Thru Hike with a Dog: How I Hiked 900 Miles with my Dog

The key to completing a thru hike with a dog is research and preparation! Setting realistic expectations up front (or not having expectation) for your thru hike will help relieve a lot of stress. Make sure to add trail etiquette to your research.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a dog

Hello! I’m “Mcguire” and Toby and I completed a 900 mile section of the AT in October of 2018. We started preparing for our hike about 4 months in advance. Researching and finding tools to be successful on trail were very important.

Research thru hiking with your dog

I relied on several sites to research the trail conditions that Toby and I would be hiking. My plan was to start our hike in New Jersey in July. The northern portion of the trail seemed extremely strenuous so I planned to send Toby back home after 600 miles in Hanover, New Hampshire.

After we both made it to Hanover, Toby was doing so well on trail (healthy weight, activity, mood, etc) that I decided to go all the way to Katahdin with him! (Keep in mind we started in New Jersey)

There are plenty of social media groups with arguments going back and forth about thru hiking with a dog. If you want to get opinions by reading some of these, that is fine. However, at the end of the day you and your vet know your dog and what your dog is capable of. Above all, don’t let others positive and negative experiences blind you from reality.

With all of the information out there, I relied on my own gut feelings when it came to my dog. There’s so much hate and negativity towards trail dogs online. The best part about our hike was magically winning over all the haters on trail, which WE DID! So bottom line, don’t do too much research!

Research local rules pertaining to hiking with your dog (*ahem* – leash laws). Follow the rules so generations of thru hikers can bring their dogs. If you are considering a thru hike with your dog, you should probably have significant hiking experience together and feel confident about their ability on trail.

I’ve posted some awesome resources at the bottom for your reading pleasure!

3 months with a dog, total cost for Toby alone: $880, or roughly $300 per month (math in public, yikes).

Be prepared to spend more money than solo human hikers if you choose to thru hike with a dog. I spent on average 25% more on staying in town with my dog in tow. Budget more than you think you’ll need to thru hike with a dog! To me it was worth every penny.

You should be prepared to have hotels turn you away if you don’t check in advance about pet rules. To make things easier, I’m working on an AT trail town specific guide right now for thru hiking with a dog. If you are interested, sign up below to get notified when it’s done.

The average thru hiker budgets about $1000 per month, so increase that up to $1300 if bringing a pup (at the minimum). Additionally, small trail towns also have expensive resupply, so you may want to invest in mail drops or have food shipped to town along the way. That $880 was spent on Toby’s gear and food (not including in-town treats).

Toby truly did finish the trail with me, but sadly dogs aren’t allowed in Baxter State Park. Yes that photo is fake. I wanted something to commemorate all of his hard work!

Thru hiking with a dog takes longer!

You are not hiking YOUR hike, but your dog’s hike. If your pup has problems along the way you have to schedule around them. As an example, after the White mountains in new Hampshire I had Toby stay with a local dog sitter for a week as I noticed his paw pads had taken a beating and needed some time to heal. That involved traveling hours to pick him up after the week ended.

It would have been more economical to stay locally with him. However, that would have meant me taking a week off as well, so this is something you should mentally prepare for!

Test dog hiking gear well in advance of the trip

Food – switch food if you are going to earlier rather than later. Toby switched to the Honest Kitchen about 4 months before we hit the trail. After that, I knew how his stomach handled the food and could figure out a baseline of how much to feed him.

Sleep system – at first we hammock camped together. Toby has his own hammock. He adjusted to his hammock months in advance. Eventually we ended up switching to tent camping but only because I wanted him as part of MY sleep system. If you are interested in hammock camping, check out this post on hammock camping with your dog.

photo of thru hikers and a dog in an Appalachian Trail shelter
Toby and I were lucky to find a GREAT trail family that openly accepted him, which lead to us being invited into shelters by everyone! INVITE ONLY PLEASE!

To successfully thru hike with a dog, fido should fit some generalities:

  1. Does not bark often or you are able to control barking with voice commands
  2. Limited aggression on trail – adapt to the situation as the human!
  3. Previously exposed to change and handles it well
  4. Able to handle stressors
  5. Excellent physical condition
  6. Not too young or too old
  7. Has hiking experience! 
  8. Nice to have for off leash opportunities: quick recall
Here is a video of a few snippets from our time in New Hampshire

You and your dog can have a wonderful time together on the trail if you mentally and physically prepare together as a team!

Get notified when the Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail with your dog goes live!

We’ll shoot you an email when the guide is finished

Helpful resources

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