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So I know how to calculate how many additional calories a day I need while backpacking. My question is how do I calculate how much food my dog will need while backpacking.

I'm hoping for a general equation based on how much a dog eats in a regular day, but I'll provide specific information about my situation in case that is needed to tailor responses.

My dog is now 10 months old and 40 pounds, I plan to wait until she is at least 1-1/2 years old to take overnight, and she shouldn't be much bigger than she is now. I've been working her up from distances of 1 mile around 5 months old up to 8 miles now. I don't have her carry any weight yet but I do hope to eventually for overnight trips. Her breed is mostly Carolina Dog.

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Do you make your own dog food or purchase bagged food in the store? Either way, an idea would be to use puppy or performance good as they're both higher in caloric value, nutritional content and are easier to digest than regular dog food.

The actual amount of food you feed really depends on your dog. How has she handled the shorter hikes? Have you noticed an increase or decrease in appetite during and directly after the hikes? How she responds to the shorter hikes will help indicate how she'll handle the longer, overnight trip.

You may want to try out the dog food calculator here: Dog Food Calculator.

It's a nice way to compare her current calorie needs to the calculator results then, compare them to the results for increased activity. Depending on how active your dog is now versus how much she'll do on the trail her caloric needs may be just slightly elevated to doubled, which is another good reason to monitor her on the shorter hikes.

And, in relation to your question dogs have a carnivorous bias while having an omnivorous ability, meaning they are designed to eat meat but can handle me plant material. Feeding a grain-free diet will help limit the amount of food you will need to carry for her because grain-free food has a greater protein content, is more calorie dense and more easily digestible.

While you didn't actually ask this dogs are susceptible to giardia protozoa, like humans, so you will need to filter or treat her water too.

  • 1
    thanks, great information. I buy her food at the store, although I have been reading about making my own. I don't see any change to her appetite before or after short hikes, but she's pretty energetic all day no matter what. That will change though as she ages, and I'll keep an eye on her post-hike food intake as she gets older. Great point about the water, I figured I would make another question about that later. – Justin C Feb 21 '12 at 13:43
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I don't have numbers (yet), only rough guesstimates from observing the appetite of my 3 yo swiss mountain dog He's on the skinny side and the least greedy dog I know, so appetite probably translates quite well to needs (at least for dry feed).

I observe decided variation in appetite depending on

  • ambient temperature and
  • activity level.

I'd say that he probably needs twice as much when I take him for 15 km hiking or by bike at ≈ 0°C and 0°C night temp compared to lying around at 25 °C day temp/15 °C night (at 25 °C he waits till the heat wave is over, not much further activity possible than a short walk to the next creek).

Further factors that increase the ration/feed need:

  • The dog house is substantially more shelter than, say, a tarp when camping.
  • A dog who's not accustomed to camping will not be as relaxed and instead more active also during rest.

  • An indoor dog who isn't used to outdoor night temperatures and consequently hasn't grown proper winter fur will need to spend more energy on heating during rest.


This web page (in German) gives two rule-of-thumb calculations

  1. They start with a base need (RER): RER/kcal = dog weight/kg * 30 + 70

    RER is then multiplied by a factor depending on activity level, ranging from 1.6 - 1.8 for normal (low) activity up to 8 for heavily working dogs (I guess that's long distance sled dog race level) and lactating bitches.

    • Unfortunately, there's no explanation what light/moderate/heavy work means.
    • Also no indication of ambient temperature influence
    • nice: still, the table is comparably detailed
  2. approach starts with metabolic weight = dog weight^0.75

    metabolic weight is then again multiplied by activity dependent factor, ranging from 108 kcal/kg for long fur/old dog/low activity to 130 kcal/kg metabolic weight for active young dogs.

    (they give some sources which may contain further information).

Plausibility checks:

  • If heavy work translates to a 5-fold caloric need (1,6 -> 8) with one formula, that should be similar with the other formula as well. (My guess: we're missing the activity-related factors for the 2nd formula and their old/furry/inactive vs. young active dog is probably the spread around the factor 1.6 - 1.8 in the other formula)

  • OTOH, ration size very clearly doesn't increase linearly with dog size (weight).
    1st approach for my dog yields way to large feed ration for normal activity. 2nd approach is closer (30 % less than 1st approach).

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