When it comes to hiking with dogs, one of the most useful items of gear you can get for your dog is a pack to carry their stuff in. That ‘stuff’ may include everything from a couple of waste bags through to snacks, water, and a first aid kit for your dog. In this post, we’ve picked out the best dog backpacks for hiking, which include smaller and larger capacities and a range of sizes suitable for small through to large dogs.
The best backpack for dogs to wear will depend on how long you plan to hike for, and the terrain and conditions you’ll be hiking in, as well as your dog’s physique, physical ability, age, and size.
If you’re looking for our top recommendation, then our adventure dog, Kepler’s favorite is the Ruffwear Front Range, which you can read more about a little further down in this post.
For more on how to choose the best pack for your dog, scroll down past our list of dog backpack reviews to our buyer’s guide section, or keep reading to see the packs.
- PART 1: THE BEST DOG BACKPACKS
- Overall best | Ruffwear Approach / Front Range | READ MORE ↓
- Most adjustable fit for larger dogs | Kurgo Baxter / K9 Backpack | READ MORE ↓
- Best for running | Ruffwear Switchbak / UD Dog Vest | READ MORE ↓
- Best tactical dog hiking backpack | OneTigris Mammoth | READ MORE ↓
- Best budget dog backpack | Outward Hound DayPak | READ MORE ↓
- PART 2: DOG BACKPACKS BUYER’S GUIDE | How to choose ↓
The Best Dog Backpacks
Ruffwear Approach Pack | BEST OVERALL [Winner]
When it comes to backpacks for dogs to wear on the trails, Ruffwear is the undisputed leader, for large through to small dogs.
Their popular saddlebag-style Approach pack is ideal for full-day hikes with your dog, is easy to put on, well-padded, and comes with adjustable neck, chest, and belly straps.
This Ruffwear pack comes in a range of great colors, each with reflective trim and contrasting zipper details.
- Available sizes: XS to XL (range of 17-42 inch chest)
- Price: $79.95 at Ruffwear
- Volume: 7L to 24L depending on size
- Weight: 0.8lb to 1.3lb depending on size
- Good to know: Features a grab handle and back leash attachment
Ruffwear Front Range Day Pack [Runner Up]
Ruffwear’s Front Range pack is based on their popular Front Range dog hiking harness, but with the addition of storage.
This pack is one of the best if you don’t want the more traditional saddlebag style and don’t need as much volume capacity – great for shorter hikes and day trips.
It features secure and adjustable chest straps which help ensure a snug fit, with little movement (super important to avoid chafing, especially on short-haired dogs), and durable polyester ripstop material.
We really like how easy this pack is to put on. It’s available in a range of sizes to suit small through to large dogs, and a range of vibrant colors.
For multiple days when your dog needs to carry even more gear, for example for multi-day hiking trips, also look at Ruffwear’s Palisades pack, which can also be used as a harness if you remove the saddlebags.
- Available sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (range of 17-42 inch chest)
- Price: $79.95 at Ruffwear / $80 at Amazon
- Volume: 4.5L to 18.5L, depending on size
- Weight: 0.7lb to 1.35lb
- Good to know: This pack has a wide range of sizes and comes with three leash attachment points, including a chest attachment (which may help for dogs that pull)
Kurgo Baxter Dog Backpack Harness | BEST FOR LARGE DOGS [Winner]
If you’re looking for dog saddle bags, the Baxter pack from Kurgo is a popular choice, especially if you have a larger dog as this pack can fit chests up to 48 inches in circumference and has 8 different adjustment points to get the right fit so it stays snug without shifting about when your dog moves (you can see the location of these points in this video).
This pack is also a great choice if your dog has specific physical features that make it difficult for less adjustable gear to fit comfortably, such as a particularly broad chest.
Like the Ruffwear pack above, this Kurgo pack is a dog harness and backpack in one, and includes sturdy leash attachments and adjustable chest and neck straps.
- Available sizes: ‘Baxter’ for 30-85lb dogs (27-40 inch) or ‘Big Baxter’ for 50-110lb dogs (30-48 inch)
- Price: $58 at Amazon
- Volume: 3.75l or 7.5l depending on size
- Weight: ~1.2lb
- Good to know: The saddle bags are not removable but are adjustable up and down
Mountainsmith K9 Backpack [Runner Up]
This Mountainsmith K9 pack is another great choice if you’re looking for a very adjustable dog backpack.
Similar in appearance to the Kurgo Baxter, it has four points of adjustment around the chest, as well as an adjustable back harness and is made using perforated EVA foam and mesh, designed to help keep your dog cool while wearing it on the trails.
- Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large (range of 20-44 inch chest)
- Price: $70 at Backcountry
- Volume: 3, 5 or 9 liters per pannier (double for the whole pack)
- Weight: 16oz to 1lb 7oz
- Good to know: The tubular grab handle is comfortable and ergonomic to use if you need to grab your dog in a hurry
Ruffwear Switchbak | BEST FOR RUNNING [WINNER]
New for 2021, the Switchbak is a dog hiking harness with pockets, which makes it ideal for short hikes running with your dog where your dog can carry some essentials but doesn’t need to be weighed down by saddle bags.
It looks like the Front Range pack above, but has a smaller volume and is better suited to more fast-and-light and minimal trail hikes and runs.
This is a great choice if you run trails with your dog and don’t want to carry all their stuff yourself, especially those full poo bags.
Our resident trail dog has this in red and won’t stop raving about how sleek and comfortable it is when he wears it on hikes and trail runs.
- Available sizes: XS to XL (range of 17 42 inch chest)
- Price: $59.95 at Ruffwear / $60 at Amazon
- Volume: 1.7L to 7.5L
- Weight: n/a
- Good to know: This pack has both back and chest leash attachment points
Ultimate Direction Dog Vest [Runner Up]
A newcomer to the dog pack market, Ultimate Direction has long been known as a US company specializing in running and hiking hydration packs for people.
In 2021 they released their dog running vest, which is designed to be comfortable and lightweight for your dog to wear when running or hiking on the trails.
This dog running pack has a larger volume capacity and more pockets than the Ruffwear Switchbak, but is quite a bit more expensive.
If you are already a trail runner with your own hydration vest then you can get your dog this pack and really be ‘twinning’ with them out on the trails 🙂
- Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large (range of 22-42 inch chest)
- Price: $80 at Amazon
- Volume: 5.8 to 10.3 liters
- Weight: ~10.7oz
- Good to know: Comes with a collapsible water bowl and snack bag
One Tigris Mammoth Dog Pack | BEST TACTICAL
This is a great value dog hiking pack, especially if you like the ‘tactical’ look of OneTigris’s dog gear, which is known for being overbuilt and in this style.
This tactical pack is made using tough 1000D nylon, to stand up to all the wear and tear your dog can throw at it, and it uses hook-and-loop fasteners overlaid with clips for an extra-secure fit.
This rugged pack is available in black, camo and green and we like the ability to add patches for personalization using the loop styling on the sides.
- Available sizes: Medium, Large (range of 25-36 inch chest)
- Price: $38 at Amazon
- Volume: 6 liters
- Weight: ~1lb
- Good to know: The pack has velcro for attaching patches on each saddle bag
Outward Hound DayPak | BEST BUDGET
Outward Hound’s dog ‘DayPak‘ is one of their bestselling packs, and at this price point with all those features, it’s easy to see why.
While you can’t expect the pack or its clips to be as durable as the other more premium bags on this list (so not the best choice for heavier or bulkier gear, or dogs that pull).
This is a great value pack if you want your dog to carry stuff while you walk or hike together. To see how the pack looks when worn, watch this short video.
- Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large (range of 11-32 inch chest)
- Price: From $18
- Volume: n/a
- Weight: n/a
- Good to know: This pack includes four storage pockets and a grab handle with a back D-ring attachment.
Dog backpacks buyer’s guide | How to choose one for your dog
If you’re planning to go hiking with your dog, or to another place where you may like them to carry some of their own gear, as well as potentially some of yours, then a dog backpack can be a great idea.
Here’s what to consider when working out which pack would suit your dog the best, as well as important considerations to ensure your dog is comfortable and safe when wearing a pack.
- Is it safe for your dog to wear a backpack?
- Choosing the right size pack
- Features to look for when choosing a backpack for your dog
- Training your dog to wear a backpack
- What to carry in your dog’s saddle bags
Is it safe for your dog to wear a backpack?
Your dog’s vet is the best person to ask about your specific dog’s needs. Most healthy, able-bodied dogs are able to comfortably wear a well-fitting pack.
Generally, it is often recommended that puppies and dogs with certain health conditions do not wear these packs.
Puppies have growing bodies and expecting them to carry additional weight can cause them harm, so you may need to wait until your dog is at least 12, or even 18 months old, for some larger breeds.
For able-bodied dogs, your vet will be able to advise what is a suitable weight they would be ok to carry.
Similar to the guidance offered to people looking to carry weight in a daypack, commonly-given guidance includes dogs should not carry more than 25% of their body weight to avoid the risk of injury, and it is safer to keep the overall pack weight to less than 10%.
This may be especially the case if you are hiking for longer periods, and if your dog is not from a working or herding breed line with the necessary physical fitness and training to be able to safely carry the weight.
It’s important to remember that when hiking with dogs, as well as the impact of the weight on their back, the act of hiking and carrying the extra pounds is more physically exertive from a cardio perspective.
The pack weight will also add to impact on other parts of their body, such as hips, knees, and paws, as well as their balance, just as you would feel the impact of hiking with a backpack on compared to going without.
How to get the right size dog pack
Each of the dog brands mentioned in this post will offer their own guidance on how to measure your dog to ensure you select the most appropriate size for them.
For most packs, the most important measurement is their chest circumference behind the front legs (also referred to as ‘girth’).
If you have a larger dog, this is particularly important, as some brands’ ‘Large’ size may be too small for them, so it’s best to find out before you order a pack, if buying it online.
When measuring our dog for new gear, we measure his chest (and any other dimensions as needed) with a soft sewing tape measure, and you can also use a leash or piece of string to take the measurement, and compare that to a tape measure when laid out flat.
If your dog’s size will fit two sizes (as the dimensions often overlap), then consider whether the volume of the pack’s saddle bags increases with the larger sizes and whether that is necessary or important to you compared to how much stuff you plan for your dog to carry with them.
This may influence whether or not you decide to choose the larger size.
When fitting your dog’s pack, pay attention to the location of the padding, straps, and fasteners, especially where the clips lie on your dog’s body, and whether any of the straps touch or rub on areas such as your dog’s neck or armpits when they move, which will likely cause rubbing and pain if not corrected.
This may be more of an issue for short-hair dogs, although if your dog has longer hair then it pays to be careful to ensure the fasteners don’t catch their hair when you secure them.
Features to look for when choosing the best backpack for your dog
The following are features to look out for when choosing which pack is best for your dog:
- Adjustability and fit options – especially important if you find it difficult to get good-fitting gear and clothes for your dog’s body shape
- Fastener style – most packs use plastic pinch-clips, which sit on top of padded foam material to ensure they don’t rub against your dog’s body when they move
- Pack volume capacity – sleeker, more minimal packs tend to have lower volumes but still enough space to carry essentials. Larger, saddle bag-style packs offer greater capacity and are therefore better for longer trips
- Material – most dog packs, like human backpacks, are made using durable, water-resistant ripstop nylon (man-made) material, as well as extra padding and mesh to help with fit, comfort, and ventilation
- Leash attachment points – if you plan to use a leash with your dog’s backpack rather than with their collar, then look at the locations on the pack where you can clip it on. Some packs offer front chest attachment points as well as back clip locations.
Tips for training your dog to wear a backpack
If your dog is new to wearing packs, or clothing, then it may take some time to condition them to being comfortable and happy wearing their new gear.
Often, some food and playtime while wearing the empty pack can be enough to make them forget they have it on or enjoy having it on because pack = fun times.
The first few times your dog wears their new pack, it can be helpful to keep the saddle bags empty.
Alternatively, if you have bubble wrap or the air-filled packaging that comes in some parcel deliveries, you can use these to fill the pack’s panniers so they have a more typical shape than simply being empty.
It helps to build a positive association to the backpack by using food and/or toys and play to help them enjoy wearing the pack just around the house and on short walks to start with.
If you’re in need of some durable and fun new toys for your dog, head over to our best dog toys list for some ideas.
Having them wear the pack around the house and near home also helps you check you have a good fit and make any adjustments without having to do so when out on a hiking trail.
After some of this conditioning, our resident trail dog loves his hiking pack as it means he’s going out on some kind of adventure!
That doesn’t stop him standing still (statue-like) for a minute or so every time we put it on him, but he soon forgets he has the pack on, and it actually helps him be calmer and focused when out on the trails and around other dogs and trail-users if he is carrying a pack and doing that ‘job’ (as opposed to trying to herd people).
Make sure you pack your dog’s backpack so the weight is evenly balanced on either side. Getting a balance between sides is key to making sure that the pack is as comfortable for your dog to wear as possible, as well as reducing the possibility of the pack sliding around or shifting when your dog moves, which can cause rubbing or discomfort.
What to carry in the dog saddle bags
Popular items to place in your dog’s hiking pack include:
- Poo bags (both empty and full)
- Toys, such as a tug, ball, or frisbee, if you plan to play at some point on your hike
- Dog first aid kit
- Hydration: water and a collapsible water bowl
- Cooling vest (like this Ruffwear one or this Kurgo one)
- A warm layer (like this dog sweater)
- Paw balm (like Musher’s Secret)
If you are taking your dog on long hikes and even overnight, then larger dog backpacks can also be used to carry additional gear, such as some of their food, more water, and a compact sleeping pad and dog sleeping bag.
Pro tip: as water is often heavy but gets lighter as your dog drinks it during a long hike, consider taking two water bottles and using them alternately, so the overall weight reduction affects both sides of the pack and one side isn’t overly heavier than the other by the end of your hike when you’re low on water.
Looking for a human backpack to match your dog while backpacking on the trails? Read our Best Backpacking Backpacks buyer’s guide next.
Now you’ve read the dog backpack buyer’s guide, click here to jump up and see our list of the best dog backpacks, or if you’re looking for a dog hiking harness, we’ve included some of the best options in this post that are great for hiking as well as trail running with your dog.