Best Dog Backpack: Reviewed By Real Adventure Dogs

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17 Minute Read
Updated April 14, 2021

Is your dog a true explorer? If your adventure companion walks on all fours, then you need to make sure he has the right gear for the journey. Make sure your canine explorer is prepared to conquer nature with the best dog backpack. 

Dog backpacks are useful for hiking, camping, or even just a long walk. They allow your dog to carry his own hiking gear, taking some of that weight off of your pack.

They are also helpful for giving your dog a good workout. The extra weight of their backpack helps to build and maintain muscle to support joint health. A dog backpack is not just any old backpack though. To keep your dog safe and comfortable, you need to find the best dog backpack for your individual mutt. 

To help you find the right pack for your pooch, we reviewed some of our favourite dog backpacks, with the help of some very adorable and adventurous pups. 

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What to Look for in a Dog Backpack

Every dog is different. Different sizes and shapes require different dog backpack styles to be comfortable. Let's look at some of the features to consider when choosing the best backpack for your dog. 

Is it correctly sized?

Is it correctly sized

Dog backpacks are more complicated than a standard harness, collar, or other walking gear. You need to make sure the backpack fits its size and shape properly to keep it secure and prevent chafing or discomfort. Look for packs that are easily adjustable to ensure the best fit. 

Check out How to Measure Your Dog to make sure you are choosing the right size backpack for your dog. 

Does it do what you need it to do?

Does it do what you need it to do

The function of the pack is important, too. What is your dog carrying? Will it fit? Is the pack versatile enough for your and your dog's needs? Is it easy to put on and take off? Does it have multiple pockets for storing poop bags or separating water or food from other gear? Does it have breathable mesh for comfort in warm weather?

Decide what is it you need for your hiking adventures and make sure you choose a dog backpack that can accommodate.

Is it durable?

Consider your terrain. Your dog's backpack needs to be able to keep up with him while he climbs mountains and runs through forests. Look for packs made from durable material that will keep up with your adventurous pooch. 

It costs how much?!?

A good quality backpack is not going to be a steal, but you shouldn't have to sell a kidney just to get your dog the right gear. We'll rank the packs on price as well as quality so you don't die of sticker shock. We'll rank the prices from $ to $$$, with $ being the budget-friendly choice for beginners, and $$$ representing backpacks for hardcore adventure dogs that prefer all the bells and whistles. 

The Best Dog Backpacks: Reviewed by Real Adventure Dogs

We picked our favourite dog backpacks and asked some real adventure dogs to give us their honest feedback to help you find the right pack for your dog's next adventure. We'll be reviewing the following dog backpacks:

Hurtta Trail Pack

Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Ruffwear Front Range Pack

Ruffwear Approach Pack

Ruffwear Switchback Harness

Options for Puppies

Let's see what our adventure pups have to say:

Hurtta Trail Pack

This is Farley. Farley is a small Labrador Retriever who enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains. She tries to get out on as many hikes and camping trips as she can. Having gear that will withstand various activities while serving an important purpose is essential to Farley's adventures.

Hurtta Trail Pack
 
You can check out all of Farley's adventures on her Instagram - @farley_the_labrador

The Hurtta Trail Pack is a Y-shaped harness with a backpack attachment. It's designed for hiking, trekking, and travelling with your dog. Its versatility makes the Trail Pack suited for any adventure with your dog. It's available in two sizes to suit most breeds and sizes and features side pockets for convenient storage.

Fit

Fit
    • 3 adjustable body straps and 1 adjustable neck strap allowed Farley to find a secure and comfortable fit for her backpack. 
    • The chest plate provides a fair amount of support, though the back of the harness could benefit from being less pliable.  
    • The limited sizing options worked for Farley but might make it difficult for some small dogs and larger breeds to find the right fit. 

Function

Function

    • The Trail Pack features two easily detachable saddlebags, allowing you to use the harness separately from the packs.
    • The small backpack holds up to 4 L and the medium up to 10 L, each with elastic straps to separate gear, and an outer pocket to hold a variety of smaller products. 
    • The plastic keyhole clips make them easy to detach without unhooking the harness, and hold the saddle bags securely and close to the body, preventing unnecessary movement while on the trail. 
    • The harness has two leash attachment points, allowing you to use the one that works best for controlling your dog. 

Durability

    • The harness is made of a thinner fabric lined with a mesh-like material and plastic buckles.
    • There is a thin nylon handle to help guide your dog, although the bag could benefit from a wider and more stable handle. 

Price - $$

The Hurtta Trail Pack is a little pricey, but we do believe that it's a great option if you're willing to spend the extra money. The quick detachable saddlebags and properly designed harness make the trail pack well worth the cost.

Farley's Conclusion

Hurtta did a great job designing the trail pack. It has great features that other packs don’t offer, such as the keyhole attachments for the saddlebags to eliminate the need to unclip the harness to remove the bags. The bags are proportionate to the dog and are made of durable material. We do however wish they would broaden their size chart to help tiny and large dogs fit their packs.

Hurtta Adventure Gear

Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Meet Ollie! Ollie is a mixed breed adventure enthusiast! He loves all things outdoors but hiking and camping are his favourite activities. Durable gear that can stand up to wet weather exploring and all kinds of terrain are crucial to his packing list.

Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Photo Credit - @ollie.explores

The Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack enhances multi-day backcountry adventures. This is the largest backpack from Ruffwear and is designed for serious hikers and adventure dogs. As the backpack carrier, we want to ensure our dog's comfort while walking and hiking.

It's available in three sizes to fit almost any size or breed. The small has a 14 L capacity, the medium has a 17.5 L capacity, and the large/x-large carries up to 24 L.

Fit

Fit

    • 5 points of adjustment to properly position the saddlebags and give Ollie full range of motion. Lots of adjustment options for optimal fit.
    • Unique adjustable compression tabs for when it's less full so it isn’t awkward and bulky.
    • Non-slip girth straps offer more even load distribution between the two saddle packs. 
    • Available in small, medium, large/X-large.

Function

Function

    • Detachable saddlebags, you are getting a harness and a backpack!
    • Comes with 2 x 1 L water packs to keep Ollie well hydrated. They fit perfectly and sit close to the body for better weight distribution.
    • Lots of different compartments. Big enough to fit enough supplies for a multi-day backpacking trip. Just be careful what you decide to put inside. If it's raining or you have a pup that loves to dip in the water, know that the pack is not waterproof.

Durability

    • Extremely durable material can hold up to running through bushes and trees.
    • Reinforced areas where the saddlebag connects to the harness with aluminum hardware for extra security. 
    • The padded handle is thick and secured with reinforced stitching for guiding your dog or quick grabs. 
    • Material is easy to hand wash and dry

Price - $$$

This is a pricey option, but it's the best choice for serious adventure enthusiasts. If you are looking for a backpack that has it all, then the Palisades is well worth the money. 

Ollie's Conclusion

The Ruffwear Palisades pack has been a crucial addition to Ollie's overnight backpacking trips. Ollie carries his own sleeping bag and food, and the detachable saddlebags are easy to take on and off for breaks or tricky terrain! With so many adjustable features, it fits great and has plenty of room for a multi-day adventure!

Shop Ruffwear Palisades Pack

Ruffwear Front Range Pack

This is Finesse, our 3-year-old border collie. Finesse is on the smaller size for a BC, weighing in at only 24lbs. While small, she is mighty, and definitely lives up to her name while our family is out hiking and backpacking.

finesse-front-range-pack compressed

Photo Credit -@adventuring.with.finesse

She loves to run and navigates the forests, trails, and boulders with… well, Finesse! Now that she has finished growing and put on some muscle, we needed to fit her for a pack that would allow her to carry some gear on our longer backcountry trips and hikes.

Fit

Front-Range-Day-Pack-fit

    • Comes in 4 sizes, extra small to large/extra-large, allowing even smaller adventure dogs to take a bit of the load off their humans (snacks, poop bags, leashes, etc.). 
    • 5 adjustment points at the neck, shoulders and girth.  
    • Finesse is typically hard to fit for harnesses, as she is long but very petite. It was easy to find a proper fit for her that still allowed for a full range of motion while moving.

Function

Front-Range-Day-Pack-Function

    • A minimalist two-in-one harness and backpack make for the perfect pack for day hikes or shorter backpacking trips.  
    • Three options for leash attachments - aluminum ring, webbed ring on top, and webbed ring on the chest. The different options allow you to also attach reflector/safety lights for those sunset or sunrise hikes.  
    • Handle allows you to assist your dog to get through/over more difficult terrain. 
    • If you have a water-loving dog, be advised that this pack is not waterproof. 

Durability

    • Finesse put this pack through the paces! It held up well during runs through brambles and burrs without tearing or seams ripping.  
    • Washes well (yes, even the lighter coloured aurora teal!). We hand-washed and spot scrubbed with a brush and it looks brand new!  
    • Option to attach your leash to an aluminum ring for bigger dogs, dogs that pull, or just for general peace of mind and safety. 

Price

The price point of this pack is on the lower end of the price range for comparable adventure packs. It doesn’t have the upgraded options, like detachable saddlebags, but the smaller saddlebags allow for it to be used as just a harness without being too bulky.

Finesse's Conclusion

This will be our go-to pack for all our long hikes and backpacking trips. The packs are proportionate for each size, which allows you to appropriately pack for each size of dog. Finesse typically carries a water bowl, treats, poop bags and a small first aid kit. The smaller packs ensure that we don’t over-pack for a dog her size.

The minimalist style of the day pack allows it to be used as just a harness when it's empty, and given its durability and simple, classic look, this will be a long-standing favourite in Finesse’s gear closet.

Ruffwear Brand Page

Ruffwear Approach Pack

Farley really is a determined adventure dog. She's at it again with the Ruffwear Approach Pack! Let's see what she has to say:

Ruffwear Approach Pack

Photo Credit - @farley_the_labrador

The Ruffwear Approach Pack is the smaller, more compact member of the Ruffwear backpack family. It's perfect for long day hikes, camping, and many other outdoor adventures with your dog. 

Fit

Fit

    • With 5 adjustable points to properly fit the pack to your dog, the Approach is comfortable and secure.
    • With 4 available sizes, from as small as 17" all the way up to 42", this pack fits most breeds well. 
    • The radial-cut pack allows the saddlebags to sit higher up on Farley's back to help stabilizer the load, though minor adjustments had to be made throughout the day to correct the pack sliding side-to-side.

Function

Function

    • With optimal storage capacity for a day hike without feeling excessively bulky or large. 
    • Though the saddlebags are not removable on this pack, they can hold anywhere from 7 L to 24 L capacity depending on the size, which is more than enough for most daytime excursions. 
    • The reflective trim improves low-light visibility, and the light loop is perfect for attaching the Ruffwear Beacon for additional visibility at night. 

Durability

    • Constructed with material that withstands adventures through many kinds of terrain. 
    • The primary leash attachment point is made of aluminum and has proven to be strong and durable.
    • The padded lift and assist handle is designed tough, allowing the backpack to support your dog's weight if they need assistance on difficult terrain.

Price - $$

This is a moderate price point, allowing you to have similar features to the upgraded Palisades Pack with a few of the extras like removable saddlebags and additional storage space, for a more manageable cost. If you are looking for a dog backpack for single-day hikes and shorter excursions, then this pack will be suitable for your and your budget. 

Farley's Conclusion

The Ruffwear Approach Pack has become Farley's go-to day pack. On single-day hikes, the non-removable saddlebags are not an issue, making this the perfect option for the price point. It is built to endure rugged adventures and keep up with Farley's adventure dog lifestyle. 

Shop Ruffwear Approach Pack

Ruffwear Switchbak Harness

Cornelius is a greyhound mix who weighs 82lbs. While a senior at roughly 10 years old, he is still a very fit and active boy.

Cornelius Swithback Harness compressed (1)

Photo Credit: @odd.dogsquad

Though he has never been one to carry a large pack or do longer overnight trips, I had always wished for something that would allow him to carry a few smaller items on our daytime adventures without having large saddlebags typical of dog day packs. Enter the Ruffwear Switchback Harness - the harness with pockets!

Fit

Ruffwear-Switchbak-Harness-Fit

    • Owning a sighthound hasn't classically allowed for the easiest of sizing but this was quick to adjust to his chest. The two straps allowed for a large range in sizing to tailor it specifically to his shape [he wears a large/extra large and his chest is 32"].
    • The narrowness of the strap between his front legs allowed for ease of movement.
    • The pad on the second strap limited chafing on his belly and improved stability while in use.

Function

Ruffwear-Switchbak-Harness-Function

    • This 2-in1 walking accessory doubles as a harness and a lighter day pack. 
    • Corn was able to carry treats and a couple of other essentials [notably he was able to pack out his own poop, therefore, eliminating the need for me to carry it out in my bag].
    • The harness doesn't slip from side to side while on his back like some packs may have a tendency to do. 

Durability

    • Made with the same material as other Ruffwear products, it has held up well to trail and city use.
    • The reinforced leash attachment points on both the chest and back for dogs that tend to pull. 

Price

While more expensive than a traditional harness, the 2 in 1 appeal may eliminate having to buy both a harness and a dog backpack depending on the type of outdoor activities your dog participates in. Due to its smaller size and limited holding capacity, the Switchbak harness is more cost-effective than the other Ruffwear packs, making it ideal for shorter and more casual adventures.

Cornelius's Conclusion

This harness will be our new go-to for adventures but we have also used it just around the neighbourhood. Cornelius can safely carry some smaller items without compromising comfort. We found the dual function of this harness to be most impressive especially given its sleek look and we look forward to getting more use from it in the future.

Shop Ruffwear Switchbak Harness

Hiking with Puppies and Small Breeds

Hiking with Puppies and Small Breeds

For really young or tiny dogs, your usual hikes might be more than they can handle. Instead of trying to fit a comically oversized backpack onto your little pup, look for a backpack that you can carry him in. Our top pick is the Kurgo G-Train.

With all the functionality of your regular hiking pack, the G-Train also has a comfortable, breathable compartment for most pets under 25 lbs. It's waterproof, muckproof and well ventilated to keep your dog cool and comfortable on your hike. 

Shop All Carriers

What Should You Put in Your Dog's Backpack?

The whole point of getting your dog a backpack is so that he can carry his own hiking gear, but what kind of stuff and how much? 

For starters, it's important not to overload your dog, especially if he's new to backpacks. You should never make your dog carry more than 25% of his body weight. It's ideal to aim for 15-25% for experienced backpackers, and 10-15% for newbies. You can gradually add weight to the backpack as your dog gets used to it. 

Remember that the weight they can carry includes the weight of the backpack itself. Keep that in mind when calculating how much weight your dog should haul around. Most backpacks only weigh about 1-2 lbs. That might not seem like a lot for a larger breed, but for a 30 lbs dog that's a lot. 

Always make sure you pack the load evenly between the pouches. This is safer for your pet, but will also keep the pack from sliding around during your hike. 

So what kind of stuff should your dog carry? Of course, he should carry his own things!

Depending on the type and length of your adventure, your dog may need to pack different things. Here are a few basics that your dog should have in his backpack:

Download the Ultimate Dog Camping Gear Checklist

Is your dog an experienced backpacker? Share your dog backpacking tips with us in the comments below!

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

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