Car Camping vs. Backpacking with Your Dog

Posted by on 06/12/2017


Car camping or backpacking with your dog is the perfect way to enjoy the great outdoors while strengthening your bond with your canine companion. There’s nothing quite like spending a night under the stars after enjoying some hot chocolate and s’mores by the campfire. 

Traditionally, car camping is thought of as spending a night at a campground where you can easily access your car. Most often you can park at your campsite or very close to a “walk-in-site” (less than 200m from your car). Backpacking involves loading up your gear and hiking into the wilderness to find a place where no cars go. You can only bring what you can carry and you are often a few miles from the trailhead. 

Both car camping and backpacking have their pros and cons – so which one is the right one for you? Below are five things to consider when deciding which is best for you and your pup:

  • How experienced is your pup in the wilderness? If this is your pup’s first time spending a night in the wild you may want to consider car camping. Has your pup slept in a tent before or even seen a tent? Some dogs are scared of being in enclosed spaces and some dogs have a tendency to bolt – how will your pup react to being zipped in with you? Car camping allows you an easy out if things aren’t working as well as you’d hoped.
  • Is your dog physically capable of trekking to your backcountry campsite? It takes training and conditioning for a dog to be backcountry ready. If the most physical activity they’ve had is talking a walk around the block and your backpacking adventure is 10 miles, you may want to consider car camping. On the other hand, if you camp and hike regularly, then backpacking may be right up your alley! You’ll also want to consider if your pup has any special needs or health conditions. While this absolutely does not preclude them from backpacking, it may limit the distance you are able to go or there may be extra items you need to pack. No matter which you choose, make sure you familiarize yourself with the area that you are headed, including knowing where your nearest emergency vet is.
  • How dog friendly are the areas that you’re considering? Many parks and organized campgrounds have specific rules on where your dog can and can’t go. Be aware of any of the rules and laws in place, such as lead laws – some parks require leades no longer than 6 feet. If you’re headed to an organized campground check their website or call ahead and ensure that your furry friend is allowed to go with you. If you’re headed to a primitive campsite read up on the provincial/state land use rules. Choose your adventure based on what’s safest for you and your pup.
  • How much time do you have? If you have time restrictions, car camping may be the better option for you. If you can only break away from everyday life for a short period of time, car camping allows you to get out and enjoy the wilderness.
  • What do you value most when you’re enjoying the great outdoors? If you like convenience, car camping may be best for you. You can enjoy fresh air while snuggling in a pile of 10 blankets and 15 pillows. If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle and are willing to trek a little ways to enjoy some peace and quiet, then backpacking is probably your thing.

Whether you choose car camping or backpacking with your dog, it’s important that you bring the right gear. Most of the time you can share gear with your pup, but sometimes it’s nice for them to have their own. Below are the types of gear you need to consider and some suggestions on what you could bring.

  • Bed and Blanket: For a good nights sleeping you want your pup to be as comfy in the tent as they are at home so consider bringing along a portable bed like the Kurgo Loft Wander Dog Bed. If your pup doesn’t have a double coat you may want to bring a blanket for them too to help keep them warm.
  • Coat: One of the great things about camping is hanging out and enjoying nature. When the sun goes down it can get quite cool so bringing along a packable jacket like the Kurgo Loft Jacket will ensure that your pup is cozy and warm.
  • Food and Water: With all the excitement of being outdoors you may find your pup a little more thirsty and a little more hungry than normal. Bring along a little extra water and a little extra food to keep make sure they are getting their nutritional requirements. If you’re backpacking, consider bringing freeze dried food to top off your pup’s meal and to lighten your pack. Don’t forget to bring along a bowl and of course remember to bring those duty bags to pick up after they go!
  • First Aid Kit: Everyone will need something a little different in their first aid kits but we cover the basic supplies as well as some first aid tips in our article First Aid for Fido on the Trail.
  • Safety Gear: When the sun goes down you and your pup may still be awake, so bring along some reflective gear or light up gear for night time adventures.
  • Backpack: If you’re backpacking or feeling extra adventurous and heading out for a day hike be sure to bring along a backpack for your pup so they can help carry their own things. It’s important to condition your pup to carrying a pack and to not overload it. We recommend not exceeding 15% of their body weight to ensure there is no extra stress on their bones and joints.

While it’s important to plan, it’s equally important to accept that things may not go according to plan. At the end of the day this should be an enjoyable trip for both you and your pup so relax and have some fun! Enjoy everything that nature has to offer and allow your pup to indulge, too.

Dogs That Hike started in the Canadian Rockies as an Instagram account that aimed to show the world the amazing adventures of our four legged friends. During their growth they loved seeing all of the places that their community of outdoor enthusiasts went and the gear that they used. It inspired them to create their site as a resource to those who are looking to get outdoors with their dogs and are seeking information to help them on their journey. Visit them at or check them out on Instagram and Facebook @dogsthathike.