It’s well-established that taking a dog along for camping can be very rewarding ~ as well as fun ~ for campers and canines alike. However, some campers worry about keeping their pooch warm enough at campsites, especially during cold-weather seasons, or in wild areas known for extreme temperature shifts.
There are some simple, and even creative, ways to keep dogs warm while camping. You can start by planning ahead to ensure you can fit your pet into the tent if necessary. Don’t leave home without an emergency get-warm-fast plan, not just for yourself but also for whoever else you bring along.
Let’s explore camping with dogs, the challenges with the uncertainties of the weather, and ways to get them warm and keep them that way through icy times.
Smart to Think Ahead When Camping with Dogs
Taking a canine with you camping is not as simple as letting your pet jump into the back of a pickup truck to take along (and hopefully you don’t do that anyway, as it’s dangerous for dogs). One would think that animals that came from the wild would easily adjust to being thrust back out there once in a while.
Not quite. Dogs have been domesticated for a long time, so long in fact that they have evolved to commingle with human beings, and in the process lost some of the natural instinct to run in the wild. Not all of it, mind you ~ some of their herding or barking instincts still can shine through ~ but the overall ability to live away from humans has diminished.
In the wild, if a dog gets cold, it will trek for miles to find the warmest place possible. Today’s pet dogs are leashed, both figuratively and literally, to their human handlers. With this in mind, before heading out to camp, make a list of what your pooch might need. It could look something like this:
- Food and water dishes (when camping, dogs need a lot of water!)
- Leashes (both short and long)
- Doggy doo cleanup bags
- Toys for exercise like balls or sticks, or a pull rope
- Pet emergency kit
- Tags with your contact information, and maybe even veterinarian instructions, if vital
Note the first item. Isn’t that the first thing we plan around to go camping: how and where to sleep? It makes a world of difference if you’re sleeping in a tent versus inside a camper or recreational vehicle (RV). Make it the first thing you think about for your dog to go camping with you.
With that in mind, let’s explore good ways to keep a dog warm while camping at any type of location, starting with the obvious, and then moving on to other ideas you may not have known about.
12 Tips to Ensure a Dog is Warm While Camping
1. Dog Sleeping Bags
Yes, they do exist, and they even come in outside-of-the-time, waterproof types, or regular sleeping bags most suited for under a roof or tent. Today’s dog sleeping bags (see Amazon) are much like those we’ve been familiar with since childhood. They roll up tight for easy transport and storage and have zippers strategically placed to make snuggling in as easy as possible.
What’s cool about the dog sleeping bags is they aren’t really long like ours, so they’re easier to arrange inside a tent. Yet, most quality ones are just fine outside, too, just like ours. It’s probably wise to look for one that is easily washable and manufactured solidly with quality materials. We all know how rough dogs can be with fabrics, and these sleeping bags will be washed more often than those used by humans.
2. Dog Jacket
Hey, if they thought of sleeping bags just for pooches, why not camping-worthy jackets, too? Sure, some of us laugh heartily when we see a pooch all human-attired. But think of the peace of mind you would have if you knew that, no matter what, your dog wouldn’t be cold through the night.
And today’s dog jackets (see Amazon) don’t have to look bad. In fact, some look quite stylish. These aren’t just the coat-like stylistic items you might have seen on poodles over the years. We’re talking full-body suits, some reversible, waterproof, and even reflective material for further protection should the dog wander off after nightfall. Some dog bodysuits are thin enough that you could even slip a fluffy coat over it when it’s really cold!
3. Warming Pads or Blankets
To be used alone or in conjunction with a sleeping bag, a great variety of dog warming pads or blankets are easily found in many pet shops both in real-life stores and online. Some are electrically heated which would require a cord and power source, which you need to consider beforehand. Other types of dog warming blankets can be made of materials that self-heat along with the animal’s body heat and don’t require electricity.
The plug-in types of dog warming pads are probably more powerful, so if you’re bringing a generator or an RV, plug one of them in and let your dog decide when he or she wants to be warmed. It can be nice to take some of the guesswork out of it.
4. Hot Water Bags
They still look like the good old-fashioned items that have been around since the Three Stooges, but hot water bags are something still very useful to have around whether for the home or on the road. Simply heat some water over the fire, fill a water bag, and arrange it next to your dog. Your pet will figure it out; it’s best to have more than one option.
Without them, think about just using a plastic water bottle, but once the hot water is poured in, wrap it with something like a towel or blanket so the dog won’t get burned. Improvising to get hot water can be transferred to rocks, too. Some savvy campers dig a hole and bury steaming hot rocks under a decently thick layer of dirt, then sleep atop the hot spot.
5. Elevated Pet Bed
Sometimes it’s not the air or wind that causes a freeze while camping ~ but the frozen or wet ground. If you plan to take dogs camping with you regularly, it’s not a bad investment to get an elevated pet bed (see Amazon). These do just what the name implies: provide a bed off the cold ground.
When camping it is extremely important to keep your dog dry. These elevated pet beds come in a decent range of sizes and styles, some of which easily fold up for transport and storage. It’s like having a mini-cot around just in case. These could be useful for non-dog reasons, too, just to keep things like ice boxes out of the dirt.
6. Hand Warmers
Yes, it sounds like a humans-only thing, but these little fast-warming packets can be used en masse to add quick warmth to any situation. Take it from baseball or softball players who have taken them up to keep hands warm: they quickly learned you can hide one inside a cap or other places to keep other parts of your body warm.
Hand warmers come in a variety of sizes and styles, including air-activated, or initiated by shaking ~ and they can be bought in bulk to save some money to get a lot of them. As with the elevated bed, there are a number of possible uses for hand warmers. They are a solid investment for camping enthusiasts.
7. Booties for Warm Paws
Since dogs can’t just hold a hand warmer like those noted above between their paws, you could go a step further with booties made just for them. Manufacturers now make dog booties designed specifically for protection against extreme cold and icy grounds. Gone are the days of trying to slip on human socks, which inevitably fall off.
Not all dogs appreciate having them on. They are available in a number of sizes, so choose carefully because if the booties are comfortable, the better the chance that your pet will leave them alone. There are even dog boots and shoes, some with anti-slip soles, waterproofing, and even reflective materials to see them at night!
8. High-Quality Snacks
A way for any animal to stay warm is to eat. Eating food adds calories that the body needs to burn for fuel which in turn releases heat. Also, know that shivering actually eats up those valuable calories. Finally, the digestive process forces the circulatory system to work a little harder which also releases body heat naturally.
The best items for dogs camping are the typical high-protein foods like meats. Not everyone can bring along enough steaks for their pets, so think of snacks. Look closely for high-protein snacks, with the most calories. Your pet will appreciate the extra snacks, and if in doubt, add another meal to your dog’s day. Always make sure they get enough food and water.
9. Stay Active
It’s probably the most common-sense item on this list, but keeping your dog moving is vital not only for his or her overall health but also to ward off spells of coldness. It’s also common sense not to ignore your dog, or leave it alone at the campsite or (worse) inside the tent.
Of course, you’ll plan to bring the dog along on hikes or long walks; but think about other ways to go the extra mile to make your pooch breath harder and sweat more. Examples include cycling, where your dog can run along with you and the bike; and simple games like using a pull rope as noted above. Again, be sure to bring along some toys!
10. Stay Warm Together by the Campfire
There are reasons why humans all gather up around the fire after a day of camping. It’s a great way to unwind after what is typically very long days out in the wild, and let the heat soothe whatever aches and pains were gathered during the day. But also, it’s the single warmest place at a campsite before snuggling into sleeping bags.
It’s easier to stay warm if you start warm. Since getting warm in the first place is more challenging, and the night is the coldest time of the day, it makes sense for you and your pet to both warm as much as possible just before bedtime. When everyone is campfire circling, don’t let your dog wander off or sneak inside the tent to hide; make sure your canine is close to the fire.
11. Sleep in Properly Insulated Tents
This tip helps you along with your dog: properly insulate your tent. Then, if temperatures dip too much, make sure your dog is inside with you.
Just as not all tents are made the same, so too it’s true with tent set-ups. Location can be key, so choose a place if possible with protection from the elements, like under a large tree, or aside a steep hill to block the wind. Some campers go with exterior insulation, covering the outside with blankets, foil, or any other covering items that are not too heavy to threaten the tent’s stability.
Our final tip to keep a dog warm at a campsite is probably the most simple: snuggle with your pet at night. Of course, much depends on the size and type of the tent and the size of your party. But with a little planning ahead of time ~ especially if you think about some of the information outlined above ~ this might be the easiest and even most enjoyable way to go.
Some campers even insist on letting their dog inside their sleeping bag with them. It’s actually not a bad idea if the camping is in a place with very unpredictable and often cold weather. Sharing body warmth is an age-old way for animals to stay warm through the night. For bigger dogs, an idea is to fully unzip the sleeping bag so it can lie over the top of both of you. This is easier with a warming pad or blanket underneath. Bingo! Fun camping trip.
How to Know When It’s Too Cold For Dogs
For the most part, dogs handle cold temperatures better than people. Still, how well your dog can cope with extreme cold can depend on its size and breed. More on that below, but first let’s touch on what seems to be the magic number for dogs camping: 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you plan to camp in an area where temperatures probably will dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a moment or two, it’s probably best to either not bring your pooch, or rearrange the trip to other (warmer) dates.
Large dogs usually tolerate cold weather better than small canines. This can be particularly true for the breeds used to icy conditions, like a Husky, or St. Bernard. Also in consideration is their fur: larger dogs like Labradors that have short hair might still need some warming assistance should temperatures dip too much.
Depending on the size of your dog or its breed, it might be okay to allow it to get down to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, for big or long-haired dogs; or, set 45 degrees Fahrenheit as the lowest in consideration for a smaller-breed pooch. Additionally, extra care is recommended for puppies no matter the breed.
Pay Attention to a Dog’s Physical Signs
As with humans, not every dog handles extreme cold the same, so it might not be as simple as looking at your dog’s breed, size, and fur to set a temperature marking the danger zone for cold. Here are warning signs to help you make decisions quickly:
- Shivering a little, or at times, at first; then, increased shivering over an hour or 2
- Curling up
- Slow breathing
- General lethargy
- Seriously cold touching the dog
- Dilated pupils
If you notice 1 or more of those symptoms, start taking actions like covering the pet with a blanket, or simply getting him or her in the tent or RV.
The age of the dog can make a difference, too, as older canines are typically less active, and being active (as noted above) is an important way to fend off cold.
Final Words on Dogs, Warmth, and Camping
Taking dogs camping can be a game changer for some people in terms of outdoor excursions. Still, some precautions should be taken, like those mentioned above to be prepared should extreme cold hit suddenly.
A final tip: seek pre-camping veterinarian advice before you go. Ensure your pets are fully vaccinated, and protected against bites from snakes or other vermin.
Question: How do dogs take bathroom breaks in a bodysuit?
Answer: You have to know that manufacturers thought of this! They will come with open rear-ends. They also have openings to get to the collar or harness.
Q.: Is it safe or wise to leave dogs in camping tents?
A.: You can leave a dog in a camping tent, but it’s ill-advised for lengthy periods, or during hot times of day. Some campgrounds also disallow it, and to do it or not might depend on whether you’re camping in the wild, where other critters roam, or in a campground.
We must say this: never leave a dog inside a camping tent during days full of sunshine. Particularly if there are no breezes, or shade available; remember that the dog can’t escape the enclosed space or do something otherwise to cool off.
Family Dog Expert Author
Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.