figuring out if a certain trail is going to be a good one for you. Apps you can also check out include AllTrails(Opens in a new window), where you can filter through different categories like dog or child friendliness, distance, or sights–keep in mind that you need to cross-check this information with other sources as much of their data is user-generated. You can also download Gaia to look more carefully at topography. Of course, government websites also offer information about different hikes!

A woman and her dog sitting near a lake, wearing backpacking gear, and taking in the summit view Nicol and Kaia taking in the views

So I’ve found an area I want to hike, I’ve checked that Kaia is able to come, I’ve made sure I have the necessary permits (through the official website, if needed.) Great, just about ready to go! Lastly, just before  leaving, I ensure I’ve told at least one person where we’re going and when we’re expected back, I locate nearby emergency animal shelters, and ensure I have the trail mapped out. 

Along the way, since we’re camping anyway, I love giving Kaia extra time to stop and smell the wildflowers. I’ll put her poop into a dry bag that won’t smell overnight, and we take many water breaks to pace ourselves.

Happy backpacking this summer!

A corgi wearing a harness running down a trail Happy Trails!