The Best Dog Hiking Packs of 2019
We aggregated outdoor media and customer reviews on the best dog hiking packs—and then tested the most popular dogpacks. Here's our findings.
After researching dog hiking packs and analyzing hundreds of professional and customer reviews, we tested the most popular dog packs to find the best packs for hiking with your dog. With a specially-designed backpack for dogs, your pet can carry their own food, water, or poo-bags. We explain how easy it is to put on a dog hiking backpack, how much weight your dog can carry in its backpack, and how to choose a dog pack for your pet.
Table of Contents
Best Dog Hiking Pack: Ruffwear Approach
Our Overall pick, the Ruffwear Approach pack, was hands-down the best reviewed dog-pack we found. It was ranked 4.7/5 on Amazon, 4.3/5 by REI, Backpacker’s #1 mention, a 4.7/5 by Adventure Junkies, and #1 on Gearweare.
We tested the Ruffwear Approach pack with three dogs of different shapes and sizes on hiking trails in four different states: Champ, my Black Lab/Great Dane mix; Axel, a Boxer; and Karluk, a Black Lab Mix adopted from the Oregon Humane Society.
A few key features of the Ruffwear Approach that we liked were:
padding along the shoulders and spine
a metal V-ring to attach your leash between the shoulders (see photo of Champ’s pack above)
a webbing loop to attach safety beacons (see photo of Champ’s pack above)
a padded Y-shaped chest piece, high-visibility color options
five adjustable points
24 liters of total volume (large enough to fit a doggy sleeping bag in one saddlebag!). Backpacker Magazine testers were able to “fit two liters of water, a collapsible bowl, almost two pounds of snacks, her hiking booties, and a stuffed toy.”
Outdoor media also liked the Ruffwear Approach pack. Backpacker Magazine writes: “‘This pack has more than enough room to carry everything our dog needs for a long hike,’ one tester said after a daylong journey on trails above Golden, Colorado. The 420-denier nylon brushed off encounters with rocks and bushes with ease, and the padding kept his pooch comfortable for the entire hike." Adventure Junkies says, the Approach is the best pack for “hikers wanting the very best in quality and comfort for their dog.”
Our favorite customer review quotes about the Ruffwear Approach Pack
In addition to our own testing, here are a few of our favorite customer review quotes that told us we had found the motherlode:
“This pack was perfect for an overnight backpacking trip. St[r]ap on the back helped me pull our pup out from the swimming holes after playing fetch (her paws key slipping on the wet rock). Pockets - one small, one large - on each side allowed for storing items of various sizes such as food, treats, water, etc. Big pockets are nice and deep. The stability of the pack allowed for our pup to run and jump, forgetting she even had it on. The pack stayed balanced despite varying weights on each side.” – Lauren S Davis, Amazon reviewer
“This is a very good quality pack. It has been perfect for overnight hiking/camping trips along the Appalachian Trail. It allows our pup, Apollo, to carry some of his own water and all of his food for a 24-36 hour trip (in addition to packing his own waste out - very helpful!). After he quickly got used to it, he seems quite comfortable in it. The one thing we wish it had was a front clip. Apollo can be quite the puller on trails, and an integrated front clip like the larger pack has would be helpful. We were able to essentially solve the issue by looping the end of our flexible leash around the front chest strap thing. Apollo is a 70-lb Golden, and the size M fits him well!” - Apollo, REI reviewer
“Awesome doggie backpack! I researched for months before finally purchasing this one because the price was a lot to justify for me. I am glad I bought this pack. We tried on cheaper versions at the local pet stores but they moved around too much and did not fit well. My German Shepherd Dog measures 31 inches and weighs 84 pounds but he is only 1 year old so I got the large/xl size so he can mature and fill out into it. It fits him great with lots of room to expand when needed. The extra strap length from tightening it I tucked into the padded area so there is now no hanging material…There is almost too much room but if you're hiking or taking day trips this is a good "problem". I thought the bags would flop around too much or be too saggy but they are not. Also, I read a review stating this did not work for male dogs but as long as the belly strap is fitted to be flush with his belly he can urinate fine without getting any pee on the strap. The materials are thick and rugged feeling without being heavy. The orange color is vibrant and makes my mostly black dog stand out. Overall I would definitely recommend taking the plunge and buying this dog backpack.” – KateT, Amazon reviewer
"Yes, this thing isn't cheap, but the chest strap alone makes it worth it. We threw this on our furry companion and didn't have to adjust it/recenter it once on our ~22 mile test drive. It even held up well to him scraping against rocks. The durable handle meant we could use it as an assistive device to get him up and down some larger rocks (what we have come to call 'the airlift'). No chafing. Our pup was able to carry his food and water in comfort (and style!) for a multi-day backpacking trip." – ZoSa, REI reviewer
Very few people had anything negative to say about the Approach, as it’s been one of those most updated dog packs on the market for years. The few negative remarks we found pertained either to difficulty in correctly sizing dogs, or the lack of waterproofness. (The material is a water-resistant 420 denier nylon.)
Maybe the largest complaint was simply the price - at $80, it’s not the cheapest dog pack. But the Approach is lauded consistently as the highest quality dog-pack that we reviewed.
The Approach Pack is available in sizes extra-small, small, medium, large, and extra-large, making it suitable for just about any dog.
Buy the Ruffwear Approach Pack
Mountainsmith’s K-9 pack-Best Dog Daypack and Budget Pick
At half the price of it’s top competitors, the Mountainsmith’s K-9 pack is one of the best quality dog backpacks at the most affordable price we could find. The Mountainsmith K-9 Pack is our pick for Daypack and Budget Pack. It’s 12 L—about half the size of most of the other packs we considered—making it a good pick for short trips with your dog.
The Mountainsmith’s K-9 pack has 4.4/5 from Amazon reviewers, 4.7/5 from Adventure Junkies, #3 on Gearweare, and 4.3/5 from Backcountry.com. Reviewers glowed with praise from the four legged reviewers and their humans, alike.
The Mountainsmith K9 features padded chest straps, air-mesh ventilation, reflective tape along the edges of the pack, an integrated harness (so no need to buy a separate harness!), and two expandable pockets, with two smaller interior pockets, as well. This pack is great because you DON'T need to buy a whole 'nother thing -- AND, you can give the dog a rest by removing the bags. It's a killer 2-in-1. The K-9 dog pack is available sizes come in small, medium and large.
The Mountainsmith K-9 pack was hailed as “the most dogonomically correct dog pack that Mountainsmith has ever offered, thanks to the design input from a service-dog veterinarian,” by REI.
Here are what a customer reviewers had to say about it:
“BEST FOR: Hikers wanting the very best in quality and comfort for their dog… Ergonomic design, many storage bags and pockets, high quality materials.” – Adventure Junkies
“The key to this pack's flexibility is that each saddle bag hangs by two straps from the top portion that has the handle on it, rather than being connected by a solid piece of fabric like other dog hiking backpacks. This allows the bags to hang naturally and provides the flexibility needed for the bags and the dog to move around enough for comfort, yet still have the bags remain secure.” – JohnnyP, Amazon reviewer
“Perfect for my Mini Aussie. Purchased a different brand for my little friend, using the manufacturer's size guide. The fit was a bit sloppy and the bags looked "overbig" on her. Then I discovered the Mountainsmith pack on Backcountry's website and decided to give it a try. What a difference! The strap design enables adjusting the pack to an optimum fit, one that the pup adapted to right away. The bags are sized right, and she looks pretty snazzy with it on. Shortly after receiving the pack the two of us spent 5 days hiking 63 miles of the Foothills Trail in South Carolina, with the dog carrying all her own food and snacks. She did great, obviously enjoying herself, with no apparent encumbrance from her backpack. This is a well designed quality product, and I'm glad I found it.” – Perry L., Steep & Cheap reviewer
“Mountainsmith nailed it with the redesign of this pack. Simple sizing and a great price finally got me to pick up a pack so Kyrra can start carrying her load. Kyrra's a 55lb Husky/Wiemaraner mix with about a 22 inch torso length and the medium fit perfect. Plenty of adjustment to dial it in where as I had a hard time getting a good fit with other brands due to the many different sizes and limited adjustability (particularly around her chest).” – Daryl Deprey, Steep & Cheap reviewer
Compare prices on the Mountainsmith K-9 Pack
Ruffwear Palisades-Best Dog Pack for Special Build Dogs
Shopping for dog hiking backpacks is a lot like online shopping for humans - sometimes, what you ordered just wasn’t designed for your body type. In the dog-pack world, that can happen with non-standard body shapes (again, we’re talking Great Dane or Bulldog shapes, here), and the Ruffwear Palisades pack was our daypack choice for “Special Build” dogs.
Treeline Review staff have taken the Palisades pack out backpacking numerous times with Karluk, an 80-pound Black Lab/Pitbull mix including part of the 300-mile Chinook Trail in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon. Like the Ruffwear Approach pack, the Palisades holds 24 L, so has enough volume for multi-day backpacking trips with your dog.
The Ruffwear Palisades earned the following scores: 4.4/5 from REI reviewers, 4.6/5 from Amazon reviewers, 4.8 from Dog Outdoors, 4.3/5 from reviewers on Backcountry.com, 4.8/5 from Dog Outdoors, and 90/100 from the Gear Institute.
The best feature on the Ruffwear Palisades? Detachable saddlebags. With the release of a mini clips, you can remove the saddlebags from the harness, allowing Duke to rest without his pack weighing him down. (Note, some reviewers mentioned frustration at the difficulty of attaching and releasing the mini clip, but we think once you get a hang of it, the system is a gamechanger
This pack is features 12L saddlebags (24L total) with six pockets, two major and four accessory or smaller pockets. The Palisades Pack is available sizes in small, medium, large, and extra-large.
On the Palisades, the Y-chest strap and belly straps are padded, with additional padding along the spine and shoulders. The bags also feature compression straps, which allow you to cinch down any excess so that smaller loads don’t flop around on Duke’s back. Bonus: each pack comes with two 1L collapsible water jugs that fit inside the saddlebags.
Consistent with our testing, Gear Institute writes that, "The Palisades pack is for multi day adventures or big day trips requiring large loads to be transported.” We took Karluk on part of the 300-mile Chinook Trail wearing the Palisades and he was able to carry his own water through dry sections.
Gear Institute also notes that, “The saddlebags are removable, leaving your dog in Ruff Wear’s five-point Webmaster type harness. This is useful if you would like to take the saddlebags off for rest times or difficult terrain. With or without the saddlebags in use, the harness can be used to restrain the dog, and is plenty beefy enough for some lifting and support."
The Palisades gets high regards from other professional reviewers we surveyed, too. Adventure Junkies writes that it is best for “hikers wanting fantastic quality and comfort, with excellent functionality... Ergonomic design, tough and abrasion resistant ripstop nylon, removable bags.”
Favorite customer review quotes about the Palisade
Here are the quotes that helped convince us that we weren’t the only ones who like this pack:
"I was really hesitant to buy a dog backpack that cost more than my own Osprey backpack. However, I wanted to get her something that I wouldn't need to replace in a year or two. After reading reviews, I decided to splurge on the Palisades pack. My dog is a greyhound mix, 48 lbs with a 27" chest girth and a tiny waist. It's difficult to get her size right - either it fits her chest but is enormous on her waist, or it's just too small all around. Using the size chart and their sizing recommendation, I got a small. I was nervous because she's not a small dog by any means, but the pack fit her perfectly. The sizing chart is on point - use it! The harness is highly adjustable at multiple points. It took some time to get it right, but I haven't had to readjust at all. I also love that I can pick her up using the handle without too much effort. The harness is really well-made and I love that I can use it without the pack. The pack itself is roomy and has some pockets to separate items. I ordered the Highlands bed and it fits perfectly into a pocket. Overall, we're really happy with the Palisades pack on our day hikes and look forward to using it on longer backpacking trips this year." – elechdub, REI reviewer
"I purchased a size medium for my 65lb collie/shepherd mix and it fits her perfectly! There is enough room that she can carry her own food, water, treats and dog bowls for a 4 day hike into the backcountry. One of the best things is that the pack can be removed and only the harness can be used. I use only the harness for day hikes and daily walks, and add the pack for when we go camping. Lucy has even swam with the pack and it holds up to all her wear and tear while running through the woods chasing squirrels and rabbits! I would highly recommend it for any dog owner!” – KurtW, Backcountry.com reviewer
"If you're serious about hiking with your dog then this is the pack for you. Everyone sees my dog with this pack on and loves it. This pack is of the best quality. I'd say we have upwards to 200 miles of hiking on this pack and it's held up perfectly. Typically we will put his sleeping bag (from [R]uffwear), 2 liters of water (love the fact it comes with the flexible water bags) and depending on how long we're hiking anywhere between 2-10 cups of dog food. I use the harness anytime we go out without the pack and the harness alone is amazing. When you buy this pack you're not just buying a pack, it's a harness with a pack. This means you get a lot more use for your money. I use the harness far more often then the pack as the pack is mostly used only on weekends." – Michael Hennessee, Amazon reviewer
One common theme amongst reviews of the Ruffwear Palisades was the price - for better or for worse.
Most reviewers were happy to pay, given the quality, while others were upset that a dog-pack could be nearly as expensive as a human backpack.
We think of you plan to hike a lot with your dog--and especially hope to backpack or thru-hike with your dog--it’s hard to beat the quality and features of the Ruffwear Palisades.
Buy the Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack
Onetigris Hoppy Camper Canvas Dogpack-Best Urban Dog Pack
For those who aren’t psyched to hit a multi-mile trail, or maybe those just looking to give their pup a “job” and some extra exercise on their morning walk, the OneTigris Hoppy Camper Canvas pack is our Urban choice.
Less technical, but with higher style points, this pack was meant to ease both dog and dog-walker into the dog-pack lifestyle. The Hoppy Camper was a simple, affordable pack (about 1/4 the price of our upgrade pick). It’s a good-looking option for everyone we spoke to, from our Denver-ites who wanted Marley to carry his own tennis balls to and from the dog park, to the cowgirl in Iowa who wanted Axel to carry extra treats, his leash, and booties on their morning strolls across wide pastures.
The Hoppy Camper earned these ratings: 4.2/5 from Amazon, #2 on Gearweare, 4.3/5 from Adventure Junkies, and 4.4/5 on Chewy.com.
Good to note: the Hoppy Camper pack only comes in one size for “medium to large dogs,” but sports three long straps to adjust to a variety of dog shapes and sizes.
The Hoppy Camper pack features 1L pockets on each size, with .7L exterior bucket pockets for accessories. It has a handle between the shoulder blades to hold Marley back from chasing squirrels, and two leash attachment points.
The Hoppy Camper is not waterproof (it’s made from cotton canvas), but is comfortable and breathable.
It is only available in a tan color, which, while stylish, is not reflective or high-visibility for nighttime walks. (You may want to consider adding a reflective patch to the sides.)
Here are the reviews that made us want to grab this pack and hit the streets:
“BEST FOR: Hikers looking for a fashionable pack with good breathability… Comfortable fit, good breathability, durable, fashionable.” – Adventure Junkies
“This backpack is a lifesaver if you take your dog hiking/camping.” – Tammy Chan, Amazon reviewer
“I wanted to find a backpack for my dog to wear on walks to help tire him out. Most of the ones I saw were brightly colored, but I was looking for a more rugged, classic look. This backpack fit the bill and was a fair price. I thought I'd have to ease my dog into wearing it, but he took to it immediately. He's a 90 lb Bernese Mountain dog and after an initial adjustment, it fits great and I haven't had to readjust it. I haven't had any problems with it slipping around while he walks. I usually fill it with whatever supplies we might need during our walk (food, water, toys, waste bags) and then add a frozen water bottle or two for extra weight and cooling. It's holding up great after a few months!” - KM, Amazon reviewer
“This is a very sturdy, well-made product. The canvas has some heft to it and is a nice heavy weight. I like the oversize zipper pulls as well.” – David, Amazon reviewer
“I struggled for a while between choosing this backpack or a more expensive one from Ruffwear, mostly because I was afraid of how good it could possibly be for only $30, but I loved this look so much more I figured it was worth giving it a shot and WOW. Not only does it fit my rottweiler beautifully and comfortably, without chafing his armpits or impeding shoulder movement, but it is far more durable than any other dog outdoor gear I've seen (and I work in a specialty dog store, so that's *a lot* of gear). Murphy traipsed up and down the mountain, through streams and bushes and it stayed put, I look forward to years of heavy use.) So, for those considering this backpack and perhaps worried that it's going to be cheaply-made: the price is not a reflection of quality, this backpack is perfect.” – Andrew M, Amazon reviewer
Buy the Onetigris Hoppy Camper Dog Pack
It all started when I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and Outdoor Leadership in the heart of Colorado. (Hello, hiking for credit). Once I graduated, I started the search for the perfect canine companion to accompany me on my outdoor pursuits. I figured I’d find a young mini Aussie or a small Husky, a pup under 50 lbs, who could easily fit in my small truck (and even smaller apartment), and have energy aplenty to run up the trails beside me!
Instead, I found Champ. My fur-baby is an eight-year-old Labrador/Great Dane rescue who joined my life the summer that I moved to Alaska to guide. He is 98 lbs, and takes up ¾ of my truck’s bench seat. His favorite activity is sleeping under my desk, but as soon as the harness comes out, his tail whips like a hurricane in excitement, and it’s all I can do to keep up with him on the trail. We have skied the Alaskan backcountry, jogged loops around Denver ponds, and hiked through the White Mountains of New Hampshire together ever since.
I’ve guided hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, rafting trips for years, managed a hiking and rafting program on the Chilkoot Trail in Southeast Alaska - all with my main man, Champ. We’ve hiked and skied the borders of Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon, Colorado, Maine and New Hampshire.
I’ve written about hiking locations and gear for BACKPACKER Magazine for four years. In fact, Champ and I have been able to hike/ski with the Destination Editor’s pooch, Raider, for almost as long. (Champ and Raider are defacto best dog-friends.)
How We Researched
To ensure that we were reviewing only the best for our four-legged trail companions, we researched the most popular dog backpacks, and collected the top contenders into our four groups (Best Overall, Daypack, “Special” Designs, and Urban). The four winners were popular and well-reviewed across different platforms, from third parties such as Modern Bark, Backpacker Magazine, Adventure Junkies, Thoroughly Reviewed, Gearweare, and Gear Institute. In addition, each of these dog backpacks were well reviewed and highly recommended by everyday users on platforms such as REI, Backcountry.com, and Amazon. From these latter sites, we verified reviews against FakeSpot, a site which flags falsified or tampered reviews, to verify authenticity.
After considerable review of these third parties, real-life customer feedback, our own expertise, and opinions from multiple hikers who bring canines on all of their trail-centered adventures, we narrowed our list to our top four contenders.
To be considered for each of these categories, we measured each pack against a standardized criteria - the packs had to be affordable, had to fit a wide range of sizes, had to be durable, and had to be both comfortable and ergonomically designed for the dog.
To whittle down the field, we created criteria for our contenders of what these dog hiking backpacks must include:
With deep chests (think Boxers) and small bellies (think Jack Russell Terriers) in mind, adjustability was not negotiable for us. We looked for dog packs that included multiple straps of varying lengths, to allow for smaller builds (like Miniature Australian Shepherds) and bigger bellies (such as Newfoundlands) alike to carry their share on the trails. Bonus points were awarded to those packs with adjustable saddlebags, as well - which allow you to center weight more towards the spine, or down towards the ribcage, to minimize “flopping bags.”
An overheating dog means an adventure cut short. Just as you would want a breathable fabric on your jog around town, we looked for dog packs with breathable fabrics, especially along the spine.
Whether rubbing up against a park bench, or rolling in the mud miles outside town, we couldn’t ignore the fact that dogs will happily destroy their gear. We scoured reviews for examples of packs holding up to snow, mud, rain, underbrush, trees, creeks, and even teething puppies to make sure these packs would last. While every single pack had at least one review mentioning seam failure (usually at the leash attachment point, and usually involving strong-pulling dogs), we strove to avoid packs with numerous comments about stitches ripping on the saddle bags or leash points consistently popping off. Instead, we focused on packs that had improved their stitching (either with higher quality thread or reinforced stitches). We also looked for mentions of quality buckles, thicker handles, and hardy D- or V-rings (the metal attachments on the back of packs or harnesses, where the leash attaches).
Human backpacks have padding on their straps and belts to make them more comfortable; why shouldn’t dog hiking backpacks? We checked the contenders for padded straps across the chest, under the arms and around the belly to eliminate those with tendencies to chafe. Bonus points were awarded to those packs with additional cushion along the spine, alleviating the pressure that weight can have on doggie backs.
Beagles and Bernese Mountain Dogs both need backpack options. We searched for dog backpacks that came in as many sizes as possible, with as much adjustability as possible.
Human hikers can easily assist their four legged friends up big steps or out of tight squeezes with the help of a strong handle. We prioritized our search for dog packs to include this extra support.
Our canine companions needed to be able to carry the essentials (i.e. water, poo bags, treats), at the very least. However, we kept in mind that longer adventures require more treats, and hunted down the packs that allowed our pups the space to carry more, if needed. With that in mind, we hunted for packs between 1L (for our burgeoning backpack-pups) and 24L (the average for distance-oriented dog backpacks).
Leash Attachment Points
While maybe not the best option for strong pullers, we felt that packs without a leash attachment point were not optimal. We made our selections based on the criteria of at least one alternative leash attachment point on the dog packs. Most of the packs we considered aren't designed for "heavy pullers" -- those dogs who aren't trained well on leashes, or who might be too strong/heavy for a single attachment point. Usually these dogs need a separate harness.
Once these boxes were checked, the packs must have a wide range of positive consumer reviews, as well as independent professional reviews.
As we compared, we realized that there were four obvious categories, which we then compared all of our contenders against: Best Overall, Daypack, “Special Build,” and Urban.