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7 Essentials for Desert Hiking with Your Dog

When Bailey and I set out on an extended road trip last year, I planned to spend a lot of time hiking. Coming from the Midwest, I had some concerns about the precautions we’d need to take, as well as the gear necessary for hiking with dogs in the desert. When a search for resources came up empty, Bailey became my guinea pig, and we developed this list of essential dog gear for desert hiking. Hopefully it makes your trip planning easier!

A dog on a pet friendly hiking trail in the desert

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Desert Dog Essential #1: Water

This probably sounds obvious, but you need to pack A LOT of water when hiking with dogs in the desert. I’ve always carried some water for Bailey, but being a dog, she’s also used to sampling from streams, lakes, and puddles. These water sources generally don’t exist in the desert, unless it’s monsoon season.

In addition to carrying water for your dog, you’ll want an efficient way for her to drink. My old dog, Duke, would only drink out of a bowl, so whatever he didn’t finish was wasted. Bailey and I have worked out an awesome system, but it has taken some practice. Every so often, I ask Bailey if she wants water. If she does, she faces me and sits down, and I squirt water into her mouth from a water bottle. Since it’s not natural for dogs to drink like this, they might sputter a bit until they get the hang of it – just go slow and only give a little at a time.

Using a collapsible water bottle works well. The key is the pop-top, which allows me to create a “drinking fountain” for Bailey. Of course, any water bottle will do, but these roll up for easy storage. And with her Ruffwear dog backpack, Bailey can carry her own beverages!

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Desert Dog Essential #2: Dog Boots

Bailey had dog boots for hiking in snow and protecting her paws from the salty Chicago streets, but in the desert, her boots are always in my backpack. Since dogs regulate their body temperature through their paw pads, boots aren’t something Bailey wears constantly while hiking, because she could overheat. Rather, I consider them emergency equipment – carried in case of an injury, or if we come to really uncomfortable surfaces on the trail.

However, if you are hiking with dogs on hot sand, like we did at Great Sand Dunes National Park, they’re 100% necessary. We like the Ultra Paws Rugged Dog Boots for their 2nd velcro strap, which really keeps the boots in place. But there are a lot of great dog boot options to choose from. Check out this post where we compare some of the best dog boots on the market.

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Desert Dog Essential #3: Sit Pad

On an all-day hike, you’re likely to stop and take a few rest breaks. I always carry a small sit-pad for myself – it’s a smaller version of my Therma-Rest sleeping pad. And, after seeing Bailey struggle to find a place to rest, I decided to throw one in for her, too. This may seem like overkill, but the desert is littered with rock shards and cactus needles. If you’re looking forward to a leisurely lunch stop, bring something comfortable for your dog to lie down on – even an old blanket will do.

Desert Dog Essential #4: Fine-Tooth Comb

This was a brand-new addition to my hiking kit. A fine-tooth comb makes cactus spine removal much easier than trying it by hand (ouch!), or attempting to grab them with tweezers while your dog is wiggling. So far, I haven’t had to use it, but the $2 investment is well worth the peace of mind.


Desert Dog Essential #5: Tweezers

Speaking of tweezers, they are another essential desert hiking tool. For cactus spines too small for the comb to catch, thorns, splinters, or even bee stingers, this simple implement can save the day. A fun fact I’ve learned is that, even if your dog isn’t bothered, you can get poked by spikes hitching a ride in their fur, or hanging on the leash!

A dog hiking a pet friendly desert trail and enjoying the view of the red rock mountains in the distance


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Desert Dog Essential #6: First-Aid Tape

Carrying a good first aid kit goes without saying, but most don’t come with first-aid tape for pets. This is just as important as carrying Band-Aids for yourself, and can be picked up at any pet store. The tape is self-adhesive and won’t stick to skin or fur, so you won’t cause your pet additional pain while wrapping or unwrapping their injury.

Hiking with dogs on a pet friendly trail in the desert. This dog is sitting under a Saguaro cactus.

Desert Dog Essential #7: Benadryl

Dirty dog secret: Bailey likes to eat bees! Seriously, when things start buzzing around, she turns into a frog. So far, she’s caught a few and hasn’t had a bad reaction. But just like in humans, allergies can pop up at any time. Adding Benadryl to our first aid kit was important for us both.

At your next vet visit, ask whether the doctor recommends giving your pet Benadryl for an allergic reaction, and confirm the proper dosage. Then put a note with that information in your first aid kit along with the medication, so you’ll have it handy. (Benadryl dosage for dogs is much higher than for humans, so it’s important to know how much to administer.)

Hiking Essentials

Bonus Tip: Rattlesnakes!

For those of you planning to spend a lot of time in the desert, or if your dogs hike off-leash, rattlesnake aversion training is a thing! It’s relatively inexpensive (under $100) and reportedly highly effective.

Also, there is a vaccine that can give dogs more time to get to the vet if they are bitten. Opinions vary, so check with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your dog.

We hope that when you’re planning to go hiking with dogs you find this information helpful. If you have any other desert hiking tips, please share them in the comments below!



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  • Kate McDonald-Dotson says:

    Appreciate the informtion. We are living in Baja California Sur with our ten month old Standard Poodle. We haven’t had too many negative experiences hiking in desert, but we have stayed pretty close to civilization.

  • Hi Mark! There is snake aversion training being offered in Tucson (where Leigh, the author of the article lives) that uses postive reinforcement. Do some checking around – there may be a similar course offered in your area!

  • The snake aversion training is done with shock collars. Once I discovered that, I backed off quickly. Great list by the way … Glad you discovered the comb.

  • Hi Sharon! Yes, for people in places where rattlesnakes are common, it’s definitely something to think about. Your veterinarian should be able to tell you more. Waggin’ trails!

  • Hi Carolyn! We’ve used a Ruffwear backpack for Buster, but doing a round-up on the best doggy backpacks is a great idea. We’ll get to work on that – stay tuned and waggin’ trails!

  • Would def be interested in getting the first aid medication for rattkesndkes

  • Beautiful Airedale and great information. I was wondering if you ever have her carry her own stuff? Would love a review on doggy packpacks. Putting a fine-toothed comb in my pack now! Sand burrs are the enemy.

  • Great point using the comb for sand burrs, Pamela – I hate getting those little buggers stuck in my fingers! And now you’ll have a new trick to teach Honey with the water bottle. =D

  • Leigh Wilson says:

    Glad you found it useful – there are lots of collapsible water bottles for humans that would work just as well :)

  • This is such a great list! And not just for the desert. We’ve found a fine toothed comb invaluable for getting sand burrs out of Honey’s fur. But I’m really intrigued by the collapsible water bottle. It takes up less room the longer you hike and it would be much easier to store these in our tiny boat lockers than the hard, plastic bottles we’ve been using. Great idea!

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