There’s something special about desert hiking with dogs. The serenity of the vast landscape is balanced against the knowledge that you’re in a place that will kill you if you’re not careful.

Woman and dog walking on a pet friendly trail in the desert

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Bailey and I spend a lot of time hiking. And, after spending most of my life in the Midwest, visiting the desert comes with a certain amount of anxiety. The desert commands respect. And desert hiking with dogs means you need to take precautions to stay safe.

When my search for tips and resources came up empty, Bailey became my guinea pig. Together we developed this guide to the gear needed for desert hiking with dogs. Hopefully it makes your trip planning easier!

Essentials For Desert Hiking With Dogs

Bailey thinks the only gear she needs is her ball! But when you’re hiking the desert, there are a few other things you’ll need to pack.

Playful airedale terrier dog with ball in mouth

Desert Dog Essential #1: Water

This probably sounds obvious, but when you’re hiking with dogs in the desert you need to pack water. A LOT of water. I’ve always carried some water for Bailey but, being a dog, she’s also used to sampling from streams, lakes, and puddles.

Water is unreliable in the desert. A stream that was flowing last week could be dry today. So you’ll need to carry all the water your dog will need during your hike.

Giving your dog an efficient way to drink can help reduce the amount of water you have to carry. My old dog, Duke, would only drink out of a bowl, so whatever he didn’t finish was wasted.

Bailey and I have an awesome system, but it took 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 hydration dog backpack, Bailey can carry her own beverages!

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Desert Dog Essential #2: Dog Boots

Bailey had dog boots for the occasional hike in the snow and to protect 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. I consider them emergency equipment — carried in case of an injury, if the ground becomes hot, or when we encounter uncomfortable trail surfaces.

If you’re hiking with a dog on hot sand, like we did at Great Sand Dunes National Park, dog boots are absolutely 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.

READ MORE ⇒  Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park with Pets

Brindle dog sitting beside the sign for Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Desert Dog Essential #3: Sit Pad

On an all-day hike, you’re likely to stop and take a few breaks. I always carry a small sit-pad for myself – it’s a smaller version of my Therma-Rest sleeping pad. And, after watching 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 along the trail, 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 – especially for the desert. A fine-tooth comb makes cactus spine and sand burr removal much easier than trying it by hand (ouch!). 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

For cactus spines too small for the comb to catch, thorns, splinters, and even bee stingers, a simple pair to tweezers 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!

READ MORE ⇒  What To Do If Your Dog Gets Stung By A Scorpion

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

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.

READ MORE ⇒  Make A DIY Pet First Aid Kit

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, it’s like she’s part frog. She’s even caught a few. And, so far, she hasn’t had a bad reaction. But just like humans, pets can have allergies 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, positive reinforcement rattlesnake aversion training is a thing! It’s relatively inexpensive 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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  • I keep his fur thinned and we only take short walks in the summer, but I have a question about high mountain desert dog walks in the summer. He gigantic paws have hair growing between the pads, getting the boots on him has proved nigh-on impossible. Does he need them with the protection of pad hair and the fact that always stay in the trails? Also, we carry a sit pad, but he doesn’t use it and seems comfortable all the same. Could this be because of all that fluff on his butt that he doesn’t feel the heat of the ground due to some kind of insulation factor?

  • I hike with my dog on desert trails frequently. The other day, he got something in one of his eyes and it was very irritating (he’s okay now). It’s possible that this happened because he loves to try and flush birds out of desert brush. Do you know of any headwear that protects eyes and nose, especially, from desert plants such as cactus and low lying brush? Great article, btw. I’ve got most of the essentials you mention. I’ll be talking with my vet about Benadryl … good suggestion!

    • Hi Teri! I’m so glad you found the article helpful. Yes, I think Doggles or Rex Specs would help protect your pup’s eyes from twigs, thorns, and brush when he’s sniffing around the dessert. I wish you both happy adventures!

  • Category: Travel Gear, Travel Tips / Tagged with: Hiking