We love to get outside all year round, and we live in Indiana–it gets cold! and dark! and snowy!
In fact, the day I’m writing this, we experienced an ice storm overnight that closed schools, and now it’s snowing on top of the ice. This weather makes me want to bundle up, throw Coop’s coat and boots on, and hit the trails!
Because they will be quiet! We’ll have the place to ourselves! Everything is so pretty coated in a dusting of ice and snow!
Of course, when you’re hiking in the winter, you need to take some extra steps and precautions that you wouldn’t in, say, spring. I compiled our top tips, the things we do each time, but please know that this is situation- and weather-dependent. Use caution. Be safe. Always default to common sense. This list isn’t exhaustive–just the bare-bones basics–so I’d love to hear what you’d add to it in the comments!
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5 Winter Safety Tips for Hiking With Dogs
Dress for the weather.
Obviously, right? You pile on your boots, wool socks, coat, hat, gloves, the works! You might even own a suite of technical fabrics designed with the cold in mind. But what about your dog?
Winter weather is vicious on your dog’s paws, especially if you traverse rugged terrain that’s wet or frozen. While not all dogs will tolerate boots, most can learn to wear them with practice (and treats and praise). Cooper wears these all winter long. Yes, they’re pricey, but they’ve last years and hundreds of miles, and his paws are protected from the elements. Same goes for a jacket or sweater: You know your dog and your dog’s comfort level. Cooper always wears a jacket. He runs cold, and we’ve learned over the years he hikes better and has more stamina if he’s bundled up. Our late shepherd, Lucas, would tolerate one if we insisted but never needed one. Know your dog, and know the conditions you’re going to be hiking in–but always err on the side of caution.
BTW, don’t forget you also need sunscreen in the winter!! When you’re dressing, screen up any exposed skin. The winter sun can be harsh, especially at higher elevations!
Drink plenty of water.
It’s easy to remember to hydrate in the summer. You’re hot and sweating buckets. In the winter, sweat often makes you feel colder, and the air seems drier, so it’s easier to forget to hydrate. However, it’s vital for you and your pup. Always pack plenty of water for both of you. If your dog carries a pack, he can stow his own on one side and yours on the other. This is the pack Cooper wears. It comfortable fits a water bottle on either side, and we have a collapsible water dish (not this but super similar) for him.
Mornings are dark. Afternoons are dark. These short winter days, combined with often-overcast, gray skies and precipitation make visibility tough. Both you and your dog should wear reflective or neon gear no matter what time of day you head out. Low visibility can cause trouble, particularly if you live somewhere where people hunt in the winter. Even if you aren’t in a hunting area, though, bright colors and reflective wear are simple safety steps that don’t take any extra effort but can prevent big problems. Bonus: Stash a flashlight or headlamp in your pack as an extra safety measure.
Keep your pup on leash.
Of course, if you’re in a leash-required park, you’re a responsible dog owner so obviously your dog is leashed. (Right?!) However, even if you’re in an area where off-leash is OK, winter isn’t a safe time for your dog to dash off. Why? Well, one really big reason is frozen water might appear solid to your dog but crack as soon as he gets out on the ice. So dangerous. Another reason is that sound travels differently in the winter, especially in snow-covered terrain, and you and your pup can get separated much more easily. Finally, if your dog tends to sniff out animals, lots are in hibernation or dormancy and don’t appreciate being disturbed. It could even kill them. Keep your pup on leash all winter long!
Hike a trail you know.
This is a recommendation someone made to me at a trade show when we were talking winter hiking gear, and it made so much sense: If you’ve never hiked an area before, winter isn’t the time to try it out. Snow covers the trail. Many, even in maintained parks, aren’t broken during the winter months. Markers might be obscured or down. It’s harder to find your way in the depths of winter. Now, if you’re considering a park that’s well-managed year-round, go for it. Or, at least, ask the park rangers if it’s a good time to try a trail. But, err on the side of safety and stick with trails, parks, and climbs you’re familiar with during the winter months.
Other than that, have fun! Hiking with your dog in the winter can be fun and rewarding. Everything is quiet. The terrain looks totally fresh and clean blanketed in snow. You can usually push a little longer and farther than if you’re in the beating-down sun. If you have a reactive or fearful pup like Cooper, you almost always have the trails to yourself, which is so awesome!
Get outside! Have fun! Be safe!
Hikers: What would you add to this list? Do you get out in the winter? Or do you like to hibernate, too? Does your dog perform well in the cold? Or is your pup a nap-fireside dog?