What Type of Leash is Best for Hiking with Dogs?

Whether you are new to hiking with your dog or interested in upgrading your hiking leash, selecting the best leash for your hiking dog can be a lengthy process.

After all, there are SO many different leash options on the market!

But what type of leash is best for hiking with dogs? Is there a best option? The short answer is NO, there isn’t one leash time that outperforms all others. Instead, you need to find the best leash for YOU.

What does that mean? In this article, we will discuss the different leash options available and identify what type of leash is best for hiking with dogs.

Let’s get started!

Cat-friendly hikers, we also shared our recommendations for the best leash for hiking with cats!

dog walking through shallow river bed | What Type of Leash is Best for Hiking with Dogs?
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9 Types of Dog Leash for Hiking

The first challenge to choosing the right leash for your dog is understanding all available options. This includes not only the material the leash is made from but also the leash length.

To help you make an educated decision, we will break down the pros and cons of 9 different options for your next hiking dog leash.

Nylon or Fabric Leashes

The most common type of leash you will find in pet stores and small pet-focused businesses, nylon and fabric leashes, known as the “standard flat lead,” are low-cost and readily available.

For this reason, they are the most common leashes you will find on the trails.

But these leashes aren’t necessarily the best dog leash for hiking. Why? They attract and retain all the dirt, grime, and smells you encounter while spending time outdoors.

That isn’t to say they are a bad option, but be prepared for regular cleaning to prevent the all-too-familiar “dog smell.”

The benefit of these leashes is that they are lightweight and available in a wide range of colours and designs. In fact, there is a leash for any style or personality available.

Rope Leashes

Another lightweight dog leash for hiking is the rope leash. These are made from strong and durable cotton rope materials or climbing ropes.

The rope material offers a little more forgiveness if a dog tries to bolt or pull due to its slightly elastic nature. It’s soft to the touch, making it comfortable in your hand for longer outings.

As an added safety measure, they often include a reflective strip woven into the rope.

Paracord Leashes

Made by tying or braiding paracord to create a fun and colourful pattern, paracord leashes are a great option for showing off your pup’s style.

Paracord is soft, comfortable, strong, and lightweight, like rope leashes. It was designed to withstand the elements, making it weather-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about rotting.

Chain Leashes

A strong, durable chain paired with a more comfortable fabric handle; chain leashes aren’t the most popular among hiking dogs. But they are commonly seen in urban settings.

The chain is plated with materials to protect against rusting. This allows it to be used outdoors even if the weather isn’t great.

There are many different options in terms of style, including handle materials (meaning a selection of colours and designs) for the handle and various chain colours.

Leather Leashes

A classic look, leather leashes are one of the most traditional options. But don’t count them out. Their strength and durability make them a popular choice.

It can be very soft and comfortable if you take the time to soften the handle or purchase one that has already been softened.

Unfortunately, they can carry a hefty price tag. Plus, leather doesn’t hold up as well as other materials in the rain – a genuine concern for hikers and outdoor travellers.

Biothane Leashes

A popular choice that has gained significant popularity in the outdoor travel community, BioThane leashes are a waterproof, stink-proof alternative to leather.

The material is a coated polyester webbing. The PVC or TPU coating is what makes the lash so durable.

BioThane is available in a wide assortment of different colours and patterns, making it easy to match the personality of any dog.

We switched to BioThane leashes and collars for all our pets a few years ago and can’t imagine switching back. Any mud or dirt from our adventures can easily be rinsed off with water, and we’re ready to go again!

three dogs posed for portrait in the woods | What Type of Leash is Best for Hiking with Dogs?
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Our three showing off their BioThane leashes, each in different colours

Retractable Leashes

Here at The Kas Pack, we aren’t supporters of using retractable leashes in 99% of situations. For this reason, we won’t spend much time here discussing them.

These are long leashes that are rolled up inside the handle, allowing the leash to expand or retract.

We will go into detail later in the article about why we believe there are better option than retractable leashes when travelling with your dog.

Slip Leads

These highly versatile tools are a combination of both a leash and collar in one. This makes them an excellent choice for your emergency kit.

You can purchase them made from a variety of different materials, with the most common being nylon or BioThane.

Nylon is lightweight and easily packed into a smaller space, while BioThane slip leads have the added benefit of the waterproof, stink-proof material.   

Hands-Free Leashes

Many leash creators have found innovative ways to provide different configurations when using your leash. This includes hands-free leashes that are worn either around your waist or cross-body.

Our favourite hands-free leashes are those that can also be used as a traditional leash.

The fact that these leashes can be used in so many ways means they are ideal for outdoor travellers trying to minimize the amount of gear they are packing.

We can easily switch up the leash depending on whether we’re hiking, walking around the campground, or visiting the dog beach.  

How Long Should a Leash Be for Hiking?

The most common leash length for outdoor adventures like hiking is 6 ft. This is because many areas (including Ontario Parks) specify 6 ft as the maximum length.

If the place you are exploring doesn’t specify a maximum leash length, you may consider giving your dog more room with a 10 ft leash.

Avoid using extremely short leashes or traffic leads on the trails. These leashes are designed to give you more control over your dog when navigating high-traffic areas.

Traffic leads can be used in conjunction with a longer lead, giving you the option if encountering other hikers. But you want to choose a leash length that will allow your dog to explore their surroundings and enjoy your time on the trails.

Can a Leash be Too Heavy for a Dog?

Yes! If you are hiking with a smaller dog, you will need to pay careful attention to the weight of your dog’s leash and the hardware it is made with.

This extra weight adds unnecessary challenges to your dog’s hike, which can be too much for some to handle.

When selecting the best leash for hiking with dogs that are older, smaller in size, or currently recovering from an injury, opt for lightweight materials and smaller hardware.

For example, narrower BioThane leashes are available with smaller dogs in mind.

What’s Bad About Retractable Leashes?

If you aren’t comfortable allowing your dog to hike off-leash but want to offer them the freedom to explore their surroundings, you may find yourself considering a retractable leash.

These leashes have been a topic of controversy among the dog-loving community.

Many dog professionals, including veterinarians and dog trainers, warn against the use of these tools due to the risk of injury to you, your dog, or others that you will encounter along the way.

They also offer limited control over your dog, making managing potentially dangerous situations like a bear encounter more challenging.

The growing dislike for retractable leashes is further reinforced by the number of dog owners who fail to train their dogs for hiking and proper leash manners. This means untrained dogs that can’t be controlled by their owner.

While we occasionally use a retractable with our senior girl Daviana when she’s swimming, we avoid using them in any other setting.

dog swimming on leash at beach | What Type of Leash is Best for Hiking with Dogs?
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Is your dog going to be swimming on leash? No problem with waterproof Biothane!

Should I Let My Dog Hike Off-Leash?

Determining whether or not you should allow your dog off-leash starts with understanding the rules and restrictions in the area you are exploring.

Leash rules are put in place with the safety of all travellers in mind.

If you are set on taking your dog hiking off-leash, do your due diligence to find a trail where that is permitted. You can try Googling “off-leash trails near me” or using an app like AllTrails to find trails that allow off-leash hiking.

Many people specifically choose an on-leash trail for a reason, including:

  • Reactive dogs
  • Dogs that are still in training
  • Hikers that are nervous around or afraid of dogs
  • Cat-friendly hikers

Our trails should be a safe and enjoyable place for everyone to enjoy. The only way for this to work is for everyone to respect one another and obey the set rules.

Best Dog Leash for Hiking

After reading all this information and being introduced to the wide assortment of leash options, you may find yourself wondering: What type of leash is best for hiking with dogs? Is there a best type?

The truth is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Instead, you will need to find the leash that works best for you and your dog.

For our three, we prefer to use hands-free BioThane leashes.

These leashes free up our hands for navigating more challenging terrain and helping the dogs past obstacles on the trail. They also make it easy to secure a dog in an emergency.

When selecting the best hands-free dog leash for hiking, we are HUGE fans of BioThane. Especially with Lucifer’s love of playing in the mud!

Final Thoughts: What Type of Leash is Best for Hiking with Dogs

While I’m sure you came to this article hoping for a black-and-white answer, the truth is that it’s not quite that easy. There is no single best leash for every dog and owner.

Instead, the goal is to find a leash that works best for YOU and YOUR DOG.

Consider your dog’s personality. Some dogs will do great with keeping a leash clean on the trails, while others are skilled at finding every mud puddle along the way.

You want to choose a leash that is comfortable for you to handle. This means factoring in the weight of the leash, the material the leash is made from, and the security it provides (especially in an emergency).

When panicked, even a dog trained to follow all the basic hiking rules may falter or respond in a way that makes the situation worse.

A high-quality leash is one of the most basic yet helpful pieces of hiking gear you can invest in.

In your opinion, what type of leash is best for hiking with dogs? We’d love to hear all about your favourites in the comments!

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