6 Tips for Winter Hiking With Your Dog

Hiking with your dog is awesome, and doing so in winter is no exception. Shorter daylight hours, freezing temperatures and the potential for dangerous weather do, however, compound the necessary precaution warranted before a winter outing—for both you and your K9. But, with a little advance planning you can hit the trail with your furry little buddy any time of year no problem. Here’s what to consider when the temperature drops and the terrain gets real.

1. Get them some warm clothing

While some dogs are naturally adorned with thick winter coats, others are woefully unprepared to go out in chillier climes. For our not-so-furry furry friends, a jacket will likely be necessary.

Dog jackets come in as many shapes, sizes, and prices as human jackets do, so a little research will help. Consider the needs of your pup, the conditions you’re likely to encounter, and dive head-first into the wild and varied world of dog outerwear. Just make sure it’s functional—it needs to fit, it can’t restrict movement, and it damn sure can’t interfere with your dog’s ability to answer nature’s call.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Protect their paws

Snow, ice, and frozen rock can be hard on paws. So can salted parking areas. If you can get your pup into the idea, options abound for dog winter footwear that both insulate from the cold and protect from the harsh terrain.

If your dog is not the boot-wearing type, consider a topical application like Musher’s Secret as an alternative. Musher’s Secret—not just a brand name but actually developed in Canada for sled dogs—is a natural, breathable wax. When applied, it absorbs into the paws and protects them from salt, ice, snow build-up, and cuts or scrapes. It also allows dogs to use their claws—nature’s crampons—to travel well over icier terrain.

3. We all need food and water

Breaking trail is rough work—rougher still when you consider how many steps your dog is taking for your one. Stock up on food and water, pack a dog bowl, and keep morale high by doling out treats liberally.

4. Coat them in blaze orange

Hunting seasons vary from place to place but oftentimes overlap with winter hiking season. Know where you’re going, if hunting is permitted there, and what’s in-season. Nip any doubts in the bud and get your pup a blaze orange bandana or vest anyway.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

5. Be wary of hypothermia

Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia. Since they can’t tell you what’s up, you need to know the signs. If your pup is shivering, breathing slow, or is stumbling around, warm them up with a sleeping bag or emergency blanket immediately.

6. Make a plan

Above all else, make a plan. Keep an eye on trail conditions and weather reports and be aware of your pup’s ability—just like with humans, conditioning and training is important. If it’s wicked cold or the snow is wicked deep, it may be wiser to leave your dog at home—or just bail all together.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns