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

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

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Essentials for Desert Hiking with Dogs

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, so you’ll need to carry all the water your dog will need.

Just important as having enough water, is giving your dog an efficient way 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 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 really uncomfortable trail surface.

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

Speaking of tweezers, they’re 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!

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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.

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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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  • Aversion training is essential. Vaccines for snakebite do not actually buy time, but do give a false sense of safety. Educate yourself about the desert as well as training your dog. A Bark Scorpion sting is almost as serious, to give you one example if you hike the Sonororan desert in So Cal / Arizona

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