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Tips and tricks for winter hiking with small dogs

Do you often find yourself limiting both you and your dog’s outdoors time due to the cold? With winter approaching, it’s time to consider how to best prepare your small dog for another season of adventure. I am here to provide you with some tips and tricks for keeping your small dogs warm and comfortable to keep the adventure going all winter long. As someone with two small yorkie mixes, they can get particularly cold as the temperatures drop due to having hair vs fur. While smaller dogs with double coats may fair better in the winter, these tips can be used for all of our low riders and modified to fit your dogs’ specific needs as the first snow falls.

First, I’d pay attention to the temperature that your dog first starts to show signs of discomfort in without clothing. This may be different depending on if they’re sitting still or if they’re actively moving. Knowing this is the first step to understanding what type of layering system you may need for maximal comfort when out on the trails. My boys can both comfortably hike without gear down to 40F (4C), however, once we are stopped (on a summit/at camp) they will need to add layers due to becoming chilled since the movement isn’t maintaining their internal warmth any longer. In this scenario, I will typically carry a dog sleeping bag, a travel puffy down blanket, a fleece/polyester layer or a combination of the 3 on our hikes for when we take those breaks at the summit to make sure they stay warm (especially for them to sit on due to cold rock/surfaces).

Second, I like to make sure they are properly fueled during our hikes, but winter in particular. I always make sure to have nutrient rich treats for mid-hike refuels. I’d recommend carrying them close to your body so they don’t become cold and hard in your packs. You could also pack warm water in a thermos and use it to rehydrate some freeze dried food to provide both hydration and nutrients.

Third, after a few seasons of trial and error, we have a solid layering system for keeping the boys comfortable in temperatures as low as 20F (-6C). As a baselayer, we use a more fitted fleece/insulated layer, next would be a polartec fleece lined bodysuit (leg coverage) with waterproof/water resistant outer layer, and third would be a waterproof/resistant insulating shell layer. These layers can be mixed and matched or modified based on the conditions. Some days they may only need one or two, others they may need all three, or you could find yourself taking off/putting on layers throughout the hike. When we are doing longer snow hikes, I also carry a pair of booties for both dogs, however, they typically don’t need them due to this layering system as it keeps them warm and allows heat to escape through their paws which prevents a lot of snowball build up, however, we do also keep mushers wax handy too.

Lastly, pay attention to your dog’s body language! If your dog is still shivering, stopping, laying down, lifting their feet, looking for shelter, are whining or barking for no reason, or you see discoloration in exposed areas (nose, ears, tail, paws), it may be time to call it a day and turn back and get them to a warmer location. Winter hiking is not a one size fits all; our layering system, activity of choice (hike, snowshoe, cross country ski etc), all depends on the weather conditions and the dogs tolerance that day. A 30F (-1C) day may sound warmer, but hiking on an actively snowing/windy powder trail could be more uncomfortable than a 25F (-3C) day with no wind and the sun shining on a packed snow trail. Winter hiking took me (the human) a few months to learn how to properly layer/pack and plan, and the same should go for your pup! Start slow, start early (don’t want to get stuck in the dark), and start with shorter outings and better weather if you’re planning to get outside this winter with your small dogs. Just remember, it took us a lot of trial and error, but it was so worth it to be able to enjoy this magical season in nature with my boys.

Key tips to remember:

  1. Know what temperatures your dog is comfortable without clothing (both static and dynamic)

  2. Nutrient rich hiking treats

  3. Find a layering system that works for your dog

  4. Be aware of their body language and the weather conditions

Want to see more of Jillian, Dobby and Max's adventures? Check them on out on social media


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