It’s winter hiking season! The trees are glistening and the trails are covered in a blanket of white. Is your dog ready for winter hiking and romping around in the snow?
Just like any hiking trip, heading out in winter takes preparation. The difference is the potential for much colder and harsher trail conditions than you’d encounter in the warmer months.
Be winter adventure-ready with these tips for winter hiking with your dog!
Know How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Dog
When temperatures drop below freezing, hypothermia becomes a bigger risk. Warm coats and protective boots can help your dog stay cozy and dry, but knowing your dog’s limitations and paying attention to signs that indicate your dog is too cold.
Signs your dog is too cold:
- Shaking or shivering
- Lowered tail
- Slowing down
- Seeking warmth or shelter
Smaller dogs like pugs and Chihuahuas and those with thinner coats like pit bulls and greyhounds get cold much more quickly. They can’t tolerate frosty conditions as well as larger dogs with thick or double-layer coats, like huskies or shepherds.
Weather factors like wind chill can make it even colder for your furry friend. If the “feels like” temperature is below 20°F, it’s best to limit your dog’s outdoor activities to about 15-20 minutes of running around and going to the bathroom.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws
Winter air can be cold and dry, and salt covering roads and sidewalks can be especially rough on your pup’s paws this season. Their pads can tear easily in crusty snow and ice as they bound down the trail, check in on your dog often and make sure their paws are protected!
Using a paw and pad wax like Musher’s Secret is one way to prevent winter wear and tear. The wax creates a barrier between your dog’s paws and the winter elements, and keeps snow and ice from building up between your furry friend’s toes.
Dog booties are another solution to keep your dog’s paws totally protected on those extra cold days! They’ll prevent potential cuts and scrapes, and keep snow from causing problems for your pup.
Choose Dog Treats Carefully
Like a lot of human food, some dog treats can freeze easily in cold weather and be too hard for your dog to chew. For winter hiking with your dog, choose treats that will stay somewhat soft as the temperature drops. You don’t want your pup chipping a tooth on frozen treats!
You can also keep treats from freezing by keeping them in your pockets instead of a backpack or your dog’s hiking pack. Storing trail goodies close to your body will keep them warm and prevent them from getting too hard and cold. This tip works just as well for human food. You deserve a trail snack too!
Bundle up With a Pup Vest or Jacket
A cozy sweater is great for a night at home, but out in the wild on a winter hike your dog may need some thicker layers!
A pup hiking vest or jacket will keep your fur baby warm and cozy while you hike together in a winter wonderland. To avoid getting soaked in the snow, look for a dog jacket with a water-resistant outer layer to repel as much moisture as possible. Synthetic insulation is the best material for lining since it stays warm even if it gets wet and dries easily.
Carry a Dog Bed, Pad, or Blanket
If you’re stopping to take in the views along your hike or have a trail snack for yourself, your pup will probably want to sit and rest, too. No one likes to have a frozen bottom, but humans have a much easier time finding a dry place to sit out of the snow.
Keep your dog warmer and off the ground on your winter adventure by carrying a lightweight dog bed or cozy blanket. There are packable dog beds specifically for hiking! This way your four-legged friend will have a spot to rest without getting too chilly.
After the adventure, give your dog something extra cozy just for them! A well-insulated, self-warming dog bed will reflect their body heat back and warm their cute little doggy bones.
Update Your First Aid Kit for Your Dog
If you’re already a winter hiker, you probably have a first aid kit that you carry on the trail. If you’re bringing your dog on a winter hike with you, be prepared to give them emergency care too!
What to Include in Your Dog’s First Aid Kit:
- Canine First Aid Manual
- Rubber gloves
- Non-stick bandages
- Antibiotic spray/ointment
Consider Safety If You Get Separated
Before heading out for a hike with your dog, make sure they have identification with your contact information. A cell phone number is best so that if you and your dog are separated, whoever finds them can contact you on-scene. If your dog has a microchip, make sure your contact information is up to date and on file.
Visibility is also important when hiking with your dog, especially if you’re hiking in wilderness areas that allow hunting. If their dog jacket isn’t visible enough, a bright colored or reflective safety vest that fits over their jacket is best for easily spotting your pup in mixed terrain.
Being separated from your dog is probably unimaginable, but when you’re out in the wilderness it’s important to be prepared for the possibility so you can be reunited A.S.A.P.!
Keep Drinking Water, Not Snow!
When it comes to hiking in winter, you can’t rely on natural streams and lakes that can easily freeze when the temperature drops. No matter how fun snow looks to roll in, it isn’t an adequate form of hydration when you and your dog are both exerting yourselves. The body (yours or your dog’s) actually has to use more energy than it’s worth to warm the snow to ‘drinking’ temperature.
Use an insulated water bottle to carry enough for you and your dog along your winter trek. A backpack hydration sleeve usually sits against your back, and your body warmth will keep it from freezing. You can also wrap your extra layers around water bottles to keep them insulated. Don’t forget a dog water bowl!
Get Some Doggie Hiking Gear
Winter hiking with your dog on an especially windy or sunny day? Backpacking on overnight or an extra-long trek? You may want to consider some extra dog hiking gear, like goggles or dog hiking packs!
Skiers and snowboarders know that the sunlight reflected off the snow can be blinding, and actually damaging to the eyes. The same is true for your dog, and dog goggles make great eye protection for winter adventures and high winds.
If you’re hiking with your dog in winter and planning a longer route, have your companion help share the load with a dog hiking backpack—they do have twice the legs after all! Make sure their pack is well-fitted and not too weighted before you emBARK on your winter hiking adventure.
Winter Hiking Essentials
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