OUTDOOR BASICS

Backpacking Dog Bed: Keep Your Adventure Buddy Comfortable on the Trail

dog bed with top layer
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Backpacking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and spend interrupted quality time with the people you care about. It’s natural to want to share that experience with your four-legged best friend, but if you’re asking your dog to hike, carry her own gear and avoid crashing through the bush to her heart’s content, the least you can do is offer her a comfortable place to sleep when you set up camp.

Read this guide to pick out the perfect backpacking dog bed for your needs and camping style. Whether you’ve got a stereotype-busting toy poodle or a big and burly mastiff, you can find the perfect place for your furry trail partner to rest after a long day’s hike.

Why Pack a Bed?

With the right gear and training, your dog can actually carry his own bed, so it’s not necessarily  going to add to your gear load. Even if your dog can’t tolerate a pack, you can find a packable dog bed that’s small and lightweight enough to not monopolize valuable real estate in your pack.

If nothing else, you should give the bed a try on your first backpacking trip together. If your pup ends up completely rejecting the bed and loving his time out in the wilderness, you can leave the bed at home or give it to a friend with a more particular pooch.

Man and his best friend

Still not convinced? This list covers just a few of the many motivating factors that lead dog owners to invest in a camping bed to take on backpacking trips with their pup.

  • Insulation: Camping mattresses for humans aren’t just about comfort; they provide a layer of air between your body and the ground, which helps you stay warm in cold nighttime temperatures. The same idea holds for dogs, too. Though they stay warmer than humans do, dogs are at risk in cold temperatures. Some dog beds even include a top layer to trap in your pup’s body heat and provide a warm nest of safety overnight.
  • Insect protection: The bed will give your dog a layer of protection from insects on the ground. That’s not to say that those insects can’t crawl up the bed and get on your dog, but providing that barrier offers at least a little bit of an obstacle for biting pests to overcome. Plus, if the bed has a top layer, you actually will be providing some mosquito bite prevention for your pooch.
  • Familiarity: Most dogs who like going for day hikes end up loving backpacking, but for those who aren’t used to sleeping outdoors, it can be reassuring to have a dedicated place to sleep. While most dogs will end up just adjusting to being out of their ordinary routine and sleep on the floor of your tent, some may end up costing you valuable sleep by whining and pacing. Introduce your dog to her camping bed early and train her to relax on it to avoid the possibility of this kind of disruption.
  • Comfort: You want your pooch to bed down and sleep while you’re doing the same so you can both recharge and get ready for your next day of hiking. If your pup is tossing and turning, grunting and sighing all night trying to find a comfortable spot on an uneven campground surface, you both could end up feeling less bright-eyed and bushy tailed the next morning.
  • Peace of mind: Not all pet owners dote on their dogs, so this may not be true for you, but for those who do want the best for their pups, a camping mattress can alleviate any worry that your dog feels uncomfortable bedding down in the dirt.
  • Rain protection: Dealing with soggy backpacking conditions is hard enough on your own, but when you have a dog in tow, there’s another being’s safety to concern yourself with. Getting wet on the trail can be quite dangerous, and it’s important to at least be able to bed down in dry surroundings. That’s also true for your pup. If you can provide a raised, dry, insulated place for him to sleep, you’ll both be much happier.

Ultimately, you’re taking your dog backpacking because you want your adventure buddy to come with you on all your favorite wilderness excursions. Taking a bed with you the first time can provide adequate positive exposure to the experience that you and your pup will both want to go backpacking together again and again.

dog lying on bed in camp

A backpacking bed isn’t the only piece of the puzzle to make that kind of successful experience come to fruition, but it certainly can’t hurt. The last thing you want is to be deep into your trip and become annoyed that your dog is being too fussy at night. A comfortable, familiar bed can be an easy solution to that problem.

What to Look For in Dog Camping Beds

As with all of your outdoor gear, it’s essential to shop around and find the right option to suit your exact needs based on the kind of hiking you do and in what climate. Short, one-night backpacking trips in a warm climate call for a different kind of bed than multi-night snow camping trips.

Material

The materials used for dog camping beds are typically quite similar to the materials used for self-inflating camping pads for humans. Nylon and other synthetic fabrics are common, and they’re a good choice because they’re waterproof, easy to clean and tough.

dog sleeping in his backpacking bad

Even if you don’t plan to get rained out on the trail, you should choose a waterproof bed just in case – unless you’re going backpacking in a desert, of course.

Construction

Dog beds for backpacking take a variety of different forms, but most often, they’re constructed as relatively thin pads that stuff down or roll up for easy packing. They tend to lack the bells and whistles you see on cushier dog beds for the home, and they can also be quite small. There are some inflatable styles available if you want to give your dog a little extra padding and insulation.

dog lying on camping bed

If your pooch is a frequent bed chewer, you may want to avoid using an inflatable model. However, considering that most dogs chew their beds out of boredom, this may not be an issue during your backpacking trip. After all, your dog will be exhausted after a long day of hiking.

Insulation

Most dog backpacking beds provide a thin cushion barrier between the ground and the dog’s body, and that may well be enough for your needs. However, if you plan to head out in cold conditions, you may want to look for a dog camping bed with a top layer.

dog sleeping in his camping bed

These camping beds are like little nests that your pup can snuggle into to get comfy and warm on a chilly or downright cold night in the wilderness. This style is an ideal choice for snow camping and other potentially dangerous winter backpacking trips. You may think your dog’s fur is enough to keep her warm in the cold, but that’s not a theory that’s worth testing.

Portability

If you’re going on a long trip and need to pack efficiently, start by looking for a dog bed that comes with its own stuff sack and is described as “stuffable” or “packable.” Some camping dog beds don’t come with their own stuff sack but could easily pack down into a third-party stuff sack you purchase.

dog ready for hiking

If you happen to find a style that works perfectly for your needs but lacks that component, don’t let it sway you. Your dog’s bed should be able to pack down small enough to fit into a dog pack so the pup can be responsible for his own gear.

Comfort

While it’s not the most important concern, as we discussed above, it’s worth considering how comfortable your dog will be on a given bed. If the pup absolutely hates the model you’ve chosen, it’s not worth bringing on the trip, so think carefully about your pooch’s sleeping preferences as you shop.

comfortable camping dog bed

Does your dog tend to spread out or curl up when he sleeps? The dog bed shape you buy should be in line with those typical sleeping habits.

Cost

As with most outdoor gear, you get what you pay for in a portable dog bed. If you want something rugged and long-lasting, it’s worthwhile to make an investment in something good. If you’re wary of spending a lot up front, spend the time to find the highest-quality affordable bed you can and consider upgrading once you see whether your dog likes the cheaper model.

Size

Dogs are not one-size-fits-all animals, so a one-size-fits-all dog bed is worthy of suspicion. Is it built for a corgi or a German shepherd? Look at dimensions before you buy, even if the bed is available in a range of sizes. What means medium to you could mean something entirely different to a manufacturer that focuses on gear for small dogs.

Setting Your Pup Up For Backpacking Success

Whether this is your very first time taking your dog backpacking or it’s simply the first time you’re planning to pack a bed for the pup, it’s important to take some exposure steps before you head out so your dog understands that the bed is theirs, and it’s for sleeping.

dog sleeping beside camp

Some dogs, particularly older pups who’ve learned the joys of relaxation, might not take long to get the idea, but others, particularly puppies, could be confused. Regardless of her age, you’ll be doing your dog a favor if you prepare properly.

Make Early Introductions

It’s usually not good idea to introduce something new to a dog when they’re already in an unfamiliar situation, so purchase the bed and set it up for your dog to sniff and explore well before you leave for your trip. Use your preferred training method to teach your dog to lay down and relax on her new camping bed.

If you clicker train, start shaping by clicking and treating when she explores it with her nose, touches it with her paws, sits on it, then lays down and relaxes. You can take similar steps with luring and other training techniques. Just take it slow and go at your dog’s pace.

dog standing on backpacking bed eating treats

She should associate the bed with good things and happy times – that will maximize the bed’s comforting potential while you’re out on the trail. Leave the bed out and let your pup approach it at his whim.

If you happen to catch him lying down in it, praise him and reward him with treats – unless he’s already asleep. The snooze seal of approval is all the info you need to know that this new camping bed will be a smashing success when you’re out in the wilderness.

Pack In Rewards

If your dog has a favorite chew toy, like a bully stick or peanut-butter-stuffed femur bone, pack it along with you when you head out together for the first time. Then, when you’ve set up camp, you can unpack the dog bed and place the prized treat on top or inside as an enticement for your pooch to get comfy.

camping dog playing with toy

For your dog, an evening spent gnawing his favorite treat will provide instant comfort and relaxation, making the experience of backpacking both more familiar and more enjoyable. Associating the bed with this comforting relaxation puts you further in the right direction of having your pup reliable curl up and go to sleep when you set it up at your campsite.

Make Your Choice and Get Outside

Now that you know what to look for in a dog bed and how to choose the right option for you, it’s time to make that purchase and plan your next trip. Your pooch will need additional pieces of gear, but with the bed in place, you can at least be confident that your nights will be easy and peaceful.

Those easy, peaceful nights are one of the most rewarding aspects of backpacking, and the experience is about to get a whole lot better now that you can bring your four-legged best friend along to share in the fun.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

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