Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a weekend getaway, tent camping in the great outdoors can be the ultimate vacation for you and your dog. Imagine hot dogs roasting over a campfire, cuddling under the stars, long hikes through nature, and of course, squirrels! Camping with dogs has many benefits for humans, too. It’s affordable, relaxing, and can be either filled with group fun or a chance for some alone time with Fido. But before you start packing your tent, follow these four pet-friendly camping tips to ensure you and your four-legged friend make the most of your trip.
BringFido’s Guide to Camping With Dogs
Posted by Lauren Barker
1. Know Before You Go
Before you plan an excursion (not to mention buy all the supplies you’ll need), make sure your pup is a good fit for camping. Dogs that are known to bark excessively, lack social skills or prefer to spend their days in the comfort of home may not be ready to camp. Whether you’re staying in a busy campground or at a primitive campsite, there are many distractions that can ruffle Fido’s fur, including other campers and wildlife. The last thing anyone wants to hear is your dog barking all night.
A trial run or two will let you know if camping is in Fido’s DNA. Start small by camping in the backyard or close to home. This will help determine if your tent is big enough for everyone to sleep comfortably together and if your canine camper is content with the new space and sounds. If you’re not convinced, do it a few more times to get him into a routine.
You also need to make sure Fido is healthy enough for the adventure. Take him to the vet for a routine checkup and ensure he’s up to date on his vaccinations. You never know who or what he’ll come into contact with in the wilderness. Be sure your pup is on a monthly preventative for heartworm disease. Heartworm is carried by mosquitoes, so if you’re going to be camping in a wet or humid environment, your dog needs to be protected. Check out our Guide to Flea and Tick Season to learn more. While you’re at the vet, it’s a good idea to get your dog microchipped as well.
2. Learn the Laws of the Land
Once you’re sure Fido will be happy “ruffing” it, find out the rules at your chosen campgrounds. Most dog-friendly sites won’t charge an extra fee for furry friends, but confirm ahead of time and be aware of any rules and restrictions. State and local parks, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management lands are often very welcoming to pets, as are most National Park campsites.
You should also research nearby activities that will welcome your pup. Some campgrounds offer dog parks, while others may have dog-friendly hiking trails, swimming, canoeing and more. The KOA Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada raises the pet-friendly bar with an agility course, self-serve grooming salon and a rally obedience field! Once you've selected your camping destination, use BringFido's site or app to search for nearby dog-friendly attractions that you can enjoy together.
3. Pack Your Pup’s Essentials
Now you’re ready to start packing! Camping with dogs may require additional baggage. Essentials like dog food, water, treats, packable or collapsible bowls, and waste bags should top the list. You should also have your pup's paperwork handy. Bring a pet first-aid kit that includes bandages, antiseptic, gauze, medical tape, blunt-end scissors and tweezers. We also recommend a harness and tie-out stake or cable system to give you both a little freedom to roam.
Prepare for the weather, too. Towels to wipe muddy paws or wet fur, a canopy for shade, and extra blankets may be necessary. Your pup should be outfitted with an ID that includes contact information, a collar with his rabies tag, and a light so he can be seen at night. If you’re going to be hiking, Fido can help lighten your load. Let him carry his own supplies (for once!) in a specially-designed dog backpack. Ruffwear offers a wide selection of packs for canine hikers.
If you’re new to camping, consider the following before purchasing equipment like a tent, sleeping bag or sleeping pad:
- How many two- and four-legged campers will be staying in the tent? Tent occupancy ranges from single person to family size, sleeping up to 8 people. Count your dog as an extra person when deciding which size to buy.
- Are you backpacking or car camping? Backpackers need to pay attention to the weight of their equipment to avoid carrying too heavy a load. A two-person tent should ideally be less than 3 lbs.
- What elements will you likely be facing? It’s a good idea to purchase a tent that comes with a footprint, which covers the ground beneath the tent to keep it warm and protect the bottom from wear and tear. A rainfly to cover the tent in the case of wet weather is another must-have. Weather should also play a part in determining which sleeping bag is best for you. Typically, a sleeping bag with a temperature rating of +30 or higher should be used for summer, and +15 or lower for winter. If you plan on camping year-round, a bag between +15 and +30 is ideal.
- The shape of the sleeping bag is another factor to consider. Mummy and semi-rectangular bags often provide the most warmth and are light to pack, but if your pup likes to share the covers, a rectangular bag with more room may be the best way to go. You can even purchase a dog sleeping bag, like this one from Cheerhunting, so you won’t have to share.
- If you want a little cushion between you and the ground, invest in a sleeping mat. One important thing to keep in mind when camping with dogs is that animal nails can be “ruff” on equipment. While inflatable sleeping mats provide comfort, they can often be easily punctured. Look for a foam pad like the RidgeRest Classic by Thermarest, which is not only durable but extremely lightweight.
4. Camp Like You’ve Been There Before
Once you’ve arrived and set up camp, follow these rules and best practices:
- Dog food can attract insects and wild animals. Put it away when it isn’t mealtime, and if you’re camping in bear country, store it in bear-proof boxes or hang it out of reach.
- Keep your pup on leash while in the campground or when hiking, and stay on marked trails. Dogs who wander off the beaten path risk coming into contact with poisonous plants, seeds that adhere to fur, wild animals or stinging insects. Have a plan in place if you need to visit a restroom, shower house or camp store where dogs are not welcome.
- Avoid leaving pets unattended at campsites, in tents or in a vehicle.
- Always clean up after your pet, even if it isn’t in the path of foot traffic. Leaving your dog’s waste behind can result in contamination of water and soil, especially in popular campgrounds.
Finally, remember that a camping adventure with your dog is about escaping the hustle and bustle of daily life and connecting with nature. So turn off your electronics, forget everyday worries and enjoy your time with Fido in the great outdoors. You’ll both be thankful for the getaway!