Written by @goaheadriley
This is your sign to go winter hiking with your dog!
Winter is officially here, and while many of my friends have hung up their hiking boots for the season, my dog Riley and I are just getting started! We love hiking in the winter because the views are magnificent, we often have the trail all to ourselves, and let me tell you the sense of accomplishment is off the charts! Yes, cold, and snowy conditions can be intimidating at first, but with the right gear and preparation, winter hiking is certainly possible and incredibly fun! Whether you and your pooch have many miles under your leash or if you’re more of a hiking novice, there are a few things to keep in mind before setting out on your first winter adventure!
Choosing the right hike!
Your choice in trail is the first and most important step in planning a winter hike with your dog. You will need to consider the weather, trail conditions, and of course, the general characteristics of the hike (distance, elevation gain, and difficulty).
Hiking in the snow will certainly slow you down, so make sure to choose a hike that is well within you and your dog’s capabilities (personally, I choose hikes that are a tier lower in difficulty than the ones I hike in the summer). In fact, for your first winter hike I highly recommend you revisit a trail you are already familiar with! Next, try and research the trail’s conditions – read comments and reviews on websites like alltrails.com to learn firsthand from other hikers.
Keep an eye out for notes about the snow being packed down (much easier to walk on) and if microspikes (used for traction on ice) or snowshoes (used for flotation on fresh snow) were helpful. Otherwise, be sure to choose a somewhat popular hike (don’t worry, it won’t be crowded in the winter). Chances are people have hiked there since the last snowfall, making it easier for you to navigate. Finally, check the forecast – if there are strong winds or any other inclement weather, you’ll want to reconsider. But if you found a doable hike on a beautiful day, you are good to go!
Just like your wardrobe changes in the winter, so should your dog’s! Now, there are no hard and fast rules for what cold gear a dog needs (it all depends on age, breed, and health), but there are a couple of items that might be useful:
Dog Coat/Jacket: Small dogs, short haired dogs, lean dogs, puppies, and senior dogs will not do well in the cold without a coat or a jacket. Look for proper fit and good coverage – this means the dog can move comfortably, both the back and belly are covered, and bathroom activities are unimpeded.
Dog Booties: Dog booties are designed to protect the paws from harsh conditions. What determines harsh conditions depends, for the most part, on your dog. If you know they have some sort of sensitivity or if they are showing signs of discomfort, it's time to protect those paws. Again, proper fit is paramount!
If you have any questions or concerns about cold gear for your dog, ask your veterinarian!
Winter hiking can be so much fun, just be aware that it brings its own set of hazards. Navigation can be challenging, especially on a snow covered trail – a digital map with GPS capabilities and/or a satellite phone are incredibly useful. If you see ice on a river or a lake, it's best to steer clear unless you are confident that it's safe. Additionally, do some research on avalanche terrain in the area or better yet take an avalanche course (they are easy to find and many intro courses are free!). Ultimately, like on any hike, be willing to turn back if you feel like you or your dog’s safety is in jeopardy.
Now that logistics, gear, and safety are taken care of, it's time for your adventure! We hope you enjoy the beauty that winter hiking has to offer. Happy trails!