How To & Tips | March 2024

8 Tips For Car Camping With Dogs

The best car camping companions are easy-going, love cruising with the windows down, and don’t care what music you play–so long as there are snacks on deck. Ideally, they’ll also alert you to the presence of bears and cuddle on chilly nights. Of course, we’re describing human’s best friend. That’s right–car camping with your dog is the best thing ever. 

Paws down, prioritizing pooches is one of many reasons why we prefer car camping over all other modes of adventure. When your vehicle is your base camp, it’s easy to pack toys, food, bedding, leashes, and all the essentials necessary to make your canine’s camping experience a barking good time. Forget dropping your dog off at the sitter before a backpacking trip, or checking them in the underbelly of a 747–when you’re road-trippin’ and car campin’, your dog is the consummate co-pilot. 

Of course, camping with a dog isn’t without its challenges. In this helpful guide, we’ll outline a few common issues dog owners face on the road, as well as key tips and tricks to help you make sure your furry friend is safe and stoked at camp. We’ll even break down some of our favorite gear for car camping with dogs, ranging from upcycled food and water bowls to dog-friendly sleep setups

Research your road trip

Unless your dog is unusually smart, has opposable thumbs, and is adept at googling, it’s on you to research your camping trip. Be sure to read up on your destination of choice ahead of your adventure–it’s the best way to ensure that your trip goes off without a hitch. Namely, that involves doing some digging to find out if your intended destination permits dogs, and if there are any regulations you should know about regarding leash laws, trail closures, so on and so forth. 

For instance, while most national parks are cool with canines to some extent, some are much more pup-friendly than others. According to Outside Magazine, Acadia National Park in Maine, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona are considered some of the most dog-friendly national parks in the U.S. But even in parks that are welcoming of dogs, you’ll find places where four-legged friends are a no-go, such as certain hiking trails and wildlife preservation zones. 

Other things we like to research ahead of camping trips with dogs? 

  • Wildlife: Letting your dog off-leash in wilderness areas with coyotes, wolves, bears, and the like might not be the best play! Similarly, we like to read up on harder-to-see hazards like ticks and poison oak.  
  • Weather: If there’s dumping snow or sizzling heat, you’ll want to pack accordingly, or even consider postponing or redirecting your adventure if it’ll be too much on your pooch.
  • Dog-friendly trails and objectives: If you’re camping with your dog, be sure to focus on adventures that are safe and fun for them. If you’re going hiking or biking, look for dog-friendly trails–and we don’t just mean trails that allow dogs. A 20-mile hike, singletrack bike ride along an exposed ridge, or adventures on sharp, volcanic rock might be tough on your pup. 

Pro Tip: If you do decide to go on epics with your dog, have a plan in place in case they get injured. Are you prepared to carry them out if they injure their paw? Adventure Medical Kits offers canine-specific First Aid Kits, and we like to keep one of these in the rig while car camping with dogs. 

2. Leash up your pup

While some campers like to let their dogs off-leash at camp, even well-trained dogs can chase after squirrels and coyotes, storm blindly into nettle patches and poison oak, visit a neighbor’s campsite enticed by the scent of roasting hot dogs, or otherwise get into mischief. That said, we generally recommend you keep your pup on a leash at all times when enjoying nature. It’s better to be safe than sorry, after all. Remember, dogs are wild animals at heart. 

Here are a few helpful tools to keep your pup on leash at camp and on the trail: 

  • Hands-free Leash: A comfortable hands-free leash, like this one from Ruffwear, comes in handy when hiking, trail running, or even fly fishing. Keep your hands free and your canine close!
  • A Spiral Stake: A spiral stake, like this one from Intellileash, is the way to go if you’re car camping with a dog. This system is a win-win for both parties as it will free up your hands to hold pressing items (such as a cold beverage) and also give your dog the liberty to roam within reason. Most importantly, a spiral stake is super secure and will ensure your canine companion stays at camp. 
  • A Dog Run: If you’re looking to give your pup more room to roam at camp, a dog run, like this one from Ruffwear, is a great call. Hitch the rope between two trees, clip your dog’s leash to the carabiner, and let them run and play to their heart’s content. This style of system is pretty easy to rig up with a rope and a carabiner, too, if you’re decent at knots and want to go the DIY route. 

Pro Tip: If you do decide to let your dog off-leash, make sure they’re well-trained and responsive to your commands. 

3. Bring a toy or comfort object from home 

Sleeping in a new environment can be unsettling–even for dogs. To soothe any apprehension, bring a comfort item from home. A familiar memento from home, like a blanket or favorite chew toy, can provide a recognizable smell to soothe a nervous Nellie in the backseat. We’re not saying you need to fit an entire dog house into your trunk, just a toy or two should do the trick.

4. Use a dog-friendly mattress made for car camping

This tip is as much for your comfort as it is for your dog–use a car camping mattress that’s dog-friendly and durable. Unfortunately, there are many cheap camp mattresses on the market that are flimsy and pop easily. Here at Luno, we often travel with our dogs and purposefully make our award-winning air mattresses as puppy-proof as possible. Each mattress is crafted from an ultra-rugged, 300-denier, polyurethane-coated Oxford nylon fabric that can handle puppy paws, no problem. While you’re welcome to bring a dog bed to make your backseat bungalow more comfy for your canine, even if your pup sleeps directly on our air mattress fabric, you won’t have any problems! 

5. Keep your pup warm and insulated from the cold ground

It’s key you keep your pup warm at night (especially if they have a low percentage of body fat or aren’t a breed that thrives in winter), and a primary way to do that is by making sure your pooch is elevated and insulated from the ground. Sleeping in your vehicle on a Luno Air Mattress is the way to go, as tent camping on frosty ground will sap up your dog’s body heat. You can also look into insulated doggo duds, like these ones from Ruffwear

6. Cuddle up

Car camping and cuddling go hand-in-hand (or rather, paw-and-hand), and co-sleeping is a great solution for keeping everyone toasty at night. This symbiotic system generates mutually shared body heat for both parties so that everyone can rest easy. 

Pro Tip: If you’re already cuddling with your significant other and three’s company, you may want to look into sleeping bags for dogs

Another Pro Tip (DJ Khaled voice): If you’re van camping, don’t forget to check out our Front Cab Air Mattress–it turns the front seats into a sleeping platform that’s perfect for pets!

7. Dress for the occasion

We referenced doggo duds above, but we’re going to emphasize it here. Not only do dog jackets help keep your pup warm, especially while car camping in cooler climates, but they are also indispensable if you’re hoping to snap a share-worthy photo of your dog in the wild. “Sit, Charlie! Good boy. Now serve me freakin’ face! Yes!”

Pro Tip: We recommend a brightly colored outfit for easy visibility. This will make Spot easy to spot if they’re off-leash. 

8. Bring an easy-to-clean doggy dish

We like to think that the Luno office dogs are generally pleased with their owners. But our pack of office pooches has never been prouder than when we launched our Collapsible Dog Bowl. “It’s easy to pack and easy to clean, perfect for wet food, dry food, or water,” woofed Lexi, a cute-and-sassy longtime Luno lapdog hailing from SoCal. “Even better, it’s crafted from upcycled Luno air mattresses, so you can feel good while you eat good!” 

Pro Tip: Looking to keep your doggo gear organized on the road? Check out our 50L Gear Tote! Like the Collapsible Dog Bowl, it’s compact, durable, easy to clean, and crafted from upcycled Luno air mattresses.

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They’re Not Just Your Best Friend–They’re Your Best Adventure Buddy

Dogs are the perfect travel buddy (and we’re not just saying that because they keep our feet warm at night). Their constant excitement for the outdoors reminds us to appreciate the magnificence of nature and enjoy every moment we spend car camping.

We hope this article helps you and your pooch hit the road, explore, and have the time of your lives! Whether it be in the mountains or by the sea, the paw-siblities are endless. A-paw-logies for that dad joke, but we had to. 

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the road–hopefully with your windows down, and your pup smiling ear-to-ear, tongue and jowls a-flapping in the breeze!

-The Luno Crew (And All Of Our Favorite Furry Adventure Buddies)

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