Adventure Dogs: Fueling Your Pooch While Backpacking

Well-behaved dogs make great hiking companions. Dogs love to experience the sights, sounds and smells of nature like you do.

Your dog will need more calories than they normally eat if they are going to hike all day on the trail though. Dogs will need about 25% more calories than they normally eat to keep their energy up on a big adventure.

The simplest way to add calories to your dog's diet while backpacking is to bring 25% more of your dog's regular food. Simply adding 25% more kibble to the food bag results in a larger volume and heavier weight though.

Trail Dog

If you're lucky, your dog can wear a pack and carry their own food for the trip. That is not always possible though. The amount of food you need to bring might not fit in their pack and, in my case, my dogs aren't physically built to carry weight.

There are several options for reducing the volume and weight of dog food when backpacking.

  • You can mix a high-calorie puppy food into your dog's normal food. You can do the exact calorie math or just estimate by replacing 25% of your dog food supply for the trip with the puppy food. The pro to this is that the volume of food does not increase and that your dog will, basically, be eating its regular food. A cons is that it still takes up a lot of volume and can be heavy.

  • You can feed your dog freeze-dried food on the trail. Freeze dried food is more expensive than kibble but the tradeoffs can be worth it. It can often be half the weight of kibble and, in some cases, you need to bring a smaller volume of it.

There are two main types of freeze dried food.

One type of freeze dried food comes in bricks, nuggets, or patties. The pros are that this food is typically higher in calories, so you have to carry less, and it is the most like kibble because can be dropped into a dish. The con is that you will need to make sure your dog drinks enough water with the food because it is dry. Most of these foods will claim they can be reconstituted with water but most are kind of like Styrofoam and don't soak up water.

Backpacking Dog Food

The second type of freeze dried food comes in some kind of a lose mix -- ranging from chunky to powdery -- that you have to reconstitute with warm water before feeding. The pros of this type of food are that it usually takes up the least volume in your pack and, since it is reconstituted with water, it helps to make sure your pooch is getting the moisture they need. The cons are that you need to heat the water to reconstitute it (and your pup has to wait for it to cool down after) and it's really messy inside of a pack if the bag gets a hole in it.

  • Another option is something that is new to the market — doggie meal bars. A good example of this is the TurboPUP meal bar. I don't have experience hiking with this kind of food so I can't speak directly to the pros and cons. However, the idea is intriguing. I imagine the pros of this type of food is the neatness of the packaging and possibly a lower volume in your pack. A potential con could be that it is most unlike your dog's normal food.

Whatever type of food you choose, be sure to pack it in waterproof bags. As with human food, you should bring a "survivals extra" day of food in case you get stuck out there for another day.

Also remember, if you choose to take something that is not your pup's regular food, don't have your first day on the trail be the first time your dog eats it. Try it at home first and see how it settles with their tummy. My dogs have iron guts but some dogs need an adjustment period to a new food. You might want to start mixing the new food with your pet's normal food for a few days before your trip and gradually decrease their normal food as your trip approaches.

Have fun out there. It's an awesome feeling watching your furry best friend sleeping next to you in the tent, all tuckered out from a full day of fun.

posted by
Jessica Rhae Williams
As a member of #TeamSierra, Jessica Rhae Williams receives promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post. Jessica lives in Seattle with her husband and two miniature Dachshunds, Chester and Gretel, and loves hiking, traveling, and adventuring. Through her blog, You Did What With Your Weiner, she shares stories of climbing mountains, breaking stereotypes and living the good life with her dogs. She is founder of #AdventureDogChat and regularly tweets about hiking, fitness, and pets.
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