Em-barking on outdoor adventures with a four-legged friend can transform a good camping or hiking trip into a great one.
While any dog can technically join in outdoor adventures (and I have the photos of my 10-pound Pomeranian on the trail to prove it), there are some breeds that have an advantage when it comes to trekking through serene forests or scaling rugged peaks.
Here's a rundown of some of the best hiking dog breeds--big and small--and what makes them exceptional trail dogs.
Energy Level: High
Maintenance: Moderate (regular coat brushing)
Ideal for: Those looking for a versatile adventure dog breed, perfect for various hiking terrains.
Think of Australian Shepherds as the brainiacs of the hiking trail. They're not just energetic; they're whip-smart and crave a good challenge. But beware: Their smarts mean they get bored easily. If you're not keeping them engaged with tasks or puzzles, they might find their own (not always ideal) ways to stay entertained. Oh, and Aussies are working dogs. They might try to herd children or other animals while on the trail, so training to manage this behavior is important (read: avoid off-leash situations until they're 100% ready).
Energy level: High
Maintenance: Low to moderate (regular brushing and occasional baths)
Ideal for: Campers and hikers who enjoy water-based activities.
Labs are like the sunny, dependable friends everyone loves to hike with. They bring a sturdy build and an undeniable zest for life to every outdoor excursion. However, their love affair with food is real. These dogs can eat, and without enough exercise, they might pack on the pounds. Keeping an eye on their diet is key, especially if your adventures are more leisurely walks than mountain treks.
Energy level: Very High
Maintenance: Moderate (regular grooming for their dense coat)
Ideal for: Experienced hikers who want a high-energy, intelligent hiking partner.
Border Collies are the endurance athletes of the dog world, always ready to go the extra mile. Their agility and intelligence make them perfect for navigating tricky trails. But these traits come with a caveat: they need a job to do. Without proper mental and physical stimulation, they can become anxious or destructive. Plus, they can be sensitive to noise and may react to loud sounds while hiking (not great for locations where hunters abound). This breed is better suited for frequent hikers and more experienced owners.
Energy level: High
Size: Medium to large
Maintenance: High (frequent brushing, especially during shedding seasons)
Ideal for: Lovers of cold-weather hiking and rugged terrain.
For those who love winter hikes, Siberian huskies are a dream. They're built for endurance and love cold weather. That said, steel yourself: Huskies are known for their independent, sometimes stubborn nature. They might get a whiff of something intriguing, and suddenly you're in a stressful game of chase on the trail. That’s why training a Siberian husky in recall commands is non-negotiable, especially if you're in open areas where they can dash off. Avoid off-leash situations until you're confident your husky's ready to listen.
Energy level: High
Maintenance: Low (minimal grooming; occasional brushing)
Ideal for: Active campers looking for a versatile and affectionate hiking companion.
Vizslas are velcro dogs, which makes them great adventure partners. Just be aware, the deep connection that keeps them by your side on the trail can also cause separation anxiety when you're away. Vizslas are ideal for pet parents who can provide constant companionship (looking at you, work-from-homers!) both on and off the trail.
Energy level: Medium
Maintenance: High (regular brushing to manage shedding)
Ideal for: Family-friendly camping trips and moderate hikes.
For those who relish family car camping trips and relaxed hikes, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a natural fit. These amiable giants, sturdy and calm, bring a sense of peace to any outdoor excursion. Unlike a Border Collie's sprint, they move at a leisurely pace, perfect for family outings with toddlers in tow. Their gentle, protective nature makes them superb companions, especially for hikes that are more about enjoying the journey than rushing to the destination.
Energy level: High
Maintenance: Moderate (regular brushing to keep their coat healthy)
Ideal for: Anyone seeking a friendly and reliable companion for outdoor adventures.
This one shouldn't surprise you. Golden Retrievers are a top pick for hiking enthusiasts, thanks to their loyalty and adventurous spirit. These dogs are outdoor naturals who are equally enthusiastic about a splash in a creek and chilling at your campsite. They’re smart and responsive, adapting easily to different hiking scenarios. But watch out for their friendly zeal; it can get to be a bit much, especially around new folks (HI NEXT DOOR CAMPSITE NEIGHBORS/NEW BFFS!!). A bit of training to help them greet calmly can go a long way.
Energy level: Very high
Maintenance: Low (coarse coat, minimal grooming)
Ideal for: Hikers who love high-energy companions and need a small but sturdy dog for varied terrains.
Of course we couldn't leave out the little guys! Small dogs can hike, and Jack Russell Terriers are prime examples. They're powerhouses in a small package, making them ideal for those who love vigorous hikes but maybe don't have as much space for a larger breed. Packed with energy and bravery, they excel on adventurous trails where they can showcase their agility. However, their bold nature sometimes tips into overconfidence. It's smart to keep them leashed, particularly in wildlife-rich areas, as their innate prey drive can suddenly take over.
Energy Level: Medium to high
Maintenance: Moderate (thick double coat, regular brushing)
Ideal for: Outdoor enthusiasts who want a spirited yet manageable hiking buddy that’s great for family trips.
Pembroke Welsh Corgis are sociable, friendly, and great for families, bringing a dose of cheer and steadfastness to every outdoor adventure. Their herding background gives them a surprising amount of energy, making them more than capable of handling moderate hikes. However, with their short legs and long backs that are prone to developing issues, you'll need to be mindful about overexerting them, especially on rough terrain.
Embracing mixed breeds
OK, technically this isn't a specific breed. But if you're eyeing a new hiking partner, don't forget about mixed breeds! They often combine the best qualities of their lineage, emerging as stellar companions for your treks. Some fosters and shelters even run breed DNA tests on their pups; just ask.
Take it a step farther, and consider fostering or volunteering for dog-walking at your local shelter. Some shelters encourage volunteers to take dogs on a hike for a couple hours. It's a practical way to see how a dog behaves in real hiking settings—their social skills, reaction to wildlife, and agility on varied terrains. And it can really help you find a dog that syncs with your hiking rhythm.
Choosing the best hiking dog is more than just about breed—it's about finding a dog that complements your hiking style. Proper training and understanding your dog's limitations are important, but there's more to it.
When hitting the trails, you'll encounter challenges like parasites and the risk of injuries. That's why preventative care, like flea and tick treatments, is crucial. Also, be prepared for accidents or illnesses—that's where dog insurance can come in, helping you cover the cost of life-saving treatments.
Well, that about covers it! With the right dog by your side and the necessary precautions in place, you're all set for your next outdoor adventure!