Although we don’t own a dog ourselves, we’ve certainly camped with people who do—and along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to keep your dog warm while camping.
If you’re going to take your dog or puppy on a camping trip, it’s important to make the trip as comfortable as you can for them. And while you may be more preoccupied with things like bugs, bears, and high heat, one of the elements you shouldn’t ignore is cold weather—especially if you’re camping in the mountains or in the shoulder seasons when temperatures can drop near or below freezing at night.
First of all, where does your dog sleep when camping?
The answer to this largely depends on what type of camping you’re doing. For instance, if you’re frontcountry camping with a car or RV, you have the option to let your dog sleep in your vehicle.
If you’re backcountry camping, then you’re probably going to have your dog sleep inside your tent with you—perhaps with the exception of some larger breeds that do well in cold weather (like huskies or malamutes).
This means that you may need a roomier tent (perhaps a double, three-person, or larger) to accommodate both you, your furry friend, and anyone else who may be sleeping in it with you. Of course, this depends a lot on the size of your dog and where they might sleep.
Do dogs sleep well in tents?
The answer to this is usually yes, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, if your dog is used to sleeping in a crate at home, you may want to consider bringing the crate with you and placing it inside your tent (as long as there’s room for it).
Same goes for a dog bed. If they like to sleep in their dog bed, bring it along for the trip. This will give them a familiar space to sleep in and help them feel more comfortable.
Does your dog prefer to sleep on top of your bed when you’re at home? You may want to let them do this while you’re camping too—perhaps by allowing them to sleep between you and a partner, which will give them some extra warmth from your body heat.
Suggestion: Consider a doggy travel tent
If you want to give your dog their own space to sleep in while camping, another option is to bring along a doggy travel tent. These are small, lightweight tents that are designed for dogs and provide a space for them to sleep in that’s just big enough for them.
The Yolafe portable pet tent is designed for pets (so it’s scratch-proof) and can withstand heavy rainfall, making it a great option for dogs that may be comfortable sleeping in their own little tent. Yo could even place their dog bed in it if it fits and doesn’t make the space too cramped for them.
15 tips on how to keep your dog warm while camping
We’ve both spoken to and observed how our friends keep their dogs warm when they bring them camping with us. Here are some of the best tips we’ve gathered.
Tip #1: Understand your dog’s limits
Not all dogs are made equal, and you know your dog best. From their breed, to their age, to their individual preferences—some dogs just don’t do well in the cold.
In general, smaller dog breeds don’t handle cold weather as well as larger breeds. And if your dog is older, they may have a harder time regulating their body temperature—which means you’ll need to take extra care of them in colder weather.
If you’re not sure how your dog will do in the cold, start by doing some research on their breed and then observing how they act in colder weather at home. If you have any concerns, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before heading out on a camping trip.
In many cases, it’s often best to leave them with a friend or loved one who can look after them.
However, if you do decide to bring them along for the trip, make sure you keep an eye on how they’re doing and be prepared to head back to the car or make camp early if they’re showing signs of distress.
Tip #2: Avoid camping in too cold temperatures
Nighttime temperatures can dip below freezing—especially in the spring and fall. But that doesn’t mean you won’t experience cold weather in summer either. Make sure you check the average nighttime lows before you plan a trip.
In general, it’s best to avoid camping in temperatures that are below 50°F (10°C). But this really depends on your dog—some may be okay in cooler weather while others may start to experience discomfort at slightly higher temperatures.
If you’re unsure how your dog will do, err on the side of caution and plan your trip for warmer weather. You can always bring along some extra layers for them to wear if necessary (more on this later).
Tip #3: Pick a sheltered campsite or spot to set up your tent
When you’re looking for a campsite (especially a backcountry campsite), try to find one that’s sheltered from the wind. Stronger winds can make it feel much colder than it actually is.
Keep in mind that the closer you camp to a large body of water, such as a lake, the windier and cooler it’s expected to be. If you can, try to camp in a wooded area where trees will help block some of the wind.
If there are no trees or sheltered areas around, you can always build a makeshift windbreak by hanging a tarp between two trees.
Tip: #4: Play with your dog regularly to increase body heat
One of the easiest (and most fun) ways to ensure that your dog stays warm is to do something that encourages them to move around and get their blood flowing. Play fetch, go for a run, play tug of war, or do any other camp-friendly activity that encourages your dog to exercise.
Chances are it will warm you up, too! It might just help tucker your dog out so that they’ll sleep better at night.
Tip #5: Towel off your dog if they get wet
Dogs can get wet from rain, playing in the water, or even just from wandering around in the forest among wet trees and shrubs. But a wet dog doesn’t just smell unpleasant—it can actually make them colder. This is especially true for dog breeds that aren’t “water dog,” or dogs whose coats aren’t waterproof and don’t insulate well when wet.
If your dog does get wet, make sure to towel them off as soon as possible. Before bed, it’s best to double check that your dog is mostly dry and consider towelling their paws if they’ve been walking through wet spots.
Tip #6: Use a three- or four-season tent with good insulation
A three-season or four-season tent is designed to withstand colder weather and will have better insulation than a standard summer camping tent. If you don’t have a three- or four-season tent, you can always bring along a tarp to drape over your tent for extra protection from the cold.
When shopping for a three- or four-season tent, make sure to check the manufacturer’s specs to see how cold weather resistant it is. In general, you’ll want a tent that’s rated down to at least 20°F (-7°C).
Tip #7: Cover your dog with a wool or fleece blanket
Wool and fleece are excellent materials for insulating against the cold—and they make great blankets for dogs too. If your dog doesn’t like to be wrapped or covered in blankets, consider placing it in the spot where they’ll sleep so they can at least sleep on top of it.
If they don’t mind blankets, make sure to wrap or cover them loosely so they can still move around and adjust if they get too hot. You can even find some wool- or fleece-lined dog beds that will help keep your furry friend warm at night.
Tip #8: Get your dog their own doggy sleeping bag
Sleeping bags aren’t just for humans! If you really want to go the extra mile to keep your dog warm, consider getting them their own doggy sleeping bag. These are essentially miniature sleeping bags designed for dogs to help keep them warm and cozy when you’re camping.
The iEnergy JUL dog sleeping bag is a highly rated choice on Amazon and is versatile enough to sleep almost any size of dog. Its made out of synthetic material for added warmth and is both water-resistant and ultra-lightweight.
Unfortunately, some dogs may be stubborn and refuse to sleep in a strange new sleeping bag they’ve never seen before. If possible, try to get them to sleep in it a few times at home to help get them used to it. If they absolutely refuse, it may just be best to bring their regular bedding from home.
Tip #9: Keep your dog elevated off the ground at night
Your dog may be fine sleeping on the floor at home, but when you’re camping, close contact to the ground can make them colder than they need to be.
If you plan on letting your dog sleep with you—such as between you and a partner—then that problem is solved. But if you plan on having them sleep in their own spot—like beside or at the foot of your air mattress/sleeping pad—then you’ll want to bring something that acts as a barrier between your dog’s sleep system and the ground.
If you’re bringing along their dog bed, you may just need an extra ground sheet—a garbage bag would be a simple thing to use for this. However, if their dog bed isn’t very thick or well-insulated, or you’re camping in cold weather, you’ll probably need something else.
An insulated doggy sleeping pad will do the trick. The RUFFWEAR Highlands Dog Pad, for instance, provides both warmth and padding from cold, hard surfaces. It’s also portable and foldable for added convenience.
Tip #10: Make your dog wear a coat or sweater
This may seem like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to dress their dog in a coat or sweater when camping in cold weather. Just because your dog has fur doesn’t mean they don’t need extra insulation against the cold.
Not all dogs need a coat, of course. Cold weather dog breeds like huskies, malamutes, and Bernese mountain dogs have thick double coats of fur that provide them with plenty of warmth.
But if your dog is a short-haired breed or doesn’t have a very thick coat, they’ll likely benefit from wearing a coat or sweater when camping in colder weather. And even some dogs with thick coats may appreciate the extra warmth on particularly cold nights.
When choosing a coat or sweater for your dog, make sure to pick one that’s made out of a thick, insulating material like wool or fleece. You’ll also want to make sure it fits properly so your dog is comfortable and doesn’t overheat.
There are tons of options out there in different styles, colours, and sizes, but one worth checking out is the Dogcheer reversible winter coat, which is made out of double-padded down cotton and is waterproof, windproof, and lightweight.
Tip #11: Put booties on your dog’s paws
Even if your dog is wearing a coat, their paws are still susceptible to the cold. That’s why it’s a good idea to put booties on their paws when camping in colder weather.
When choosing booties for your dog, make sure to pick a pair that’s made out of a waterproof and insulating material like neoprene or wool. You’ll also want to make sure they fit properly so your dog can walk comfortably.
There are lots of different types and styles of dog booties available, so take your time to find a pair that’s right for your dog. The RUFFWEAR Grip Tex Outdoor Dog Boots are a good option to consider—they’re made out of water-resistant mesh and have adjustable Velcro straps to ensure a snug fit.
Tip #12: Give your dog a hot water bottle to sleep with
Here’s a neat idea that also works for humans: If you really want to make sure your dog stays warm at night, give them a hot water bottle to sleep with.
Just fill a standard hot water bottle with boiling water and seal it up. Then, put it in your dog’s bed or sleeping pad before they go to sleep. The heat will radiate from the bottle and help keep your dog warm throughout the night.
Of course, you’ll need to be careful not to make the water too hot—you don’t want your dog to suffer any burns. You can also wrap the hot water bottle in a T-shirt or towel to help diffuse the heat.
Tip #13: Make sure your dog is well fed before bed
This may seem like an odd tip, but it’s actually true that dogs burn more calories when they’re cold. That’s because their bodies have to work harder to maintain their normal body temperature.
So, if you want to help your dog stay warm in your tent at night, make sure they’re well fed before bedtime. A decent portion of kibble for dinner should do the trick. You can also bring some tasty snacks that are high in calories, like peanut butter or sausage, to give them as treats before bed.
Just make sure not to overfeed your dog. If you’re not sure how much food is appropriate for your dog, ask your veterinarian.
Tip #14: Encourage your dog to pee before bed
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Just as dogs burn more calories when they’re cold, their bodies also have to work harder if they’re holding urine in their bladder. In fact, this is also the case for us humans!
That’s why it’s important to encourage your dog to pee before bedtime. An empty bladder will help insulate their body and prevent them from getting too cold.
Tip #15: Bring a portable heater and use it before bed
If you really want to go the extra mile to keep your dog warm at night, consider bringing a portable gas-powered heater with you and using it in your tent before you turn in for the night.
Just make sure to use the heater safely. Place it on a level surface away from flammable materials, like blankets and pillows. And never leave the heater unattended—make sure to turn it off before you go to sleep.
Knowing how to keep your dog warm while camping is essential for any pet owner who loves spending time outdoors with their furry friend. By following the tips above, you can help your dog enjoy camping trips—even in cold weather!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).