Published Jun 23, 2022 9:00 AM
A dog backpack allows you and your pup to transport the necessities—like water, food, and treats—during hikes, beach visits, camping trips, and any other adventure. In addition to their storage features, these harnesses can store first aid gear, waste bags, and other supplies without burdening your personal pack. Designed with your dog in mind, there are many options for pups of all sizes, shapes, and breeds. Most dogs are perfectly comfortable carrying a couple of pounds on their back. As long as you remain conscientious of the backpack’s intended capacity, you don’t need to worry about causing pain or discomfort. With the basics in mind, you’ll be able to focus on style and special features; we’ll walk you through what to look for in the best dog backpacks so you and your pooch can get going on your next adventure.
How we chose the best dog backpacks
As animal lovers and dog owners, we sought dog backpack options that are safe, secure, and comfortable. To do this, we conducted thorough research and consulted the products our furry friends currently use. We chose models that provided detailed information regarding fit and fabric, looking for units that feature ventilation, adjustable straps, padding, and reflective strips. We included packs suitable for various sizes and paid attention to bag capacity. We also kept an eye on price, offering a more budget-friendly yet well-constructed option.
What to consider when buying the best dog backpacks
If this is your first time purchasing a backpack for your furry pal, there are a few things you should know. Some dogs may strap on those saddlebags and feel right as rain, ready to trudge forward through the wilderness. Some dogs are just the opposite. They will flat out refuse to walk with a pack on their back. Some just can’t ignore the multiple straps, and there might not be a way to change their perspective. You might not know until you try. However, you can do a few things to get your dog acclimated to their packs.
First, don’t plan any long walks when introducing a new backpack; in fact, the shorter the walk the better. This not only gives your pup room to get comfortable but it can alert you to any fit issues before you’ve committed to a long hike. Some experts even recommend placing the pack on the dog’s back and letting them walk around the house to get used to the feeling before strapping them in completely.
You can also try to coax them into a backpack tryout with a few treats. Before filling the pack full, start by gradually introducing weight. Start with a lightweight, collapsible bowl or a roll of waste bags before throwing in a water bottle, and be sure you understand how much weight your dog can carry. As you add weight to the bag, make sure to distribute the contents evenly so your pup doesn’t have to exert more energy on one side of the body.
The first thing to consider before buying a dog backpack is the size of your pup. Sizing for dog backpacks mirrors sizing for humans in that they come in extra-small through extra-large. Before buying, it’s helpful to know your dog’s weight—as well as their neck, overall length, and girth measurements—because many companies will offer a sizing chart to ensure you select the right model.
When it comes to load and capacity, less can be more, especially for long walks. Your four-legged friend should never carry more than 25% of their own body weight, and it’s generally recommended that that number shift to 10-12% for long walks and steep hikes. Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds, think about how tired you would be if you were carrying almost 40 pounds up a challenging trail.
Add weight slowly over time, work up to full capacity over the course of a few months and make sure to monitor your dog’s behavior throughout. You should also take care to do a little research regarding the breed. Just because you have a big dog does not always mean they should be schlepping a heavier pack. Some canines are predisposed to have skeletal, muscular, or joint pain. If you’re not sure, you can always check with your veterinarian before purchasing a new dog backpack.
With so many options out there, it’s important to focus on the structural features that will keep your best friend safe wherever they travel. Some dog backpacks feature one holding compartment that sits directly on top of a canine’s back, similar to how humans carry their backpacks. While these may be suitable for short walks, it’s generally recommended to invest in a saddlebag model with two compartments that should sit comfortably along the sides of the body. These compartments will allow you to distribute weight evenly. Some saddlebags convert easily into a harness to complement those short walks.
If you’re going on a long journey, consider investing in a dog backpack with a built-in water bladder (similar to a Camelbak). Using these bladders eliminates the imbalance caused by a sloshing water bottle.
Fit & fabric
Beyond balance, a snug, secure fit is necessary to eliminate painful rubbing and chaffing that could lead to rashes. Typically, the more adjustment points, the better; they allow you to customize the fit in all the right areas without making sacrifices. The same is true for the number of straps. Two straps (one around the chest and neck, the other under the belly) are a fine way for a dog to carry a backpack. However, consider trying out a model with a T-strap that wraps around the neck/chest and uses a center strap to connect to the second loop around the belly for increased comfort and stability.
There are a couple of key features that make a difference when it comes to safety and security outdoors. It’s good to choose a bright, identifiable fabric with some reflective elements. This will help you find your pup if they wander too far during an off-leash stretch and are also more likely to alert drivers and bikers of their presence on the road, just in case they end up where they don’t belong.
Top handles will allow you to help your dog navigate rocky terrain by easily lifting them up, and multiple leash points will let you clip in quickly for extra control in crowded areas.
Now that you know how to fit your dog in a safe, sturdy backpack, you can think about what to fill it with. Barring weight restrictions, your adventurous pup should be able to carry most of what they need on the trail. One good rule of thumb is to pack whatever you would pack for yourself but for your canine. They’ll need water, something to drink out of, maybe a little food, and first aid on a hike.
For a longer trip, say you’re going camping, you could add an extra layer (like an insulated vest), a backpacking bed, or protective boots. For more information about footwear for your dog, check out our recommendations for the best dog shoes. Of course, it’s always a good idea to bring along biodegradable poop bags because you never know when they’ll need to go.
The best dog backpacks: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: Ruffwear Front Range Day Pack
Why it made the cut: The Front Range Day Pack is a great option for frequent day-hikers with weight-forward saddlebags that sit close to the body, foam-padded construction, and three leash clip points.
- Uses: Long walks and day hikes
- Sizes: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large / X-Large
- Adjustment points: 5
- Radial cut saddlebags
- Padded handle
- Available in multiple colors
Ruffwear is our favorite brand for well-constructed dog backpacks and the Front Range Day Pack tops the charts. A great model for mid-range activity, this pack comes in four sizes and fits dogs with a chest measurement between 17 and 42 inches. Five adjustment points mean you can further customize the fit, and foam-padded construction will continue to keep your dog comfortable. A vertical chest strap and cushioned belly strap improve stability, and a padded top handle means you can help your adventure buddy navigate tricky areas on the trail.
The saddlebags feature a radial cut, weight-forward design, creating compression to keep each side close to your pup’s body and maintain balance. Inside each bag, a stretchy mesh pocket keeps treats, bags, and bowls organized. You can attach a leash to three points: a tow loop, webbed chest loop, and back V-ring.
Available in three colors, the Front Range backpack is perfect for everyday use. It can fit all the essentials for a day hike or long walk without being unnecessarily bulky.
Best for hiking: Ruffwear Palisades Dog Backpack
Why it made the cut: The Palisades backpack comes with everything your dog needs to make it through a long hike, plus, the bags are removable in case you just need the harness for a quick jaunt.
- Uses: Long hikes, backpacking, camping trips
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large / X-Large
- Adjustment points: 5
- Collapsible water bladders
- Reflective trim
- Cross load compression system
- Not a great option for small dogs
Ruffwear strikes again with the best dog backpack for hiking. The Palisades pack is an excellent option for long hikes, multi-day trips, backpacking, and camping. Available in three sizes ranging from 22- to 42-inch chest sizes, this model can carry a lot while prioritizing comfort. A high-volume option, the Palisades Pack will be able to hold everything your dog needs to stay fed, hydrated, and happy in the great outdoors.
Favorite features include two 1-liter collapsible water bladders for balance, a cross-load, a “flopper stopper” compression system to increase stability, and removable saddlebags to lighten the load during a break or day hike during a camping trip. There are five adjustment points, two leash attachment points, reflective trim, and a padded handle to round out the design. Though a bit pricey, the Palisades Pack is worth it to keep your dog healthy while hiking.
Best for large dogs: Kurgo Big Baxter Dog Harness
Why it made the cut: The Big Baxter is designed for large dog breeds that have trouble finding a backpack that will fit; this model has a chest strap that fits up to 48 inches and supports a dog that weighs up to 110 pounds.
- Uses: Day hikes, backpacking
- Sizes: Adjustable 50-110lbs
- Adjustment points: 8
- Adjustable saddle bags
- Integrated harness
- Front and rear leash attachment
The Big Baxter Pack from Kurgo is one of the only dog backpacks that can accommodate a chest measurement up to 48 inches and a weight up to 110 pounds. Available in three colors, the Big Baxter is a two-sided pack with an integrated harness, mesh ventilation, and eight adjustment points. Even the saddlebag height is adjustable. A large padded handle and rear-mounted leash hook mean you can remain in control when necessary.
This pack offers plenty of room to support multi-day trips, but it’s light enough for day trips. As a bonus, the chest strap has an integrated bottle opener so you can crack open a cold one when you’ve finally reached the summit as your dog laps up the water they carried beside you.
Best for small dogs: Doggles Extreme Backpack
Why it made the cut: The Doggles Extreme Backpack is one of the only models on the market suitable for super small breeds—like Dachsunds, Yorkies, Jack Russell Terriers, and other dogs with 12-inch girth.
- Uses: Day hikes
- Sizes: XX-Small, X-Small, Small, Medium, Large
- Adjustment points: 4
- Range of sizes
- Zippers and adjustment points can be difficult to manipulate
If you have a super small dog eager to pull their weight, the Doggles Extreme Backpack is one of the few options that will actually fit your pup. While teacup and toy breeds are never going to be able to carry a ton in their backs, you’ll certainly be able to fit a few poop bags and maybe a collapsible bowl.
The Extreme comes in five sizes, and the smallest can fit pups with a chest size as small as twelve inches, which can hold roughly .23 liters. This waterproof model features reflective trim, Duraflex buckles, and shoulder cutouts to keep saddlebags stable. While small dogs really shouldn’t carry very much, this bag doubles as a harness that, on its own, can increase safety during long walks and other outings.
Best budget: Outward Hound Daypak
Why it made the cut: The Outward Hound Daypak is an ultra-lightweight model that will keep your furry friend comfortable during day hikes and short trips.
- Uses: Day hikes and walks
- Sizes: Medium, Large
- Adjustment points: 4
- Weighs less than 1 pound
- Breathable mesh fabric
- Four expandable pockets
- Sizing availability is limited
- Lacks reflective trim
Though they may seem like a simple piece of equipment, a backpack can have a significant effect on your dog’s skeletal and muscular health, just like human packs. There are certainly super cheap options out there, but we recommend spending a few extra bucks to ensure you purchase a pack with a well-constructed, safe design.
The Outward Hound Daypack is an excellent, budget-friendly option that doesn’t skimp on structural necessities. One of the lightest backpacks on the market, weighing less than a pound, it can still carry enough supplies for a long hike. It offers four expandable storage compartments, four adjustment points, mesh fabric, and a top handle. The Daypak is available in two bright colors, so you can easily keep an eye on Rover even when he darts ahead of you.
Q: How much does a dog backpack cost?
A dog backpack can cost anywhere from $25 to $150, depending on your needs. A waterproof model made for a large dog with a sizable capacity will be more than a small harness with a zipper pocket designed for a tiny dog. Now, just because you have a larger pooch doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg on a suitable pack; there are budget-friendly options for dogs of just about any size. Mid-range models usually sit somewhere between the $40-$60 mark, depending on the materials used and saddlebag size.
Q: Are dog backpacks safe for dogs?
This is definitely a question you should ask your vet. But, generally, yes, dog backpacks are safe for dogs when used properly. It’s important to purchase a backpack that is the right size for your dog to distribute weight evenly and not overpack. You should always make sure your dog has access to water, especially when carrying a pack outdoors, and, after the first few wears, check their skin and fur to make sure there aren’t any signs of irritation. Generally, backpacks are not good for puppies or older dogs, and some pups may just refuse to wear one.
Q: How much can a dog carry in a backpack?
A dog can typically carry under 25% of his body weight on his back. This is, of course, reliant on the size of the backpack itself. You need to make sure you don’t overstuff the model you purchase; all pockets should be able to zip easily and if your pack has more than one pocket, makes sure you are evenly distributing materials. Your dog’s physical ability will also determine how much they can carry and for how long. Carrying 25% of your body weight up a steep trail is no easy feat, so take the time to consider where you’ll be going and for how long before you load up your dog backpack.
Final thoughts the best dog backpacks
Your favorite furry friends deserve to be comfortable and safe whenever they accompany you, which is why it’s important to carefully select the best dog backpack for trips both short and long. The most important thing to remember is that your pup needs a backpack that suits their size. Once you find a few models you know will fit, you can start to look at color, bag capacity, and fabric. Once you’ve selected the appropriate pick from the best dog backpacks, you’ll be able to plan out what you’ll pack and set your sights on the next adventure.