Winter Camping With Your Dog

Ed left this comment: “Read your article in the NY Conservationist. Loved it! Searched your website and couldn’t find extensive information on this: Winter camping with a dog. We have a 6 year old Italian Spinone who by some quirk is flat-coated. Could you please suggest articles or perhaps a book about winter camping with a dog like this? P.S. In July, I turn 60 and one of my goals is to winter camp with my dog before turning 61. Thank you. Ed


Winter Camper Scott Handy responds:
My name is Scott, owner of Maddux, a 6 1/2 year old male Rottweiler/Husky.  Unfortunately I can not recommend a book or articles, but a quick google of “winter camping (or hiking) with a dog” does turn up some good info.

I have done a variety of hiking and camping w. Maddux, from a short trip in to an area, camping overnight and out the next day to the 66 northern most miles of the long trail in Vt over 8 days.

I read a little about Spinone’s on wikipedia and it does not seem like you will have an issue w. him running off.  Maddux has always been good about staying close and on trail, but loves to run up a head and ‘check back’ w. us, often running straight for us as if playing chicken before veering off and doubling back to lead.  As he has gotten older and settled down and ‘learned’ how to hike he doesn’t play as much chicken.  He will chase deer briefly, but heeds to a call from me, especially in the winter when the long-legged deer have a decisive advantage.  Point: not sure if your dog has a tendency to chase birds or small animals but skunks and porcupines are of concern.  Maddux was hit by a porcupine at a young age and altered the rest of the trip out.  I carried a small multi-tool on the Vt. trip (actually Maddux carried it) for quills, prickers etc..

Another topic to consider is your dog’s coat.  As a husky w. slightly longer, but think fur is often acts like velcro?  Maddux does pick up burdocks and thistle quite easily.  In the winter snow tends to build up and hang from his fur in small clumps, especially from his paws up to his elbows and under his tail.  He does have longer fur/hair in these areas.  Also and of possible concern is snow clumping in the fur between his toes.  I had purchased him a set of high-quality booties but he has torn them off each time I’ve attempted to put them on.  He will bite the clumps of snow away from his pads and Maddux carries a brush that helps to brush clumps of snow from his legs and underbelly.  This is especially useful if I plan to have him sleeping in my tent or if he will be sleeping on or near my sleeping bag in a lean-to.


I spoke to my veterinarian today actually and he also brought up to watch for the pads.  Maddux is used to being outdoors but if your dog is not and his paws are used to the comfy confines of home, you will want to work up some tolerance to snow, ice and cold.  Per my vet, he also suggested the same for conditioning/exertion level.  Do a little ‘training’ before hand and build up stamina.

I noticed on wikipedia too that Spinone’s are susceptible to hip dysplasia as are most large dogs.  I do a majority of my hiking w. bagging peaks in mind.  There is a lot of ascending and descending involved that causes great explosive demand from the hind legs to get over large boulders and up steep grades.  If you plan to do varied terrain during your camping, do some while training or consider avoiding too strenuous terrain if warranted.

As for gear, Maddux has:

  • A back pack from Kelty.  This doubles as a harness which gives control on a leash.  I always carry a leash but he is seldom on it as he is a good hiking companion and there really aren’t too many people around in the winter.  He is always on his leash when using private land to access trails.  The bag should be large enough for his frame of course, but also of a large enough capacity to carry the food needed for your longest journey.  Maddux’s pouches have zippers that allow for contraction as his food load gets smaller or for shorter hikes w. less gear.
  • As for food, I generally do not change his diet.  For the Vt trip I did gradually change to a higher density food so that we were able to maximize nutritional value while maximizing space.  Other than that I take a couple of milk bones or other specialty bones, usually 3/day b/c he enjoys them and so that he gets nutrition while I’m munching some gorp or a bar, it’s only fair!
  • Two collapsible bowls by Ruff Wear.  I use two, one for water, one for food.
  • Booties, XL by Granite Gear.  I actually just pulled them out of my bag as I think I will re-introduce them to him this weekend in while hiking in Cobleskill.  The key is that they fit above the dew claw or there abouts and a rubbery traction on the bottom/sole.
  • Bedding: I do not bring anything for Maddux to sleep on other than a rather thin blanket that doubles as a towel.  Please don’t call PETA or ASPCA.  It is thick enough to offer some insulation but he normally chooses to sleep in the snow anyway.  I choose to have him sleep in my tent so that I don’t have to worry about interaction w. other animals/critters.  When camping in a lean-to he is leashed and usually sleeps with/on or near Jason K. mentioned in the article.  I have even shared my thermarest on a particularly cold night.  I have considered looking into a smaller thermarest that I can strap to his pack aligned w. his spine as he gets older for comfort.
  • Brush – the one I use at home is the one I take.  Has the stiff, thin wired bristles, good for getting out burdock or clumps of snow.
  • A small multi-tool: although I don’t think I will ever pull quills out, but serves many functions and I don’t have to carry it.
  • Don’t forget the leash.
  • Imodium.  When I hiked in Vt. the vet recommended taking small Imodium tablets incase of stomach issues from water, food, cramping etc…

Well I hope this helps some.  I am sure I will think of something as soon as I post this.  Basically just have fun.  I can’t imagine hiking w/o Maddux at this point.

There is also a discussion of winter camping and trekking with your dog at Wilderness Trekking Forum.



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