What I learnt doing a long distance hike with a dog

Before Offa’s Dyke, I wrote a blog post on the kit I was planning to take with me for my dog (you can read it here: http://www.mycountryside.org.uk/2010/02/15/the-weight-penalty-of-hiking-with-a-dog/). A comment today from Hilke has reminded me that I never really followed up on what I learnt from doing a long distance hike with a dog.


Having a clip was absolutely indispensable – it is so handy to easily be able to clip the dog to pretty much anything. The clip I have is a large lightweight clip (in fetching pink) – I think it originally came from a camping store. When not in use it just clips to the side of the rucksack, although I have been known to walk ‘hands free’ with the dog clipped to my side (on her Halti so she does not pull – this does require a bit of vigilance though if your dog is a chaser).

On Offa’s Dyke I really wish I had used her Halti every day all day. The constant additional strain on my feet due to her light not ongoing pulling pressure ultimately caused me to damage the metatarsal bridge of my feet, which meant they were in agony for most of the second half of the walk.

The Aqua Sorb towel, whilst a pretty good idea, ended up not really being that useful and just a dead weight in my bag. We were pretty lucky with the weather, so I just tried to make sure she had a swim close to our stopping point at the end of the day, and then letting her dry out of her roll mat during the evening.

Having half a cheap roll matt as a dog bed worked really well – it doubled up as a seat for me during the day on wet ground, it dried quickly, and provided all the warmth the dog needed at night.

For food and water bowls I bought a set of Orikaso folding bowls and plates (there is also a cup in the set, but this is less useful for the dog!). They are cheap, fold flat, and very light – I did a review of them here: http://www.mycountryside.org.uk/2010/05/19/review-orikaso-folding-platebowlcup/. The bowl is great for water, and the plate just about holds a meal worth of food.

Other bits: I would have probably taken less poo bags, as I ended up with loads left at the end. I would probably also now avoid special dog wipes for the first aid kit, and just have a few extra antiseptic wipes. The tick removers were not used, but are still in the first aid kit just in case.

The clip, halti, half roll mat and Orikaso bowl/plate still go with me on any trip with the dog (as well as the poo bags and tick remover).

Food and Water

There was plenty of water available throughout the trip for the dog, but I am still glad I carried some backup water just in case. Since Offa’s Dyke, I have bought a Travel Tap from backpackinglight.co.uk (http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk/product353.asp?PageID=40) –  this allows me to safety drink water from hill / mountain streams, which reduces the pressure of my water supply so I usually just carry a 2l supply for both of us as a backup.

Food is still troublesome. On Offa’s Dyke we probably could have managed without the support vehicle doing daily drops of dog food with a bit of planning and foresight (there were plenty of shops, and where there was not, a pre-planned parcel would have done fine). Even now I still take a few tins and biscuits up into the hills with me for a night camp although I am starting to think about dropping the heavy tins and having more dried food and taking some gravy grannuals to make it a bit more enjoyable for the dog (she hates dried food).

I completely failed to find any freeze dried dog food in the UK – it seems to exist in the US though.

Dog Fitness

When I approached my vet about doing Offa’s Dyke, his response was that as long as she does all the training we do, then she will be just as prepared as we are. Halfway through the hike, after a night of not eating due to a poorly stomach, she was clearly tired – whilst seeing a squirrel would still excite her, she spent most of the morning walking to heel – at this point we made the decision to give her half a day off. She very gratefully curled up in the support vehicle and apparently slept all afternoon (and was back to her usual self the next day). Likewise towards the end of the walk, she started getting tired again, so we gave her another half a day rest before the final (and longest) day. The vet was right – she was as prepared as us – but whilst we knew the overall purpose (to raise money for charity) so could work through the tiredness, she did not. It was the right decision to give her a rest, and if I did it again without a support vehicle, I would include a few rest days.

On our return home, it did take her a few weeks before she was asking for her lunchtime walk with her usual excitement – I think she was worried it would end up being another 13 day trip if we left the house again!

Her paws coped fine – they were slightly worn and a bit tatty by the end, but they did not get sore or cause her any discomfort. I never did try any  boots.

Do you have any advice to give people thinking about doing a long distance hike with a dog?

11 Replies to “What I learnt doing a long distance hike with a dog”

  1. Thanks for responding so quickly and in so much detail, Phil – that’s a fabulous post! Great photos, too. Very inspiring!

    I do believe the towel would have come in handy had the weather been different! Using the pulling power of a dog (especially on a harness) is, in principle, a good plan, but my dogs don’t pull steadily enough, either. (Also, it tires them out more than I’d want on a long walk.) In the end, I find it easiest to walk with one dog either side on a short lead, when they can’t be off lead. I use puppy leads which weigh hardly anything, but the clips are made from butter, so it’s not really an option for a large dog with chase instinct!

    Were you able to let your dog off-lead for part of the walk? I really appreciate your post about sheep-worrying – one of my dogs chases so I have to be ever vigilant and, if in doubt, keep her on the lead.

    It’s reassuring to hear that her paws held up well. I’d probably think about carrying a couple of boots in case of injury. The Pawz rubber boots weigh nothing and stay on really well, but I wouldn’t want to use them for any length of time – they’re waterproof, so they’re not breathable, but they’re very handy for protecting a cut paw. (I suppose you can end up carrying a lot of stuff ‘in case’…)

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Do you have any more long walks planned in the future? I’m planning a weekender as soon as the days are longer. It’ll be interesting to see how we’re doing – my two man tent may be a bit cosy for the three of us!

  2. Hi Hilke – thanks again for your comment.

    There maybe better alternatives to the Aqua Sorb – I found it does not do a very good job of drying the dog in wet conditions (mainly due to the dirt on her tummy – it seems to work better letting her dry naturally and then brushing the dirt off!).

    The Halti aims to stop her pulling (it was the constant pulling that caused the problem on my feet). Unfortunately she is not a walk to heel dog, not matter what I try! On Offa’s Dyke it was lambing season, so she was on an extendible lead most of the time (in ‘short mode’ anywhere near lambs or sheep) – I do let her off in crop fields where I have good visibility, but I am under no illusions that she will chase anything with a fluffy tail that moves! On long walks she seems quite content to stay on the extendible lead.

    Personally I think that, unless I was doing long distances without rests, or lots of miles on hard (especially tarmac) terrain, her pads will generally be better without boots. However we did have the luxury of a support vehicle and were never more than a few miles from civilisation – if you were more remote then it would probably be sensible to have a backup plan in case of a paw injury (in fact just thinking about it is making me think about getting a pair for emergencies!)

    Great to hear you are enjoying my posts. Unfortunately for health reasons I can no longer do long multi-day walks, but I will hopefully be having a few shorter trips around the country this year. There is also the Games Way, during the Olympics, which I am hoping to join in for part of.

    On Offa’s Dyke we shared a small 3 man tent (2 people, 2 rucksacks and the dog). On my own I have a small 2 man tent which is cosy but workable with the dog!

  3. Dear Phil & Hilke,
    Your posts/articles are warmly appreciated! My canine “Other Half” and I will be backpacking from Kent to the Inner Hebrides in April, and all these issues are of as much importance to me as the equipment I’ll be taking for myself. I think I’d thought of all the issues you’ve covered, but it’s still really valuable to get feedback from someone who’s actually done it. Fortunately we’re in a position to take plenty of time over our journey – three months out and three months back is roughly the plan – and to use public transport to do the journey in lots of little hops, so sore paws and fitness won’t, hopefully be an issue. We’re both too old and tired to push ourselves hard! Dog food is still an issue because we have such a loose itinerary; on the other hand, I’m not planning a wilderness expedition, so we should always be fairly near a shop. He’ll enjoy the variety in his diet, he’s fed up with what he normally has at home!
    Thanks to you both for the info, and we hope enjoy your all you outings together (with your dogs, that is!)
    Best wishes, Katherine, & Louie the Labradog

    1. Thanks for the comment Katherine. Your trip sounds great and I hope both you and your canine companion enjoy it!

  4. Hi Phil,

    I’ve just found your blog and have been reading with great interest as I am going to be walking the South West Coast Path for charity in September & October this year with my dog, Rudy.

    I haven’t bought any of the gear I will need yet, so it’s interesting to read about the equipment you got for Angel. Rudy is a collie/springer cross so I’m hoping will require slightly less food than Angel, but the food problem is something I have been trying to think of a solution to for a while. I think I’ve come to conclusion if I take as much dry as I can as back up and buy wet for her to eat that day at every available shop that will hopefully be o.k. Like someone else said, she will probably relish the change.
    I’m planning on having a rest day every week, so I’m hoping her little paws will hold up, to be honest I’m more worried about my fitness than hers (her being a collie and all)…

    Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

    I’m actually doing a bit of training on Offa’s Dyke next week so we’ll see how that goes!


    1. Hi Verity – thanks for the comment.

      Sounds like a brilliant trip – I am sure both you and Rudy will love it!

      I think your plan with the food is probably your best bet – there will be a lot of shops on your route (gorgeous coastal villages) to replenish, so if you just have some emergency dried food then you are probably covered.

      Do collies ever get tired? 😉 I am sure with a day off each week she will be fine – I think my vet’s point that as long as she trains with you, she will be as prepared as you are is quite valid.

      The one thing I forgot to mention in the post is taking a thick dry bag – I find it really useful for putting used dog bags in. You can seal it up to stop most of the smells and it doubles up as a rubbish bin.

      Enjoy Offa’s Dyke! Another lovely path.

  5. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the reply, Offa’s Dyke was brilliant. We did the first 50 miles from Chepstow which was so beautiful and so many different types of terrains. You must have had a great time on your trip. Gave me a lot to think about and buy for my trip though! I thought Rudy would be o.k at night without a coat, but she did get a bit cold and I had to wrap a t-shirt around her at night! She must have run twice as many miles as we walked!

    Also realised I need a significantly better carry-matt and sleeping bag and even hardier boots, I didn’t realise mine were ‘lite’ walking boots and the seams starting coming apart after the 17 mile day. These things you can only learn once you start walking long distances I suppose…!

    Anyway, thanks again for the advice!


  6. Hi Phil, funny seeing you here 🙂

    Ive seen a Welsh Collie thats 9 years old, that is looking for a new home as the current owner, how has had her since a pup can no longer give her the time and attention that she needs anymore.

    As phil know im planning to walk to new Wales Coast Path and maybe the Offa’s Dyke path too and wondered what peoples thoughts were on taking a 9 year old on a walk of this nature.

    1. Hi Steve – tell me you didn’t find this post after a general Google search!

      I know of people that have taken their dogs on very long distance walks (around the UK mainland coast line) without any problems.

      I guess the main things to consider are:
      a) fitness of the dog, as she will not have much time for preparation and training
      b) how much distance you are doing per day, on what terrain, and how often you are having rest days. It really surprised me how tired my dog got on Offa’s Dyke (as Verity mentions, they do a lot more distance!)
      c) having a back up plan – if the dog needs a rest day, how does that impact your schedule, or will you always have someone able to collect her.

  7. Hi Phil, yep this came up as a search on google, as long distance walking with a dog 🙂

    Im thinking of not doing the 1047 miles and going back to the plan of 870 so that wouldnt start til 20th july, which would give extra time to do some training walks around Anglesey before going to chepstow.

    the plan has up to 5 full rest days, but i could take more if needed.

    my other half might also be around if a pick up was needed too 🙂


  8. we take our mutt with us camping and on long bike rides, we find for feeding and drinking a largish poo bag with the rim rolled down works well and weighs nothing.
    for food (if time beforehand is available for them to adjust) working dog food is good as it is more energy dense, as well as sharing a bit of each of your meals if you are eating out.
    as a last resort it may be worth taking a lump of lard to give in tit-bits as a little booster 🙂

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