Winter camping is a whole other animal for many of us who were simply use to fair weather camping growing up. I believe the physical demands are increased dramatically and all of that while it’s dangerously cold out. The gear is heavier, there is more of it, clothing choices and layering can have tremendous impacts on not only the enjoyment of being out in the winter but also to our physical wellbeing. But with proper knowledge and planning it can open up MONTHS of amazing time outdoors during the year when we can’t do our favourite thing at Paddle In: Paddle.
All that being said if I am enjoying time in the outdoors, I want my dog to be out there with me. Nothing makes me smile more then seeing our four legged friends out on trips with their owners appreciating and enjoying the outdoors. So in that spirit I’ve put together a few tips and things to consider in deciding whether your pup is ready to tackle Old Man Winter with you, or whether they are best left in the comfort of your home while you get out during the snowy months. Many of these are the same considerations we contemplate for ourselves before deciding to embark on an adventure.
NOTE: I would suggest having a camp out in your backyard in weather similar to what you plan on going out in with your dog. This is good practice for any new piece of gear that is integral to your chosen activity but I think especially so in this instance.
We should ask ourselves this same question no matter what activity we or our pups are about to tackle: are they in the proper physical condition to handle the demands. The same way we question “Can our pup handle a 15km/day hiking trip?”, we need to ask ourselves if they are in good enough physical shape to travel through the snow with us. Remember, it can be physically challenging even with snowshoes on trudging through the snow and considering our four legged friends can’t wear them (yet, anyway lol) it can be that much harder on them trying to bunny hop through 3 feet of snow. In this same light ask yourself how they behave on normal days and walks outside in the winter: do they relish rolling in the snow and spending the time outside in the winter? Or do they simple want to go out, do their business and scurry back inside? But I assume if you’re considering taking them with you winter camping you already have an idea of their tolerance for cold.
A few things to consider about prolonged time out in the winter vs shorter walks.
1) Snow and Ice build up in their paws.
This is something that was not an issue with my lab but has been a constant battle for me the last few years since my Golden started coming with me. I’ve tried most dog booties out there and still haven’t found one that has stayed on her feet. As such you can minimize the buildup by trimming the fur between their pads and around the foot before hand and oddly enough the most successful non-boot option I’ve found is to rub some basic lard in between the pads and on the foot. Not only does it work well at stopping the ice from forming but also gives them a nice treat once they realized they have pure animal fat on their feet!
That being said there are many booties out there people have had success with so have a look at everything from traditional dog sled boots to fancier ones. Find one that works and your pup with thank you! Also, be sure to take a video for me of the first time you put them on inside. Always good for a laugh!
2) Warming Coat
Even though my golden is a long haired dog, after a long day in the snow and playing around, once we stop and sit for an hour or so she will start to feel the chill. Having a coat for her while sitting by the ice fishing hole or simply enjoying a break during a day hike goes a long way in keeping her warm and comfy. The need for a coat is increased exponentially for a short haired dog, which again I’m sure you know if you have one who has lived through Canadian winters.
Same as us, our dogs need insulation underneath from the cold ground and insulation on top to hold body heat in.
As for ground insulation the simplest and most cost effective is a few layers of closed cell foam. I use 2 layers of a foam thats R value is 2.0, giving a total of 4. If it’s going to get REALLY cold I’ll bring a 3rd layer. The foam also serves double duty if sitting out fishing or for a stop on a hike as I can throw it down on top of the snow for her to give her something Insulated to nap on.
As for top cover there are many options. Synthetic quilt, fleece blankets, or even a down quilt if they are spoiled like Callie is. The choice is yours and it’s warmth and thickness should be based on breed, cold tolerance, etc.
These are just a few tips and things to consider. And as always please make sure you have a dog oriented first aid kit with you. This could be a whole other topic of discussion but a quick Google search can get you started on a few things to add to your human first aid kit for you pup.
Bring your four legged friend on all your varied adventures throughout the year. If comfortable and prepared, like you they will relish exploring the outdoors in all seasons.