Gear List: Winter Hiking with Your Pup
Winter hiking is an a real undertaking and it requires an array of equipment that would never be necessary for three season hiking. That being said, the investment is totally worth it for the snowy summit solitude that is impossible to find in any other season. Not to mention the lack of rocks and roots to trip on with the added bonus of being able to glissade down from many of the peaks! Last winter I compiled a human gear list and layering guide, but what about the necessary gear for your dog? Some choose to leave their pups at home when the weather gets chilly, but I’ve found that Lucy is actually a better hiker in the winter. She doesn’t have to combat the rough rocky terrain that the Whites are known for.
Before you take your dog out on the trail to play in the snow, please read my post about when not to bring your dog. It’s all about what conditions you should avoid when out going out with your pup and recognizing the signs when they’re getting too cold or tired on the trail. Remember, winter hiking is very different for them than summer hiking so they might be up for a lot more mileage or much less depending. And the mountains will always be there so there’s never any shame in staying home or turning around before the summit!
First I want to highlight that not all dogs need insulation layers and extra gear in the cold. If you’re someone who lives far north with a pup that has a thick undercoat, many of the equipment recommendations won’t apply to you. The vast majority of hiker dogs I know do need some sort of insulation because they are just not accustomed to the bitter cold in the Whites. Lucy has very short, thin fur so she gets chilly when the weather drops below 40 degrees. We've adapted a full layering system for her winter adventures. Below is an overview of all of the dog specific equipment that we use on the trail. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to find things that fit her small but muscular stature, but thankfully we now have a great system that we use for every winter hike.
Hurtta Slush Combat Suit: This hard shell is perfect for keeping the snow out and making sure Lucy doesn’t get wet. It’s also a great windbreaker and the bright color ensures that everyone will always be able to see her in the snow. Not to mention it’s super cute! This is great for pretty much all dogs, especially those that get snowballs stuck in their fur. It goes all the way down their legs with buttons to make sure the legs stay in place. It has many adjustment sites and is easy to get on and off. This is probably our favorite piece of winter hiking gear we own!
Hurtta Body Warmer: We layer this under the Slush Suit as Lucy’s insulating layer. It goes all the way down her legs and up her neck to keep her warm. The belly side is nice and stretchy to allow full range of motion while covering her sensitive belly. It fits perfectly under the Slush Suit to stay dry and warm. Again easy to put on and take off and it keeps her nice and toasty down to about zero degrees. Even below zero she stays warm in this but we don’t do long hikes at those temperatures because her feet get too cold.
L.L. Bean Mountain Classic Dog Parka: This will in theory go between the Body Warmer and the Slush Suit in really, really cold weather. We have yet to use it with the Hurtta suits, but I always keep it in my pack just in case. We find that Lucy’s feet are the limiting factor temperature wise, so we’ll need a better solution for that before hiking in below zero weather.
Hurtta Extreme Warmer Jacket: This is the coat we use when it’s above freezing outside or for shorter nature walks. It’s extremely warm but doesn’t cover her legs so it’s not our preferred attire for big hikes. Many people use the Extreme Warmer for big hikes, but since we have the other system we don’t use this as much. Pretty much any of the Hurtta jackets similar to this one () would be great for hiking, just remember that they’re a bit more exposed to the elements so it may not be sufficient for really cold or windy conditions.
RexSpecs Goggles: We’ve only had to break these out a few times for really cold, windy weather. One of those times was for Mt. Jackson for the last quarter mile above treeline. They protect her eyes and face from frostbite and improve her visibility, similar to when we wear goggles to hike ourselves. It will probably take some conditioning to get your dog used to wearing them, so consult this guide to training them to tolerate them. Lucy is still working on this and tends to paw them off after a few minutes.
Ruffwear GripTrex Boots: Lucy’s paws have been the biggest challenge to winter hiking. She often gets snowballs in between her toes that make her limp. We’ve tried Musher’s Secret which helps, but her feet still get really cold. Booties are an okay solution, but they make her feet tender, so I think next winter I’ll try pairing them with socks to see if that helps. They also end up freezing to her ankles after a while, so I end up having to take them off after a while. She needs them primarily on her back feet, so I usually start with them only on the back and then switch them out when they get too icy. We haven’t come up with a perfect solution yet, but we’re going to keep trying and keep figuring it out as we go. I’ve heard great things about the Ruffwear PolarTrex for winter hiking so maybe if we have room in the budget, we’ll be able to try them soon. This is all a learning process so stay tuned!
Musher’s Secret: Many people swear by this paw wax for winter hiking to prevent snowballs in their dog’s feet. I have a hard time getting the right amount on and I feel like it rubs off quickly, but it’s definitely a good thing to try. It’s also a great balm to use on their nose to prevent cracking from the dry, cold air.
Mountain Dogwear Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness: This is our most important piece of safety equipment. The Pack-a-Paw Harness is designed to be used if your dog is ever injured on the trail and unable to hike out. Lucy and I had an incident where someone with crampons kicked her in one of her back feet and sliced her paw open down to the bone. We’re extremely lucky that we were only a quarter mile from the trailhead and she could walk out, but had this happened any further from the car it could have been an incredibly bad situation. I’ve heard horror stories of people leaving their injured dogs in the wilderness because they were unable to carry them out. CCL injuries are very common in hiking dogs, so having this as a backup method for rescue is a necessity. It’s also a local New Hampshire company run by fellow hikers so we love supporting them!
Lucy’s First Aid Kit: I always bring this in addition to my own first aid kit. It’s just a few extra tubes of blood stopper, gauze, and disposable Pawz booties. These boots have no traction, but they are very effective in keeping out snow. I don’t think they’re great for using for a whole hike because they’re so tight I worry about decreasing her circulation and causing frostbite to her toes with prolonged use. That being said they’re great in a pinch in case of injury or as a last resort if her boots get too icy.
Ruffwear Approach Pack: We use this more in the summer because our hikes tend to be longer in the winter and I don’t want to make her too tired with extra weight. That being said, it’s a great pack that I will go into more detail about in our three season gear post. This pack can be a little bulky so I'd be more inclined to buy the Singletrack Pack since it's more streamlined.
Biothane Leash: Any lease will do but we love the biothane leashes from Cody’s Creations. They are waterproof but easy to grip and they don’t get tangled. The best part is that no matter how muddy and gross they get they never smell! We use the 8:1 so that it can be hands free when we’re on our regular walks and it clips around my body for easy access while hiking. Plus you can customize them with tons of different colors! We also love her slip-free martingale collars and other products! Use the code BFTD2019 for 10% off!
Collapsible Water Bowl: This is pretty self-explanatory. I sometimes have trouble getting Lucy to hydrate on the trail in the winter though, so I usually float her food in a cup or two of water before we hike and float some more food in water mid-hike to get her to drink it. Remember, both dogs and humans are much more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite when they’re dehydrated so remember to bring lots of water for both of you!
24 Hour Supply of Food: This should always be in your pack when you go out with your dog just in case of emergency. We bring extra human food, so make sure your dog has some too.
High Value Treats: Whatever your dog loves most is great for rewarding recall and focus on the trail. Lucy loves hot dogs, sharp cheddar cheese, Blue Buffalo treat sticks (which are super easy to break off with big gloves on), and Stella and Chewy's Freeze Dried Raw Meal Mixers. Often I’ll mix these in with a little bag kibble so that it’s coated in a yummy high-value flavor without adding too many extra calories to her diet.
So this list can definitely be a little overwhelming at first. We've accumulated this equipment over the past few years and I often buy the old version of backpacks, jackets, and other equipment after the new version has already come out to make it more affordable. I hope this list gives you a good jumping off point for where you might start regarding dog gear in the winter! Let us know if you have any questions!
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