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The Best Dog Backpacks of 2021

Get your furry friend ready to hit the trail with the best dog backpacks. From big gear haulers to sleek saddlebags, there’s something for every pup.

It’s hard to beat the fun of adventuring with your four-legged friend. But the extra gear can add up. This is where a good dog backpack comes into play. Backpacks for dogs are more than cute accessories — they allow your pooch to haul necessities like food and water.

From dog saddlebags to dog backpack harnesses, there is a plethora of dog hiking gear out there for people who like to hike with dogs. We looked through the options to find the best dog backpacks on the market and came up with the following list. We also put together some tips for finding the right fit and how to pack it for your furry friend.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended dog backpacks, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Dog Backpacks of 2021

Best Overall: Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack

ruffwear approach dog pack

Oregon-based company Ruffwear is known for trail testing every product they make. And that testing is readily apparent with its Approach Dog Pack ($80).

This everyday pack offers adjustable straps for a secure and comfortable fit. This is thanks in part to the integrated harness, which is built for a perfect fit and pack stability.

It also features five points of adjustment to allow for a customizable fit. The radial-cut saddlebags form a compression system that enhances the fit and makes it easier for your pooch to carry loads.

The lightweight materials are durable as well. So, you won’t need to worry about abrasion or wear when your dog goes racing off into the underbrush to chase a chipmunk.

Overall, we love this pack for its simplicity and the comfort that it provides, even while carrying a load. The smaller top pockets make smaller items easily accessible. And the larger side pockets can carry all the rest of your gear with ease.

You can even strap larger items like dog beds to the top. There are two leash attachment options, and the padded handle lets you grab your pooch like a duffel bag.

  • Bonus: Ruffwear sells optional brush guard and core-cooling harness add-ons.
  • Volume: 6 L, 12.5 L, 14.5 L, 24 L
  • Weight: 12.8 oz., 1 lb. 1 oz., 1 lb. 2 oz., 1 lb. 5 oz.

Pros:

  • Roomy
  • Reflective trim
  • Easily adjustable
  • Small top pockets for easy access

Cons:

  • No padding on the chest strap

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Runner-Up: Kurgo Baxter

kurgo baxter dog backpack

Kurgo’s Baxter dog backpack ($52) features a highly adjustable fit and padded spine support to make sure your dog is comfortable when carrying a load.

The two large saddlebags provide plenty of room for food, treats, toys, and bowls. Smaller storage pockets are easy to access for smaller items like treats and poo bags.

Details like breathable mesh and reflective strips for visibility make this one of our favorites. Also, the bottle opener on the chest strap lets your pooch join in on the post-hike celebration.

The rear-mounted leash hook lets your good boy take the lead. If your dog needs a hand getting over some sketchy terrain, you can use the large, padded handle to help him over the obstacle.

  • Bonus: Kurgo offers a lifetime guarantee on its packs.
  • Volume: 3.75 L, 7.5 L
  • Weight: 14 oz., 1 lb. 4 oz.

Pros:

  • Padded spine
  • Roomy saddlebags

Cons:

  • Not waterproof
  • Straps need extra cinching for narrow-chested dogs

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Best Bargain: OneTigris Hoppy Camper Dog Pack 2.0

onetigris dog pack

The tactical-inspired Hoppy Camper 2.0 ($36) from OneTigris is built for rough terrain. It’s one of the least expensive packs on this list, but its cotton canvas material makes it one of the most durable as well.

The canvas build holds up well against rocks, brush, and just about anything else your dog will come up against (literally) on the trail. The interior is lined with mesh to keep your dog cool and comfortable.

The two main zipper compartments can carry food, water, and bowls. The smaller side pockets can hold waste bags and treats. The top handle is ideal for holding and controlling your dog, but not for carrying it.

The only real gripe we have with the Hoppy Camper is the understated design. The brown, green, and black options look sharp, but they’re best used in urban settings. The colors blend in with the outdoors, making it harder to find your buddy if he goes dashing off into the woods.

  • Volume: Not listed
  • Weight: 1 lb., 1 lb. 5 oz.

Pros:

  • Front and rear leash attachment options
  • Secure fit
  • Cotton canvas material

Cons:

  • Handle not designed for carrying a dog
  • No reflective material

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Best Ultralight: Ultimate Direction Dog Vest

ultimate direction dog vest

Colorado-based running gear company Ultimate Direction is known for its excellent ultralight running packs and accessories. Its Dog Vest ($80) is another hit out of the park for them.

This lightweight vest is perfect for your four-legged running partner. The pack is made with a nylon ripstop body and stretch nylon mesh.

The multipoint harness system customizes the fit, ensuring comfort. And the top ring keeps your leash securely attached.

Large, expandable side pockets hold food and accessories. Side-stash pockets keep smaller items like waste bags and a leash within easy reach. The included bowl collapses for an easy fit, and zippered bottle pockets mean your pooch can carry your water as well.

Ultimate Direction’s Dog Vest is a great way to keep your dog equipped on long trail runs. Also, the extra weight gives you half a chance of keeping up with him.

  • Volume: 5.8 L, 8.6 L, 10.3 L
  • Weight: 11 oz.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Bowl included
  • Can hold up to 2 L of water

Cons:

  • No padding on straps

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Best of the Rest

Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack

mountainsmith k-9 dog pack

Designed with the aid of a local Colorado veterinarian, Mountainsmith’s K-9 Dog Pack ($70) is one of the best-fitting packs on the market. The four-point adjustable belly harness is complemented by an adjustable back harness. This lets you really dial in the fit for maximum doggie comfort.

The application is simple as well. The pack goes on easily — just throw it over your dog’s head, and then lift the sides to buckle it on. It makes putting it on an excited pup much easier.

These packs max out at a whopping 16 L for the large size. This means you can carry just about everything you need for a hike and then some — plus some extra weight to slow your zoomer down.

Reflective trim helps you see your pooch in low light. And the single-haul handle on the top lets you help them over technical areas.

  • Volume: 7 L, 12 L, 16 L
  • Weight: 15 oz., 1 lb., 1 lb. 3 oz.

Pros:

  • Tons of pack space
  • Padded sternum
  • Lots of adjustabilities

Cons:

  • Water-resistant, not waterproof

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Outward Hound Day Pack Dog Backpack

outward hound day pack dog backpack

With such a low price point, the Daypack Dog Backpack ($25) from Outward Hound is an excellent option for day hikers or as an entry-point pack.

This extremely lightweight pack has two large side pockets with smaller stash pockets on either side. The large pockets are expandable, which is a nice touch. This allows you to zip the pockets down to a smaller size when you’re not carrying much. Breathable mesh runs the length of the back, keeping your dog cool on warm days.

One gripe with this pack is that the stash pockets on the side don’t have closures. They still work well for waste bags and treats, but we don’t recommend putting your keys or wallet in there. Otherwise, this is a great entry pack for people who want to introduce their dogs to hiking with gear.

  • Volume: Not listed
  • Weight: 5 oz.

Pros:

  • Price
  • Multiple sizing options

Cons:

  • No chest padding
  • Open stash pockets

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Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack

ruffwear palisades dog pack

It’s on the pricier end of the spectrum, but with Ruffwear’s Palisades Dog Pack ($150), you get what you pay for.

Built with long-distance, multiday adventures in mind, the Palisades has 24 L of space in its largest iteration. Even the smallest pack can hold 12.5 L of gear. It’s also loaded with very smart features. The most noticeable is the removable saddlebags.

The storage bags unclip without having to remove the entire harness. This lets you give your pooch a rest without having to take off the whole setup.

Also, a third chest strap helps you dial in the fit and minimizes sliding. Cross-load compression straps cinch down your gear when the bags aren’t full as well.

The Palisades puts a premium on visibility as well. The bright red color is easy to spot, and the reflective strips are complemented by a light loop for attaching a safety light.

  • Bonus: The pack comes with two collapsible 1L water bottles
  • Volume: 12.5 L, 17.5 L, 24 L
  • Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz., 1 lb. 14 oz., 2 lb. 2 oz.

Pros:

  • Collapsible water pouches included
  • Third belly strap
  • Removable saddlebags

Cons:

  • Pricey

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Great Dog Backpack

Capacity

The whole point of buying a backpack for your dog is that it can carry gear. So, it doesn’t make sense to get a pack that can’t hold much more than a few poop bags.

For day hikes or short walks, a small dog backpack with a 1-2L capacity will do. But for longer hikes or runs, you’ll want more room for water, snacks, and anything else you two might need on your trek.

A backpack with a 3-5L capacity usually does the trick here. If you’ve got a beefy dog and you’re going on a multiday backpacking trip, consider a larger pack. We’ve got packs on this list that can go up to 25 L in capacity. This should be enough to carry everything your dog needs.

Load Dispersion

Your dog is not going to enjoy carrying an uneven load. If their pack carries weight unevenly in any direction, your dog will at best be uncomfortable. At worst, this can cause an injury. Look for a pack that carries its load evenly on both sides.

Also, make sure that the weight is carried well from front to back. Any good dog backpack has even capacity on both sides and carries the weight closer to the shoulders for solid support.

dog backpack weight distribution
Photo credit: REI

Weight

As a general rule of thumb, a dog should carry no more than 25% of its body weight. Keep in mind, that number is the maximum amount. Depending on your dog’s age and fitness level, this number can vary from 10% up to 25%.

Some breeds are better at carrying more weight. Also, puppies and senior dogs are going to need lighter loads.

Keep an eye on your dog while you hike. If it looks like he’s flagging or uncomfortable, be ready to take some of his load and carry it in your pack.

Leash Attachment Points

Whether or not you let your four-legged buddy run free on the trail, there will be times where you need to put a leash on. Make sure that the pack you buy for your dog has at least one attachment point. Many have two points of attachment — one near the shoulder blades and one on the back near the tail.

Many people prefer to use the leash attachment on the front. This is because some dogs tend to pull more when the leash is closer to the dog’s tail.

Value & Price

Of course, shop for a dog backpack that fits within your budget. In general, more expensive packs tend to have more features. But, there are many quality packs in the mid to low price range.

Expect to spend from $75 to $100 for a comfortable, durable pack that sports some solid features. Larger, more feature-rich packs can cost closer to the $150 range.

If you’re not sure what kind of pack to get for your dog, take a look at the budget options listed above. You can always start with an inexpensive pack and upgrade when you know what features you want.

Fit & Comfort

Your first concern when shopping for a pack is making sure your dog is comfortable. Look for features like padded straps and mesh material. The padded straps help reduce chafing and irritation during longer hikes. The mesh or sweat-wicking material helps protect your dog from overheating.

Also, make sure that your dog’s load is distributed evenly so your dog doesn’t have to compensate for it on the hike. The biggest factor in preventing discomfort is making sure that the pack fits your dog.

padded dog backpack
Photo credit: Mountainsmith

How to Measure Your Dog for a Backpack

Most websites list the varying sizes and associate them with a dog’s weight. However, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. The best way to fit your dog is to get the proper measurements.

Use a piece of string or flexible tape measure to find the circumference of your dog’s upper neck, lower neck, and chest. After that, measure your dog’s length from the tail to the chest.

Compare those measurements to the dog pack you’re considering to find the right size. Keep in mind that some packs won’t work for certain dogs, like those with small necks and deep chests.

When you get the pack, try it on your dog and adjust as necessary to make sure it fits. When fitting the pack, follow the two-finger rule. If the straps are snug but leave room for two fingers between the gear and your dog, it’s a good fit.

Tips

Start With Short Hikes & Low Weight

No matter how fit your dog is, carrying a lot of weight over a long distance right away will come as a shock. Just like training for a long run, it’s good to ease your dog into carrying a pack.

Start with short walks with an empty backpack at first. This lets your dog get used to wearing a pack. Then, add weight and distance as you go.

If you’re planning a specific trip, it’s a good idea to work your way up to distances and weights that are close to what your dog will carry on the trip. As the date of the trip gets closer, keep adding distance and weight. This can go a long way toward ensuring that your furry friend enjoys his time outside.

Keep It Snug &Secure (Avoid Chafing & Hot Spots)

Nothing can ruin your hike like chafing and irritation. The same goes for your dog. Make sure the pack fits properly and securely, following the two-finger rule above.

Straps can loosen as you hike. Make sure you check your dog’s straps occasionally and adjust as necessary.

Pick the Right Size Pack

A huge part of avoiding chafing and hot spots is ensuring that your dog’s pack is the right size. Most websites offer different sizes according to weight. This is a good start.

Compare the specs listed on the pack’s website to make sure that the pack is a good fit. When you get the pack, check its fit before you go out.

Adjust the straps so that you can fit two fingers between your dog and the strap. This ensures that a snug fit that isn’t too tight.

Camping with a Dog - Baylor the Dog wears a Dog Backpack. Pic by Mallory Paige
Baylor the dog testing backpacks in Utah with Gear Editor Mallory Paige.

Know Your Dog (Age, Overall Health, Disposition)

Weight and size are only two factors when deciding the right pack for your dog. Consider factors like age and health when shopping around.

Puppies and senior dogs need to carry less weight. Consider a smaller pack that can hold around 10-15% of your dog’s weight. The same goes for if your dog is out of shape or recovering from sickness or injury.

Also, disposition is a factor. If you have a more rambunctious dog, consider a burlier harness and a sturdy top handle. This helps you keep control of your dog if you encounter other animals on the trail.

FAQ

What Is the Best Dog Backpack?

First and foremost, the best backpack for dogs is the one that fits each dog well. A good-fitting pack helps keep your dog comfortable on the trail. After that, make sure that it can carry the right amount of weight for your dog’s ability.

A pack that won’t carry what you need for your pup won’t be very useful. Also, the best dog backpacks provide you with plenty of ways to control and secure your dog when the need arises.

Are Backpacks Safe for Dogs?

Absolutely. But an ill-fitting or overweighted pack can harm your dog. Make sure that the weight and fit are right for your pooch before you head out.

The proper weight your dog can carry varies from 10% to 25% of your dog’s body weight. The variance depends mainly on your dog’s size, age, and fitness level. With the right measurements, a little research, and a good fitting when you get your pack, you can ensure the right fit.

What Should I Put in My Dog’s Backpack for Hiking?

It varies, depending on how much your dog can carry. Waste bags and treats are some items that even the smallest dog hiking backpack can hold.

If you have the room, extra food, water, and bowls are a great idea as well. You can even strap a rolled-up dog bed to some of the bigger packs.

How Much Weight Can a Dog Carry in a Backpack?

The general rule is to never let your dog carry more than 25% of its weight. Depending on the dog, this can be as low as 10%. Senior dogs and puppies are going to be on the lower end of the spectrum.

As you hike, keep a close eye on your pooch. If he’s looking fatigued or is laboring under the weight, remove some gear and put it in your pack.


Have a favorite dog backpack? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.


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Billy Brown
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Billy Brown has a problem sitting still. His constant search for the next challenge has him doing everything from running ultramarathons and climbing 14er’s to gaining 40 pounds to compete in powerlifting, breaking several state records and growing a killer beard in the process. With over a decade of writing under his belt, his work, covering action sports, gear, and beer, can be found in a variety of publications. He lives with his wife and their two cats in Sacramento, California.

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