We went winter camping with 31 dogs for 10 days.
They were Alaskan husky sled dogs, to be more specific.
Over the course of our expedition, we quickly learned that the dogs always came first.
We had to:
- Hook them up to our sleds
- Constantly untangle them or break up bad behaviour
- Unhook them when we arrived at camp
- Build their beds of hay
- Put coats on them every night
- Chop frozen chunks of meat for them
- Mix the meat with water
- Pour the watery meat into their bowls
- Scoop their poop before we left
Best of all, we got to bond with them.
Over those 10 days, we learned a lot about the dogs, and even though they were working dogs that thrived in the cold, we thought that our experience would lend a hand to those who’ve ever considered bringing their dog on a winter camping trip.
Should you bring your dog winter camping?
The first question you should be asking yourself is whether you should bring your dog at all.
Not all breeds do well in cold weather, and unlike people, your dog can’t tell you when they’re cold or uncomfortable.
Breeds that are adapted to cold weather
Certain dog breeds, like Alaskan malamutes and Siberian/Alaskan huskies, have thick coats and are well-suited for cold conditions.
These breeds have adapted to withstand lower temperatures, so they can comfortably accompany you on a winter camping trip.
Breeds that are well adapted to cold weather include:
- Alaskan malamutes
- Siberian huskies
- Alaskan huskies
- Saint Bernards
- Norwegian elkhounds
- Tibetan mastiffs
- Bernese mountain fogs
- Great Pyrenees
- Shiba Inus
Keep in mind that even breeds adapted to the cold may require some additional gear and care in extreme conditions.
We had to put booties on our sled dogs when the ice conditions weren’t ideal, and we had to put coats on them overnight to help them conserve their energy.
Breeds that aren’t well-adapted to cold weather
Not all dogs are well-adapted to cold weather, particularly those with short hair or thin coats.
Small breeds and those with short legs may also struggle moving through snow.
If you have a dog breed not suited for cold temperatures, they’ll likely need a jacket or coat, and you’ll need to pay extra attention to their wellbeing while camping in winter.
A good rule of thumb is if the temperature is between 45 and 60°F (7 and 16°C), these breeds can cope.
If the temperature is between 0 to 35°F (-18 to 2°C), the risk to your dog’s health increases significantly.
When in doubt, don’t take your dog winter camping
If you’re uncertain whether your dog can tolerate cold temperatures, it is best not to bring them winter camping.
This is especially true if your dog has never experienced a snowy or cold environment before, or if they tend to be sensitive to extreme conditions.
Even the most adventurous dogs can suffer from cold-related issues like hypothermia or frostbite, so prioritizing your dog’s health and safety is more important than having them along on your camping trip.
Preparing for winter camping with your dog
Your dog needs gear, too.
Choosing the right gear for your dog
When planning a winter camping trip with your dog, it’s important to select dog-specific gear to keep them warm and comfortable.
Start by choosing a cozy dog coat that’s suitable for their breed, size, and fur thickness.
Make sure it fits well and provides enough insulation to keep them warm in colder temperatures.
Dog booties are another essential item to protect your dog’s paws from the cold, snow, and ice.
Look for booties with good insulation and a design that comfortably fits your dog’s paws.
Remember, not all dogs are accustomed to wearing booties, so it’s a good idea to have them practice wearing them before your trip.
Packing essentials for winter camping
Apart from specific dog gear, there are other essential items you’ll need for winter camping with your dog.
Dog food: Pack nutrient-dense, high-calorie dog food to keep your dog’s energy levels up in the cold weather.
Don’t forget treats as well to reward them during your outdoor activities.
Hydration: Bring along plenty of water and a collapsible dog bowl to ensure your dog stays hydrated throughout the trip.
Dog sleeping bag or bed: A well-insulated dog bed or sleeping bag will keep your dog warm and comfortable during those chilly nights.
Dog tent: Consider getting a dog tent or a mesh barrier to provide your dog confinement while sleeping in the tent, especially if they’re sharing the space with you.
First aid kit: A basic first aid kit for dogs is useful in case of any small injuries or emergencies.
Make sure to include items such as gauze, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers.
Extra camping gear: Remember to pack extra items like blankets, towels, and a packable dog raincoat for unexpected weather changes.
Understanding your dog’s breed-specific needs
Ask your veterinarian if you’re not sure what your dog might need, or any advice about bringing them out into the cold weather.
Adaptability of different breeds to cold weather
It’s important to understand your dog’s individual needs based on their breed.
In general, larger dogs with thick fur coats (such as Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers) can usually tolerate colder temperatures better than smaller breeds like chihuahuas or greyhounds.
However, many factors play a role, including your dog’s size, age, health, and body fat.
A good rule of thumb is that if the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C), some breeds may need extra protection, like a coat or jacket, to stay warm and comfortable.
Special considerations for Alaskan malamutes and Siberian/Alaskan huskies
Alaskan malamutes and Siberian/Alaskan huskies are breeds specifically built for cold weather environments.
Their double-layered fur coats provide extra insulation, and they often have a higher body temperature.
This allows them to deal with lower temperatures more effectively than other breeds.
When winter camping with these breeds, keep an eye on their behaviour to ensure they don’t overheat.
They may not show signs of discomfort as readily as other dogs.
Offer plenty of water to keep them hydrated.
Be prepared to provide shelter from the wind and rain as needed, even though their coats offer extra protection.
Additionally, these cold-weather breeds may be more prone to wander or chase after prey in a snowy landscape.
So always keep them on a leash or provide a secure, fenced-in area for them to explore without getting lost.
Keeping your dog comfortable in the cold
Your dog may be an animal, but they still have comfort needs.
Using heated pads and coats
To keep your dog warm and comfortable during cold winter camping trips, consider using a heated pad or warm dog coat.
Heated pads can be placed in your dog’s sleeping area to provide additional warmth, especially during the night when temperatures drop.
Go for a battery-operated pad that doesn’t require electricity.
On the other hand, a well-fitted warm dog coat can help protect them while spending time outdoors.
Keeping their paws warm and safe
Cold temperatures can affect your dog’s paws, so it’s important to keep them warm and protected. Here are a few tips:
Invest in dog booties, which are specifically designed to protect paw pads from the cold, wet ground, and sharp objects like rocks or ice.
Measure your dog’s paws accurately before purchasing booties, and look for adjustable straps or closures to ensure a secure fit.
Apply a paw wax to your dog’s pads, which can help prevent ice and snow from sticking to their paws.
This also provides a barrier against salt and other chemicals used to melt ice on walkways.
Make sure to check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of frostbite, which can include discolouration, swelling, and blisters.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Health concerns while winter camping
There are always risks with bringing your dog out on a camping trip, regardless of the season, weather, or conditions.
Preventing and identifying frostbite and hypothermia
Winter camping with your dog can be a great outdoor adventure.
But, it’s important to keep an eye on their health and safety in the extreme cold.
Hypothermia in dogs can occur when their body temperature drops significantly below the normal range.
Knowing the signs of hypothermia is important for taking action early and preventing serious consequences.
Signs to look for include shivering, sluggishness, shallow breathing, and disorientation.
Frostbite is another concern in cold weather conditions. It occurs when the skin and underlying tissue freeze.
Ears, tail, and paws are the most vulnerable parts of your dog’s body. Look for cold, pale, or hard skin, which may also be painful to the touch.
If you suspect frostbite or hypothermia, seek veterinary help immediately.
To minimize the risk of both frostbite and hypothermia, provide your dog with proper shelter.
Warm bedding is also necessary. It is also a good idea to invest in a good-quality winter coat.
During outdoor activities, monitor your dog’s behaviour.
Limit exposure to wet and windy conditions.
And, avoid prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.
Keeping your dog hydrated
In addition to protecting your dog from the cold, it’s important to keep them well-hydrated during winter camping.
Dogs can become dehydrated just as easily in cold weather as in warmer climates.
Make sure your dog has access to a clean, unfrozen water source at all times.
You can use insulated water bowls or heated water dispensers to prevent the water from freezing.
Dehydration can sneak up on your dog, especially when there are frozen bodies of water in the vicinity.
Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, dry gums, and lethargy.
If you suspect dehydration, encourage your dog to drink water and consult a veterinarian if the symptoms persist.
Navigating a campsite at night
There’s less daylight in the winter, meaning you’ll need to keep a keen eye on your furry friend.
Using LED collars and leashes
When camping with your dog, it’s important to keep them visible at night.
A great solution is to use an LED dog collar and a light-up leash.
The LED collar provides constant illumination, so you can easily see where your dog is, while the light-up leash makes it safer for both of you when moving around the campsite.
Regularly check the batteries or ensure they’re charged before your trip to avoid any surprises.
Beware of bodies of water
During your cold weather camping, be cautious around bodies of water.
Frozen lakes and rivers may pose a danger to you and your dog, as the ice can be thin or unstable.
Train your dog to stay away from these areas, or consider investing in a dog jacket to provide extra warmth and buoyancy if they accidentally fall into the water.
When selecting a dog-friendly campsite, consider the proximity of nearby bodies of water.
This can help you avoid any potential risks and make your camping trip safe and enjoyable for both you and your furry companion.
And don’t forget to plan ahead for bathroom breaks, so your dog knows where to go without venturing too close to dangerous areas.
More about winter camping:
- What to expect when you go winter camping for the first time
- The best places to winter camp in Ontario’s backcountry
- Your winter camping checklist of essential gear items
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).