Backpacking can mean different things to different people: travelling Europe at 18 on a budget or hiking across the wilderness with one pair of pants and a tiny stove? In the end they all come down to the same thing: travelling whilst carrying everything you need. Already a difficult proposition when you’re trying to slim your own possessions down to the bare essentials, this becomes even more difficult when you’re responsible for the food and shelter of someone else as well.
My husband, our dog and I recently spent three weeks in Scotland travelling by public transport or on foot. Here are our top tips for kitting yourself out easily and on a budget.
1. Sleeping bag
Not every mountain-going dog is a husky and if your dog feels the cold you’ll need to take something for them. Packing more insulation for their size/weight than other bedding, a sleeping bag is a good idea for camping/backpacking. We’ve also used ours to provide a safe ‘time out’ space on trains, whilst waiting at cold ferry terminals, in restaurants, and more. Dog-specific bags are available, but we found a second-hand children’s sleeping bag from Ebay that does the trick.
2. Dog rucksack or panniers
Unfortunately, your dog can’t carry everything they need, but they can certainly help! Do make sure to check the recommended weight-carrying limits for your dog/breed and consult your vet if you’re not sure about them carrying a load. Take time to balance the weight on both sides for the most comfortable fit and do some short practice walks to check for and discomfort. As well as being useful on long or multi-day hikes the panniers were also great for long train journeys: you have everything dog-related in the same place and easily at hand. Available in a range of price points, Ruffwear are the market leader, but for something more beginner-friendly we went for an Outward Hound pack.
3. A coat
Simple, comfortable, quick-drying, easy wash, light to carry…we can’t recommend our Equafleece coat more highly. It fits under harnesses and panniers and folds up small when (if!) then sun comes out.
4. Food, snacks, water
If you’re hiking/backpacking, then you want to maximise the calorie-to-weight ratio the same way you would with your food. Puppy food, which can be more calorie-dense than the adult variety, was recommended on several backpacking forums. But I found that our good quality, grain-free food couldn’t really be beaten, at least not by a large-enough margin to make the changeover (and associated potential stomach upsets) worthwhile. If space is tight, breaking the kibble into smaller pieces compacts it. But remember this may cause quicker plaque build-up on your dog’s teeth, so give them a good clean when you get back. Those of you who dehydrate your own food could consider dehydrating meat… I’d just recommend doing this outside as it does smell! Remember to increase their daily rations if you’re doing lots of activity. We like to pack fish-based snacks to provide a dose of good oils/fats after all that hiking. Fish4dogs do good-value sample bags which are already perfectly portioned for packing.
A simple collapsible cup or two, readily and cheaply available in plastic or stainless steel, are the best option for food and water. Marking a food portion on the outside of the cup allows you to easily portion out their food for each meal without individually bagging each portion before you go, saving on plastic bags.
Meal-replacement or high-calorie snack bars for dogs are available in the US but not so readily in the UK. Kronch do a high energy food bar that we’ve not yet tried but will next time for an emergency ration and/or food supplement.
Nothing beats the adaptability and usefulness of Halti leads. The waist-strap on their all-in-one lead allows you to hike, run or enjoy your coffee hands-free. Even more adaptable, the double-ended lead can fit around most waists but can also easily be clipped to chairs, park benches, train seats, suitcases, etc. They’re long-lasting, quick-drying, and give the dog plenty of space to walk.
6. First Aid
Hopefully you’re already carrying your own First Aid kit, in which case the gauze, bandages, tape, antiseptic and scissors will come in handy should your dog sustain any injuries. A specific tick-removal tool is useful.
7. Poo shovel
If you’re miles from a bin then you have two options: bag the poo as usual and be prepared for you (or your dog) to hike it out, or bury/hide it well away from public footpaths and water courses. Even if your poo bags say biodegradable do not bag the poo and ditch it in the bag – you’re just creating litter that will take a very long time to break down. Some remote places we’ve recently visited in Scotland were even actively encouraging the “flick” method of poo removal from paths, encouraging people to avoid using a bag when the local resources do not support the disposal of them.
Photos by Emma and Andy Elvidge
This is a guest essay by Emma Elvidge. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email firstname.lastname@example.org