Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. And dogs have done impressive stuff recently—like visiting all 63 national parks in a year and sniffing out truffles deep in the Oregon forest and climbing a 7,000-meter Himalayan peak. But the dozens I see outdoors doing their daily thing just aren’t that exceptional. So your dog likes to hike? Big deal.
Give me an adventure cat, though. Now that’s the real outdoor rarity. You’ve probably seen them on social media: they travel abroad on planes, camp, scurry up technical trails, don ski goggles and hit the slopes, and even hang out at the local crag and climb with humans. Way more awesome.
My childhood cat, Rocky, was the closest I ever got to an adventure cat; he’d loyally walk by my side as I sold Girl Scout cookies around the neighborhood. We’d make it about a half-mile from home, and still he’d be willing to continue. My current cat Frida doesn’t quite have Rocky’s gumption. She’s a rescue, so I don’t know her past, but she does have a long, bizarre list of fears that include patterned blankets and the underside of couch cushions. It’s always been my dream to bring Frida camping in the backcountry with me, but alas, she’s a scaredy cat.
Instead I get my fix online—along with some 159,000 Instagram followers—via Adventure Cats, an inspiring resource founded by cat lover Laura Moss, who provides information to humans looking for safe ways to get outdoors with their feline friends. Its repository of more than 2,500 photos and videos (happy cats in harnesses! courageous cats on canoes! warm cats wearing beanies! sleepy kitties taking a catnap in a hammock!) make me cry tears of joy.
The stereotype that all cats are demure and timid is dated. Adventure cats are getting outside and exploring with their owners on the regular, eagerly living their lives to the fullest in ways that sometimes put dogs to shame. My fellow editors and I searched for months to find the fiercest felines defying expectations.
Skill Set: Paddleboarding, hiking, skiing, road-tripping, camping, tree-hopping
This three-year-old rescue cat is living my dream: he hikes year-round. When his human companions, Erin Geldermans and Dan Schreck, go paddleboarding in lakes around the state, he’s totally on board—literally—sunbathing. Liebchen also likes to ski. “He sits on our shoulders with his goggles on, and lets the breeze go through his whiskers,” says Geldermans. He camps. And he parkours on fallen trees. His first adventure was a hike around Aspen, Colorado, at 11 weeks old, one week after being adopted. Three days later, he was hiking two miles with Geldermans (who carried him for an additional four miles). Soon he became a great global-travel partner, accompanying Geldermans and Schreck into grocery stores, pet-friendly restaurants, and on airplanes and road trips. When I asked Geldermans what kinds of precautions she takes when out and about with her cat, she says, “We always carry bear spray, remain aware of our surroundings, and keep Liebchen leashed.”
Skill Set: Desert-dunes trekking, peak bagging, national-parks camping
Have you ever wondered what a cat would do in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park? It’s a legitimate thought. Take a cue from four-year-old Finn, who visited in May: first, treat it like a litter box, then curl up and take a nap on the warm sand. Obviously. However, his owner, Beth Haala, says he has typical unhinged orange-cat behavior while adventuring. “There’s no rock he doesn’t want to climb, no plant he doesn’t want to smell,” she says. “He’s very nearly gotten stuck under a rock or in a tree on several occasions. He then stops and meows until I come over to rescue him. After that I put him on my shoulders, where he stays until he spots another thing to explore.”
Finn has some impressive outdoor credentials: In 2022, he bagged his first fourteener, Pikes Peak, no less. He’s been to three national parks, following a successful first camping experience in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Although pets aren’t allowed on trails in many national parks, more and more they’re allowed in park campgrounds.) Haala says that when they first started adventuring together three years ago, Finn adjusted very quickly, and the two have since built a foundation of trust that helps on adventures. “I can read his body language and know when he’s stressed and needs to be picked up,” she says. “I’ve also learned when he’s happy and wants to spend two hours exploring less than point-two miles from the car.”
Chewy and Mochi
Skill Set: Backcountry camping, biking, exploring local parks, sneaking up singletrack
These two hairless cats have different tolerance levels for the outdoors, so owner Paige Russell has had to work with them and make compromises. Although one-year-old Chewy and two-year-old Mochi both love road trips, Chewy prefers to lounge and keep close to his human companions, and Mochi is excited to hit the trails, specifically narrow singletrack.
Chewy and Mochi also love camping. The trick is letting them check out the tent before it gets dark. Also, when camping with two cats, Russell says to pack one giant sleeping bag for them to crawl into, or bring someone with you who wants to snuggle with a cat in their sleeping bag.
Russell needed different amounts of time to acclimate Chewy and Mochi to all the travel adventures she’d planned, which ran the gamut from the Utah backcountry to the beach. Assessing their individual comfort levels was key. Mochi was timid at first, but within weeks was up for walking around with a harness, riding on a bicycle, and camping. Russell started getting Chewy used to a cat-carrier backpack (this one from Pecute) at about 16 weeks old, and excursions started small, with trips to the local park, where she let him choose whether he wanted to leave the pack and explore.
“Sometimes cats like Chewy enjoy seeing the world from a cat pack or sleep sack,” Russell says. “Other times, maybe when we’re in the desert, he decides he wants to walk on his leash to explore. Either option is OK with me.”
Skill Set: Hiking, multiday camping, offering encouragement to children on the trail
Sometimes a cat just takes to outdoor activities with their people naturally. Charlotte Simons got McKinley at 12 weeks, and they soon became nearly inseparable: “I started taking him on adventures, even if it was to a park around the corner, and he loved it. He showed interest in adventures, and we took it from there.” At six months, he went on his first-ever multiday camping trip to Leavenworth, Washington, and purred the entire time.
As a registered emotional-support animal and complex-level trained therapy animal, McKinley has the expertise to handle stressful situations that can happen in the wilderness, such as out-of-control, off-leash dogs. “He’s also exceptionally friendly to others on the trail and loves children, so he brings a lot of smiles to other hikers,” Simons says.
Skill Set: Horseback riding, traveling, sportswear testing
This wrinkly sphynx loves a car ride, wherever the journey takes her. Wednesday is an experienced traveler for being eight years old; she’s been in planes, trains, cars, wagons, and paddleboats—and has even ridden a horse (above). “She never ceases to amaze me,” says her human companion, Shanelle Matthews. “Anything I throw her way she tackles like she’s done it a million times.”
One consideration for Matthews is how to keep hairless Wednesday sun-safe when there aren’t any vet-approved sunscreens on the market yet. “She wears thin shirts and brimmed hats for protection during the summer,” Matthews says. What about staying warm outdoors in the winter? She has an entire dresser drawer dedicated to all kinds of weather-appropriate clothes, notably those made by Flint’s Fashions.
Pinecone and Mushroom
Skill Set: Hiking, kayaking
It’s well-known that pets improve their owner’s mental health. And it’s also well-known that nature does the same thing. During the pandemic, Becca Terry used both to reconnect with herself. “I used to hike a lot in college, and then I quit,” she says. “And then COVID happened. I wanted to get back out there, and we got Pinecone around that time. I wanted to take her out, show her things, and just be with her, and it all boosted my mental health.”
Pinecone became the perfect hiking partner. A year later, Mushroom joined the family, and picked up the adventure spirit quickly, despite visual challenges from only having one eye. Because cats are inquisitive and want to inspect everything, they hike at a generally slower pace than people, which can help their human companions slow down and feel more zen.
“When we go somewhere with Mushroom, usually I make sure I have a decent amount of time to be out on the trail,” Terry says. “Or sometimes I’ll pick a spot that’s shorter, like instant gratification—like a drive up to a mountaintop—but I let her move how she wants to move.”
Also, Mushroom is here to defy whatever stereotypes you have about cats being afraid of water. She’s not only a brave hiker but a regular kayaker. “I have her in my lap, and we don’t go on anything that’s got a lot of rapids,” Terry says. “So she usually falls asleep like she does in the car.”
Skill Set: Rock climbing, canyoneering, acting
We have a celebrity in our midst: twelve-year-old Kenny is both a documentary star and a commercial actor. He’s been featured in the Netflix series The Hidden Life of Pets (episode three) and starred in a Stainmaster commercial called “This Adventure Cat Leads the Way.” Kenny’s wild life started a decade ago at age two, when his person, Zac Robinson, found a cat-friendly place to camp in Indian Creek, Utah, and brought him along. After noticing Kenny get tail-up excited, Robinson started “catting” and now frequently brings him to hike the canyons around Durango, Colorado. Robinson says the terrain is fairly flat and gradual, and because it’s a confined space, a wandering Kenny stays in view longer.
Kenny doesn’t just stay on the ground. He’s scaled a couple rock faces, too. His first climb was 1,000 Feet of Fun, a five-pitch 5.6 trad route in Utah’s San Rafael Swell, with Robinson, his friend Craig Armstrong, and Armstrong’s cat, Millie. “Craig and I basically soloed the entire route, and we had the cats tethered into us,” Robinson says. “They were able to climb nearly all of it on their own. Kenny rose on my shoulders for a few of the short steep sections.”
To keep up with Robinson and Kenny, check out Canyon Kitties, an online diary of their experiences together and another place for fellow “catters” to seek out as a reference for gear tips, safety suggestions, and adventuring advice.
Emma Veidt is Backpacker Magazine’s assistant editor. She’s had cats her entire life, even fostering two in her 720-square-foot college apartment. Currently, she has two rescues, Ruth and Frida, who hate each other, but she loves them both very much.