You’ve spent the past hour hunting for a new dog-friendly hiking trail to tackle this weekend. One constant tagline stands out to you: “dogs permitted on-leash only”. That’s when you know you should get the best dog leash for hiking.
For some, hikes with this rule will be an instant skip.
An experienced dog and hiker duo, however, can appreciate that leashes certainly do have their place on the trail. They know better than just grabbing the cheapest lead available and heading off into the wilderness.
Different types of restraints will give different hiking experiences, so doing your research is crucial. Let’s take a look at the different types of leashes available and which is the best dog leash for hiking.
Our 3 top hiking leash picks (if you need to know now)!
What To Look For In A Hiking Leash
Not all hiking leashes are the same. Let’s break it down into the different leashes and why you would choose a particular one.
The Different Types of Leash
When you picture a leash, this is likely the style you will think of. A standard leash is suitable for use in most situations and on most dogs. It is made for walking and comes without any bells and whistles.
They are sold in a variety of lengths and materials. Most commonly they will be made of nylon, which makes them a sturdy and cost-effective choice for the more casual dog and owner hiking duo. They’re a great addition to your gear, as you really can’t go wrong with this style.
Double leashes connect two dogs via one single leash. They’re a fantastic choice if you hike with two dogs who are similar in size and temperament. A double leash allows you to free up one hand – always a bonus when you’re out on the trail!
I would not recommend this option if you have dogs that pull, or if you struggle to completely control your dogs due to their size or weight. When used correctly these leashes are a fantastic choice, but they can throw off the balance of a not-so-confident owner or cause discomfort for the ‘slower’ pet if your dogs are not on par.
Retractable leashes consist of an extendable nylon cord and plastic handle and vary in length, usually between 4 and 30 feet long. They work in the same way as a measuring tape, meaning that the line can be locked at your preference and retracted back into the handle.
This style of leash is slightly controversial. When used properly, it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal. It’s only when they are used incorrectly or irresponsibly that issues begin to arise.
For this reason, retractable leashes are best used by experienced owners who have a developed understanding of their dogs’ temperament and behavior. They are a great choice if you have a well-mannered dog who enjoys a bit of freedom out on the trail.
A hands-free leash is exactly what it sounds like: hands-free! The cord of the leash usually wraps around the owner’s waist or clips to their belt. Many come with a proper handle attachment as well, for moments when you need more control over your dog.
I’ve had both good and bad experiences with hands-free leashes. They’re a great way to free up your hands for rock scrambling while still keeping your dog secure, but they can also easily upset your balance in precarious situations.
Slip leashes are a two-in-one package. They combine the collar and the leash into one simple and easy-to-carry product. At one end is a ring, which loops around your dog’s neck like a collar, and at the other is a standard leash handle.
Slip leashes are popular on off-leash trails and longer hikes, where you want to be able to quickly leash and unleash your dog depending on your company and surroundings.
I also find them great to have in your pack as a backup leash. If your dog’s collar breaks or becomes damaged, you can easily replace it with a slip leash and carry on with your hike.
Hiking harnesses are a great alternative to the traditional leash and collar combination. They fasten around your dog’s chest rather than their throat, reducing pressure around the neck. This makes them incredibly comfortable and a great choice for hiking.
There are three main styles of harnesses available on the market. You can choose between those with a front attachment, back attachment, or both. Each provides a different level of control over your dog.
Personally, I prefer back-attaching harnesses. My dogs are well-behaved on the leash and this style allows them more freedom to experience the hike.
Choosing A Material
Nylon leashes are sturdy and affordable. They’re also one of the most lightweight options, which makes them a great option for hiking.
The downside is that they are easily chewed through. If your dog tends to chew on their leash, you may want to avoid nylon.
A leather leash is the next step up from a nylon leash. While they’re still subject to chewing, they don’t fray as easily and will be able to withstand higher levels of wear and tear.
If your dog is prone to chewing then a chain leash could be perfect for you. Since they’re made of metal, they are absolutely chew-proof and very sturdy. However, this also makes them very heavy.
If you opt to use a chain, you should make sure your dog is already trained and well-behaved on leash. They can be quite uncomfortable for your dog if not utilized correctly. You’ll also want to be wary of your hands if you have a dog that tends to pull or risk losing a bit of skin.
Rope leashes are made of strong, braided material. They can easily absorb shocks, as well as withstand pulling and chewing. They are a fantastic choice for big dogs or dogs who like to pull while on leash.
Reflective leashes aren’t a specific material, per se, but I still felt that they deserved a mention. They have come in handy for me while hiking quite a few times and I really couldn’t recommend them enough.
They are often made of nylon and have a reflective strip lined down the middle of the lead. This improves visibility at night time and plays a big part in keeping your dog safe.
They’re great for overnight hikes and in wet or foggy weather, when you and your pup may be difficult for cars or other hikers to spot.
Our Top Six Hiking Leash Recommendations
1. Best Harness for Hiking: Ruffwear Web Master Harness
Ruffwear makes some of the best products on the market, and their Web Master harness is no exception. This is my absolute go-to for harness hiking.
It’s a highly versatile piece of equipment that can be used on both busy trails and in situations where you’d like to give your dog a little more freedom, day or night.
The harness provides a close fit with five adjustment points, preventing any possible escapes and making it comfortable for your dog. It’s designed with both front and back attachment points and a reflective safety strip.
It also comes with a lift and assist handle. This is an absolute game-changer when hiking! The handle allows you to lift your dog over obstacles on the trail and provide them with extra support when needed.
Another thoughtful addition is the inner padding. This makes being lifted far more comfortable for your dog and is also just nicer for them to wear in general.
While it’s technically not a leash, I prefer this harness as it goes well with other traditional leashes and it’s more comfortable than a leash-and-collar combination for longer hikes.
2. Best Retractable Dog Leash for Hiking: TUG 360 Retractable Leash
It really is the small touches that make all the difference when choosing a retractable leash for hiking. Ideally, you want to select a style that fits your hand well so that you are able to react quickly with the lock button and to prevent yourself from dropping the lead.
The TUG 360 comes with an easy-lock button and anti-slip grip handle. This style of handle is particularly helpful if you love getting outside regardless of the weather. You don’t want to be stuck with a leash that becomes damp and slippery in the rain or mist, as this is a hazard for both you and your dog.
You can purchase this leash in four sizes: tiny (for dogs 26 lbs and under), small (for dogs 35 lbs and under), medium (for dogs 55 lbs and under), and large (for dogs 110lbs and under).
3. Best Hands-Free Dog Leash for Hiking: iYo Shop Hands-Free Dog Leash
Duo padded handles, a zipper pouch, three rows of reflective threading – what more could you ask for? The iYo Shop Hands-Free Dog Leash is the ultimate purchase if you’re looking for an easy hiking experience.
This leash comes in two sizes: medium (for dogs between 8lbs and 25lbs) and large (for dogs between 25lbs and 150lbs). In length, both sizes measure in at 4 feet, with the bungee sections allowing it to extend up to 12” when possible.
If you’re a bit of a fashionista, you’ll also be pleased to know that it’s available in ten different color combinations.
To prevent any tugging, this leash comes with two double shock absorbers and a special ‘traffic control’ handle for situations where you need to maneuver your dog more carefully. Pulling can cause major issues when using a hands-free leash, since your dog is tied directly to your center of gravity.
I’ve found that the double shock absorbers are a great way to combat this drawback and make this style of lead far more practical.
4. Best Hiking Leash for Dogs That Chew: S-ETOVUS Chew Resistant Chain Leash
Tackling a multi-day hike with a dog who is prone to chewing its leash can feel intimidating. Are you going to end up with a torn leash halfway through your adventure and need to turn back? Do you loathe having to carry two spare leashes, taking up precious room that you could be using for more exciting equipment?
Only one of my dogs is a chewer but boy, do they still keep me on my toes! If you’re in the same boat, then the S-ETOVUS Chew Resistant Chain Leash is a great option for longer hikes. It also helps to dissuade your dog from chewing in general.
This product comes in two lengths and weight categories. You can choose between a 4-foot leash or 5.2-foot leash, with the 3.0mm size being perfect for small to medium dogs and the 3.5mm size being suited to medium and large dogs.
Many people question the longevity of chain leads once they are exposed to the weather. For peace of mind, this leash is made of chrome-plated metal to prevent rusting. The padded handle also prevents any chafe from the chain, a prevalent issue with this style of leash.
Despite the success I’ve had with this product, I wouldn’t recommend any chain leash for continuous use. They are very heavy and can be uncomfortable for both dog and owner, so I would only use them when absolutely necessary. I would also recommend giving them a miss if you own a smaller dog and perhaps try a leather leash instead.
5. Best Hiking Leash All-Rounder: PetSafe Nylon Dog Leash
If you hike with different dogs on different occasions, then the PetSafe Nylon Dog Leash is a great choice, as it’s likely to work for both of them! There isn’t much that needs to be said about this option: it’s a high-quality, standard nylon leash that is durable and will get the job done.
The PetSafe leash comes in multiple colors, widths, and lengths. It is a perfect all-rounder option if you’re looking for an introductory leash or something affordable but long-lasting.
And just because we like to be prepared for any situation…
6. Best Back-Up Leash: Mendota Slip Lead
The Mendota Slip Lead is always in my hiking pack in case of an emergency. As I mentioned previously, I feel a slip leash is important to have in case your dog’s collar breaks and you are left without an attachment point for your standard leash.
This leash in particular is a favorite. It can be purchased at a length of either 4 feet or 6 feet and comes in two different widths for small to large dogs (½ inch and ⅜ inch, respectively).
What really sets it apart, however, is its great price point and durability. It is made of multifilament braided polypropylene. This choice of material makes it hardy and long-lasting, but also softer to the touch than many other options on the market. An important design choice, considering it loops directly around your dog’s neck!
As a nice bonus, this leash is machine washable. You can feel free to really get out there and explore without having to worry too much about the aftermath. Again, great for emergency use!
FAQ on The Best Dog Leash for Hiking
You’ve learned the basics and looked at six of the top choices available on the market. What else do you need to know about choosing the best dog lead for hiking in 2023?
1. What is the best leash length for hiking?
Leash length varies greatly from product to product. Which length works best for you will depend on your dog’s training and abilities, as well as your own confidence in your ability to manage them.
Shorter leashes are best on busier trails. They provide you with far more control over the situation than a longer leash, like a retractable one, where your dog has extended freedom of movement.
They are a great choice if your dog does not do well with strangers or wildlife and you need to be able to keep a close eye on them.
I like to take multi-day hikes, so I prefer to use a long dog leash for hiking. I find that they keep my dog more comfortable when walking for extended periods of time.
They’re also a great option for training if you’re hoping to test out some new skills.
Keep in mind that most national parks cap allowable leash lengths at 6 feet long. Take the time to look into the requirements of your upcoming hikes before making any investments.
2. Do leashes have weight restrictions?
As a general rule, thin leashes are best suited to small dogs and thicker leashes are ideal for bigger dogs. If you have a dog with a strong pull, you may want to size up to prevent breakage.
Generally, though, a leash that is too thick and heavy for your dog’s size will quickly become cumbersome for you both.
Nobody wants to be caught out on the trail with a snapped leash. To prevent this situation, take a look at the weight and size recommendations of different leashes before making any purchases.
3. Can any dog use a harness?
Like any tool, some dogs will respond better to a harness than others.
Typically, harnesses aren’t recommended for breeds with a natural instinct to pull; think sledding dogs such as Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes.
Ultimately, however, any dog can learn to walk and hike in a harness, as long as you’re willing to put the time into training them.