How to Choose a Dog Hiking Pack

Champ, the author’s dog, wearing one of the dog packs we tested.   Photo courtesy Josette Deschambeault.

Champ, the author’s dog, wearing one of the dog packs we tested. Photo courtesy Josette Deschambeault.

How to Choose the Dog-Pack for You

Making moves towards purchasing your first dog-pack can be intimidating. Do you go for the colorful pack? The super-accessorized pack? Do you choose this pack because you know the company name, or this other one because it looks pretty?

We developed this flowchart infographic to help you make a decision on choosing a dog hiking pack.

Infographic to help you choose a dog pack based on whether you are looking for a Day Pack, Multi-Day Trip Pack, Urban Pack, or Starter Dog Pack.   Inforgraphic by Josette Deschambeault

Infographic to help you choose a dog pack based on whether you are looking for a Day Pack, Multi-Day Trip Pack, Urban Pack, or Starter Dog Pack. Inforgraphic by Josette Deschambeault

To explore what kind of dog-pack is best for you, ask yourself (and, of course, your furry friend):

  • Has your dog carried a pack before?

  • Have they worn a harness before?

  • Has your dog carried a weighted pack before?

  • Have they hiked longer distances with you before?

  • Is your dog “odd” shaped?

Once you answer these questions, you can get an idea of whether to focus on an Overall Dog Hiking Pack, a Budget/Starter Daypack, an Odd-Shaped Dog Pack, or an Urban Pack. Read onto the next section to read more about the differences between the categories.

 

The author with her Black Lab/Great Dane Mix, Champ.   Photo courtesy Josette Deschambeault .

The author with her Black Lab/Great Dane Mix, Champ. Photo courtesy Josette Deschambeault.


The four types of dog hiking packs

As we compared, dogpacks we realized that there were four obvious categories, which we then compared all of our contenders against: Best Overall, Daypack, “Special Build,” and Urban. After comparing dozens of packs and whittling the contenders’ list to 10, we found the four packs that fit most dog owners’ needs/

Best Dog Hiking Pack For Most Dogs

Our overall pick for those who want to get their pups out on multi-day trips was the Ruffwear Approach pack, as it scored highest in quality, padding, saddlebag volume, and durability.

Starter Dog Hiking Pack

For those looking for a starter pack to get their dogs used to carrying weight over shorter trips, we found the K-9 Mountainsmith pack to tick all of our boxes, without overkill on price or unnecessary space.

Best for “Special Build” Dogs

Ruffwear’s Palisades pack eliminated a common complaint amongst backpacking dog lovers - the difficulty in finding a pack made for “special” dogs (such as my Labrador Retriever/Great Dane mix, who has a broad chest and dramatically tapered waist) - by providing an ultra-adjustable dog-pack designed to center over a dog’s shoulders.

Best for City Dogs

For those looking to work their dog’s mileage up through walks around the neighborhood, the stylish and budget-friendly Onetigris Hoppy Camper Rucksack pack is our urban choice.

Not ready to dig through the doggie experts? Don’t worry; we did. To find out which packs are the best picks for Fido to finally carry his own poo-bags, we read reviews from Backpacker Magazine, REI, Backcountry, Gearweare, Modern Bark, Thoroughly Reviewed and Adventure Junkies.  


Check out our full guide on Best Dog Hiking Packs.

 
 

When your dog can carry their own gear in their own backpack, it allows you to backpack and visit more places together.   Photo by    Patrick Hendry    on    Unsplash

When your dog can carry their own gear in their own backpack, it allows you to backpack and visit more places together. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

How to hike with your dog with a dog hiking pack

If you’re anything like myself (and Champ), you may have a tendency towards overdoing it on the first attempt. For our first foray onto a trail, Champ and I attempted a 10-mile hike with 5,000’ of elevation gain to summit A.B Mountain in Skagway, Alaska. To my knowledge, he had never worn a harness, much less a doggie backpack, but was eager to get going. He was not as eager a few miles in, and this over-eager Dog Mom ended up carrying his gear back to the car for him. Needless to say, learn from our (poor) example - just like humans, dogs need to break in their gear, and adjust to carrying weight.

Before taking your dog into the wilderness, practice places that are less remote.   Photo by    Patrick Hendry    on    Unsplash

Before taking your dog into the wilderness, practice places that are less remote. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Practice with your dog pack before you commit

Your first time using your new dog-pack should not be on a 10-mile out-and-back. Instead, put Kujo’s new pack on around the house, and let him adjust to the feeling of straps around his belly and bags on his back. If he seems comfortable, add a pound or two - treats, canned dog food, even water bottles can do the trick. Take Daisy out for a walk around the neighborhood, and watch to see if she bites at or scratches the straps. Doing so may be a tip-off that there’s something uncomfortable that may cause chafing on longer walks. Adjust straps and placement on your neighborhood jaunts before hitting the trail.

Weight in a dog pack is a big deal.

A rough estimation is that dogs can carry up to 25% of their body weight. However, most experts say that dogs should not be carrying more than 10-15% of their body weight. This is also very dependent on the breed, build, age and health of your dog. (Check with your vet before starting a weighted backpacking regimen with your pup!) For instance, puppies should not be carrying any weight, as their bodies are still growing and adjusting, and cannot handle pulling or carrying weight until they are about a year old. Older dogs, as their joints start to deteriorate, will also carry less weight.  

Start with very little weight to begin with. Adding a half of a pound every few weeks of walking will build your pooch’s strength and stamina, but be sure to monitor their progress. A 15 minute walk with weight is about equal to a 30-minute walk without weight.

When sizing your dog for a backpack, don’t just go by the recommended weight.   Photo by    Tadeusz Lakota    on    Unsplash

When sizing your dog for a backpack, don’t just go by the recommended weight. Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

When in doubt, size down with your dog pack

If your pup is caught in between the recommended weights for sizes, most reviews recommended sizing down. It’s easier to loosen straps out fully than it is to cinch them down too far.

Placement matters

If you’re in a store trying on different packs with Skip, our friends at Adventure Junkies had some great advice on fitting: “The ideal design will have the pack sitting toward the front of the dog, with much of the weight over their front legs. If the pack is set too far towards the rear, then it may place excessive strain on your dog’s spine. Pay close attention to the strap design. Wide, padded straps are best as they spread the load across the dog’s skin. A thin strap will cut into your dog’s skin and result in bruising or painful sores. If you have a small dog, take care to ensure that the pack panniers on either side don’t hang too low to the ground. Ideally, the bottom of the panniers should be at least one inch higher than your dog’s elbow joint."

It can take a while to figure out how to cinch straps on your dog’s harness and pack. To properly fit, choose the right size and criss cross extra straps when necessary.   Photo by    Torstein Finnbakk    on    Unsplash

It can take a while to figure out how to cinch straps on your dog’s harness and pack. To properly fit, choose the right size and criss cross extra straps when necessary. Photo by Torstein Finnbakk on Unsplash

Use that measuring tape

Don’t just base your size choice on recommended weights. Measure Baxter’s chest and belly, and base his size off of those diameters.


Having trouble cinching straps on the dog pack?

Cross ‘em. One hiker said that with her 65 lb pitbull-mix, she still has difficulty with sizing and cinching straps correctly. Her recommendation? “Criss-cross the belly straps.” She was worried about chafing in her pup’s armpits, due to a lack of padding, but said it has not been a problem - and she’s been taking him for 8-mile walks with this pack!

Even when you take your dog on longer backpacking trips or even thru-hikes, take into account the weight your dog is carrying relative to the dog’s body weight.   Photo by    Jorge Flores    on    Unsplash

Even when you take your dog on longer backpacking trips or even thru-hikes, take into account the weight your dog is carrying relative to the dog’s body weight. Photo by Jorge Flores on Unsplash

Weight your dog pack evenly

A common mistake made by beginning dog-packers is lopsided weight in the saddlebags. (In fact, this was the most common negative review point we found - that packs would slide to one side or another.) For the best fit - and the best time had by Fido - both sides need to be weighted evenly, or else the pack will list to one side. (Think of a packing all of your heaviest items on one side of your backpack, then try hiking for a few miles. You wouldn’t enjoy that, and neither would Fido.) The easiest way to weight your dog-pack? Water bottles.

 

Sources

Adventure Junkies

Backpacker Magazine

Gear Institute

Gear Institute

Gearweare

Modern Bark

Thoroughly Reviewed

We verified customer reviews from the following sites with FakeSpot:

Amazon

Backcountry.com

REI


More information

Read our Full Guide on the Best Camping Tents for details on which stoves we recommend and why.




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