Whether you are new to the trail or old friends with it, I have outlined some basics that are always good to remember when adventuring out into the wild.
Hiking is for the most part, a low-maintenance sport, but good sense, preparation and a few essentials go a long way in keeping you and your dog, safe, happy and comfortable out there.
Your Most Valuable Tool: Your legs, knees and feet are your most important tool in hiking. You won’t get far without them! So keeping them healthy, protected and comfortable is key. For this reason, a good pair of hiking shoes is a valuable investment. A well-made hiking shoe will last you through many miles, protect your toes and ankles and their good traction will keep you from slipping and sliding down steep and gravelly inclines. Take the time and get your foot and gait measured, talk to people, read reviews and purchase your shoes from stores such as REI where you’ll be able to test the shoe on one of their in-store rocks and have an iron-clad guarantee of a good product. I have tested a handful of brands, and find that Patagonia shoes consistently give me the quality, support and protection that best suits me and the trails I play in. Throughout this project however, I will be testing and reviewing a few different brands.
When I first started hiking, or when it’s been a while since I last hiked, my knee joints do have to adjust to the sport. I mention knee joints because we forget how important proper movement is. Try to go up or down stairs, ride a bike or even kneel with an achy or painful knee joint and you’ll agree it is quite an uncomfortable experience. Steep downhill trails tend to be hard on the knees, so always make sure you take time to stretch and invest in some glucosamine supplements to keep those joints happy and healthy.
Your Dog’s Most Valuable Tools: In the same category, taking care of your dog’s legs, joints and feet will play an equally important part. Don’t take this for granted, ever. If anything happens to those legs and feet, you will likely be carrying your dog down the mountain. Since every dog is different, some will take and adjust to the terrain in no time, while others might need gradual introductions and shorter hikes to begin with or maybe even hiking booties to keep their pads protected. I have two dogs, each at opposite ends of the spectrum; Corbin, our Lab took a few months to toughen up his pads, we learned the hard way after we discovered peeled pads on him. Willow on the other hand adjusted right away and never needed booties of any kind.
Pack the Essentials: No matter how long or short you plan your hike to be, please, never leave home without a small pack with essentials to keep you out of trouble. The truth is, you never know what could happen, so best to err on the side of caution and always be prepared. Again, I learned this lesson the hard way and it is a mistake I never want to repeat. Below is a list of what I consider “the essentials”. Formal reviews of many of these products will come a little later, but for now, here’s a list to get you started:
- A good, comfortable backpack: Obviously, you’ll need something to carry all this stuff in. The possibilities are endless, and the best tip I can offer is to keep weight and comfort in mind when choosing your pack. I am currently using Alite Design’s Woodchuck Pack; it is on the smaller side, but super light, comfortable on the shoulders and with a good amount of easy-access pockets. The fabric is light but strong and can transition from hike pack to day/travel pack for any occasion.
- A comfortable harness for your dog: To make leashed hikes more comfortable for both of you and protect your dog’s spine and neck, a well-fitted harness for active outdoor sports is a great investment. We are currently using Ruffwear’s Web Master Harness, a great choice with a nifty handle for quick control and lifting if you need to help your dog over obstacles.
- Water, enough for you and your dog, plus a little more. Never, ever leave home without water.
- Small First Aid Kit (for you and your dog) including moleskin in case of blisters or cuts, chapstick, sunscreen, and bug repellent (citronella spray is a good natural option). I really like Alite Design’s First Aid Package and have had a good experience with Badger’s all-natural anti-bug spray.
- A small pocket knife. You can never go wrong with Swiss Army, or another great option is this Opinel Camp Knife available through Alite Designs as well.
- Snacks for you and your dog, think high in nutrition like power bars and trail mix. I like to carry real food for my dog versus just treats. I often carry Ziwi Peak for Willow since it is really good food in small, lightweight pieces for Willow; it keeps her healthy and light on her feet. I also like to carry mozzarella cheese sticks, since that’s something we both can enjoy. I tend to “enjoy” low blood sugar crashes once in a while, so healthy snacks are a constant part of my life. I have found that coconut water is a fantastic drink to have around, it is packed with nutrients like potassium and electrolytes and I can assure you it is far healthier than a Gatorade. Whether on its own or with a splash of fruit juice, I have taken to carrying one or two small coconut water packs with me for good measure.
- EBOOST: fatigue is a real thing in hiking, and any sport for that matter, and replenishing your body with vitamins and minerals is essential. I am no fan of energy drinks, but I do know the power a little boost of caffeine can do when you most need it. EBOOST is the only energy supplement out there that I have found to be exceptional; it is nothing but blend of vitamins, minerals, and super-nutrients. It’s packed with ingredients like Vitamins C, D, B6, B12, as well as 5-HTP, Resveratrol, Green Tea, and Green Coffee. None of that high-sugar crap found everywhere else. Truly natural products don’t have that surge and crash. EBOOST comes in fizzy packs for your water or little shot bottles. There is even one with coconut water! I do prefer the fizzy packs in terms of flavor, but the shots are quick and easy, I have yet to find one that does not taste a little bit like cough syrup.
- Dog poop bags, an extra collar and leash and a foldable bowl. You never know! Your collar or leash might break, or you might run into a stray or lost dog you can help. I really like Earth Rated bags, the unscented ones. To keep the trails clean and free of poop bags, I carry this Nite Ize Pack-A-Poo Dog Waste Bag to put them in, its seal and thick fabric keep the smell inside and if Willow is carrying her own backpack, she will most likely be carrying this container in there along with her poop bags. A handy poop bag dispenser like Alite Designs’ Boa Pod is very handy, especially when attached to your leash, or your backpack strap (I prefer it on my backpack strap, like pictured); it can also be used to store keys or other small but important items. OllyDog makes some great foldable bowls we have been using for a few years now, and they have held up nicely.
- A good whistle; whether you have your dog whistle trained or to get someone’s attention, a whistle is a nice add-on to any backpack. I am a huge fan of Houndworthy’s Rustic Antler Whistle.
- Tick Removal Key; unfortunately, these nasty bugs are everywhere these days and neither human, nor dog is safe. This nifty tool will help remove them in a jiffy and take little space in your bag. We got ours at Pet Food Express. There is a smaller Tick Spoon for the tiny bloodsuckers that escape the lip of the Tick Key. Protecting your dog from bugs is important too, whether you have them on formal flea/tick treatments or topical wipes or sprays, this will save you from having to remove the nasty beasties from their skin later.
- Protection from the elements; invest in a good quality, lightweight jacket that will pack nice and small. Patagonia makes some exceptional gear of this nature, and it lasts just short of forever. Their Nano Puff Jacket is at the top of my wish list. If hiking in snow or cold weather, take your dog’s comfort into account as well. These days, amazing companies like Hurtta make great products to protect dogs from harsh weather.
- Dress the part: unless you are going on a fashion photoshoot, dress appropriately and give your body the best opportunity to be comfortable and protected. Leave your fancy jeans home and choose fabrics that move with your body and wick sweat from it. Some of my favorite gear comes from REI, Athleta, Patagonia and GapFit.
- Battery charger for your phone, your ID and your dog’s ID tags. Should anything happen to you, make it easy for other to help find you or your dog.
- Map and compass: old school or not, you won’t always have the blessing of a phone signal. Learn to read and use a map and compass, especially if you are venturing into unknown trails.
- Additional options: Sometimes I carry a treat/bait bag for easy access to dog treats as well as a clicker. Clicker training during hikes has become one of our favorite ways to train and reward good behavior. These are especially handy when I know we will be running into a lot of traffic in the form of people, dogs or horses.
Sound like a lot? it really isn’t, especially if you have a comfortable backpack to carry everything and if you teach your dog to carry a pack as well, they can help carry some of the lighter items. Even if you only use half of what is in your backpack on a given hike, it is best to be prepared and carry that weight rather than wishing you had and hoping for a miracle.
What’s in your backpack?