This page focuses on equipment used while bikejoring and skijoring and how to use it.
First Gen Bikejoring Equipment, Ready For Tunnel Run
Skijoring Snowmobile Trails, Windy Day
ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET. Buy a good one, buy another. Repeat, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET.
You only have one brain, so don't waste it. Put reflective tape on your helmet, make it visible.
If your dogs run at speed, they can kick back pebbles into your face. If you bikejor when it is cold, your eyes will water, and you won't be able to see without goggles. The goggles should be impact resistant enough to stop flying gravel and ventilated enough to prevent fogging. If you ride at night or in tunnels you want clear, not tinted, goggles. I wear ski goggles over my glasses. You will have to test before you buy if you wear glasses. Clear lenses are hard to find, but worth it in low light situations.
Leather (or some other skin or equivalent) that fit well and will protect your hands from rope burn and road rash. I use goat skin rappelling gloves from REI.
A mirror allows you to see what is behind you quickly. There are handlebar mirrors and helmet mirrors. I've used both. I personally prefer a helmet mirror because I don't have to look down, away from the dogs, to use it. Also, I break the handlebar mirrors a lot more often. Bikejoring is hard on the bike, and anything attached to it.
Sturdy mountain bike. It will be dropping to the ground and being dragged along and shouldn't have anything that is easily broken or bent.
Go for a test ride. If it isn't raining, pour water on the rear brake. Can you lock the rear brake with it wet and skid to a stop? If not, the rear brake is inadequate. You must be able to lock the rear brake in the rain. I don't know much about bikes. I went for sturdy, but not real expensive (the bike will be dragged along the ground, you don't want to watch your money being scrapped away).
Assume everything you put on the bike will get broken eventually. If you might end up riding in limited visibility conditions, put lots of reflective tape on your bike. You will want the bike to be visible at night in weird positions as it is dragged along the ground.
Side Bags - Paniers
If you are going on a real adventure you will want a rack and some old side bags on your bike and maybe a front bag. You can throw gear in these places.
The dogs stop for a drink and spill heat.
What goes in the Side Bags?
WATER = LIFE
Hydration and Temperature Control
Dehydration and heat stroke can kill a dog. Only you can keep that from happening. Your dog needs water to stay alive. Never skimp on giving a dog water.
At a minimum always offer your dogs water on a schedule. I do this every two miles (at a minimum). Figure out what schedule will usually keep your dogs happy and healthy.
If you will run out of water, turn around and go home or somewhere you can get water. You must track water usage and never run out.
If your water is half gone, it is time to turn around and go home, or find more water.
I am happy when my dogs keep peeing, because it means I am keeping them hydrated.
I stick a finger in their mouths back along the outside of their teeth to feel their temperature. If you do this a lot when they are resting, you will get a feel for normal temperature.
When in doubt, if your dog has been panting or is panting or has foam or white stuff on its tongue, your dog is dehydrated or hot.
I use wide mouth Nalgene Cantene bladders available at REI. When the weather is warm, I fill them ¼ full of water, and freeze them on their sides. Then when I am getting ready to go, I pull the bladders out of the freezer and fill them the rest of the way. Instant ice-water.
I figure on a quart every two miles for two dogs. In warmer weather they need more, but we don't run in hot weather. In colder weather we use slightly less. If you skijor, water consumption drops quite a bit.
Ice water can keep a dog going in warm weather it could otherwise not run in. It can also speed a dog up in marginal weather.
However, don't push too hard in warm weather. Your dog can't spill heat as well as you can. (Wrap yourself in plastic sheeting and put on a fur coat, then go for a run and you'll see what it is like for a dog to run in warm weather.) Remember, 25% of their energy becomes movement, 75% becomes heat they need to get rid of and they don't sweat.
The dogs drink from Hydro Bowls collapsible water bowls. There are other brands, but I find these easiest to clean and far more durable.
If I am going by streams or lakes I carry a MSR Waterworks filter available at REI. Yes, your dogs can drink from any source (just like you can). If you don't use a filter you can catch something nasty, spend a lot of unpleasant time on the potty and cleaning up liquid dog poop. Prevention is better. Having a filter can really extend your running range.
First Aid Kit
Dressings, bandages, vetwrap, digital thermometer, anti gas tablets to deal with bloat, and other stuff. Take a pet first aid class, talk with mushers, there's a lot of scenarios to consider and prepare for. Know the 24 hour emergency vets in the area and have their contact info in your cell phone.
Bike Repair Kit
Tools, tire pump, spare tube are all worth having if they save you a long walk. Get a full kit with a few tire tools, a spare tube and inflator. The patches won't work when you need them to.
Rope, Webbing, Clips, Carabiners
Ropes and clips will break. Carry spares. Additional ropes or webbing allow you to picket the dogs while you repair a gang line problem. The ordinary brass clips seem to break pretty easily when more than one dog pulls on them (usually a spetacular failure). A locking carabiner is helpful at that point. I carry extra biners as they are quite useful and are big enough to be manipulated quickly, even with gloves on.
This is the line the dogs pull you with. When skijoring, it is also known as a tow line. There is a quick release snap required for some races by the rules and bungee to absorb shocks. I get tug lines from Alpine Outfitters or Nordkyn Outfitters. Bikejor and skijor tug lines have a quick release on the bicycle or skier end, a section of bungee within the tug, some more line to give you distance from the dogs (distance = reaction time), and then either a loop to connect individual lines from the dogs, or the lines themselves.
I use a gang line with a loop at the dog end and put a carabiner at the loop end and at the quick release end. The carabiner at the dog end allows me to add or remove individual lines as I add or remove dogs. I run recreationally with 3 or more dogs, but am only allowed to race with 2 dogs.
I connect this to a nylon rope or webbing tied to the center of the handlebars.
Some people claim the quick release is important. Frankly, I have never used the quick release unless I am off the bike and want to move the dogs separately from the bike. Like when we had to scramble over a large concrete block at the end of a trail.
If you are on the bike and things are out of control, letting go of the handlebar to grab the quick release will only make things worse. By the time I know there is a problem, it is too late for me to use the quick release.
The bungee can take some getting used to, but helps smooth out the shocks for both you and your dogs.
Some of the people I converse with use a Nooksack Racing Supply bay-o-net or a similar attachment to put the rope out in front of the front wheel. This is a very important issue because if the rope gets caught by the tire it will jam the tire and the bike will stop suddenly. However, you will keep going, over the handlebar. I have not used this attachment, but am told it works.
The neck lines keep the dogs together. The neck lines snap onto one dog's collar and either to the gangline or to the adjacent dog's collar.
You can also get neck lines or make them from clips and rope. I try not to use neck lines very much. My dogs are experienced, know to avoid tangles and so I prefer to give the dogs flexibility. But otherwise, neck lines keep the dogs in line. Note that if you are going to race your team, you will likely be required to neck line them.
I use a variant of the traditional x-back harnesses. In order to cut out the uncertainty, I take the dog to get fitted. I have harnesses from a few places. Right now, I am using Alpine Outfitters "Elements" harnesses with nylon covering for wet environments (this type is not listed on their web site, so you have to ask for it).
If you like to sew, you can probably make your own harnesses, but remember that doing it wrong will cause your dog unnecessary pain.
Booties are used to protect your dog's paws from abrasion on gravel, crushed rock or some types of snow. Some people think pavement is worse, but that is a myth. I have some pretty old dogs still running, who have spent a lot of time running on pavement without booties. I will bootie up the dogs on rough or abrasive surfaces, or if they are running far, or if we might encounter broken glass (avoid that as much as possible!)
Note that some types of snow are abrasive, other types accumulate in the hair between a dog's toe pads and cause ice balls. Ice balls are painful and can be eliminated by using booties.
I've gotten booties from a variety of sources and seen a variety of types. I've also made my own. But most fabric wears out very quickly (a few miles). The pros have found fabric that may not look like much, but it lasts much further. In the end, booties are consumables, if you keep running you will keep wearing out booties. Better to wear out booties than paws.
Right now I run with Mountain Ridge Mushing Supplies green or blue booties. I also keep some of their black heavy duty booties in stock for really bad surfaces (if you are on a trail and encounter broken glass, avoid, but have heavy duty booties). Dogbooties.com is also a big web site.
Big, heavy, fancy booties like I've seen at hiking stores are just bad, bad, bad. What you want is a running shoe or sock for your dog, not a hiking or climbing boot. If a bootie is too big or heavy or inflexible your dog will keep tripping over it. Mushers have figured this out. Be a minimalist. Figure on using and losing more cheaper booties, not heavy and too costly booties. I hike with my dogs too, and vastly prefer mushing booties for hiking as well. Mushers are about 100 years ahead of the hiking supply stores in this area.
A real bad cut on a paw is a nightmare scenario. How do you get home or to a vet?
Gauze, vetwrap, tape and booties are an important alternative in this scenario. Different dogs have different weaknesses in their paws, so I bootie up troublesome paws before they will have problems. Booties can also give a dog with sensitive paws the confidence to run to their limit and not worry.
Check your dog's paws in detail consistently.
Since my dogs have a heavy coat I wear a headlamp while checking their paws and use both vision and feel to find problems. Since you may be checking at night or in low light conditions learning to do this by what you feel with your hands is helpful.
Do this regularly so you know what a normal paw feels like.
Feel between the pads, feel the webbing between the pads so you will know when it is hurt, cracked or swollen from infection.
Reality check: dogs hate booties! They will try to remove them, chew them, swallow them. When you first put them on they will stumble around or pancake on the ground, but if the bootie is a reasonable size and weight, they will adapt. You need to teach your dogs that booties are ok, but also be aware if there is something wrong with a bootie or foot.
(Imagine what it would be like if your first shoe was excruciatingly painful and you were forced to wear it.)
You need to put booties on securely enough so they don't fall off, or get pulled off, easily, but not so tight that you cut off circulation. If in doubt, I take my dogs' booties off and check their paws during long breaks.
Paw injuries take time to heal, pad wear and tear can heal within a week, but more serious injuries can take weeks (especially if your dog keeps licking off the scab). So putting booties on sooner rather than later can be keep your dogs having fun instead of laying around bored. But keep checking to make sure booties are protecting your dog's feet, not hurting them.
Visibility - Urban and Nightime Riding
For night or tunnel riding, get bike lights. Hey, I have a couple of hundred dollars worth of flashing lights and head lights.
I have had people mistake me & my dogs for a hovering UFO (those cars tend to screech to a stop about a block away).
What is important is that they SEE us and avoid us. People already know you are nuts (you are bikejoring in the dark), just do your best to stay alive.
I have sewn up reflective vests for the dogs. Then I hang flashing lights (one on each side of the vests) that are sold for bike riders.
If you want a cheap bright headlight, search the internet for plans. I made one and use a small car starter battery to power it. I can see a couple hundred feet ahead of my team.
So if you are going to do a long run in a rural or mountainous area, you have to ask yourself, how would I evacuate an injured or bloated dog? Would I carry it mile after mile by hand?
This is when you start thinking about a dog trailer you can pull with your bike, such as the Doggyride novel. A dog is not going to ride in a trailer without either training or being strapped in. I am working on training my dogs, but you may also want to carry a dog bag and several straps.
Essentially, the theory is that you put the injured dog in a large stuff sack, then strap it in place on the trailer. Since a frantic dog can flail around a lot, you need to strap it down securely. Not fun, or even very nice, but it beats the alternatives.
Note that you should also figure out near by vet clinics that handle dogs and do emergencies. If you travel, then get on the web and do your research.
Other things you will need to add for skijoring.
Skis and Poles
I use backcountry skis with metal edges. The metal edges and the ability to snow plow are the closest you will get to having a brake (unless you use your butt). Some people fear they might hurt their dogs with the metal edges. You certainly don't want to run over their paws! That being said, it is MUCH easier to control your skiing with metal edges, so you are much less likely to hurt your dogs.
If you want to skijor, it really helps if you can ski well first. It is hard to both learn to ski and to teach your dogs to pull. Skiing is a lot about balance. Dogs are a lot about pulling you off balance.
You can use a skijor belt or canicross belt or a climbing harness (the belts are not quite as sturdy a climbing harness, but a bit easier to put on and adjust). I use a climbing harness. You hook the gang line or tug line to the belt/harness. I find using a carabiner or two between the belt and tug line is helpful (you can clip the dogs to a tree while you work on your skis). There is usually a quick release on the tug line. If you race, it may be required. Note that some people use a skijor belt for bikejoring. It works for some people, but I don't see how.
Since the dogs can eat snow and it is usually cold, this is not as immediate an issue. However, if you are going a long way in dry snow conditions hydration is important. You should use the awareness and skill that you develop while bikejoring to monitor your dogs. Also remember to check their paws.
You will learn what snow conditions cause more problems and which dogs have more problems with paws. Booties are the answer. Since the dogs will lose booties either by accident or dislike, carry extras. Don't bother with the fancy, costly booties sold at hiking stores, get mushing booties. The fancy booties hiking stores sell are too big, too inflexible and just not worth it. Your dog needs something more like a running shoe or sock than a heavy boot. Dogs will initially stumble over booties, but should adapt over time. If the bootie is too big and heavy, your dog will keep tripping over it, all the time.
Avalanche Gear, Knowledge of Current Conditions and Training
If you are going to do backcountry skijoring, you really need to get educated about avalanches and get equipment. However, your absolute best option is avoidance. If the avalanche forecast looks bad, avoid terrain that may get you killed. It is very unlikely that you and your dogs can survive an avalanche, so just avoid the risk.
A Pack and the Ten Essentials
Again, if you are doing backcountry skijoring, you should carry enough gear to survive. Otherwise, even a minor injury may be fatal to you or a dog. When you stop moving, you need a lot of gear to stay alive. If you doubt the need for equipment I'd suggest you sit down in the snow for a while and learn how much gear you need to stay alive.