Winter Camping With Your Dog

As the leaves start to fall and the weather cools thoughts start to turn to winter camping. For those of us with dogs is also raises the question of how to go winter camping with your dog.

Since dogs descended from wolves, many dog breeds definitely have the capability to handle colder temperatures outside but being that they have spent their time living indoors with us you need to prepare properly before taking your dog winter camping.

Breed considerations

Not all dog breeds handle the cold the same. A pug isn’t going to do as well as a husky when the temperatures are below freezing.

Long-haired dogs and breeds that come from cold climates will tend to do better with minimal additional assistance.

The size of your dog plays a big role as well. I have a pug and he doesn’t do well in deep snow as his legs aren’t long enough.

In cases of deep snow or fresh powder, I will have him follow me as my snowshoes compress the snow making it easier for him to make it through.

How cold is too cold for my dog?

This will vary based on breed but generally, 0 Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) would be the lower limit for most breeds of dog. The cold air is hard on the lungs and the risk of hypothermia increases dramatically at these temperatures.

Our dogs will follow us just about anywhere and aren’t the best at letting us know if something is wrong.

When you go out in cold temperatures regularly monitor your dog for signs hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Slow breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Whimpering

What to do if my dog is hypothermic?

If you dog is hypothermic you need to get them warmed up. Dry them off with a towel.

Get an insulated pad down on the ground and wrap them up in a blanket or sleeping bag

Make a hot water bottle by boiling water and putting it in a Nalgene bottle. Place the bottle in a sock so it isn’t too hot against their body. 

Cuddle up with them to share your body heat.

Test before you commit

Our recommendation for any winter camping techniques, including going out with your dog is to test them at home before you head out.

It is better to get your system dialed in when you can bail and go in the house to warm up rather than find out in the woods that you misjudged what your dog can handle.

Do progressively longer hikes in the snow to test your dog’s reaction to the cold. This way you can head back into the house or a warm car if they start to get too cold.

This will both help with figuring out their cold tolerance and help build fitness as hiking in snow is more demanding than walking on the sidewalk.

Camp out in the backyard to test your sleep system and get your dog accustomed to sleeping in a tent. 

Keep them hydrated

Just like people, dogs need adequate hydration to stay warm. Our blood is water based and when we get dehydrated it gets hard for our heart to move the warm blood around the body.

Bring an insulated water bottle and dog dish to regularly offer your dog water so they stay as hydrated as you do.

Bring extra food

It takes calories to generate heat so budget for the weight of extra food for your dog. Even consider finding a higher calorie alternative to their regular food so they get extra calories for the volume of food they eat.

Just like with kids we find that lots of treats while hiking keeps our dog engaged and happy even when the going gets tough.

Keep them dry

When warm dog meets snow, you will get melting and eventually a wet dog. As water evaporates it causes a lot of cooling which can be enough to cause hypothermia.

Dogs don’t get to wear waterproof pants and jackets like we do so you will have to pay attention to how wet they get and regularly dry them off.

Bring a micro fiber camp towel specifically to dry off your dog. If they aren’t wearing booties pay particular attention to their paws as pain ice balls can build up on their pads.

Doggy outdoor gear

Just as you equip yourself with the right gear to handle the cold, wet conditions of winter you can do the same for your dog. 


Since they have a coat of fur you don’t need to have every inch of your dog covered but an insulated doggy jacket can help keep your dog warm in winter. Brands like Ruff Wear make a series of jackets to keep your dog warm and dry.

They come in a number of sizes to fit just about any dog.

The Ruff Wear Powder Hound insulated winter jacket has a breathable, water resistant shell with synthetic insulation to handle the coldest temperatures. 

Ruff Wear Powder Hound insulated winter jacket

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Your dog’s paws are susceptible to icing up which can be painful. Keep their paws warm and dry with insulated doggy boots.

The Ruff Wear Polar Trex boots give good traction and are water proof. With booties practice at home as it took a bit of practice before my dog was willing to wear them Initially, he would try to pull them off and when he first started walking in them it was a comedy show as he didn’t know how to walk in them.

Now he gets excited when his winter gear comes out because he knows we are going on an adventure.

Ruff Wear Polar Trex

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If you are heading into the woods any time you can get your dog to carry part of the load of their gear with a doggy backpack.

The Ruff Wear Palisades dog pack has water bladders so they can carry their own water when the temperatures are above freezing plus extra storage capacity for food or other gear. 

Don’t overload your dog as it can put undo load on their backs. How much weight they can carry will vary based on the size of your dog and their fitness level.

My dog weighs 22 lbs and I limit his load to 3 lbs or 15 percent of his body weight. I generally just have him carry some of his food. Just like with us, as the trip goes on his pack will get lighter.

When figuring the load take into account the weight of the pack. Our size small Ruff Wear pack weighs almost a pound.

Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack

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Camp Towel

Bring a dedicated micro fiber pack towel to dry your dog off. Since they come in many sizes you should be able to find a towel size that is appropriate for your dog. Unless you want to smell like wet dog, you won’t want to be sharing towels with your pooch.

I use a Pack Towel in the hand towel size for my dog but he is on the small size.   

PackTowl Personal Towel

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Sleeping system

When setting up a sleeping system for your dog they need the same kind of set up we do. 

You will need an insulated sleeping pad to insulate them from the cold of the ground. Because of their claws we recommend against any type of inflatable sleeping pad.

Folding foam pads such as the Thermarest Z-lite are perfect as they won’t get punctured and can easily be doubled up to maximize insulation. 

Adding a fleece or wool blanket is recommended as well to increase their warmth while still being relatively light to carry.

Depending on the breed of your dog they may need more insulation on or around them so they can also wear their jacket to bed for extra warmth. Just like us it is smart to bring an extra thermal jacket for sleeping purposed to guarantee it is dry.

When sleeping in a tent with your dog it is smart to put a ground sheet or tarp inside the tent to reduce the risk of their claws puncturing the floor of the tent. This can be an actual tent ground sheet, or you can make it from Tyvek which can be bought at most home improvement stores.

Therm-a-Rest Original Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

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When you want to go winter camping with your dog you need to prepare and equip them just like you would yourself. While dogs have a nice fur coat, they are still susceptible to the cold and hypothermia. 

Depending on the fitness level and size of your dog expect to move fairly quickly when hiking but budget extra time to monitor and look after your dog as taking them winter camping add an extra level of complexity.

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