There’s something magical about a fresh winter morning spent watching the sunrise. Even more so with your best friend by your side. Winter camping with dogs is the perfect way for you and your pooch to get your fix of the outdoors throughout these colder months.
But striking a balance between adventure and comfort while winter camping is crucial. Here are our top eight tips for cold-weather camping with dogs! We’ll cover everything from planning for the weather to preparing for safety risks and dog camping gear.
8 Tips When Winter Camping With Dogs
1. Plan your location in advance.
While the temptation to spontaneously settle anywhere might be strong, your best chance of success when camping with a pet in cold conditions is to plan ahead. If you take a dog camping cold weather needs to be carefully considered.
Winter weather impacts each location differently. Are you in an area subject to heavy snowfalls? Or is wind more likely to be your biggest roadblock? Being aware of the weather patterns in the area you’re staying in will allow you to pack as optimally as possible.
If you’re feeling stuck on where to even start, Reserve America has you covered with 5 Wilderness Winter Wonderlands to See This Year.
2. Keep warm overnight.
Your dog might be eager to sleep outside during the warmer months. But keeping them out of the elements during the winter months is the best practice if you take a dog winter camping.
Here are four simple ways to keep your dog warm and snug inside your tent:
Lay a base blanket or tarp across the floor.
This will help to keep both you and your pet warm by preventing the cold of the ground from seeping into the floor of the tent. Fleece-lined is usually best in a cold environment. Depending on the make of your tent, and whether you and your pup will be trekking snow inside with you at the end of the night, it may also be worth looking into a waterproof option.
Bring a blanket specifically for your dog.
Whether it’s your pet’s favorite snuggly blanket, or a wool or fleece blanket specifically purchased for your trip, it will make for a great investment.
Invest in a pet sleeping bag.
If your dog is likely to toss a blanket off through the night, then a sleeping bag is a great alternative. This will provide both protection from the cold flooring of the tent as well as the cold air, making it perfect for shorter-haired breeds.
Cuddle where possible.
Cuddling will help to preserve body heat, keeping both you and your dog warm. If your dog isn’t a snuggler, that’s okay too!
Consider packing a hot water bottle for you both. The water for this can be heated via a gas stove or a kettle over the fire if needed.
3. Update your first aid kit and training.
Camping through the colder months brings a new set of safety risks. Taking the time to update your first aid kit before hitting the road will set your trip up for success.
As previously mentioned, campfires can pose a significant risk to your dog. Adding silver sulfadiazine ointment and saline spray to your winter first aid kit will ease any minor discomfort your dog may feel from a superficial burn. A supply of extra water, not intended for drinking, can also be used to cool the affected area.
Please remember that even burns which appear to be minimal on the surface can be severe beneath the skin. While you can ease the pain with these solutions, obtaining veterinary care as soon as possible is still crucial.
Towels are also important to carry when winter camping with a pet. Snow will leave your dog cool and damp. Thoroughly drying off and grooming your dog before bed will prevent any additional risks of hypothermia.
4. Pack more food than usual.
Consistently regulating their body temperature and navigating snowy terrain means that your dog will be burning far more energy than usual.
To combat this, you can either pack more food than you typically would, or choose a brand with a higher calorie count than your usual dog food. Feeding your pet more regularly throughout the day and rewarding them frequently with snacks will keep their energy levels up.
5. Store your water correctly.
Depending on where and how long you’re camping, overnight temperatures may reach a point that is low enough to freeze your water.
The simplest way to prevent your water supply from freezing is to keep it on you constantly. While sharing a sleeping bag with a large container of liquid may not make for the most comfortable night’s sleep, your body heat will help to regulate the temperature of the water. Keeping the water inside of your coat during the day will also help with this.
For situations where this may not be possible, burying your water under the snow is another great prospect. Snow is actually an insulating body, so it is commonly believed that burying your water will help it retain some form of heat and prevent freezing.
The greatest solution is to always take more water than you think you will reasonably need. While having water accessible while camping is always critical, it’s an extra important point of consideration when you have a four-legged companion. Being properly hydrated will help to keep your pup warm.
Bonus Tip: Storing your water container upside down ensures that the bottom will freeze first. This will help the mouthpiece stay functional. Ideally, some water will still be able to be extracted from the top of the bottle if needed.
6. Pack a puffer jacket – and a puppy jacket!
Coats on dogs aren’t just a city-slicker fashion statement. They have a great practical purpose, especially when you’re getting out and about in the wintertime.
There are so many options on the market: wind-resistant, waterproof, fleece-lined, or all-purpose. Since you’ve already researched the weather you’re likely to experience while away, you’ll be able to make a choice best suited to your environment. Choosing the right jacket will keep your pooch comfortable and prevent cold-weather complications such as hypothermia.
Vibrantly colored and reflective coats are also a great way to quickly spot your dog in reduced visibility. Cold-climate dogs often evolved white coats, to help them blend in with their environment. This was great for their jobs at the time, but maybe not for a family weekend away on a snowy mountain. Has anyone seen Rufus?
7. Invest in cold-weather dog booties.
Unfortunately, our dogs aren’t any more immune to frostbite than we are. Booties will protect their paws from any extra exposure to the elements, while also preventing other injuries that can be commonly caused by rough terrains.
Bonus Tip: Winter camping can get messy. Unlike dirty paws, dirty booties can be removed before heading into the tent of an evening. Keeping your pet safe as well as being a time saver? Big win!
8. Consider your dog’s natural coat.
Winter camping with your Alaskan Malamute? Their thick, insulated coat is likely to handle the trip much better than the thin fur of a Greyhound. Considering your dog’s natural abilities to cope with the cold will help you prepare for your trip.
Keep in mind that an arctic breed born and raised in a Florida home may still not be prepared for a snowy climate. If they haven’t been exposed to such conditions before, a drastic change in temperature can be a shock to the system for even the most well-equipped breed. Heading out for a hike on a particularly cold weekend, or starting with a short overnight trip, will be the best way to gauge how your dog will handle an extended camping trip.
Bonus: Top Winter Camping with Dogs FAQs
You have the basics covered, but you really can’t be too prepared when camping with your dog. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to winter camping.
How cold is too cold for a dog?
As a general rule, the majority of dogs will not require any extra protection from the cold if the temperature is at or above 45°F. Below this point, some smaller breeds and short-haired dogs will require the extra protection of a coat. Once temperatures reach 35°F, for the majority of breeds unprotected exposure to the cold should be limited and carefully monitored.
Senior dogs and very young puppies are more sensitive to the cold than their middle-aged counterparts, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Can dogs suffer from hypothermia? What are the signs of hypothermia in a dog?
Yes! Hypothermia is a real risk when winter camping with your dog. Keep an eye on your pup. If they are lethargic, shivering, or stumbling, seek proper shelter immediately. Hypothermia in pets can be deadly.
I’ve never taken my dog winter camping.
Taking your dog camping depends completely on your confidence levels and previous experience. If you’re an avid camper and can mitigate risks when camping in regular temperatures, you may be able to tackle your very first winter camping trip with your dog in tow.
If you have never been camping before, period, this may not be the ideal experience for a beginner. Again, consider your local climate.
Are temperatures throughout winter still fairly mild? This is very different from a trek through the mountains or the snow, where the weather will be less predictable.
It’s important to know your limits when camping in severe conditions. If you overestimate your abilities and become subject to frostbite or hypothermia yourself, who will care for your dog? Do you have the first aid experience and wilderness skills to be able to navigate your way out of that situation?