Stephen Simmons was living out of his Jeep in Southern Oregon in 2013 when a girl approached him with a box of kittens. When he saw the tuxedo cat inside, he knew he’d keep him. Burma, as he named her, was raised on the road and took naturally to hiking. So Simmons did what anyone alive in the digital age would do: He started an Instagram account.
“I certainly wasn’t the first person to enjoy the outdoors with a cat,” says Simmons, who posts photos of he and Burma’s various excursions via the handle @burmaadventurecat, “but at the time when social media skyrocketed, the movement highlighted to the world that cats can do more than just lay around and sleep, and are actually more suited to going on adventures and traveling than most people realized.”
Since then, the “adventure cat” movement has exploded, with more Instagram profiles popping up focusing on intrepid felines more interested in scaling rocks than curtains.
Think your kitty has what it takes? That depends.
“Cats are not like dogs,” says Kirah Doerr, whose Instagram @dzantithedaring shows scroll-worthy photos of Doerr’s cat, Dzánti hiking with her dogs Trojan and Douglas Fir, “so you’ll need to erase that expectation and just see what happens.”
A rescue cat that Doerr took home and nursed to health, Dzánti started exploring the outdoors when he was just a kitten. But before treading the trails, he had to get used to wearing a harness. “I have two dogs so I wanted to be able to take him outside,” she says. “When he was really little I started out by having a little harness on him and he would just wear it around my place and when we were outside on the back patio. Once he got bigger, then I started taking him out for walks and hikes with a harness and retractable lease.”
According to Doerr, the best piece of advice for cat owners who are eager to take their pets out on the trails is to “be really patient” and make sure your cat is ready for the wild before taking them along. She recommends starting out on low-traffic trails that require dogs to be leashed.
“If your cat gets scared out there, then they’re not going to like it,” she says. “Whenever we pass a dog I put Dzánti on my shoulder to avoid any confrontation. It’s all about assessing what your cat likes and making them feel safe and comfortable. In the summer, I like to take him out early so he doesn’t get overheated.”
Of course, for those looking to take their kitty along steeper trails with tons of switchbacks, be prepared to tow Fluffy in a carrier backpack for a good part of the hike. “They’re not going to walk along with you like a dog would do,” says one cat owner, who shares photos of his cat, Maple, all around Oregon on his Instagram account, @mapleandmeave. (His other cat, Maeve, does not hike.) “I took Maple on the Cape Horn trail, and he would stay in the backpack and then do a little walking, smelling flowers and ferns. It’s a lot slower of a process with cats because they want to explore everything. They don’t take a linear path. At least my cat doesn’t. So patience is key.”
Like Dzánti, Maple first became acclimated to wearing a harness at home before attempting a hike. “It’s baby steps,” says his owner, who prefers to remain anonymous. “You don’t want to overwhelm them.”
As every cat owner knows, it’s best to follow their lead. Not all cats are made for the wild life.
“Burma was pretty much born into the adventurous lifestyle and thrived in it. But definitely know your cat’s limits. And make sure they’re chipped if taking them out on the trails,” says Simmons, who still adventures outside with Burma despite now living “a more civilized lifestyle.” Most importantly, “it’s all about enjoying the company of your cat and having fun.”
While training a cat for outdoor adventures is no doubt an endeavor, it’s worth the effort as long as your kitty is up for it. And if not? Well, there are always lap naps.