Why The Dog Has Better Clothes Than I Do

I was raised by a Labrador. I did not see the point of coats for dogs. Then my previous pooch got old and suddenly I was That Person whose dog and horse had matching fleece blankets. I thought that I was making a perfectly reasonable exception to my no-clothes rule for an old dog…

Enter Lilo.

Lilo gets cold. It’s fair, really. She has a short single coat — no insulating undercoat like a Lab or many of the other outdoorsy breeds — and while she generates plenty of body heat, the dog converts hot dogs and string cheese straight into muscle. I wish I had her abs, but she’s just not designed to stay warm in winter at 4,000 feet without some help. This is problem #1.

Lilo on haybale
A young Lilo wearing a Weatherbeeta blanket over a Rambo fleece while helping me at the barn.

She inherited Casey’s horse-blanket-style coats years ago and those worked fine for barn chores and walks around town. She wasn’t a huge fan — to this day, she seems to find fleece itchy — but they did the job. Still do the job, actually: the Weatherbeeta is still in the regular rotation for local strolls and shoulder-season weather. Not bad for a relatively cheap coat acquired 6+ years ago!

pawtuckaway fog
A recent foggy day at Round Pond in Pawtuckaway.

But it pretty quickly became clear that we needed a bigger gun for mountain hikes. I first tried layering, as in the haybale picture above, but with her pack on top…

On Mansfield in October, our first Vermont 4,000-footer. I added the fleece after this pic was taken, but it shows a bit of how the pack and blanket interact.

…it was just too much bulk. Pack + Weatherbeeta worked fine, but with the third layer, she ended up with rubs on her elbows and under the chestpiece. I don’t blame the jackets; they were never designed to be used this way. But clearly we needed to try something different.

We’d also picked up a Fido Fleece along the way, because I wanted her belly covered, but for this dog the theory was better than the execution. As above, she thinks the fleece is itchy and also we have problem #2: that massive pit bull front end.

fido on the hancock
Wearing the fleece alone on the Hancocks…
fido on the beach
…and under the Weatherbeeta at Twin Lights State Park in Maine.

The pup is wide across the chest and through the shoulders and neck, and her front legs have what horse people refer to as “lots of bone.” This is fine and dandy in general, but most technical dog clothes are designed for sporting and herding breeds, not for my happy little monster truck. The Fido Fleece is a relatively mild offender and works well on many, many bully breed dogs — but on Lilo over miles, it rubbed the tops of her front legs pretty raw.

I toned down my ambitions to let her heal and let me think about what to try next. The weather was still quite pleasant at lower elevations, especially closer to home, so we did some local hikes and I swapped out her pack for her old tracking harness (really a S&R vest), which has a different chest strap and puts the belly strap farther back. Lilo doesn’t carry weight in her pack (although it’s a convenient place to stash raingear or hats and gloves) and mostly wears it because I like having a handle on her in case she needs an assist with a scramble. The vest met that requirement handily (see what I did there?) and the more we used it, the more I liked having it close to her body instead of over top of the coat — it seemed less likely to rub or bind that way.

sar vest
S&R vest on otherwise naked dog.

After much research and careful comparison of Lilo’s measurements to the sizing charts, I bit the bullet and ordered her a Hurtta Ultimate Warmer. I’d heard great things about the quality of Hurtta gear in general, wasn’t sure it was quite as warm as I wanted, but liked the ability to cover her haunches and neck and loved that it was literally the only coat out there that seemed like it might be a little too big in the neck and girth measurements. I figured that meant it would actually fit her just right.


moosilauke pose
Posing in her Ultimate Warmer on the ridge between Moosilauke and the south peak.
moosilauke t rex
Plenty of freedom of movement — and no rubs!
hurtta willey
Enjoying that turtleneck on the Willey Range.

She wears the vest under this one and I can grab the handle through one of the leash openings if need be. Of course this also means that warm air can escape through the same opening — but it seems to close pretty well when not in use and I figure it’s an acceptable tradeoff for such a good fit. I also don’t love that the back of the coat is designed to snap under the tail; this covers her thighs nicely, but is, uh, questionable design for a female dog who likes to mark her trail. I tend to leave it either snapped to the sides (functioning like a blanket coat) or snapped together but over her tail (kind of a funny look, but a compromise between warmth and tidiness).

I’ve been really happy with the Ultimate Warmer and am forever in Hurtta’s debt for making a coat that actually! fits! my dog! but have wondered if it’s going to be quuuiiiite warm enough since we seem likely to keep hiking the Whites right on through the winter. Luckily(?), I’ve also ended up with a second technical winter coat through my own boneheadedness; I left the Hurtta somewhere the day before we were supposed to group-hike Waumbek and wasn’t going to be able to get it back until after. So I crossed my fingers and picked up a Ruffwear Powder Hound jacket from a local shop.

ruffwear fireplace
Not into posing on Starr King.
ruffwear tank
Waiting with her buddy for us slowpoke humans to catch up.

My assessment at this point — after one mountain use and one flatland hike — is what I’d expected based on the measurements (and this is a large; the size chart would have put her at the high end of medium but there was no way). This is a great coat designed for a differently-shaped dog. It’s super warm, covers her belly and haunches very nicely, and stays in place well, but is tighter across the chest than I’d like and the sleeved design (while contributing to the warmth) did cause a little broken hair after the Waumbek hike. No damage to the skin and she didn’t seem to mind the fit at all, but I wouldn’t want this to be her only coat. I also hadn’t fully appreciated how well the Hurrta stays in place longitudinally; while it rolls a bit from side-to-side on my barrel-shaped pup, I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t pulling it forward until I found myself having to do so with the Powder Hound.

At this point, we’re sticking with the Ultimate Warmer for Lilo’s go-to winter coat and we’ll see if my concerns about it not being quite enough for really frigid weather are founded. I’m glad to have the Powder Hound and am curious about its potential as a layering piece under the Hurtta to keep her toasty on the winter higher summits; I’ll report back if and when we give it a try. And I can’t say enough good things about the Weatherbeeta for a basic affordable coat. I’m curious whether we’ll ever manage to destroy the thing!


Still working on how best to keep her ears warm, though…


The Story Thus Far

Housekeeping note: this should have been this week’s Tuesday post. You’re getting it on Thursday instead (I hope…) because scheduling glitch. Onward!

We’ll start in the middle.

The human half of our team (that’s me!) grew up often outdoors in the Midwest. For a while, I planned to try the Appalachian Trail after high school. But then I liked college too much to go leave-of-absence. And then I acquired a horse. The rest is history. I’ve been in New England since 2005, starting near Boston and gradually trending towards the north. I did some local hiking along the way, a little car camping, and took one premature solo walk up Mt. Washington that worked out fine but taught me a whole lot of respect for the Whites along the way. Mostly, though, I fell out of the habit.

tuck light
Although that horse took me some pretty cool places: no regrets.

And then I upended my life: applied to grad school in a new-to-me field, quit my job of nine years, and ended a long-term relationship. I moved twice in five months. Lost a chunk of my social circle. Struggled in surprising ways with being back in school and in unsurprising ways with wondering what would happen next. And started hiking again: because I was living in a beautiful area and I could, because I had a dog who needed to be made tired, and because the rhythm of walking made all the question marks in my life feel a little more bearable and because I have never once felt lonely on trail.

starr king
Starr King on the way to Waumbek, my first 4,000-footer, the first time. (My phone at the time was interestingly busted-up such that every picture got a little extra light up top. Let’s just agree to call it art, okay? Okay.)

I’m done with school now. This post goes live the day after I officially get my degree and four after the first at my shiny new job in my shiny new field. I have one more move ahead of me, but my social circle and personal life are pretty great these days and hiking (and the folks I’ve met through it) have been no small part of that. And I’ve got a pretty cool dog.

That’s Lilo, who just turned five and is currently snoring away on the couch. She was never supposed to be a summit dog. She came into my life after my wonderful weird old dog, Casey, was hospitalized with pancreatitis and I realized that I couldn’t be between dogs. Enter one stressed-out shut-down shelter dog, just over a year old, who was perfect in the ways that I needed her to be perfect — patient with Casey, mostly — and quirky in ways that I was comfortable handling. (And a thousand thank yous to the staff at Nevins Farm, who provided special training and care to Lilo while she was there and went way out of their way to make sure that we got off on the right foot.) She was my emergency back-up dog.

Casey in Ptown
The old man, Casey, in Provincetown, MA.

She was also, it quickly came clear, pretty terrible at hiking. Lilo likes comfort; she likes her couch; she views rain and wind as a personal betrayal and is pretty sure that funny-looking boulders and shadows on trail are pit bull death traps. And she’s reactive. She actually has pretty great dog manners in general and a nice play style, but she worries about other dogs getting up in her face and isn’t above making some noise and big body language to keep ’em at a distance. (We’ll talk more about this and what we’ve done to mitigate it in future posts.) So when I started hiking again, I mostly left her home.

A pit bull in her preferred environment.

But the miles and hours started to add up. I missed having a dog at my side. We tried again. Short easy trails at first. Only on days when I could bring myself to be genuinely okay with stopping half a mile down the trail to stare at a boulder for 15 minutes and then retreat to the car and when I could bear to be “that jerk with the scary pit bull” if she reacted to another dog. And it got better. We can talk more about my methods, if anyone’s interested, but the long story short is that it got better.

Lilo and Tank
Proof of got-betterness on Waumbek recently.

I have 23 of the 48 4,000-footers so far. Lilo has 11. I’ll post about goals and my unapologetic goal-orientation and hiking with a dog who’s modified that — but it’s a measure, anyway, of how far we come. I don’t know if either of us will finish that list, but we’re having fun so far and I hope you’ll stick around to see.

“Are you sure about this?” Baby’s first White Mountain hike: the Welch-Dickey loop. (She was hiking on-leash at this point, but I took off her harness just-in-case for the squeeze.)
I call this one, “Good dog would like a bite of your sandwich, please.”
The view was better shared.
On to the next!

Mission Statement

Hello, friends new and not so new, and thanks for stopping by! I’ve missed the blogging community since my last venture came to its natural end and I’m delighted to be diving back in. So welcome to Bully & Blaze.

“It’s Not A 4,000-footer, But…” the view down into Crawford Notch from the ledges on Willard is something special. Here it is with a blogger and a nice-photo-foiling pit bull in the way.

This blog will follow my adventures in hiking the 48 tallest mountains in New Hampshire — that is, the 4,000-footers — with (and without, but hopefully mostly with!) Lilo, my pit bull terrier. There will be side trips to other trails throughout New England. And we’ll definitely spend some time talking about the challenges and joys of hiking with a dog who’s a little different than most of those one meets on trail. (First up: higher-summit jackets for the comfort-loving single-coated pup.)

Hale was 4,000-footer #15 for me and #5 for her. The weather was not as ominous as it looks in the picture and the walk out — we took the long way, down past Zealand Hut at peak foliage — was utterly glorious.

I’ll be pre-writing and scheduling posts for Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Wordless Wednesday pictures in between. We’ll start next week with introductions and the current state of Lilo’s cold-weather garb. However you found this blog, I do hope you’ll stick around — and if you have a blog, please drop a link in the comments so that I can follow you back!