9 min read • By Wyatt West, Staff Writer & Outdoor Fiend, Timberdog®
At Timberdog, we love taking our dogs everywhere, and have molded our very company around the best in canine-human travel experiences. And though our pets have different needs for the road, our staff can all agree on a few, absolutely essential items to pack, whether you’re journeying for several months or traipsing away for the weekend.
Here is a list of ten must-have, Timberdog-approved items to keep your pet safe and comfortable for all the fun voyages ahead:
- Portable travel dog bed
- Travel dog bowls and water bottle
- Safety harness and belt for the car
- Biodegradable poop bags
- GPS collar
- Dog jacket
- Pet first aid kit with styptic powder
- Chew toys and/or treat dispensers
- Flea & tick comb
- Light-up collar or lights for the collar
- Honorable mentions: Small, high-absorbency towel for muddy feet and messes; paw soother stick for long hikes and dry noses
PORTABLE TRAVEL DOG BED
Because a solid travel dog bed is the most expensive and potentially the most important item on the list, we’ll devote a bit of time to it and break down the differences between each type.
COTS AND MATS
Although there seems to be a glut of travel dog beds on the market currently, we don’t recommend going with any of the cots or mats. Mats - such as the ones made by Chuckit or Ruffwear - tend to be on the thinner side due to only containing insulation, and, generally speaking, such insulation tends to compress or degrade over time. The insulation in such beds has one job - to keep your dog warm - but it doesn't provide support.
Also, if the covering of the pet bed isn’t completely waterproof (and nothing is 100% waterproof), this insulation, usually made of nylon that resembles cotton, can get wet. Not only is this dangerous in precipitation or cold weather, it also proves highly inconvenient as the insulation starts to smell and molder over time. I used to love the simplicity of mats when camping, until an old tent of mine flooded one miserable, rainy night. My sleeping bag was spared because it was on top of an inflatable sleeping pad, but my poor dog’s mat got wet through and through. Remember, ‘waterproof’ means that you can wipe beads of moisture off a dog bed or mat. It does not mean that the dog bed will be able to withstand an inch of standing water, all night long.
Cots, conversely, lack insulation but provide fantastic support. However, for travel, they can be problematic, as they’re often heavy, and though they compress well, still manage to take up a lot of space in the trunk. Packing for them is a bear as well, since cots are not warm on their own and would require you to pack blankets and such to line them, as well as to cover your dog. Finally, cots do not travel well on planes (I’m not even sure if you can check one in). Unless your dog is very advanced in age or has arthritis, we do not recommend buying a cot for him.
PADDED TRAVEL DOG BEDS
On the other hand, there are some companies out there who have made more substantial portable/travel dog beds. Yeti’s entrant to the dog bed market, for example, is simple, elegant, and rugged, but leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from being fairly stripped down in terms of features, one is not able to pack anything within it. Worse, there isn’t a carry handle to lug it around. This may sound like a minor quibble, but without a carry handle, medium and large beds can be quite unwieldy. I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling, I never have both hands free; I’m always carrying something in one of them! Once you experience being able to quickly grab a pet bed by a handle, you’ll never look back.
BEST TRAVEL DOG BED & CAMPING BED
My pick for the most ideal travel dog bed, then, is RuffRest by Timberdog. It’s padded like Yeti, insulated like Chuckit and Ruffwear, and, because it has foam, elevates your dog a bit off the ground, like a cot. On top of all that, it’s got a short-nap sherpa fleece on top that is easy to clean, stays cool and breathable during warm days, and warm during cold nights. It’s also got the all-important carry handle (and optional shoulder strap!), and can be opened like a suitcase to pack your dog’s things in a very handy organizer. Best of all, the bolster hides a warm, built-in blanket that converts into a temperature-control sleeping bag for camping trips.
I love the amount of thought that went into the RuffRest - from its design and look, to its sheer, Leatherman-esque versatility. I also admire the company’s eco-progressive ethos and goal to plant two trees for every pet bed sold.
TRAVEL DOG BOWLS AND WATER BOTTLE
Moving onto food and hydration, we recommend something light and portable when it comes to dog bowls and water bottles. Collapsible options are going to be your best bet when it comes to bowls; just make sure you are choosing ones that are made from food-grade silicone. For small and medium dogs, it doesn’t get better than the Comsun Collapsible Dog Bowl, which comes in a 2-pack, is non-toxic, color-coded (I use green for food, blue for water), and can be hung up to dry via two small carabiners that come attached. Best of all, they’re usually very affordable: about $7-8 for the pack.
For on-the-go doggy hydration, I’ve used a Gulpie in the past. Its flip-open trough design seems to be beloved by all dogs, as it’s an ergonomic way for them to drink water. Although lightweight, I don’t love that it’s made out of plastic, and it tends to waste a lot of water, because, though the water trickles out slowly, it’s unstemmable once the trough is opened.
For future trips and even hikes, I’m thinking of upgrading to a human-dog bottle combo made out of double-walled stainless steel, with two detachable water and food bowls. These types of water bottles kill two birds with one stone - they allow me to have ice cold water on the trail, and negate having to carry a separate water bottle for my dog. Now he can have cold water, too, and the tiffin-style bowls at the bottom of the bottle can come off to reveal snacks and more. I’ve been eyeing Fawkes & Co.’s version lately…
SAFETY HARNESS AND SEAT BELT
As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I’ve found only one dog seat belt and harness that is crash-tested and comes highly-recommended by other bloggers, as well, so I’m sticking to that. For safety reasons, it’s not worth mentioning anything else. Kurgo’s Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength Dog Harness has been tested up to 75 pounds, and, from personal experience, has a snug yet comfortable fit on my dog. I like the fact that it does NOT have a bungee on it (I have no idea why dog seat belt makers add elasticity to their seat belts), and will keep my dog firmly in place if there is an accident.
BIODEGRADABLE POOP BAGS
Not all biodegradable waste bags are created equal, and I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to share with you why. The sad fact is that most poop bags advertised as biodegradable or compostable are often made out of the same toxic material as regular poop bags. They’re just a lot thinner. So, while they do degrade or compost faster, what you’re essentially getting is plastic (or a vegetable-based material mixed with plastic) breaking down faster into the earth. I almost prefer the thicker, non-degrading cousin to this, because while it’s ugly to look at, at least it won’t destroy our top soil and pollute our groundwater for the next 500 years…
But I said ‘almost!’ There are a couple of poop bags out there that are 100% earth-friendly, and, while feeling dangerously thin in the hand, hold up surprisingly well when picking up poo. We like Pogi’s Compostable Dog Poop Bags, because they’re essentially made out of starch and contain zero plastic.
Whew, searching for a good GPS collar can be really confusing. On the one hand, you have trusted consumer magazines telling you that a particular collar is good, while on the other, actual customers are leaving many negative reviews for it. We looked at Fi, Tractive, and Whistle, and found all three choices to be excellent, while also having many drawbacks, as well.
Right now, we are going to side with Tractive. Though it’s the least attractive-looking collar with a garish-white tracker, It’s affordable and has unlimited range. There seems to be less complaints about their customer service, as well. Fi, on the other hand, is trusted by a few magazines (like PCMag), but even with all of their slick marketing, they are barely pulling three stars on Amazon. Finally, Whistle looks to be the most expensive option, and while the tracker is subtle and attractive, the company’s customer service has been panned; the device does not work outside of the US; and there appears to be some internet compatibility issues.
Dogs are domesticated animals and have gotten used to our cozy, central-heated homes! They are far removed from their hardy wolf forebears, and, just like humans, can suffer from hypothermia if left in the cold for extended periods of time. I generally like to keep my dog, Angus, jacket-free, because I know he can’t stand wearing any clothing. But if the wind picks up and I notice him curling up or shivering even a bit, the jacket goes on, and he seems to tolerate it.
I don’t go anywhere but Ruffwear for dog clothing. They make some of the best jackets for dogs. Their impressive jacket guide has infographics and even an explainer video to help simplify choosing the best coat for your dog. We love that you can narrow your search by filtering 10 features, from zippers and sleeves to side-release buckles and front leash attachments. Their jackets come in a huge array of colorways, as well, matching you and your dog’s personalities. And though pricier than options on Amazon, you’ll rest assured knowing that you’re getting the best craftsmanship and customer service from a legendary dog company that’s been in business for nearly 30 years.
PET FIRST AID KIT WITH STYPTIC POWDER
I always carry a small container of styptic powder in the car with me everywhere I go, because Angus is quite the adventurer and loves to get himself into all sorts of scrapes - literally. I’ve had to fix many a bleeding paw on the road, from thorns getting embedded into his paw pads on hikes, to him stepping on glass in a parking lot. I’ve since invested in a good first aid kit for Angus, to which I keep adding things (like tweezers) that I find handy for our excursions.
My recommendation for a good pet or dog first aid kit may surprise you: I don’t have one. Go with anything you think will be good, whether you’re buying it from a pet store or from Amazon. The truth is, most of them work fine in a pinch for ordinary purposes. However, if you’re outdoors as much as we are, you’ll be augmenting your dog’s kit for life. You’ll be supplementing it with items you’ve purchased separately, and subtracting useless ones from there fairly regularly, as the occasion calls for it. If buying a kit online, pay special attention to reviews, especially the long, detailed ones, as they’re usually coming from experienced people who take their dogs everywhere.
CHEW TOYS AND/OR TREAT DISPENSERS
My goal when traveling with my dog anywhere is to make sure that the days feel wild, free, and unique, but that the evenings are familiar and comfortable. Angus is a chewer and loves to retire to a corner with something to gnaw on after dinner. Vacations or camping trips should be no different. Taking your dog’s favorite chew toy or treat dispenser helps keep your dog busy and calm in new places, while keeping a familiar routine after a day spent smelling new places and things. It also ensures that your dog releases pent-up energy if he’s been stuck in a car from a long day of road tripping. You definitely don’t want him discovering chewable furniture in your AirBnB rental for the night - so don’t forget those bully sticks, Kongs, yak cheese, or whatever your pup is into.
FLEA & TICK COMB
A tick comb as a “must-have” may come as a bit of a surprise to readers, as many people I’ve spoken to don’t take this item on trips. And that’s fine, but hear me out. If you’re a regular hiker, try combing your dog’s fur after just one hike. Even on the west coast, my dog Angus has attracted ticks, and they are hard to find without a tick comb. Fleas love Angus, as well, as they abound here in California during the warm months and continue, maddeningly, to thrive in a warm home, as well. I’ve used Angus’s flea and tick comb not only to comb out ticks and fleas, but as a handy grooming tool, as well. It helps to brush and thin out his undercoat, and is the best tool I’ve found to quickly take out burrs and other debris he picks up on the trail.
A single item that removes fleas, ticks, burrs, twigs, and excess fur, in my opinion, is priceless.
LIGHT-UP COLLAR OR ATTACHABLE LIGHTS FOR THE COLLAR
A light-up collar, or a light you can attach to your dog’s collar, is a necessary safety accessory, whether you’re getting ready to bed down at the campsite, or taking a nighttime stroll with your pup around the neighborhood. Dogs often blend into nature’s scenery and it’s nice to be able to readily see them - especially small, vulnerable dogs - in the dark of night. For more urban areas, a lit-up collar increases your pup’s visibility (and yours!), which helps drivers to spot and avoid your dog.
Well, that makes all ten items on our list, but we’ve got a couple of extras on there that we think are worth bringing up: a towel for messes, and a paw soother for dry, cracked paws and noses.
SMALL, HIGH-ABSORBENCY TOWEL
Although I guiltily buy wipes, I’m starting to make more use out of towels to clean up dog messes and dirty paws. Towels are cheaper and more sustainable, and easy to wet with some water for some effective, textured cleaning. They don’t tear and can take a fair bit of abuse, and are easy to toss into the wash when you’re done. Amazon sells packs of small, high-absorbency towels, but a rag or two from home work just as well.
Meanwhile, products like Musher’s Secret are an absolute must if you’re an avid hiker. Both hot and cold weather can affect your dog’s feet, and can end up giving him itchy, dry paws. If you’re traveling and stay in hotels, running the A/C constantly can dry out your dog’s nose. Think of Musher’s Secret, or any other paw soother, as a sort of chapstick for your dog’s dry parts (I actually have used my chapstick in a pinch for Angus, but wasn’t a fan of this, as I ended up having to use up half the stick).
Am I missing anything? I love to hear about what people pack for their pets on the road. Let me know what you think are a few must-haves in the comments below!
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