Best Backpacks for Dogs: How to Choose & Fit

When it comes to finding the right dog backpack, shopping can be rough. With so many brands, styles, and features you may be finding yourself overwhelmed with decisions. 

After endlessly searching from product to product all you’re probably thinking is does it really matter, all I want to do is take my dog on a hike!

As dog owners who love to hike, we’ve been there too. Outfitting your furry friend can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. 

To lend you a helping hand, we rounded up the best dog backpacking packs around as well as created this user-friendly guide to make purchasing a breeze. 

Best for Large Dogs: Big Baxter Dog Pack

Kurgo Big Baxter Dog Backpack, Dog Saddlebag, Dog Pack, Adjustable Saddlebag for Hiking, Walking, Running, Camping, Black/Orange

While many dog hiking packs come in varying sizes, finding one sized to fit your 100-pound dog can be a challenge. Kurgo had this in mind when designing Big Baxter. 

This pack was specifically designed for large dog breeds as it can fit a 50-110 pound dog. It features ergonomic spine support and 8-adjustment points so you can get a proper fit.

If keeping your large dog under control is a concern, you’ll enjoy the large handle for better control. It also has a rear mounted leash attachment which doubles as a bottle opener. 

As a plus, it comes with a lifetime warranty so you can rest assured on your hiking adventure. 

What We Like

  • Built for large dogs
  • Large grip handle
  • Ergonomic spine support
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Two extra pockets

What We Don’t Like

  • Extra pocket zippers can snag
  • May not be as durable as expected
  • May cause chafing
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Best for Cold Weather: Ruffwear Approach

RUFFWEAR Hiking Pack for Dogs, Medium Sized Breeds, Adjustable Fit, Size: Medium, Orange Poppy, Approach Pack, 50102-801M

If you’re trading in the dog jacket for a canine backpack during the winter months, then consider the Ruffwear Approach. 

The comfy padding and large form-fitting saddlebags will offer more coverage to keep your furry friend warm. Another benefit of the large saddlebags is you have more room to stash extra winter gear such as paw wax and winter dog booties. 

What I really appreciate about this pack is the five-point adjustment. This allows you to customize the perfect fit for your dog’s body while maintaining a full range of motion. It also has two leash attachment points. 

Lightweight and durable, this pack was built to perform. However, it does tend to be on the more expensive side.

What We Like

  • Good padding and large saddlebags offer more coverage for warmth
  • 5-point adjustment customizes fit
  • Radial cut saddlebags offer free-range of motion
  • Quality construction
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Reflective trim 
  • Paddle handle for easy grip

What We Don’t Like

  • Saddlebags may be too large for small dogs
  • Saddlebags are not detachable
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Best for Hot Weather: Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack

Mountainsmith K-9 Pack, Azure Blue, Medium

In the hotter months, you’ll want to outfit your pup with a pack that won’t cause them to overheat. In this case, the Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack is a terrific option. 

This pack offers good ventilation thanks to the built-in air mesh panels. It also features roomy expandable pockets which I really appreciate considering it allows more space for extra water.

It’s built from ripstop nylon so you won’t have to worry about tears when your dog snags on a branch or brushes up against rocks. 

As a bonus, a Colorado sled dog veterinarian was consulted in the making of the pack to ensure it’s ergonomically correct. 

What We Like

  • Air mesh panel for ventilation
  • Tough ripstop nylon material for durability
  • Roomy pockets
  • Leash attachment

What We Don’t Like

  • Pricier than other options
  • Can possibly slide off
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Best for Wet Weather: Pettom Dog Saddle Backpack

PettomDog Backpack Saddle Bag Adjustable Pack Reflective Rucksack Carrier for Traveling Walking Camping Hiking (L, Red)

The last thing you want is a pack that’s going to soak through in the rain and weigh down your dog. The Pettom Dog Saddle Backpack is your hiking answer in wet conditions. 

The dogpack is made out of a waterproof, scratch-resistant oxford polyester and SBS Waterproof reversed coil zipper.

On the underside, there’s sponge padding for extra comfort on long hikes. I also like the fact it has a breathable middle mesh.

Another nice feature is the load compression system which aids in weight distribution while also providing much needed stability when hiking in the rain.

What We Like

  • Waterproof material
  • Breathable
  • Sponge padding for extra comfort
  • Even weight distribution
  • Removable saddlebags
  • Reflective trim

What We Don’t Like

  • Pricey
  • Suggested sizing may not fit
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Best for Backpacking: Ruffwear Palisades

Ruffwear - Palisades Multi-Day Backcountry Pack for Dogs, Red Currant, Medium

If there were a Rolls Royce of doggie packs, this would be it. This pack has everything you could possibly want, plus it was specifically designed for overnight adventures. 

What I really appreciate about this pack is it features two collapsible 1-liter hydration bladders so you can keep your dog hydrated and cool on longer journeys. 

Since constant strain on your dog’s back is a concern, the saddlebags have a weight forward design with ample room for food storage. They’re also removable so your dog can rest properly along the way.

Some other great features are the four attachment points keeping the removable saddlebags in place, while the customizable five-adjustment points optimize your dog’s range of motion. 

This bag is one the pricey side, but considering all the bells and whistles it’s worth every penny.

What we like

  • Built-in collapsible BPA hydration bladders
  • Removable saddlebags
  • Plenty of food storage
  • Web Master harness frame offers even weight distribution and load stability
  • Two leash attachment points
  • External gear loops

What we don’t like

  • Pricey
  • May not be suitable for small dogs
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Best Value: Outward Hound Kygen Dog Pack

Outward Hound Kyjen  2498 Dog Backpack, Small, Blue

If money is a concern, take a look at the Outward Hound Dog Pack. This hiking pack has all the basics you need and won’t break the bank. 

On the outside, this pack features reflective accents and sports a bright color making it easier to keep an eye on your dog when off-leash. 

The pockets have plenty of storage space so you can stash all your dog’s gear. Take a look inside the pockets and you’ll find a water bottle holder as well as mesh pockets. I really appreciate the mesh pocket feature as I tend to be one who always loses smaller objects.

If you’re looking for a simple hiking pack to take on short hikes, this is a good option to consider. For those with an adventurous pup who hikes long distances, I’d look elsewhere. 

What We Like

  • Removable sacks
  • Reflective accents and bright colors for easier locating
  • Interior mesh pockets keep smaller items from getting lost in the jumble
  • Quick grab handle for better animal control

What We Don’t Like

  • No leash attachment
  • Poor ventilation
  • Lacks durability
  • Straps aren’t padded
  • Cheaper construction
VIEW ON AMAZON

Choosing Your Dog Pack

Why Even Bother with a Dog Pack

Dog hiking packs are genius. They let your pup pull their own weight while lightening yours. And I bet one look at the pack and your dog will get the same excitement they get when you reach for a leash. 

The positives don’t stop there. Orvis points out equipping your dog with their own pack is also good exercise, mentally stimulating, therapeutic, and makes life easier for you. 

The problem is, not everyone fits their dog’s hiking pack properly. Even worse, they weigh them down with too much stuff. 

According to Dogsaholic.com, failure to carefully select the right pack can lead to complications like balance loss, muscle strain, and even curvature of the spine. Yikes!

Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll walk you through the process so you two can get out on the trail and romp around until your heart’s content.

How to Choose a Pack

Unfortunately, no one pack works for every dog. When choosing the right pack for your pup, there are a few important key factors you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Health
  • Energy level

A healthy, energetic dog is more likely to need a durable hiking pack. A small dog who likes to nap needs something lightweight and not too bulky. 

Older dogs, are not as spry as they once were and may be developing health problems, so may not be able to use a pack at all. 

Keep in mind what kind of dog you have. Also, keep in mind the hike itself. The main things you’ll need to take into consideration are:

  • Trip length
  • Weather
  • Season
  • Trail terrain

Are you going on a short day hike? Smaller saddle bags will do. Is your hike of choice a multi-day backpacking trip? Consider a more durable pack with good padding, larger pack, and room for hydration. 

Once you take this all into consideration, here are the important things to look for in a doggie hiking pack:

Durability

The most disappointing thing to happen is you get your dog all ready to go and the first tree branch she comes across rips her pack! Pups are rough, not to mentioning roughing it, so you want something durable. 

Materials that rip easily should be avoided. Strong, durable, and built to last is your friend here so look for tougher fabrics like ripstop nylon. Materials like cotton are nice for being breathable, but they can tear more easily. 

Storage Space

The whole point of your dog friend carrying their own pack is they can carry what they need so you’ll want adequate storage space. At the very least, the hiking pack should be big enough for water, food, and treats. 

Any other essential items you can add in without weighing them down would be beneficial. 

Pack Weight

Do you cut down your pack weight as much as possible? You should do the same for your dog and this starts with the pack itself. 

Ease of Loading

Why make life more difficult if you don’t have to? An easy loading pack is your friend, especially when it’s on your best friend who doesn’t want to stay still.

Stick with a pack that won’t frustrate you at the thought of unzipping for treats every time you need one.

Adjustability

This is key. Dog packs may be designed to fit your furry friend, but not all furry friends are made alike. You can’t rely on size alone, so adjustable straps are your answer to making sure the pack fits snugly. 

As always, before loading on the extra pounds, talk to your vet. 

How to Fit Your Dog for a Pack

Fitting a dog for a pack the first time can be confusing.

To begin, you’ll want to figure out what size your dog is. To do so you need to measure the circumference of your dog’s chest at the widest part – this is the girth. The manufacturer’s sizes should correspond to this measurement. 

RUFFWEAR Hiking Pack for Dogs, Medium Sized Breeds, Adjustable Fit, Size: Medium, Orange Poppy, Approach Pack, 50102-801M

Fitting takes a bit more care than that so we turned to the advice from Dog Adventures for help. Here’s their pack fitting guide as follows:

  1. Loosen the straps
  2. Place the pack on their back
  3. Tighten the widest chest strap first
  4. Tighten other chest straps
  5. Do the two finger strap test

I’m more of a visual person, so here’s a tutorial for you:

Once you hit the trail you should stop to check everything is in place once you get going, especially if it’s the first time, and make adjustments accordingly. 

Features to Look For

Here’s where it really gets fun, pack features. Other than manufacturing quality, this is really what differentiates the products.

Whether you’re looking for all the bells and whistles or want something a little more minimal, here’s some features to look for:

  • Removable bags
  • Hydration storage
  • Waterproof material
  • Adequate padding
  • Ventilation
  • Quick grab handle
  • Leash attachment

One dog owner at the Outbound Collective mentions removable bags can really be a blessing on the trail if you find yourself crossing a river, hopping over boulders, or your dog is starting to tucker out.

I personally like dog packs with a quick grip handle. Leash or no leash, they really help to keep your dog under control. 

You don’t need the Mercedes-Benz of packs if you only plan on taking Rover on one-mile strolls. On the other hand, if you’re thru-hiking the PCT with your pup, this may be exactly what you need. 

It’s all a matter of what works for you and your dog, and what doesn’t.

How to Load Your Dog’s Pack 

Like stuffing your own pack, there’s a method to gearing up your pup. 

To start, you need to make sure the pack is comfortable and secure. You should be able to place two fingers snuggly under the straps.

This ensures there’s enough room to prevent any rubbing yet secure enough so it won’t come flying off should they decide to chase after a squirrel.

Next, you want to make sure the gear you pack in won’t load your dog down. All items packed should weigh about 10-12 percent of your dog’s weight

Some breeds can carry up to 25 percent their own weight, but keep in mind the more they carry the faster they’ll tire. 

Lastly, proper weight distribution is key. This will ensure the pack stays in place while eliminating strain on your dog’s back.

What to Load it With

What goes into your dog’s pack is all a matter of what they need and what makes your life easier. 

While this can vary, here’s an idea of some common items your dog can carry:

  • Water
  • Water bowl
  • Treats
  • Dog food
  • Poop bags
  • Dog booties
  • Dog first aid kit

Take a look at what goes in this dog’s pack:

Basically, anything your dog will need up to 10 percent their body weight can be stashed in their pack.

Know Before You Buy

The best pack is a well-researched pack. By taking into consideration what type of hiking you’re doing, what kind of dog you have, and the features you’re looking for, you can safely gear up your pup and get out on a hike. Happy trails!

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