My Dog Is My Favorite Hiking Partner

Hiking with a dog is a lot more fun, super rewarding, but a lot more work as well. When you take a long-distance backpacking trip you basically have to think not only about yourself, your gear, your needs, but also your dog’s. I knew I had extra work cut out for me when I decided to take my three-year old catahoula-yellow lab mix, Sadie, on the Appalachian Trail. I also knew that I couldn’t hike the trail without her.

State of Mind

As a backpacker I am used to going with the flow: trail magic, unexpected run-ins with hikers, zero days you didn’t plan, walking into any restaurant at any time because I’m so hungry. Having Sadie with me means a reorganization of priorities.

Everything that I do in my daily routine involves thinking about her: has she eaten, does she need water , is she cold , is she in pain?

When we are at a shelter I have to be conscious of other hikers’ dog allergies, or if they are not interested in having a dog sniff around their tent.

Town is an entirely different story. I can’t go into restaurants with her, or grocery stores. I have a drop box plan so I don’t need to shop much in town, but I do – and that’s something you’ve got to think about with a dog.

*Example one: Right now I am in my hotel room eating a strawberry Pop-Tart, writing this blog post, while my friends are at a free pancake breakfast at a local church. They even got picked up here in a free shuttle. 

Basically, you must be prepared to put your dog’s needs above your own, or at least on par with your own, because your dog is completely your responsibility.

All that to say, I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Sadie is my favorite hiking partner, and has been my companion for almost three years now. The other hikers (can’t speak for all, but most) absolutely love her. She brings a lot of joy to the campsite at the end of the day. Her affection lifts hikers’ spirits and allows them to project their dogs from home onto her fuzzy face.

The hiking group I’m with now has accepted her completely and she is a part of our family. My friends watch her while I shop, find dog-friendly restaurants, and even carried her food when she had raw spots develop from a rubbing pack strap. Sadie is a lucky pup. .

Gear

For the most part Sadie carries her own food and water. Her pack isn’t large enough (or is she heavy enough) to carry all her gear needs. Her food and water for four to five  days weighs about nine to ten pounds. This is in line with the research I have found: a dog ideally only carries 20 percent of her weight. Sadie weighs 50 to 55 pounds so ten pounds is her max.

She has a Ruff Wear Palisades pack. This thing can fit a lot, has three compartments per side, and compression straps as the weight goes down. My favorite part, though, is that the bags separate from the harness. I can remove weight from Sadie without removing the entire system. This is great for our snack breaks throughout the day.

Her leash is climbing rope and a carabiner. I can double the length and use it to tie her up at a shelter or in town if needed.

For rainy and windy days – we’ve had a few so far on the trail – she wears a Chilly Dogs rain jacket. This company makes great stuff out of Toronto, Canada.

Unfortunately, but worth it, I carry Sadie’s sleep system. I decided not to invest in a doggy sleeping bag, which exist. Instead I bought a Kusa blanket from Cotopaxi (filled with a llama-poly insulation). It’s light, keeps her warm, and I may use it in the summer when my sleeping bags get too heavy.

Sadie’s sleeping pad is my favorite. It’s a Crazy Creek camping chair (their lightweight Hex 2.0). The foam provides insulation and some padding for her. Best part, though, before bedtime it’s a place to sit for me.

Problems

The only problem I’ve run into with Sadie is a raw spot on her chest where her backpack strap rubs. I’ve bandaged it every day while we are hiking and let it breathe in the evening. Occasionally I’ve carried her food, and even had friends do the same one time. It’s healing well and I think her break while I hike in the Smokies will be a good rest for her. (Dogs are not allowed in Smoky Mountains National Park.)

Dogs are also not allowed in Baxter State Park in Maine. This means that the last 15 miles of the trail will be dog-less for me. I’ve got some ideas for that time, but haven’t worked out details because that feels so far away. The end of August, the end of the trail.

Once we lose some elevation in Virginia and the weather warms up I’ll be doing tick checks on Sadie frequently. She is wearing a flea and tick collar that works for eight months.

I purify Sadie’s water as well, but she does have a tendency to drink straight from streams while we hike. Dogs can get waterborne sickness just like humans, so it’s good to purify when you can.

Happy trails to all the pups out there.

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