Hiking with your dog or hiking without your dog, is there even a choice? What about backpacking with your dog or backpacking without them? I thought so.
If you’re like me and plan your outdoor activities based on whether or not your canine companion can come with then the thought of a pack for your pup has likely crossed your mind once or twice.
Recently my husband and I went backpacking and our packs were full to the brim and Redford’s food would not fit in either of our packs, and we’re pretty good at Tetris-ing our stuff. Well, necessity is the mother of invention as they say and the idea that Redford could carry his own food was never more genius!
We tried the Baxter Pack we received from Kurgo – a 3.75 liter pack for dogs 30-85 pounds (liter capacity is for both saddlebags combined). Kurgo also offers a larger size pack called the “Big Baxter” for dogs 50-100 pounds with a 7.5 liter capacity. This pack is lightweight and made of durable material to withstand the inevitable boulder scrapes when your dog cuts a corner and doesn’t realize how wide they are with the pack on – it happens to the best of us! The saddlebags are adjustable on the top and bottom making it easy to find the best placement on your dogs back and ribcage – they should sit evenly on either side of the ribcage, and closer to the shoulders than the waist. The saddlebags are also attached to the ribcage straps so that they don’t move or worse, flop over to the other side. On the trip we were stopped on the trail by another hiker who asked what brand of pack this was as the packs he’s used in the past allowed the saddlebags to flop over the dog’s back letting the two bags rest together on one side of his dog. The Baxter’s saddlebags are attached to the ribcage straps so they can’t move once the straps are connected together around the ribcage, a big selling point to this other hiker! The pack is simple to put on, but I have to admit that it took some time to adjust it just right once it was on Redford and packed to make sure the saddlebags were lying evenly on his back, but that was most likely my inexperience.
We got the pack in red, not because it’s half of Redford’s name, but because it was highly visible. It’s not neon red, but was very bright, which I like when I’m in the backcountry. It proved useful on this trip as we came across hunters on the trail; Redford blends in quite well I like him to be immediately distinguishable as a domestic dog. The pack also has reflective strips on it, which could be useful backpacking at night, but would probably be most useful in urban areas where they can reflect headlights and such.
The saddlebags have one large compartment with a top-loading zipper that was easy to access. There is also a small outer zippered compartment that seemed superfluous – it could hardly hold a poop bag or paper when the larger compartment was full. On the Q&A section of this pack on Kurgo’s website they say that the fabric of the pack (not the zippers, straps, or bindings) are waterproof. However, we did a test of our own before our hike. Since Redford eats dehydrated raw food on backpacking trips we wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t get wet and ruin his food if he were to cross a river or try to swim while wearing his pack. I ran the faucet over the outside of one of the compartments and waited to see if the inside of the back would get wet, which it did after about 15 seconds. The actual fabric of the saddlebags is waterproofed, but the seams aren’t and subsequently allow water into the compartments. So, this pack could feasibly handle some mild precipitation in the form of rain, but could not handle going through bodies of water, say, when a dog needs to cross a river. I would love to see a fully waterproof pack, with all the components being waterproof: fabric, seams, zippers, and all. The fabric is a little thin, but it’s strong in terms of weight capacity and had no visible scuffs or tears on it after our 10 mile trek through the backcountry.
The top of the back is padded and is said to have ergonomic spine support that contours to your dog’s back. It seems like it may mold to your dog’s shape in time from their body heat as they wear it, although Redford hasn’t worn it long enough to see if that actually happens. Redford’s movement was free; he was able to move his shoulders with ease while wearing this pack. The leash hook on the top of this pack/on the dog’s back is durable, but is a little small if you use a rope leash with a medium-to-large carabiner like me. But, since the only time Redford wears this pack is backpacking off-leash, the leash attachment size doesn’t particularly matter to me. On the front of the pack at the dog’s neck there is another leash attachment that is also a removable bottle opener. There is a handle on the top of this pack for helping your dog over rock scrambles and such, but since this pack only has two straps over the dog’s ribcage and nowhere else to distribute their weight evenly I would not recommend and never use it to hold a dog’s weight for long periods of time or to hoist a dog up or over anything. This pack is not rated for holding the dog’s body weight.
The only complaint I had with this pack is that there is nowhere to store the ribcage straps should there be excess when fitting it properly to your dog. I always have straps hanging from myself when I hike, but I know they’re there and could possibly get caught on things. Dogs don’t, and I don’t like straps hanging down from him to inevitably get caught on brush or between rocks when we’re hiking. On this trip I just tied them up and around themselves, but I hope Kurgo updates that in the future. I’m also wondering if the webbing will stretch when it gets wet (as some types of webbing are known to do) and then make the pack too loose. Knowing the pack wasn’t functionally waterproof, we wouldn’t have let him cross rivers while wearing the pack had we come across any while on this trip. And obviously we don’t let him swim while wearing a pack.
All in all I liked this pack and think it’s a good investment if you want your dog to pack a few things on an outdoor adventure. Compared to a number of other mid to high quality packs on the market this pack is very affordable and has held up well so far. Personally, I would like to see a truly waterproof option for those of us who know our dogs will encounter bodies of water while wearing this pack. This is the first weight loading pack I’ve used on Redford, he wears harnesses a lot, but since the pack itself was lightweight it made the transition into carrying weight easier for him. The Baxter backpack is low profile (not wide when the bags are packed), lightweight, durable, and is a great introduction to packs if your dog has never worn one. Adventure on fur-riends!
Review by: Cait Clawson / Dogs That Hike Explorer @redfordtheredheeler