Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash
Exploring with your best friend is a wonderful way to relax and experience the natural world. Camping with pets can be an extraordinary experience if you do a little research and planning before you go. Here are 7 things to do before you go.
CHECK LOCATIONS WHERE PETS ARE ALLOWED
Not all camping destinations and hiking trails permit pets. Check before you go to know whether your dog is allowed to camp and hike with you. For example, pets are allowed in all US national forests, but are required to remain on a leash no longer than six feet. Most national parks do not allow camping with pets in the backcountry, although certain designated trails or campgrounds are pet-friendly. BLM land offers many millions of acres of off-leash roaming space for pet owners and their four-legged companions. Some campgrounds will charge an extra fee for pets.
ASSESS YOUR PET’S HEALTH AND TEMPERAMENT
Does your pet have any special needs or dietary requirements? Is your pet physically capable of tagging along during your planned activities? Does your pet occasionally become aggressive around children or other dogs, or bark nonstop if under stress? Each animal has its own temperament, and no one knows better than you how your pet behaves in unfamiliar surroundings or among strangers. Exercise caution and good etiquette when deciding whether to bring your pet so you don’t put your pet or others in harm’s way. If you’re not sure, err on the safe side and leave your pet at home.
HOW MUCH CAN YOUR PET PARTICIPATE?
Certain activities like kayaking or cycling are not a good fit for bringing your pet along. Assess the amount of time you’ll be spending doing activities that may require leaving your pet in the car or tent for too long and adjust your plans accordingly.
GET UP TO DATE ON VACCINATIONS
Protect your pet against disease that can be transmitted by fleas, ticks, and other wildlife. Make sure your pet is current on all their vaccinations and ask your vet whether your pet needs any vaccination specific to the area where you’ll be camping.
INVEST IN COLLARS AND ID
If venturing into the outdoors with your pet—especially if your pet will be off leash for any part of the trip—make sure you invest in a collar and ID tag. Make sure the collar or harness fits well and doesn’t slip off easily. Consider going one step further and take your pet to the vet to be microchipped and registered, a process that will list your pet’s ID number in a database. That way, if your pet loses its collar, someone will be able to look up your contact information and reunite you with your lost animal.
TRAIN YOUR PET
In case your pet gets off its leash or harness, make sure they respond to a specific command to come back to you. Train your pet not to jump up on strangers. Dogs should be taught not to bark at strangers and to “stay” when told to do so. Train your pet to stay calm in a tent. Do an overnight camping test run in the backyard with your pet. Sleep in your tent, and see how your pet handles the close quarters. You may also consider training your pet to wear a pack made to carry its food or water, and other care items. The packs are designed to fit an animal like a harness with saddlebags. The saddlebags are appropriately sized for the size of the harness and dog. The packs may be purchased at pet stores and outdoor outfitters.
PACK WITH CARE—YOUR PET DEPENDS ON YOU
You might be heading on an adventure where it will be easy to restock. But maybe not, so be prepared. Your pet needs potable water and hygiene support as much as you or any of your family members. We’ve included a simple downloadable How to Camp in the Woods with pets gear checklist and given you lots of detail here. Enjoy!
FOOD AND WATER
Calculate how much food you should bring, plus an extra day’s worth, and store the food in a resealable plastic bag. If you’re planning to have your pet join you in any high-exertion activities, bring more food than normal, in case your pet needs additional calories. Pack a food bowl along with a portable drinking bowl that you can refill with fresh water throughout your trip. Lightweight, collapsible bowls are a good option when backcountry camping. If water will be scarce at your camping destination, bring enough water for your pet to last the length of your stay, plus an extra day’s worth.
Remember to pack any special dietary food or daily medication that your pet might need, plus any special medication-administering tools. For example, if you normally need to convince your dog to eat a pill by hiding the pill in a piece of cheese, remember to pack cheese for this purpose as well.
Pets can suffer injuries too, so either augment your group first-aid kit to include pet-specific items or pack a separate first-aid kit for your pet that includes normal first-aid equipment like gauze, adhesive tape, tweezers, and antiseptic wipes, along with pet-specific items like a self-cling bandage (which sticks to itself but not fur), a muzzle (to prevent biting wounds), and a pet first-aid book.
Pack a leash and a collar (or a harness) to keep your pet from wandering into other people’s campsites or farther up a trail than you’d like. You can also pack a longer leash that can be tied to a tree or staked down to let your pet explore your campsite without going beyond its boundaries. Be sure to pack a stake in case the camping area prohibits tying a pet tether to a tree. If your pet is prone to getting tangled up, or you’re worried that a person might trip over the long leash or line, you can opt to bring a portable pet pen. Lightweight, foldable pens are available at some pet or outdoor gear stores, and are a handy way to keep your pet from straying too far at camp.
Consider investing in lights that your pet can wear when it’s dark. This will help you spot your pet if it runs off into the night.
You must pick up and pack out pet waste even in the wilderness. Pet waste can contaminate water sources and at the very least— when left on a trail or near a campsite—be an unpleasant surprise for other campers. Bring enough waste disposal bags to last the length of your camping trip. If you plan to camp with your cat, pack a small litter box that can be placed inside your tent. If you have a long car ride to your destination, make sure your cat can access the litter box while the car is in motion. Lightweight and collapsible reusable litter boxes can be purchased at some pet stores.
Place a towel on the seat of your car for the ride to and from your camping destination. This will make car cleanup easier after you return home, since you need only throw any used towels in the wash. A towel is also a handy item when your pet decides to splash around in puddles or water bodies. Lightweight backpacking towels are ideal for backcountry camping, as they pack down small and dry quickly.
Some pets are fine hanging out in the rear of a vehicle with a hatchback, or even in the back or front seats of a car. But if your pet is particularly mobile while you’re driving a vehicle, consider packing a carrier that gives them room to lie down comfortably for the whole ride. Some pets even prefer to sleep in their carriers at night, so consider using it at your campsite as well.
BED AND BLANKET
While some pets are perfectly content to curl up on the ground or in the back of a car, others are more likely to settle down and relax if you bring along a comfortable bed or blanket. Providing them with their own bed may also serve as a deterrent from them wanting to climb into your sleeping bag with you when nighttime falls. As a sometimes more comfortable alternative, portable cots can also be purchased for older pets with joint issues.
Although descended from their wild ancestors, domesticated dogs and cats still get cold. That’s why it’s important to pack a warm layer for your pet. An array of styles, materials, and sizes are available at most pet stores.
While camping in particularly hot conditions, it might be necessary to invest in a cooling vest for your pet so they don’t overheat.A cooling vest is made of mesh that cools off your pet as moisture evaporates from the material. However, when facing a weather forecast with extremely high temperatures, it might be best to leave your pet at home for their safety.
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Devon Fredericksen has camped around the world and has backpacked and bagged peaks across much of the American West. She’s worked as a sea-kayak guide in the San Juan Islands, has cycled across Central America, and has rock climbed in many of world’s premier climbing areas. She coauthored 50 Classic Day Hikes of the Eastern Sierra and Greenfire, and her work has appeared in High Country News, Guernica, Yes!, Indian Country Today, Meatpaper, and Eastside magazine. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.