This information has been adapted from Dan Nelson’s Best Hikes With Dogs: Western Washington, 2nd Ed.
Hiking is a great way to reconnect with both nature and your dog. On the hiking trail, away from cell phones and other distractions, you and your co-pilot can truly bond as you feel the terrain beneath your feet, take in the unfiltered beauty of nature and stop to smell the clover (or anything else that crosses your dog’s nose). But no hiker should venture far up a trail without being properly equipped. Outdoor experts Dan Nelson and The Mountaineers Books (publisher of the Best Hikes with Dogs series) offer their advice for safe and happy trails.
When heading out on a day (or multi-day) hike on a backcountry trail, the old tenet “be prepared” is to be taken seriously—starting with proper footwear, handy dog gear and basic safety measures. The items you pack will vary from trip to trip and dog to dog, but there are a few things each and every one of us should have in our packs. Each member of your hiking party—human or canine—should have a pack loaded with their Ten Essentials, including items you might need in an emergency.
Remember, the only way you can be sure your dog is safe on the trail, is if you stay safe, warm and well-fed. So let’s start with your essentials.
The Ten Essentials
1. Navigation (map and compass). Carry a topographic map of the area you plan to be in and know how to read it. Likewise, carry a compass—again, make sure you know how to use it.
2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen). In addition to sunglasses and sunscreen (SPF 15 or better), take along physical sun barriers, such as a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. 3. Insulation (extra clothing). This means more clothing than you would wear during the worst weather of the planned outing. If you get injured or lost, you won’t be moving around generating heat, so you’ll need to be able to bundle up.
4. Illumination (flashlight/headlamp). If caught after dark, you’ll need a headlamp or flashlight to be able to follow the trail. If forced to spend the night, you’ll need it to set up emergency camp, gather wood and so on. Carry extra batteries and bulbs, too.
5. First aid supplies. Nothing elaborate needed—especially if you’re unfamiliar with how to use less-familiar items. Make sure you have plastic bandages, gauze bandages, some aspirin and other supplies recommended by the Red Cross. At minimum a Red Cross first aid training course is recommended. Better still, sign up for a Mountaineering-Oriented First Aid (MOFA) course if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the woods.
6. Fire (fire starter and matches). Campfires should be avoided in most backcountry camps, but they can be lifesavers in an emergency. An emergency campfire provides warmth, but it also has a calming effect on most people. Without one, the night can be cold, dark and intimidating. With one, the night is held at arm’s length. A candle or tube of fire-starting ribbon is essential for starting a fire with wet wood. And, of course, matches are important. You can’t start a fire without them. Pack them in a waterproof container and/or buy the waterproof/windproof variety. Book matches are useless in wind or wet weather, and disposable lighters are unreliable. Be sure to build an emergency fire in a safe location where the fire can’t spread.
7. Repair kit and tools (including a knife). A pocket knife is helpful; a multi-tool is better. You never know when you might need a small pair of pliers or scissors, both of which are commonly found on compact multi-tools. A basic repair kit includes a 20-foot length of nylon cord, a small roll of duct tape, some 1-inch webbing and extra webbing buckles (to fix broken pack straps), and a small tube of Super Glue.
8. Nutrition (extra food). Pack enough food so that you’ll have some left over after an uneventful trip—the extra food will keep you fed and fueled during an emergency.