Dogs are the best outdoor adventure travel companions. Their curiosity for new smells, sounds, and sights, as well as their enthusiasm for just about any outdoor activity is contagious.
Whether you’re looking for a buddy to take mountain biking, skiing, running, kayaking, or hiking, most dogs are up for anything given a bit of training and encouragement.
We’ve traveled thousands of miles with Welly, our Hungarian Vizsla, by car, foot, ski, and snowshoe. We’ve gone through a lot of gear and have come up with a few makeshift solutions of our own. These things make not only a human’s life easier when traveling and exploring with their pup, but they also ensure the health, safety, and happiness of the dog.
Note: Dogs, like people, have varying levels of fitness. Be sure to ease your pup into new activities and conditions, and take extra care in hot weather.
While many outdoor lovers prefer to let their dogs run wild and free, it’s not always safe, nor legal, so having a couple of leash options handy for different activities is important. The standard recommendation is a 4 to 6-foot leash made with a durable material. We are partial to those made with climbing rope, like the custom-made variety by MyDogsCool or Ruffwear’s Knot-a-Leash.
A great DIY option is a used climbing rope. It is not only strong enough to contain even the most spirited puller, it is sturdy no matter how many rainstorms you navigate or games of tug-o-war you play. It is also dynamic, meaning it absorbs a lot of impact. This will make sudden tugs easier on both your dog and your shoulder.
While running with a traditional leash does work, the hands-free option has revolutionized my running routine with Welly by allowing me to maintain my natural gait, rather than getting tugged to one side. One of the first to debut these types of leashes was Stunt Puppy and we’ve used their Stunt Runner leash for several years.
The Stunt Runner (pictured above) has an adjustable waist belt and a strong buckle, which is said to hold 200 pounds. A flexible bungee-like connector between you and the dog permits some give when you’re on the run and the tubular nylon webbing — the same stuff you’ll see in climbing gear — makes for a super-strong leash that has lasted for several seasons and even through a chewing phase. It also has a reflective option if you plan on running in the city before sunrise or after dark.
Owners of supremely leash-trained dogs need not pay much attention to this section. With our excitable pup, however, a harness was non-negotiable. Whether you have a dog you’re still training or one who has never quite caught on to the concept of heeling by your side, a harness can help your dog avoid jerk-and-pull injuries to their trachea that can happen when the leash is directly attached to the collar.
We went through a number of different harnesses before identifying a couple that (a) helped control pulling, (b) didn’t cause excessive chaffing, and (c) allowed for Welly’s full range of motion. Early on we found a harness that did a good job of addressing the pulling, but a veterinarian warned us of potential orthopedic issues down the line because the front of the harness fell directly across the front of her shoulders and chest, impeding her range of motion as she stretched her legs forward during runs.
While we’ve come across others with similar designs, we are partial to Ruffwear’s Front Range Harness. With a leash attachment on both the back and the front, you can experiment with what works best for your pup. The padded chest and belly panel disperse pressure even when she darts in pursuit of a squirrel or flees from a sinister garbage can in our path.
Food And Hydration Accessories
Perhaps the most important thing to have on hand while adventuring with your dog is water. There are a number of different portable bowls out there that are easy to stick in a pack on a hike, or, as I usually do on longer runs in the summer, shove it in the back of my sports bra or the waistband of my shorts. The Rad Dog Pocket Bowl is perfect for this because it folds up into a tiny square and weighs less than an ounce.
If you aren’t going to be near any water fountains or aren’t carrying a pack with water, Kurgo makes an ingenious K9 Excursion Running Belt, which combines a water bottle belt with a running leash. A sliding clip serves as an attachment point for the leash, and the waist belt has a small storage pocket and a water bottle holster that holds a 12-ounce bottle.
If you’re planning a long day out on the trail, it’s important to bring some sustenance for your pup as well. Choosing a high-quality food or treat to carry with you can help keep your dog’s energy levels up for hours. Zukes Power Bones are a great choice as they are a specially made energy treat for dogs. We have also simply shared things like peanut butter and cheese out on the trail with Welly.
This goes without saying. Be a good ambassador for outdoor lovers and dog owners everywhere and pick up after your pooch. Buy a roll of bags or re-use a plastic grocery bag. Just make sure you always have something with you any time you’re out and about with your dog.
Protecting Your Pooch From The Elements
Our dog’s single layer of hair means she begins to shiver and shake as soon as the temperatures dip below 30-degrees. Seeing that we live in Minnesota and run and ski all year round, we had to find a solution to keep her warm. One of our favorites is the Powder Hound by Ruffwear. When choosing a jacket, look for a coat like this that provides 365-degree warmth by covering the dog’s back, sides, and chest. For cold, rainy days, we’ll often reach for a lighter weight option that is wind and water-resistant.
If you plan on venturing out in the winter, booties are another must-have piece of gear. The biggest complaint I’ve heard regarding canine footwear is that they simply won’t stay on. No dog enjoys wearing them, so if they are easy to kick off, they certainly will. For running on pavement in the winter, we have settled on Pawz. These are 100% biodegradable rubber dog boots that look similar to balloons, so they cinch around the dog’s ankles snugly. They come in packs of 12 and are disposable — we have found they will last a couple of weeks on daily runs in the city and less time when doing more serious adventuring in the mountains.
For fancier options, Muttluks have high cuffs and adjustable Velcro to tighten around the ankles. We’ve used these through an entire winter of running on pavement and skijoring on snow and they rarely came off. Ruffwear has a number of year-round options that are great for gnarly terrain in weather that ranges from sub-zero to hot heat.
If you simply can’t get your dog to keep booties on or you don’t want to mess with another accessory, Musher’s Secret offers a different kind of solution to paw protection. Simply smear the waxy substance on your dog’s paw pads when heading out the door (the excess absorbs so it doesn’t make a mess in the house). It provides a modicum of protection, especially against the cold.
A leash and water bowl are certainly enough for most outdoor adventures, but it’s fun to have other gear for extracurricular activities. Our favorite in this category far and away is our skijoring harness. Both Ruffwear and Skijor Now make systems. Of all the activities we’ve attempted to run the energy out of our boisterous dog, nothing rivals skijoring. These systems simply employ a human hip belt, bungee towline, and dog harness that allows the dog to pull out in front as you ski behind.
For the warmer months of the year, doggy life jackets are another great recreational accessory to have handy. Especially if you plan on paddling with your pooch, a life jacket, like the Kurgo Surf N Turf or the Outward Hound Ripstop Life Jacket can provide great peace of mind. Most models also have a handle on the back, making it easy, depending on the size of your dog, to lift them out of the water back onto a boat or a dock.
Dog packs are another convenient extra piece of gear to have for your dog for anyone planning on hiking long distances. If you find you’re have trouble fitting coats or harnesses to the unique dimensions of your dog, Groundbird Gear makes custom-fit packs. Welly is barrel-chested, skinny, and long, so we’ve found that we have to be picky when it comes to gear like this, otherwise a pack can be too tight towards her chest and too loose on her back, which can cause chafing.
Medical Bag Or First Aid Kit
Having a few dog-related medical supplies in your possession can save you and your dog a whole lot of pain and suffering in the case of an emergency. We have a few things tucked in the back of our bathroom closet at home and a travel first aid kit in our car for when we’re on the road. If you don’t want to assemble your own, we have reviewed a convenient and compact first-aid kit appropriate for dogs from Adventure Medical Kits. Fortunately, we haven’t had to use more than the bandages, though the kit offers peace of mind.
Our home first-aid supply contains many of the same things any human would have in their bathroom pantry. We simply relied on the Humane Society’s recommendations, which include things like: Gauze pads, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, an ice pack, and tweezers. You should also have a large plastic syringe and hydrogen peroxide, which will help induce vomiting if your dog ingests any sort of poison. In addition, I have the Nite Ize Doohickey Pet Tool on my key ring, which includes a burr comb, tick remover, and conveniently, a bottle opener.
Dog Travel Safety
While we occasionally permit the scandalous act of allowing our dog to sit in the passenger seat and stick her head out the window, on long car rides, we always bring a kennel, AKA a crate. While it takes up a significant amount of cargo space, it ensures both her safety and comfort. We’ve discovered the latter counts for a lot on a 16-hour car trip from Colorado to Minnesota because when she has a quiet, warm spot to sleep, she doesn’t make a fuss the entire trip.
We originally used a traditional wire crate but have since switched to the G1 Kennel by Gunner. Sure the thing is a beast, but that’s kind of the point. There are considerable deficiencies in safety standards when it comes to travel products for dogs and the Gunner kennel was named a 2015 Top Performer by the Center for Pet Safety. To complete the den-like feel, we usually throw in the Alcott Explorer Sleeping Bag or any blanket we have on hand, along with another blanket over the top to keep it fairly dark inside the crate.
While we can fit three people, gear for a week, and the kennel in our 2011 Outback, any extra luggage or people would make it a tight squeeze. In those instances, we use the Sleepypod Clickit Utility Dog Harness, another one of the few devices that performed well in crash tests. This option offers three points of attachment and allows your dog to travel safely without taking up more room than a single seat.
We haven’t gotten into many of the high-tech dog accessories, but it’s worth mentioning some of the cool products out there. Of course, GoPro’s Fetch dog harness camera mount tops the list. Whether you want your dog to film your mountain biking excursion or your outdoor wedding it offers a totally unique perspective.
Other techy gear worth having includes light-up collars or beacons for your dog. In the city, this provides an extra level of visibility and safety on the roads. In the woods, it can simply help you keep track of Fido after dark. We use the Nite Dawg LED Collar by Nite Ize because it provides a 365-degree glow, making it easy to see Welly even from a distance no matter which direction she is facing. In the past, we’ve even clipped light-up key chains to her collar to keep track of her.
If your dog has the tendency to wander off, Whistle and Garmin have different levels of trackers for everything from locating a wayward dog in your neighborhood to tracking them working out in the woods. While most people won’t need this level of tech, it can be a lifesaver in certain circumstances.