Doing a cold weather hike with your dog might seem intimidating. You have your layers and warm boots. Hats, gloves, sunglasses and maybe even snowshoes. But what about your dog? Besides a built-in fur coat and can-do attitude, they may be lacking some essential gear. We’ve put together a cold weather pack list for your dog to keep you going when the weather turns cold and snowy!
1. Paw Care
We never head out without properly fitting dog boots. Snowballs forming between the toes, ice, road salt and chemicals, and crusty snow can all wreak havoc on your dog’s feet. Additionally, sharp ski or snowboard edges, microspikes and snowshoes all pose hazards to paws and ankles. Most boots will work in all 4 seasons for your dog; go straight from backpacking to snowshoeing with the same gear. Boots built specifically for winter will offer some additional insulation and some have a built-in gaiter to keep snow out of the boot. Check out our review of the Ruffwear Polar Trex Winter boot for a solid winter boot.
Also, consider treating paws with a product like Musher’s Secret to condition and protect paws. This is a great option for anyone who prefers to carry boots as more of a backup.
The dog coat you choose will definitely vary by dog and weather. I have two labs, one with a thick undercoat who’d be happy rolling in the snow all day and one with a thin undercoat who’d rather be wrapped in a blanket. On an average day, for the warmer dog, I’d bring a cape style puffy coat (like the Ruffwear Quinzee) to throw on during a break and stuff it in my pack when we’re moving again. The thin coated lab would get a lighter vest style coat to wear all day and I’d layer a warmer puffy style over that when we stopped.
Consider a waterproof top layer like the Ruffwear Aira for wet trips.
A lot of cold weather hikes could happen during hunting season. To keep your dog safe and seen in the snow, bring along a high vis vest. Be sure it’s big enough to wear over insulating layers.
Check out our full review of the Stunt Puppy High Vis gear including the Go Dog Glo vest.
4. Nutrition and Hydration
Depending on your dog, terrain, length of the hike, etc, bring along food or high quality treats to keep your dog moving. We love Zuke’s natural treats and supplements.
Freshwater and a travel bowl is also a necessity. A lot of dogs love to eat snow but that may not properly keep them hydrated, could lower core temperature, or depending on where you’re hiking, could get contaminated with snowmelt chemicals.
5. First Aid
“Sanitation” – a fancy way to say poop bags.
- Waist Worn Leash – if you’re visiting a location with leash laws, consider a waist-worn leash to keep your hands free. We like Ruffwear leashes with their Talon Clip buckle – it’s easy to operate with a gloved hand.
- Turdlebag – a handy way to transport full poop bags without the smell and hassle.
- Quick Dry Towel
- Insulation from the ground – help keep your dog off the cold ground during a rest or lunch stop. We dig the Ruffwear Highlands foam pad.
- Eye Protection – protect eyes from blowing snow and harsh UV. Check out our review of Rex Specs for more.
- Ear and Neck Protection – Buff USA makes a Buff for dogs that can stop snow from clinging to the neck and can even be pulled up to get sensitive ears out of the wind.
- Harness – consider a harness appropriate for lifting when you might encounter deep snow or obstacles. We like the Ruffwear Web Master for its two strap design that helps lift the dog without them sliding out of the harness.
Keep your dog’s abilities in mind. Just like you, cold weather hiking will zap energy faster. It may require more rest and fuel.
Older dogs may need some additional insulation to keep those “seasoned” joints moving. Likewise, puppies may not have fully developed their warm coats yet and will need something more.
Regardless of their age, learn the signs of hypothermia (weakness, shivering, muscle stiffness, shallow, slow breathing) and have a plan if things go sideways.
Never push your dog past their limits and consult your vet if you’re unsure what’s appropriate for you and your dog.