Part 2: Backpacking experiences, tips and tales
In Part 1 I explored my own family’s experiences and adventures with our canine companions and how we dealt with carrying the extra weight of dog food, bedding and other canine necessities or coping with cold in the hills. For this edition I contacted three contributors, Chrissie Crowther, Mike Knipe and Ian Morley, who also love to share adventures with their dogs. Between them they have a wealth of experience. In no particular order here are a selection of their own tips and tales.
Chrissie lives in the Peak District with her husband and beloved dogs. She was an active team member of her local Mountain Rescue Team for twenty years, including being the Deputy Team Leader. She has a wealth of knowledge regarding backpacking in the outdoors. For Chrissie the journey began around 12 years ago when she took the plunge with her then Boxer, Dixie, introducing her to the pleasures of wild camping.
“Dixie took to backpacking like a duck to water. Our very first trip together was three days in Kielder, and not long after that we embarked on the Pennine Way. I was still working then, so the first half was done over a few weekends, but Tan Hill to Kirk Yetholm was walked in one go over a fortnight.
"We needed help though. I was carrying all her gear as well as mine, so could not manage a huge amount of food as well. Added to that, there was no chance I was ever going to tie her up outside a shop anywhere, for me to go in and replenish our supplies. Hubby kindly shadowed us on our journey north, in our camper. We would backpack for a couple of nights, then meet up with him for a night – have a bit of luxury, stock up, and off again on our own for the next few days.
"She was the most amazing backpacking companion, and, after this adventure, Dixie continued to accompany me on trips for many years, living to the ripe old age of 13.
"Fast forward to today, and my current dog is Pebbles – another Boxer. She is currently 5 years old and I first introduced her to nights out on Kinder, when she was about 8 months. A totally different character to Dixie, who never cared what the weather was! Pebbles needs a bit more ‘looking after’. I did introduce her to panniers though, which she does appear to really enjoy carrying. Part of the adventure, I suppose!
"Last year, we completed the Pennine Bridleway together. Although Pebbles can carry some food in her panniers, I do not load her up, so we once again enlisted hubby’s help (it is recommended that they do not carry more than 25% of their body weight). In her panniers, she carries her PJs, a small first aid kit, up to two days’ worth of food, a small microfibre towel, a light collapsible bowl and a short lead. She is normally on an extendable lead but, when I am putting the tent up or decamping, I use a short lead to tie her to my rucksack, preventing any mishaps with passing bunnies or sheep. I carry her sleeping bag.
"I learnt very early on that dogs need wrapping up warmly overnight, just like us. They may have fur coats, but they are used to sleeping in warm houses and can easily get cold. Having tried many different ways of achieving this, I eventually got the idea for a doggy sleeping bag from one I’d seen in the States and made some for our dogs. These have proved to be a huge success, and I do now have a tiny business making and selling these.”
Chrissie, with so many experiences under her belt, wisely adds, “To anyone who is contemplating whether to take the step of backpacking with their dog, it’s not all sunshine and sunsets. Setting up camp in the pouring rain, with a sopping wet furball, who is cold and hungry has to be one of the challenges! But the love and companionship that they bring to your adventures is worth every wet, muddy minute.”
More about Chrissie’s woofbags can be found here: https://woofbags.wordpress.com/
Mike, is a seasoned TGO Challenger (backpacking event across Scotland), blogger and long-distance walker. Mike, now retired from the NHS, has explored vast areas of the UK and much of northern England in great detail, under and above ground; his own backpacking adventures with dogs started back in the late 70’s.
Mike reminisces, “I took Rex, a lurcher mongrel around the Yorkshire Dales (Buckden - Aysgarth - Gunnerside - Hawes - Garsdale). I had to take tins of Pal as he wouldn't eat dehydrated food and he slept at my feet in a little Saunders tent and growled each time I moved. He also liked to go out for a wee, play in the beck and then return to the tent, walking all over me. And he barked at foxes in the night and kept knocking my stove over... dhuhh... I took him for the company. It just seemed like a good idea...”
After Rex came LTD (Lucky the dog) and lucky he has been. Mike has taken LTD on most of his backpacking trips, his first being the English Coast to Coast. Trips since have included anything from overnighters to weeklong expeditions. To date LTD’s longest trip was to link the highest pubs in England - from Flash in Staffordshire to Tan Hill then over to Kirkstone Pass.
Bearing in mind Mike has been doing this for a while I asked what changes he had made over that time? Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this included dog training and diet.
“Teaching the dog to stay wherever he's put.” Mike’s indicates ‘WAIT!’ as showing the palm of a hand. “Happily, LTD likes to be inside the tent most of the time, so he's not trying to get in and out when I'm cooking, which would be risky, and it also cuts down on muddy pawprints on the sleeping bag. I put up with the smell of wet dog and the dog puts up with the smell of wet hiker. His kit and food are better and lighter than in the 1970's; he eats kibble and wet food in pouches. We only resort to tins on trips longer than a few days where a local shop only has tinned dog food. He's occasionally had stewing steak and mash as a last resort (although he thought that was great!) - too much salt for a dog, though, I think.”
Route choice is another factor. They avoid leaving the paths through English and Welsh Grouse moors, take great care where there are suckler cattle, and do not try to do anything more difficult than Striding Edge. And as LTD is not a fan of wet weather, once in the tent he wants to stay there, a win-win for human and dog alike. But as any backpacker who walks with their dog will know, it is harder to spot wildlife.
“We don't see much wildlife since it avoids us - he gets very excited by pheasants and would dearly love to eat one/some - and grouse and rabbits. Occasionally, we're aware of foxes wandering about late at night, but he's not really bothered, and he doesn't chase sheep. And neither do I...”
Regarding emergencies Mike stresses that LTD would have to be rescued just as much as a human although Mike would use his first aid kit if needed. Luckily for LTD this has not yet been necessary. But wet dog syndrome is common and other less savoury incidents may come into play.
“You have to ventilate to avoid getting dripped on and he did vomit on my maps once. And I only just let him out of the tent in time to witness a bout of disastrous projectile diarrhoea. He does wake me up if he's in any kind of trouble - mostly if he's got himself uncovered and is feeling cold - a wet nose in the ear usually does it.”
LTD wears the Ruffwear system of panniers in which he carries a Mountain Paws’ fabric dish, up to four days’ worth of food (8 food pouches, 16 handfuls of kibble, 4 Bonios and 4 Dentasticks), dog waste bags and ‘YuMOVE’ supplement tablets. This equates to around 5kg and up to 25% of LTD’s body weight. As a Staffy/Collie cross LTD is a tough wee fellow and this weight poses no bother. Mike also takes a bike security lock with a retractable cable which can be threaded through LTD’s harness and around whatever solid object is available. This adds security when leaving LTD outside a shop.
“This is because LTD is quite “cute” and stealable and this, I think, would slow down a thief”.
He also carries one of Chrissie’s woofbags, a section of carry mat and a pack-towel. Keeping LTD warm is important.
“If it is very cold, I put a jacket over the top of him and we share a Sigg bottle ‘hot water bottle’. As his pack gets lighter, he also carries the rubbish - all of which is very attractive to spaniels - so he does get followed by spaniels quite a bit...”
Other challenges include farm animals, particularly cattle and horses but LTD generally copes well with farm dogs. And there are several pubs and cafes that do not allow dogs inside; for Mike this means they lose his custom unless he can sit outside. And where B&B's and hotels do not allow dogs choice can be very limited if a night in a bed is needed.
“Usually, if a hotel uses the word ‘Country’ in its name, it's not worth even asking - the ‘Mrs Bucket’ factor is coming into play, whereas proper ‘posh’ places usually welcome a grubby mongrel and his dog, too…”
Coping with bad weather and a muddy dog are perhaps the most evident issues but that is just
par for the course. There are the finer points too.
“We have to go walkies late at night as part of his bedtime routine which means leaving a nice, warm sleeping bag and wandering about tripping over guy ropes etc. He has to be cared for, so you have to keep a close eye on the dog for fatigue. He can't do narrow stiles with panniers on and he can't jump very high, although he thinks he can do these things - so he has to be lifted over stiles, cattle grids and fences etc. The panniers have a handle, so it’s just the weight and he wriggles a bit sometimes.”
Some might wonder if they dare brave taking their dog at all, but the companionship is priceless and Mike has certainly experienced its funnier moments.
“My brother and I had a trip around the Dales with my brother's dog, a Collie (c. 1974) and we camped high up by Fell Beck on Ingleborough in a terrible thunderstorm - a very wet night. In the morning there was a lamb sleeping in the tent porch and as we opened the door, the dog chased the lamb into dense hill fog, followed by my brother, in his underpants. He found the dog quite quickly, but then couldn't find the tent. When we got to Ingleton the next morning, he rang his wife and sent the dog home. After that, there was a very long gap in doggy backpacking expeditions.”
But where to take your dog? For Mike there are many favourite haunts in the north including a few spots around Upper Weardale, the Howgills, and the Cheviot Hills, where a wander over the border (with Scottish Access laws) offers better wild camping than the English side. Generally, Mike has found that if in England the Lake District and Peak District are the best for overnight adventures under canvas. Ultimately it is about that wonderful sharing of experiences with your canine friend.
“Magical moments tend to appear late on starry, moonlit nights where a snooze, interrupted by a demand for a short doggy walk often reveals unexpected scenes which I would otherwise have missed. We do like the long winter’s nights.”
Mike’s blog can be found here: https://northernpies.blogspot.com/
Ian, is passionate about snowboarding and mountain biking. As a self-employed joiner and carpenter living in Lancashire he is not so far from the Lake District, where he also does a fair bit of hill walking. He has adventured far and wide, including many trips to Scotland.
Last year a social media post caught my eye. It was a photograph of a Collie all snugly wrapped up in a bespoke sleeping bag fitted with four legs and a tail. I had never seen anything quite like it. The dog, as it turned out, was Blue.
Blue was rescued by Ian from Animal Care, his local animal rescue centre.
“I know that he was with them as a ‘failed’ farm dog. He was very badly treated before being taken to them and he was on the verge of being put down as he was absolutely broken and terrified of everyone. We have had him about three and a half to four years now and he has an incredible new life here. He gets so much love from us, but he is still very scared of children and quite scared of any new adults. The rescue centre included him in one of their videos showing a terrible case that found a loving forever home. They all remember him there.
“Nowadays he lives for the adventures that I take him on. I take him snowboarding and his favourite thing is running downhill chasing me on mountain bike trails. This summer he started coming out on my paddle board with me. I’ve taken him to eleven different countries, and he loves our two cats and other older Collie at home. He loves to learn commands. I think that his past life of abuse must have been so confusing as he is visibly very happy when he understands new commands and is able to let us know what he wants. I’d say he’s the perfect dog.”
It seems Blue has certainly fallen on his feet and already had many incredible adventures to boot. But what of his unusual doggy sleeping bag, how had it come about and had it worked out? I had to find out so asked Ian if he could fill me in. The issue and why he had made it all came down to temperature. Their camping trip to a local Tarn, a few miles from the closest road and quite high up, was to be in sub-zero temperatures.
“The puddles up there were frozen over but I don’t have an accurate temperature. It was a cloudy hike up, we set off at sunset with half the hike being pitch black and lit by head torches.”
With such cold conditions the need for extra sleeping insulation suitable for dogs was evident. To make the doggy sleeping bag Ian used an old 1-2 season Mountain Warehouse bag originally weighing about 650g. He wanted Blue to have a little freedom to move around at night if he needed to, but the bag was strictly for use inside the tent; it is not waterproof. The shape intrigued me.
“The reason for the tail being included on this rather unique dog sleeping bag was just a bit of fun and luck as I’ve very little experience with a sewing machine and I didn’t know how to deal with cutting the zip without ruining it. The zip was the perfect length from Blue’s forehead to the end of his tail so I figured it would be quite quirky if I made the bag with a tail!”
Blue certainly had bespoke service and as Ian pointed out, “My dog wasn’t panting or curling up at all while wearing this bag on this trip, so it was perfect for him. He snored plenty as well, so I’m confident that he was very happy and the most comfortable that he could have been.” He added, “The doggy sleeping bag works absolutely fantastically.”
Ian also created a dog backpack using two items that unintentionally fitted together perfectly, the TrueLove dog harness and the OMM compression pod. Inside the pod Blue carries his biscuits in a ziplocked bag, a silicone fold out bowl, some doggy bags, a microfibre towel and his lead. This saves Ian having to carry anything other than Blue’s sleeping bag for overnight hikes. But keeping everything dry takes thought. As Blue loves water, ensuring everything is watertight is vital!
The size of tent is another consideration. Ian carries a Nordisk Telemark 1LW which he says is 830g of brilliance.
“It’s large enough to keep all my gear inside with me and the dog. I choose to leave a few things between the inner tent and outer shell - there’s enough space allocated there to keep your wet boots and stuff. I try to use my Bergen as a pillow and one of the waist straps seems to be designed perfectly as a dog pillow. Blue is the perfect size to spoon if he or I need extra warmth! In winter I carry a lightweight foil backed picnic blanket that we picked up from Halfords or somewhere random a few years ago. He can lie on it out of the tent if we are socialising but then at night it’s an extra layer underneath us, and it’s larger than the footprint of the tent so it can wrap around one of us a little if we need.”
And walking in winter means long nights so Blue wears a slow flashing collar, allowing Ian to keep tabs on him in the dark. Ian also uses the Findster GPS trackers on both his dogs, useful if anything untoward happened or they should disappear.
Looking ahead Ian has many adventures planned for Blue including a trip to Suilven in NW Scotland. Blue has even had an attempt at surfing although Ian said that proved to be a step too far - for the moment. Ian’s positive attitude to life has done much for Blue the rescue dog and he includes Blue in as much as he possibly can.
“I have brought him back from the verge of being put down, as there was nobody who would take him on, to being a snowboarding, mountain biking, absolutely perfect four-legged companion.”
You can check out Ian’s adventures on Instagram @snowboardingjoiner
What to take:
Small carrymat or similar
Dog sleeping bag
Dog waste bags
Ziplock bags/reusable drybags
First Aid Kit
Kibble/complete dry food
Dog food pouches
Joint supplements for dogs
The above equipment, food and links are solely a guide which we hope you will find useful when planning your own adventures with your canine best friend.
If you come across livestock or walk in areas with ground nesting birds: