How to Choose the Right Pack for your Pup

Expert Advice

Dogs love to have a job to do. Whether it’s chasing their tail, fetching a runaway ball or zooming after a squirrel, our canine friends love to be put to work. When given a job, many dogs switch gears from an unruly spaz into a focused and determined workaholic. One of the best ways to channel the inner focus of your dog is to give them a backpack to carry while out on the trail.

OK, so I’ve got you convinced – your dog clearly needs a backpack in his life! But there are so many options, where do you start? Not all dog backpacks are created for the same purpose, most are designed with a specific function in mind. There are day packs which are meant for short journeys all the way to expedition packs which are key for long backpacking trips deep in the wilderness.

Not sure which pack is right for you? Read below for 5 questions you should ask yourself to find the perfect backpack for your dog.

Photo credit: Resa DeBeaumont @thelifeofdelilah

What is the potential function of your dog’s backpack?

Most dog backpacks will fall into one of the below categories:

  • Day Pack: Most widely available dog backpacks will fit into the day pack category. Many are made with simple construction without a bunch of bells and whistles to reduce cost. These kinds of backpacks are perfect for heading out on walks around town, or for trips to the dog park when you don’t really feel like carrying all your pups’ things yourself. I personally use a daypack on short hikes into our local River Valley because I am not a fan of carrying stinky poop bags when there are few garbage cans around.
  • Hydration Pack: This is a slightly less popular category than the day pack group. Hydration packs designed to allow your pooch to haul water bladders without much space for anything else. Some may include the bladders with the purchase of the bag and some may require you to purchase them separately. These packs are often very low profile and the least bulky of all the backpacks as you want the water to stay close to your pups body to prevent injury.
  • Expedition Pack: Most expedition packs have a bigger saddle bag capacity and allow for more items to be strapped to the outside as well. They sport many different features to help reduce weight and secure the load close to your dogs’ body. Expedition packs tend to have padded areas and are designed to reduce chaffing to keep your dog more comfortable while on longer journeys. These packs are ideal for multiple night backpack excursions and tend to be a bit of an over kill for regular dog park outings. With all their extra features, expedition packs tend to come at a much higher price point and may not make for the best first-time bag.
Photo credit: Alexis Greene @reggieandthevan

Are there any specific features you won’t be able to live without?

All dog backpacks have different features. Some have removable saddlebags which allow your pack to function as a backpack as well as a separate harness. Maybe you have a specific colour or in mind that you are not willing to compromise on. Do you want your dogs backpack to have a cooling foil pouch to keep your water cool? Maybe having large capacity saddle bags are the most important feature to you. It is important to identify what features you simply cannot do without to make the best decision for you and your dog.

Important features to consider:

  • Handles- Are you planning to be lifting your dog while out hiking? Maybe you just to have a grab handle to keep your dog close while others pass you on the trail. Handles can be an important feature and they vary among different bags. Some have padded handles and others have much more simple designs. Be sure to examine the stitching on the handle to ensure it will be able to live up to your expectations.
  • Harness Configuration- The harness section of dog backpacks are almost always different. Some feature removable saddle bags, some have complex adjustable straps and some are more simple. Be sure to find a harness style that does not rub on your dog while he is moving to avoid chaffing sensitive areas. Be sure the harness does not move around and that the saddle bags sit correctly on your pooch. If you plan on lifting your dog take care to consider that there is enough chest padding so that the straps do not dig in dangerously. I find that the Y-shaped style helps to keep the bag in place a little better than other styles.
  • Weight- If you’re planning on doing some longer backpacking trips with your dog be sure to start off with a pack that is light. There’s nothing worse than bogging your dog down with a heavy bag right off the get go.Long backpacking trips mean that ever single oz adds up.
  • Colour/Reflective Properties- It may sound silly but considering the colour of your dogs backpack is actually really important. If you spend a lot of time in grassy meadows, a green backpack may not be the best choice to keep your dog visible. Choosing a brightly coloured back can help your dog be seen when out in the wild. Added reflective piping is also a great way to increase visibility in low light situations.
  • Materials/Construction – If your dog tends to push his gear to the limits you may want to take close consideration to the way their backpack is constructed. Look for reinforced stitching, durable materials (such as rip stop nylon) and a warranty that would cover any manufacture defects.
  • Capacity- Longer trips may require larger capacity saddle bags. Set out everything that your dog can reasonably carry and figure out what capacity they need. Remember that you want the saddle bags to be evenly weighted on each side so that mean they may need to carry larger lighter things to balance it out properly. Make sure to practice packing your dogs supplies into their back before heading out on an adventure. 
  • Breathability- Do you live in a hot climate? Make sure the backpack is breathable enough to keep your dog cool and comfortable on warm journeys. Seek out mesh designs to increase airflow to your dogs back and chest.
Photo credit: Cait Clawson@redfordtheredheeler

Does it fit?

Be sure to measure your dog carefully before shopping for a dog backpack. It can be helpful to grab a buddy to help to ensure accuracy. Most brands will list a sizing chart online to make it easier to select the correct size. If your dog falls in-between two sizes, I find reading some reviews helps to determine if you should size up or down. Have a dog that is oddly shaped? Don’t worry, there are custom made dog packs available too!

Backpacks should fit snug and should not shift around while your dog is walking. Saddle bags should sit above your dogs’ elbow and should sit towards your dogs’ shoulders as they are the strongest part of your pooch. Be careful not to overload your dog. For an adult dog who has been properly conditioned I wouldn’t recommend packing more than 15% of their body weight into their bag. I wouldn’t use any weight for puppies or senior dogs without consulting a veterinarian.

What are your dogs’ limitations?

Do you have a perfectly physically fit pooch who is ready to take on the world? Or maybe you have an older or less active dog who will only be able to haul a tennis ball or a poopbag once in a while. It’s important to identify the limits of your dog before investing in dog backpack that they may not be able to get full use out of.

Photo credit: Jenna Hollman @atlastheadventuredog

What is your budget?

Not all dog backpacks are created equal which means that the cost can vary significantly as well. Dog backpacks can range anywhere from $30 daypack all the way to $200+ for a custom-made expedition pack. Finding one that will give you all the features you are looking for while also staying budget friendly may take a bit of research.

Dogs That Hike Explorers have put a number of packs to the test and some of the current favourites are Ruffwear Approach Pack, Hurtta Trail Pack, Kurgo Baxter Pack, EzyDog Summit Backpack, Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack and Ruffwear Singletrak.

Having your dog haul their own gear has many benefits but it’s important to think carefully about what you want most out of your gear. There many options on the market right now but not all will meet your needs. Take your time to find the best one for you. Happy tails!

About the author: Jenna and Atlas enjoy adventuring in the Canadian Rockies – follow their adventures @atlastheadventuredog

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