Planning a thru-hike is strenuous enough, but throwing a dog into the mix turns the planning process into a part-time job. You’re now putting together food lists, emergency prep plans and trying to build packs for two, and one of y’all can’t exactly lend a helping hand. If you’re considering taking your pooch on your next long distance hike here are the pros and cons you need to keep in mind.
Pro: You’ll have a friend
Thru-hikes can be lonely endeavors and, even for the most introverted among us, weeks without interaction can become draining. Having your four-legged best friend on hand means you never have to go it alone and won’t be lacking in companionship. He might not be able to talk to you, but he’ll be happy to just sit around and listen to water with you. Plus, there’s zero chance of you getting into heated arguments about who ate the last Clif bar.
Con: He’s kind of high maintenance
Dogs are great companions but they’re also pretty damn needy. They’ve got to be exercised incessantly, which the trail will take care of, but they also have to be watched like a hawk so they don’t get into trouble. Your dog won’t realize that copperhead on the trail isn’t his friend and it’s up to you to make sure he doesn’t try to play with it. He’s also going to try and eat everything in sight, so you’ll have to be extra vigilant.
Don’t forget about cleaning up his poop!
Pro: He’ll keep you warm
Most thru-hikes last multiple seasons and at some point you’re going to feel that cold air nipping at your heels. Your dog will gladly stand in to help keep you from freezing overnight. Pups make great cuddle buddies when they’re not trying to stretch and push you out of the tent.
Con: He’ll need extra training
Basic commands aren’t going to be enough to keep your dog safe on the trail. You have to be certain he’ll come when called, stay by your side when instructed and, most importantly, leave things alone when you say. Otherwise you’re asking for trouble and some pretty hefty vet bills—if you manage to get him to a hospital in time.
Sign your dog up for training classes that focus on off-leash skills, but also reassert your own abilities to make him follow the simple directions most dogs should already know. It’s life and death out there.
Pro: He’ll help you make friends
There’s nothing better to help you make friends than having a dog by your side. They’re definite people magnets with their adorable faces and affable personalities, so they can help you out if your social skills kind of suck. Believe it or not, meeting people out on the trail is actually one of the best parts of doing a thru-hike.
Con: He can’t carry his own weight
While your dog might be able to handle a small load over his back, don’t expect him to do any heavy lifting. A thru-hike is hard on a dog’s body and contrary to popular belief it’s not safe to stick extra gear in his pack that you don’t want to carry yourself. He isn’t a pack mule and his back can’t handle much extra weight, especially over long distances, so you’ll have to handle his food yourself. Speaking of which, if you forget to add that to one of your resupply boxes you’re going to have a bad day.
There are plenty of arguments for and against taking your dog along with you on a thru-hike, but with proper planning it can safely be done. Whether or not you’re up to the task is something to seriously consider before heading out. Your dog can be a great companion if done properly, or a huge liability if you go in half-baked.