How we pack and prepare for day hiking with dogs
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Most weekends, you can find us hiking at a state or local park! In 2021, we visited 30 unique Minnesota state parks - and we revisited a handful of those multiple times. Our day hiking routine with Bert and Ernie is well-grooved and we want to share it with you.
Before you go, do some research to learn about pet rules at the park you are planning to visit. Minnesota state parks require dogs to be on a 6ft leash at all time, and dogs are not allowed in buildings. Please abide by leash laws where they are present - the laws are in place to protect and preserve the natural environment and to make sure you, your dog, other hikers, and other dogs all have safe and enjoyable visits.
Dog Gear Bert and Ernie have some special gear that makes our hikes fun! Bert and Ernie wear Easy Walk harnesses whenever we walk or hike to reduce pulling. When we walk in the city, we use regular 4ft leashes with traffic handles. We always have these in the car with us when we go to and from hikes or if we stop at a brewery on the way back from our excursion. (For more on this - see our post about bringing pups to breweries) The real game changer though has been the Stunt Puppy Stunt Runner leash. These stretchy bungee leashes give Bert and Ernie the same amount of freedom to move and are within leash law length guidelines, but allow us to keep our hands free because they clip around the wearer’s waist! Our longer hikes are so much more comfortable this way, and if we ever encounter any technical parts of the trail, we have two hands available to climb and navigate. The clips on these leashes make it easy to transfer a dog if someone needs to run to the bathroom or inside a building too! (See the Outdoors with Dogs list on our Amazon storefront for affiliate links.)
Backpack We carry a day pack on our hikes with a handful of supplies and water bottles. When the weather is cooler, sometimes Bert or Ernie will wear their Ruffwear backpacks and carry this gear for themselves! Along with a first aid kit, we always have a couple of water bottles and a collapsible dog dish. We also keep some snacks (nuts, granola bar, etc) and a handful of dog treats in the bag. The weirdest thing we carry in our backpack is an empty 1 quart plastic deli container. Why? To hold poop! We always have poop bags either in the backpack or in our pockets, but who wants to carry a stinky, swinging bag of dog poop for a couple of miles through the woods? Enter the deli container! When Bert invariably poops juuuust far enough away from the parking lot that we don’t want to turn back to throw it away, we can scoop it with a plastic bag, knot it, and seal up the stink in the deli container and zip it inside the backpack for an odor-free, hands-free hike. Just don’t forget to empty this container out before you leave the park!
Seasonal Notes Spring: In our area, ticks really start to show up in April and tick-borne diseases like Lyme and anaplasmosis are a concern. Bert and Ernie take preventative medication and have both received the Lyme vaccine because we spend a lot of time in places with a lot of ticks! In spring and early summer, we’ll often use a repellent spray like Vet’s Best or Wondercide for an extra tick-repellent boost. (These are also in the Outdoors with Dogs list on our Amazon storefront - affiliate link.) Summer: We are really mindful of heat with two black fluffy dogs! Our hikes in the summer are often shorter, and we try to stay out of the sun in the heat of the day. This means getting up really early, or sometimes hiking in the evening to enjoy the long days. We also prioritize shady trails through the woods or alongside lakes over sunny ones through open fields and prairie. Lots of water!
Hunting Season (varies): At certain times of year, Bert and Ernie need to wear their blaze orange vests from SafetyPup due to hunting season. We always want to be safe on the trails, so outfitting them with their own safety gear is a no brainer. Most hunting here in the northern US takes place in the fall and early winter (upland game, waterfowl, deer, etc.) but some types of hunting are allowed at other times of year (turkey in spring). Always check what the location regulations are where you are hiking! Winter: Bert and Ernie have a lot more stamina as the weather gets colder, which makes for fun snowy hikes! They are built for winter weather, but a few human accessories we find helpful for these hikes are: lots of layers, heavy duty yak trax, a fresh coat in the car to warm up after the hike, and hand warmers/foot warmers. Sometimes we hike on snowshoes in the winter!
In the car We keep a handful of supplies in our vehicle for before and after our hikes. There are always extra water bottles for thirsty dogs (or humans) and we usually pack a lunch for our hiking adventure days. We keep paper towels and a few small cloth towels in the car to wipe up spills and clean muddy paws or dog bellies. A car seat cover protects the seats from fur, dirt, and pawprints.
Apps we use
AllTrails - We pay for the Pro version (annual subscription is $29.99) so we can download maps and have them available offline when we are visiting places with unreliable cell service. We haven't needed this feature too much in Minnesota State Parks, but on some dog-free trips (Arches National Park and many of our Alaska hikes, for example), the offline maps have been a huge help! It's nice to be able to see recent reviews of trails and trail conditions, and the GPS coordinates make it easy to find trailheads and parking lots.
Avenza - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources makes all state park maps available on Avenza for free! This app also uses your phone's built-in GPS to locate you on a map even when you don't have cell service. Super handy!
Roadside America - We love finding weird and quirky roadside attractions on our way to and from our hiking destinations! You can use the Roadside America website for free, or pay a couple of dollars to unlock a region within the app for quick use on the go.