Doggone Cold! Winter Gear List for Dogs

Doggone Cold! Winter Gear List for Dogs

Winter on Mary's Rock

Here’s a list of the winter hiking and backpacking gear that M’s Seeing Eye Dog Edge used on our winter Appalachian Trail adventure in Virginia for New Year’s. This list includes the gear he used for climbing up to Mary’s Rock with wind-chills of -15℉, as well as the gear he used for his first winter overnight (with a record-breaking low of -2℉).

Winter Day-Hike Gear List for Edge

  1. Fleece-Lined Waterproof/Windproof Jacket (5/5): The jacket was easy to put on and take off, provided good coverage for precipitation, great mobility, and some added warmth. The jacket performed as described; I think it would have been perfect if the weather had been in the predicted range (lows of 15℉ to 25℉), but with temperatures dropping into the single digits and wind-chills making the effective temperature even colder, a warmer jacket with more coverage would have been better.
  2. Musher’s Secret Wax: It’s a barrier wax that helps protect paws that comes highly rated for winter trekking, but it accidentally got left at home this trip.
  3. Grip Trex Booties (2/5): I was surprised by how well edge tolerated the booties. For walking around the campsite and in paved/cleared walkways the boots did a good job, but while hiking the booties on his rear legs didn’t stay on very well, and we ended up losing two of them (both later retrieved by a kind stranger). To stay secured, I think the booties would have needed to come higher us his legs. It was also pretty clear that Edge had less traction with the booties than he was accustomed to. For icy sections of the trail we removed his booties because he seemed to have better traction without them, but his traction still wasn’t good enough on the ice. If I were to do it again I would try the Winter booties instead because they would provide more warmth and might stay on better in snowy conditions. Figuring out the traction issue is still an open problem.Edge Sporting his Jacket and Booties
  4. Quencher Water Bowl (3/5): This bowl worked pretty well. For winter something with an insulated bottom might be better as a water bowl, also something with a watertight seal or an easy pour lip to make it easier to keep the water that wasn’t consumed. The flexible nature of the bowl made it easy to break to the ice out of, which was nice.
  5. Food & Water: We carried extra food and water for Edge for winter hiking/backpacking. It takes extra calories to stay warm on cold winter days/nights, and winter air is so dry that you lose more water than you think. For our adventure I was guesstimating about 50% more food than usual based on the temperature and the planned exertion.
    • NOTE: Pay attention to how much they’re drinking, eating, and peeing:
      • Fewer pee breaks than usual may indicate dehydration
      • If pee breaks are really frequent and low in volume, check and make sure your dog isn’t cold and shivering.
      • If the color of their urine is really dark/yellow (or has a stronger smell than usual) it might indicate dehydration.
  6. Poop bags: It is what it is. For all day hikes dog poop should be packed out. For backpacking when the ground is frozen and you can’t bury it, you should pack out for your dog’s solid waste as well as your own (blue-bagging it as we used to say).
  7. Leash and/or harness: In most state and national park areas where dogs are allowed, they are required to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at ALL times. Please be considerate of other hikers, dog-owners, the wildlife, and outdoor ecosystems when adventuring with your dog. Edge is a working dog, so his harness comes along with him too.

Edge in his Puppy Palace

Winter Overnight Gear List for Edge

  1. Highlands Sleeping Pad (4/5): This worked great as a winter sleeping/rest pad. This is a keeper and I’d highly recommend it for long winter day hikes as well as backpacking trips. In a perfect world I would want it to be a little bit bigger for a dog Edge’s size since his butt was consistently off of the back of it.
  2. Highlands Sleeping Bag (3/5): The sleeping bag just wasn’t big enough for Edge. For small- or medium-sized dogs I might give this bag a 5/5, but it wasn’t really big enough for him to be able to curl up into it. I ended up mostly unzipping it and tucking it around him like a quilt, and it did a pretty good job of keeping him warm. I was impressed by how well he tolerated being all bundled up. I’d be interested in upgrade options. With record-breaking low temperatures we ended up wrapping Edge with a second sleeping bag (a 30F bag designed for humans).Shenandoah Campfire with Edge
  3. Reflectix groundcloth (5/5): Used on the floor of the tent (the same way the humans used it) to provide an extra bit of warmth and insulation; it also covered a larger surface area than the sleeping pad, so if Edge slipped off of his sleeping pad he wasn’t on the bare ground.Edge inside the puppy palace
  4. Hyperlite Ultamid 2 Backpacking Tent (4/5): The hyperlite ultamid 2 worked great as a winter backpacking/camping dog house, but it is very expensive as a puppy palace. It provided good protection and extra warmth, and with one side of the door staked down, the door could be zipped ½ way down to provide a doggy door that Edge could enter and leave the tent through in case of emergency. The tent was plenty big so a person could have easily slept in the tent with Edge. I really liked the way the floorless tarp tent worked as a winter puppy palace. (I’m allergic to dogs, so it also had the advantage of being easy to shake it out, and then shower it off/wipe it down to prevent future allergen issues with the tent).

Additional Links/Resources for Winter Backpacking with Dogs

Dog Days (Days 52-54)

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These days I’m not much of an animal lover, at least not up close and personal. This is partly because all things fuzzy and furry strongly contribute to my asthma and allergies. I still think your cats and dogs are wonderful and lovely creatures, but I’d rather not touch them or have them share my local breathing space.

There are lots of dogs hiking the trail with their owners, and like their owners, most are quiet, respectful, and move off of the trail to let other hikers pass. Some try to get my attention, but when I don’t touch them they quickly move on to someone that is more willing to scratch them behind their ears or play with them.

The other day I used a zip line (see picture) to cross a creek so that I could sleep on the Captain’s (the Captain is a trail angel that opens his porch and property to weary hikers) porch after hiking 20 miles in the pouring rain. I was thankful for having a dry place to stay (and a refrigerator full of soda to drink), but I didn’t love his five wet, muddy dogs that were aggressively trying to get me to play with them. I used the furniture on the porch and erected an anti-dog barricade to aid me in fighting off their exuberant affection as I curled up to sleep in my sleeping bag. By the time I left the Captain’s porch the next morning I was convinced that I definitely was not a dog person!

A couple days later I came across a woman sitting beside the trail with a puppy dog that was panting heavily. As I got closer, I realized that the dog was wheezing and constantly gasping/gulping for air. It reminded me of how I feel when my asthma is really bad… Extremely short of breath, and gulping air like water in the hopes of somehow sating my need for oxygen, but finding that the glass I’m trying to gulp from is always empty… It’s a horrible feeling and I found myself commiserating with that poor puppy.

I was worried about the puppy, so I stopped and chatted it’s owner. She said that the dog had been getting worse and worse for the last couple of hours, but that she didn’t have the strength to carry her (the puppy) off of the mountain. It was really hot out (the dog days of summer are here), so when a couple of day hikers came by with water to spare, we doused the dog with it, hoping that she was just overheated and that if we got her cooled down it would help. It didn’t seem to.

Every now and then the dog would try to get up and move, but her hind legs weren’t working correctly. She got up, moved a little bit, and collapsed beside my hiking pole, still gasping. Her big brown bulging eyes looked up at me, and it seemed as if she was silently asking me for help.

I looked down at her. She did need help. She probably needed to go to the hospital. She wasn’t getting better and she definitely needed to get off of that mountain. Suddenly it occurred to me… I’m a thru-hiker, I’ve gotten pretty strong, I could carry the dog off of the mountain! I could help!

I threw my pack and hiking poles into the bushes and offered to carry the puppy down the hill (~ a mile) and to woman’s car in the parking lot. She nodded her ok, so I bent down and scooped the now muddy puppy up into my arms and started down the hill.

She weighed about 35 lbs and I had no trouble retracing my steps and carrying her down to the car. Her breathing never improved, though she did manage to slobber all over me on the hike down. Once I got her safely to the car, her owner whisked her away to the nearest animal hospital.

Trail angels are constantly doing things that make my life better. In that same parking lot earlier in the day, some day hikers had left fresh fruit, cold water, and sodas in a cooler for me. I was glad to get the chance to do something nice for one of the day hikers, and I hope that that poor puppy ended up being ok.