Happy Dog Hiking Trails Without Back Pain

Do you love taking your pup on dog hiking trails? But you’re worried that dog hiking without back pain is a mere fantasy? Maybe you have a small dog and think he or she just can’t handle hiking. You may be shocked to learn that a small dog can hike just as well as a big dog. My dog, Henry, who is roughly 13 pounds loves to hike. Here’s one more shocker, there are many tricks you can use so you to help support your back while hiking. This means you end up without an achy back or at least reduced pain. So, today, let’s dig in and discover how to have happy dog hiking trails without back pain.

*Updated: June 3, 2023

a woman has learned how to go on dog hiking trails without back pain
disclaimer note
Budget tip:

Hiking with your dog and protecting your back isn't a budget buster. All the essential items you need for hiking are reusable and you can find sales if you look. It's like planting a tree you get to enjoy year after year. Henry and I both think it's good for the soul That's priceless! That's a great budget winner!

NOTE: First, always check with your doctor if you have any health issues. You want to verify that you should be hiking. Perhaps a walk is better for you. Also, don’t forget to chat with your vet to make sure your pup is healthy for a hike. Even a short dog friendly trail hike. You don’t want to conquer the mountain on your first hike.

Are you just not comfortable with your vet? A good vet is invaluable. In this article, I walk you through how to find a vet who’s a perfect fit for you and your dog.

What can I do to lessen my back pain while hiking with my dog? 

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned that help my back prior to, during, and after hiking with my dog, Henry.


Don’t fool yourself. Hiking is exercise. You want to loosen up your joints and muscles prior to hitting the trail. You may also want to stretch along the way. Stretching will help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness. Additionally, it will improve your circulation and recovery time. Never stretch to the point of pain. Only stretch to where you feel a “good” stretch. Here are a few good stretches to do for your back prior to and after hiking.

Think about building your core muscles

Your core muscles are basically the deep back and abdominal muscles. They attach the spine and pelvis to your torso or trunk of your body. Your core muscles are responsible for supporting, moving, and protecting your spine. So, the stronger these muscles are the less pain your spine will experience.  Here are some great core muscle exercises to help strengthen your spine.

Good shoes or hiking boots

My grandmother used to always say that your feet are your foundation and you have to take care of your foundation. She had a point. My mom use to always say that cheap shoes don’t help your body if they end up damaging your feet. She made a valid point as well.

Therefore, when it comes to your back and hiking, you want to look for hiking boots that are comfortable, weatherproof, supportive, and something you can wear for many hours. They probably won’t be cheap. But this is part of your foundation. You may find sales, especially around holidays or the end of the season, which can be great. In the past, I’ve found what I wanted and then waited for a sale. It was worth it.

Properly fitting backpack

Look for a backpack that fits comfortably and straps around your waist. You never want to overfill your backpack. However, you do want to be able to evenly distribute the contents, which should be fairly lightweight, across the back.

NOTE: For me using a backpack, even on a very short trail helps my back. It re-enforces my posture. Plus, at the bottom of the pack, I can put either one long or two shorter water bottles. For additional support, I will place the water bottles in the fridge for several hours. This lets my back experience almost a cooling massage as I hike. Honestly, this feels great!

Good posture

Always remember your posture and try not to slouch. Yep, let your mom’s words come back to you loudly. Keep your core muscles engaged as much as possible, especially as you go up or down a mountainside. This will protect your spine from injury.

Trekking poles

Many people find that using at least one trekking pole when hiking with their dog, helps to reduce their back pain. The idea of a trekking pole is to help to keep good posture throughout the hike. I haven’t tried this one yet, but the theory certainly makes sense. As the hike goes on, you can tire and that’s when bad posture can sneak up on you.

Listen to your body

As you are hiking with your dog, you’ll want to listen to your body. If you need to rest for 15 minutes, then do it. I always recommend starting with really short trails early in the morning and then expanding as you and your dog get more experienced.

Additionally, don’t forget to drink lots of water and offer your dog water as well. You’ll want to pack nutritious items to eat like bananas, dried fruit, and trail mix. Remember your dog may need some food as well.

Tip: Know your dog and your skill level. Don’t head out for a 12-mile hike if this is your or your dog’s first hike. Start small, maybe with a 1/4 mile hike, enjoy the scenery and work your way up.

Do you know you can save a significant amount of money simply by making your own dog treats? In this article, I break it all out.

Go at your own pace

I know it’s easy to get out on a dog friendly trail and then set some crazy goal. For instance, you see a mountain and think that’s where you need to head. That may not be where you need to go on this hiking expedition. Pace yourself and your dog appropriately so you can get off the trail before it’s dark.

Tip: Keep track of where you park and which way you went from your vehicle. I made this mistake once. It took me several extra hours to get back to my car. My dog, Henry was thrilled with the extra trail time. On the other hand, I was thoroughly exhausted and very grateful we didn’t meet any bears or mountain lions on the trek back. 

What should I do after my hike with my dog to help with any back pain?

Stretching is always good to loosen up your muscles and joints. Additionally, an Epsom salts bath is wonderful for reducing pain and inflammation. Yep, this trick for pain has been around forever, but it still works. In case you’ve forgotten or never had an Epsom salt bath, it’s simply 1.25 cups of Epsom salt in a bathtub with as warm of water as you like.

However, if you are in a lot of pain, I really encourage you to seek medical attention.

Note: With physical therapy, I’ve learned exercises and how to compensate for back pain, including lower back. Physical therapy might benefit you as well. It could be something to discuss with your doctor. 

What kind of prep and dog hiking equipment do I need? 

Honestly, I should turn this part of the article over to Henry. He absolutely loves to hike and I’m sure would be able to tell you what’s needed best. But since he’s taking his mid-day nap, I’ll pinch-hit for him.

Foldable water bowl

Your pup will need a way to drink water while hiking and a foldable bowl is easy to hike with, clip on your backpack, or your belt loop.

Poo bags

I don’t know what it is, but as soon as we hit the trail, Henry has to poop. It’s the best remedy for constipation. Remember when you’re hiking whatever you pack in, you need to pack out. That includes poop and poop bags. Your dog’s poo isn’t as biodegradable as a wild animal’s poo. Besides, I always think that I’m in a wild animal’s home. So, I try to be a good guest.

I use these poop bags for Henry.

Do you struggle trying to open your dog’s poop bags? I certainly did until I created this easy, quick, and free hack. In this article, I walk you through how to make your own version.

Dog Booties or shoes

There are many dog booties on the market. Some are better than others. Honestly, I think they are trying to update the technology on dog booties a bit. It does take some effort to get your dog used to booties. However, if you’re planning to hike in a dog friendly area that is rocky or weedy, it’s a great idea. They’ll keep each of your dog’s paw pads safe from injury.

Dog backpack

There are backpacks made for even small dogs. They allow your dog to carry his or her food, treats (if you desire), poo bags, and a foldable bowl. I would never recommend putting much weight on your dog’s back. You certainly don’t want to give your dog a bad back. Also, make sure the weight is evenly distributed in the pack.

A small amount of dog food

If you are planning to hike a great distance, or if your dog only eats once a day, then you’ll want to pack a little dog food. Henry generally is too occupied with all the sniffs to think about food. Although, he does drink while hiking.

Pet first aid kit

You could be surprised what could happen at any given moment. Life is full of surprises. For example, I have a friend who went out on her daily trail hike with her “dog pack” a few years ago. They were one mile into their 7-mile hike when the youngest pup of the dog pack, who was nearly 100 pounds at the time, got bitten three times by a rattlesnake. My friend jumped into full-on dog mom mode and carried her bitten dog one mile back to her car. Then she raced him to the vet. Thankfully, Luke had received the rattlesnake vaccination. It was touch and go for nearly two weeks, but he pulled through like a champ.

However, it goes to show that anything can happen at any moment. My friend did a great job saving her pup. It’s good to be prepared. This is a good small pet first aid kit to pack in your backpack.

Vet check

Always check with your vet to make sure your pup is able to hike and there are no underlying issues. Your vet may even recommend other vaccinations if you plan to hike a lot with your dog. These vaccinations could include a rattlesnake vaccination. Your vet will also know if you should treat your pup with flea and tick preventative care medication.

Do you think your vet is just not a good fit? In this article, I share the 15 top red flags that you need to know when it’s time to fire your vet and get a new one.

Dog hiking vest

I always have a cooling vest for Henry when we hike, unless it’s the fall or winter. It helps him stay cool and he’s able to hike a lot longer. Actually, he can hike miles more than I’m willing to even think about hiking with his cooling vest.

Small dog hiking tip: If you’re hiking with a small dog, I generally try to go first over large rocks or boulders. The first time I thought I might need to carry him over a boulder. Nope. He leaped as if it wasn’t even there. I thought my small dog somehow morphed into a large Great Dane. Basically, never underestimate your small dog’s abilities. 

Are you not sure about a cooling vest for your dog? In this article, I walk through the science behind cooling vest and even share how to make your own DIY dog cooling vest.

Should my dog have a harness and leash on while we hike? 

This will be up to you and your dog, as well as the trail rules. Personally, I like to keep a harness on Henry. I rarely take him off-leash. This is simply because I never know when an animal or dog will come bouncing out of nowhere. Another dog owner on the hiking trail may let their dogs off-leash regardless of the park policy or their dog’s temperament. While Henry is extremely friendly, I don’t know if the other dog, wild animal, or even person will be friendly. By having Henry on his leash, I’m able to get to Henry and protect him quicker.

However, I have many friends who use vibrator collars to retrieve their dogs while hiking. They let them roam the trails as long as the dogs are within sight. Although, it should be noted that each of these dogs is larger than Henry. But each, just like Henry, is extremely well trained.

Do you worry about off-leash dogs when you’re out with your dog? In this article, I share great tips to help you deal with these dogs and their owners.

Henry on one of his favorite dog hiking trails
Henry taking a break on one of his favorite hiking trails.

Are there any safety tips to know when hiking with my small dog? 


Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Even if you’re hiking in a group this is a good practice. Remember to check in with this contact person when you return. You don’t want to be a face on the 6 o’clock news for no good reason.

Tip: Look for trail maps. They will show the length, expertise skill level, and time it takes to hike the trail. This will give you an idea if a trail is right for you and your dog. You can find many trail maps online. They will also be posted within parks. 

Cell phone

Take your cell phone with you. Even if your phone should die while on the hike. Or you and your dog should become lost, it’s still useful. Generally, authorities can ping the last spot you were at before the battery of your phone died.


Remember don’t try to get the impossible selfie with your dog hanging over a cliff. Always think about safety first when taking a photo or using your phone.

Bear spray

Take bear spray on the trail. I will generally hike with bear or pepper spray in my hand and ready to use. You never know what will happen or when. I mostly hike alone with just Henry. So, I’m always extremely cautious.


Dress in layers. As you hike it can get warmer, or cooler as clouds roll in along the trail. It’s always best to be prepared.


Don’t forget the sunscreen. Yep, even if you’re covered up to start the hike, as you peel off the layers, you need to make sure you’re protected from the sun’s rays. You may even want to put a small travel-size sunscreen in your backpack. Remember it’s easier to burn as you go up in elevation.

What should I do for my dog after his or her dog friendly hike?

Your dog may be tired. Of course, offer your dog food, and water, and allow your dog to sleep. I also like to give Henry a massage after our hikes. I figure if I’m sore at all, he is as well. The massage also gives me a chance to scan his whole body for any stickers, ticks, scratches, or other ailments which may have happened on the trail. I also like to check out Henry’s joints with his massage to make sure he’s not overly sore.

Do you know how to give your dog a basic massage? In this article, I walk you through how to give your dog a massage and tricks to help you as well.

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Summary of happy dog hiking trails without back pain

Hiking with your dog can be very relaxing and soothing. Connecting with nature is always one of my favorite things to do with Henry. But I always look for ways to do it that protect my back from further pain. I can do this by stretching, using the right footwear, listening to my body, and taking care of myself after we return home.

Needless to say, hiking is one of Henry’s favorite things to do. I’m very happy to report he still gets lots of trail hikes each year. Although, he would probably say it’s not enough. He could be right.

a family has learned how to go on dog hiking trails without back pain

Have you hiked with your dog? How do you protect your back from pain? 


18 thoughts on “Happy Dog Hiking Trails Without Back Pain”

  1. Fantastic information. Layla and I have not hiked mountains but before Covid we did go on long walking adventures in Muir Woods and other places plus we have done the AIDS walk. I pack accordingly so that she is comfortable and if I feel it is getting too much for her I put her in a backpack. I normally keep all our things in her backpack in another bag as it is easier. I love outdoors with her

    • It sounds like you’ve really put a lot of thought into your adventures with Layla. You certainly are a great dog mom! I hope you and Layla can enjoy more outdoor adventures this summer.

    • You are very lucky to not have any back issues. Henry loves his hikes too. Although, he doesn’t get as many in as your kids. Hopefully, we will in our new location.

  2. This is perfect hiking advice. Core strength, proper posture, and good shoes are indeed essential. So many people just let their spine collapse on itself over time which is a bad mistake.

    • You are absolutely right. Spine-health is critical for your overall health. Since we are our fur kids’ caretakers, we need to take care of our bodies as well as theirs.

  3. I just returned from hiking the Yellow trail in Bushkill Falls, PA, on vacation, so this post resonated with me very much. While on the hike, we saw a few families with dogs on the trail. I couldn’t agree more about having the proper footwear and also packing light. It makes all the difference to be able to hike without being in pain.

  4. I haven’t been hiking in a long time, but I really used to enjoy it. Your tip about remembering to care for your feet is right on point. If your feet hurt, the hike won’t be any fun. My grandma always used to tell me to remember to head back when I was “half way tired”. Now that I’m older, that tip makes a lot of sense. Great tips! I never thought about epsom salt being good for back pain, but I will have to give that a try.

    • I love your grandma’s tip to head back when you’re “half way tired”. That makes perfect sense! Funny how our parents, grandparents, and elders had such great advice that we didn’t think much of at the time, but value now that we’ve had time to experience it. Thank you for sharing your grandma’s tip. I hope you get to go hiking again soon.

  5. So much helpful information here for the hiker who struggles with back pain at any level. It can spoil a wonderful day out or dog and you time if you are not prepared.

    I like the fact you address leashes and harnesses. I am tired of walking by our local river and meeting people whose dogs are “absolute angels” and the animals come up and sniff you even if you don’t want them to!!! The owners don’t care at all – they take offence if you criticise as if YOU are in the wrong.

    • I’m glad these tips for hiking without back pain were useful. I’m sorry to hear that you are still having issues with folks letting their dogs run loose in your area. I hope it gets better soon. There is one trick you could try. If you appear more dangerous than the overly bouncy dogs, the dog parents will certainly keep them away from you.

      I don’t know if you ever saw the Friends episode where Phoebe went running through Central Park like a two-year-old hyped up on sugar. She had a ball. It embarrassed Rachel. But no one bothered her. At the end of the episode, Rachel realized what fun it was to act like an inhibited child. Food for thought. 😉

  6. Love this overview of hiking with your pup! We used to hike a lot with our dogs, and we LOVED the ruffwear backpacks for them. Then they could carry their own water, snacks, and first aide kit. I of course always carried a backpack as well and if the dogs seemed like they needed help I was always available to carry everyone’s equipment!

    • I like dog backpacks as well. The key is to make sure they are fitted well, the weight is evenly distributed, and they are never too heavy, especially for small dogs. That’s a good idea for you to keep your backpack even lighter and take their items as they need. I hope you and your pups get a chance to hike again soon.

  7. Super tips! I do miss hiking (even just walking, bad hip getting replaced soon & RA & Fibro)…but these are so helpful! I love the ones from Henry! 😉 And the emergency items are so important, although I did a little “whoa” at the bear spray! (I do live in a bear area, too!) I’m Pinning to share your tips! Happy Hiking!

    • Oh my! I hope your hip surgery goes well and you are able to hike again. I have to admit that I can relate to your struggle with fibro. It’s a heck of a one to manage. Then throwing in RA is not fun. Henry and I both send you well wishes for a quick recovery.

      Thank you for your continued support! I really appreciate it!

  8. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?


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