With so many of us missing getting out on the trail due to self-isolation, it comes as welcome news that many provincial and national parks are reopening or considering reopening in time for summer hiking.
However, social distancing practices are now in effect, which means you might need a little extra preparation to ensure that you’re able to follow the preventative measures and keep you, your dog, and others safe while also preparing for the elements that you might encounter during the summer weather.
With these tips, you can transition back into summer hiking - even if it looks a little bit different when it used to - while also reaping the mental and physical benefits that being active in nature brings, which is even more important during this unusual time.
Social Distancing Specific Hiking Tips
Keep It Close to Home
Because travel is still not suggested, it’s a good idea to stick to local trails and parks. To avoid putting extra pressure on the area surrounding the park, make sure that you’re prepped with all your supplies and gas ahead of time. Rather than stopping somewhere nearby, add your hand sanitizer, water, and snacks to your hiking gear.
If you’re choosing to hike with others, make sure that you’re only travelling with those that you live with, and keep your group small. To stay safe and respectful when hiking with dogs, make sure that there’s at least one adult for every dog in your group, and try to keep the number of dogs in your group limited: no more than two or three is ideal.
Choose the Right Parks
Getting outside and enjoying the beautiful outdoors is a great activity during the time of COVID-19. But because so much of our essential services are strained right now, you can do your part by sticking to easier trails and avoid challenging hikes to reduce your risk of experiencing an emergency and requiring help from first responders and volunteer search and rescue teams.
Experts are also still suggesting that we practice social distancing when hiking, so try to choose hiking trails and parks where you can maintain about 2 metres (or the distance of a hockey stick!) between you.
If your favourite local trails tend to be more crowded, consider checking them out during non-peak times. You’ll also want to avoid touching surfaces like benches, handrails and assist ropes. This is why you might also want to carry some hand sanitizer with you so you’re able to cleanse your hands if necessary.
AllTrails is an excellent resource to help discover nearby trails and parks, and allows you to sort by average traffic volume to make it easier to avoid hot spots.
Pack Out What You Pack In
Although you should always be mindful of nature when you’re visiting hiking trails and public parks, it’s even more important now to leave our beautiful provincial parks as you found them Our leashes have a build-in D-ring and barrel lock to make it easy to pack in your own accessories including poop bags.
Practice Good Trail Etiquette
While good trail etiquette is always important, it’s even more important in the time of social distancing. Once again, be aware that you’re maintaining the proper distance between other people using the trail.
You’ll also want to ensure that you check out the hiking trail when you arrive to determine if there are any specific social distancing guidelines for the parking lot or if the trail is one way only.
Be especially cognizant when you’re crossing smaller sections of the trails, such as footbridges, and stop if necessary to ensure that there’s enough room for passing. Beyond this, be vigilant about following the regular trail etiquette: downhill hikers should yield to uphill hikers, single hikers should make way for larger groups, and you should ensure that your dog remains under your control and follows the rules of the trail.
If you need to pass someone, make sure that they know you’re coming to make it easier for us all to work together. You can also take a mask or bandana with you and use it to cover your face while passing someone. While we may all need to stay six feet apart, we can still be friendly!
So many of us are excited to get back on the trail and connect with others, so don’t be afraid to smile, wave, and chat - just from a distance.
Keep Your Dog on Leash
Even if you typically allow your dog to explore off-leash, if your dog is super friendly, the trail is busier, or the park is currently requiring dogs to be on a leash, then you’ll want to limit off-leash time for now.
Because our leashes, including our Rundle All-Mountain Dog Leash and our Morraine All-Mountain Dog Leash, are 6 feet long, you’ll stay within the recommended guidelines for hiking leash length while still giving your dog space to explore.
They also both have a clip for hands-free walking so you get the convenience you experience having your dogs off-leash, but can use the traffic handle to pull your dog close to you should you need to create room for someone to pass on the trail.
Summer Specific Hiking Tips
Ensure Your Pet’s Vaccinations are Up-to-Date
While it’s also important to ensure that your dog’s vaccines are up to schedule, as we head back into the bug-filled outdoors and you may have missed a regular vet check-up due to the current situation, you’ll want to double-check that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
For summertime, preventative tick care is extremely important, as ticks are most active in the summer months and can carry Lyme disease. Rabies vaccines are another important one to make sure that your dog is up-to-date on as animals carrying rabies may be more active.
As the weather warms up it becomes more and more important for your pup - and you - to stay hydrated. Keep in mind that the more active your dog is, the more water they are going to require.
A good way to ensure that your dog stays hydrated throughout their hike is to stop and offer them water every 15 minutes. A good rule of thumb is that your dog needs about ½ ounce to one ounce of water per each pound of body weight each day before exercise.
Add a dedicated water bottle for your pup to your pack; we recommend an insulated one for summer to ensure that the water doesn’t get too warm (which can cause bacteria growth) and that it isn’t a solid block of ice! If you’re not wanting to tote water, you can use a water purification system like Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System.
You also might want to consider using a cue such as “Are you thirsty?” to let your dog know that you are stopping for a drink. If you are unsure if your dog is drinking enough, you can further entice them to sip their water by adding some low sodium chicken broth to it or opting for a dog rehydration formula like K9 Power GoDog.
Of course, when you’re dealing with fur on top of the warmer weather, it’s easy to become uncomfortable and overheated. Plus, because dogs don’t have the ability to sweat as we can, they need a little extra help to cool down.
Consider allowing your dog to go for a swim to cool off, or pour some cool water over their bodies. You can also use something like Kool Collar to help stimulate sweating and keep your dog’s temperature regulated, or a cooling vest like RuffWear’s Swamp Weather Cooling Vest which reflects the heat of the sun while also providing evaporative cooling.
You’ll also want to consider your dog’s paws, as pavement and rocky areas can become extremely hot in the sun. To prevent this, a pair of dog booties like QUMY dog shoes can help provide your pup’s paws with protection.
Protect Your Dog from the Sun
Although your dog’s fur provides them with some natural protection from the sun, certain areas like their eyes, paws, and eyes can be left more vulnerable. Plus, certain breeds of dogs, including hairless dog breeds, dogs with thin or light-coloured coats, and dogs who have lighter coloured noses or eyelids are more prone to sunburn.
Some dog breeds that fall into these categories include dalmatians, bulldogs, and whippets. You can use sunscreen to help keep your dog safe from the sun. However, it’s important that this be one that is safe for dogs as certain ingredients commonly used in sunscreen for us humans - like zinc oxide - can be toxic for dogs.
Some options for doggy sunscreens include Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen which is an easy-to-use spray formula, or PetKin’s Doggy Sunwipes, which are wipes that are moistened with sunscreen that are easy to throw in your hiking pack when you’re on-the-go.
Remember to apply sunscreen to your dog’s more sensitive areas, including the nose, inside of the ears, and belly, 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 4-6 hours or after swimming. While you’re probably sporting your sunglasses, your dog may also need some added protection from the sun for their eyes as well.
A pair of dog goggles allows your dog full range of vision while protecting their eyes from the glare of the sun and other debris. Check out our post about How to Get Your Dog Comfortable Wearing Dog Goggles to make it easy to help keep your dog’s eyes protected while catching some rays.
While it’s also important to ensure that you hike with a first-aid kit with essentials like vet wrap for strains and sprains, styptic powder to stop bleeding, and antibiotic ointment to treat cuts and scrapes, there are a few summer-specific essentials that you can add to your hiking first aid kit.
Hydrocortisone cream can help calm your dog’s skin should they brush against an irritating plant, and Benadryl can be used to help to ease allergic reactions, which are often more common in the summer.
Tick nippers are also important should you or your dog have an embedded tick, as removing the tick safely as quickly as possible is the best way to prevent exposure to Lyme disease.
Finally, to help prevent heat-related issues, you might want to consider throwing in some water purification tablets to ensure that you’re able to get potable water from a natural source if necessary.
The Bottom Line
While all this new information can seem overwhelming, experts are still recommending that people get outside and enjoy the benefits of fresh air - just as long as you’re not experiencing symptoms.
Hiking offers so many powerful benefits for both you and your dog that will help you both stay healthy including improved heart health, better balance, core strength, and improved bone density.
But hiking isn’t just good for your physical health: it’s also been shown to help boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety while helping you get some Vitamin D.
With both you and your dog being stuck inside more than usual, hiking can be a powerful way to continue to build your bond and decrease boredom while providing you with a safe way to get outside of the house.