A Guide to Camping With Cats
“Your cats actually camp?”
Yes, yes they do.
But the process hasn’t been easy, and a cat isn’t going to go from catnip and couches to a tent in the woods overnight.
The main question when hiking or camping with cats is a confused ‘how?’. We know, it’s not something you see every day. In fact, it’s so uncommon nearly every person you pass will stop in their tracks, gasp, take photos, and ask how in the world a cat is following behind us on a trail.
I began fostering a mom and her four kittens last fall. We traveled far too often and no matter how bad I wanted a trail dog, it just wasn’t the time or place. So instead, I began volunteering at a local animal shelter. I could get my animal snuggles, without the long-term commitment.
But alas, two kittens never ended up leaving. We weren’t quite sure how we were going to make it work, but we knew these two cats were far too special to let go.
So Maverick (orange) and Aspen’s (black) cuteness and loveable attitude opted them in for a lifetime of adventure. And an adventure it has been.
So how do you get your cats to camp? It’s a mixture of love, patience, frustration, and brain-shattering loud music to drown out the meows of your one cat who still wants to be outside on your car ride home.
Don’t throw them into the environment
Cats and dogs are different. Sure, you can one day decide to pack up your pup and drive into the deep woods. They’ll bark, wag their tail, probably roll in something dead. It’ll be great.
Throw your cat into that environment for the first time and they’ll either refuse to come out of the car, take off into the wilderness, or simply stare at you on the ground with a face of pure rage. Cats can enjoy the outdoors, but they do not enjoy unfamiliar environments if they aren’t accustomed to that lifestyle.
Start small. Spend afternoons in your backyard. Upgrade to repeated walks down familiar paths. Take a day hike. Then, when you think they’re ready, head off to camp.
Establish your trust level
Hiking with cats is built on trust (or leashes). Just like dogs, you must be certain they won’t run away. Maverick and Aspen refuse to walk on leashes, which was a bit nerve-wracking at first. I was afraid to take them anywhere in fear they’d run away. But we’ve trained them extremely well on following behind and staying close.
Yes, we will hike for miles and Maverick will follow directly along the path the entire time. When we set up camp, both cats never stray further than thirty feet from the tent. When we need them to return, we shake food and they come running.
Invest in a cat backpack
I’m sure you’ve seen cat backpacks on social media. But, yes, they are handy for cat camping. Aspen was born with a gimp back leg. He runs sideways (yes, it’s adorable), but he can’t walk for long. Of course, we can’t let his leg stop him from adventuring with us. So we bought a kitty backpack and he rides along.
Even if you don’t have a gimp cat, a backpack is worth the investment. Maverick gets tired around the five-mile mark, so it works perfectly to let him have a turn in it as well.
Prepare for dogs
Dogs are a common hazard while hiking with cats, especially unleashed ones. Every time we come across a dog we pick the cats up. 9/10 times there is no issue. But 1/10 times the dog is curious, the owner has no leash (and tries to let their dog smell the cats—horrible decision). I have the scars to prove what those encounters look like.
Over time, I hope our cats will become accustomed to dogs, but for now, they remain mortal enemies.
Avoid crowded trails/campsites
At first, Maverick and Aspen would freeze and attempt to run away whenever we encountered people or dogs. It took a few hikes, but they don’t mind anymore. However, hiking on uncrowded trails makes a world of difference.
Both of our cats are like dogs when it comes to food. When we stay in crowded campgrounds, they stay near until the neighbors start roasting hot dogs. Game over.
Loud noises and kids running are two of the biggest scares. Less is, in fact, more when camping with cats.
If you can, put your cats in the car overnight
If you’re camping somewhere close to your car, don’t worry about leaving them there overnight. Even when we camp in backcountry locations we try to stay within a quarter mile of the car. Why?
- 2 people + 2 cats in a 2 person tent = not a pleasant sleep
- Fewer worries about waking up with cat turds in the tent
- Darkness arrives with fox, coyotes, and bears
- They will probably be more comfortable
Don’t believe cat stigmas
Our cats have been hopping rocks in streams since they were six months old. Last weekend they crossed their first stream by wading. They love waterfalls.
Maverick can’t get enough of the outdoors. If we’re at a trailhead and we’re taking too long to pack up, he’ll attempt to ditch us and hike with other groups. I wish I was joking.
Sure, camping with cats might not be the norm. But let’s face it, adventure cats are the perfect pets for those who want trail animals but the freedom to leave for a week with no emotional trauma because they’ve learned to break into your food cupboards.
Shalee Wanders is a female travel blog that focuses on encouraging young adults to explore the world and challenge themselves outside comfort zones. Born and raised in Michigan, she shares her tips of the Midwest, the United States, and beyond. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @shaleewanders.
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, outdoor, and sustainable tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.
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