Spring has finally arrived! The alpine will still be snowbound for at least another month and by the time it frees up I won’t be near the mountains anymore. So naturally I am obsessed with the hiking and backcountry camping that I won’t be able to do. I figured I would use that angst productively to write something up about hiking with Perrin. When people find out that I do fairly long backpacking trips with my dog, I usually get a lot of questions!
I love backcountry camping, especially solo where it is just me and Perrin. Over the past few years we have done hundreds of kilometres of trail through all kinds of different conditions, and have loved every single one (okay, maybe not EVERY single one…). Perrin is an amazing trail dog, and through our hiking trips we have seen some incredible landscapes and made unforgettable memories.
This is Perrin at Mount Robson:
And various peaks in Willmore Wilderness Area:
There tends to be a large proportion of gear heads in the hiking world (especially in ultralight hiking), and much thought goes into every piece of equipment that is brought into the backcountry. Hiking with Perrin has dramatically changed the hiking equipment I choose for myself, but much thought also had to go into his gear as well. Here is a quick rundown of the dog-specific gear that I take when hiking with Perrin:
- Backpack: This is optional gear, but Perrin does carry one. It is important to make sure that the pack fits him and does not chafe. I check it periodically as he grows and changes shape to make sure it is still comfortable for him. A backpack also needs to be balanced properly (which can be a pain on the trail) and it must not be too heavy. I have seen different guidelines out there for maximum weights for adult dogs, but I choose to be conservative and keep under around 10% of body weight. Even less if it is very hot out, if we are moving very quickly, or if the hike is very difficult. There have been very hot days where I have chosen to take Perrin’s pack off him and carry it myself. I have seen guidelines that suggest 25% as a maximum, but I am personally not comfortable with that. I just couldn’t fathom Perrin carrying 25lbs all day; I seldom ever carry that much!
- Water and Food Containers: On the trail, Perrin mostly he drinks out of my camel back, or his collapsable bottles (so if that grosses you out, don’t ask me to share my water with you!). This does waste a lot of water and would probably not be the best choice in areas where water is scarce. Perrin does so poorly in the heat, I would likely avoid hikes in those conditions anyway. I avoid putting food directly on the ground because we hike in bear country and I do not want to attract critters big or small, so I use a ‘portable sink’ that came with my pot set as his food and water dish when we are in camp. It collapses down to nothing and has held up really well for something I was just going to throw out.
- Bug Spray: I normally wouldn’t carry it for myself in the places that I hike, as I tend to wear long pants, shirts and a buff. But Perrin needs it for his groin, armpits and nose. He would need even more if he weren’t so hairy. I carry a natural based bug spray, because DEET is not good for dogs.
- A Collar Light: This is indispensable! I originally bought it just incase Perrin got loose at night, but it has been a life saver! On one hike, I had planned to hike halfway up a mountain, camp overnight (in February), then summit the next day. However around 5:00pm I was getting a bad vibe, so decided to hike the 5 km back to the car. This was fine, except that it was almost dark. The trail was steep, rocky and icy and my headlamp wasn’t strong enough to see the trail well. It didn’t take long for me to be going off course repeatedly and having to back track, with Perrin following along behind me on a leash. By this time I had gone less than a kilometer, it was very windy, and about -15C. I was considering just setting up camp and sticking it out, when I decided to see if Perrin could follow the trail. I freed him of the leash, and off he trotted, collar light leading the way down the trail. At every place I had to scramble down and at every icy patch, he stopped and waited for me to catch back up before continuing on. He never once turned wrong and I followed him the way out to the car. I couldn’t have done it without his light to follow. What a dog!
- Break Away Collar: For hiking (and going to the kennel) Perrin wears a break away collar. If he were to ever get caught on anything by his collar, it will just pull off instead of strangling him. I keep it on as somewhere for his ID, and occasional leash use (although I use the ring on his backpack more often).
- Food: When you are carrying all of your food, the weight of it becomes much more important. Perrin is raw fed, which makes this much more challenging. A kibble fed dog could just carry their regular food, but raw meat in the wilderness was just not going to work for us. I ended up settling on a dehydrated raw food, which has ingredients that I like and is even lighter than kibble. The downside? It is very expensive and Perrin eats ALOT. Because I dehydrate my own meals for camping, Perrin’s hiking food costs much more than my own.
- Winter: In the winter I have several pieces of gear that we add. If the terrain permits, Perrin pulls a toboggan instead of carrying a pack, and I bring a sleeping bag and a foam mat for him. Not that he likes the sleeping bag, he won’t get in it until it is below -17C.
- First aid Supplies: I do carry a certain number of extra things for the pup incase of accident. These include Benadryl (for me as well), vet wrap (again, a multi-species item), Metacam (or other vet approved pain killer), and hot-spot cream (Perrin often develops hot spots from hot damp weather and from licking bug bites).
- Strong Basic Obedience Commands: Okay, so this isn’t technically gear, but I wouldn’t hit the trail without them! If Perrin couldn’t walk nicely on a leash, we wouldn’t be able to leave the house. Many of the places that we hike require dogs to be on leash. I usually hike with him on a 4-6 foot nylon leash looped to the hip belt of my pack, and clipped to the attachment point on his harness. This system works for us to keep him close and keep the leash out of our way. A bombproof recall is imperative for when Perrin is going to be off leash, and is highly recommended incase he end up free anyway. Other skills I have found useful are well proofed stays (standing/down/sitting), a ‘wait for me’ command in off leash areas, leave it (for icky things on the trail or passing other hikers), a distance stop (or sit or down stay). I do wish that we had a ‘quiet’ cue and a ‘defecate on command’ cue, as they would be useful too, but I have never taught them. Crate training is a surprisingly useful skill, as in my limited experience it seems to transfer well to a tent. Basic training sets dogs free. Without these skills, Perrin could not come out into the woods with me, among many other things we have enjoyed over the years.
Thats it for equipment! I will do another post later on about other considerations that I take into account when hiking with my dog.