Backpacks: Give Your Dog a Job – How to pick the right one?

Backpacks on dogs are increasingly popular. For neighborhood walks, backpacks provide a sense of purpose, and encourage dogs to focus on the task at hand, expending more energy on their walks than they would without the backpack on.

Additionally, backpacks can have a calming effect on dogs with fear aggression. They seem to work much the same way the ThunderShirt does, by wrapping the upper body and applying the same soothing pressure to it.

For those who love to camp and bring their best friend along, backpacks allow your dog to carry his own weight.  Water, food, bowls and treats can be easily stored in the saddlebags.  Prepare your dog for long excursions by starting out on short walks with an empty pack, then gradually increase the load.

Whether you are looking for a backpack for light excursions or long treks, there are several features you will want to take into consideration, as the various dog backpacks are not built the same. We have selected 5 of the top selling and top rated dog backpacks and reviewed them with an eye toward comfort, durability and best value.

(Scroll down to the bottom of the article to see videos of these backpacks in action)

Dog Backpacks 101 – The basics

  •  A dog should never carry more than 25% of his proper body weight (don’t add more just because he is over weight)
  • All packs must be loaded with even weight distribution or they will sag to the over-weighted side
  • Adding 1 liter water bottles to the packs is great for increasing the load and your pup’s concentration.  For smaller dogs add weight by adding zip lock bags filled with dry beans or rice.

Dog owners will have different considerations to take into account depending on the primary intended use of the backpack. In either instance you will want a backpack that fits securely and does not roll with the dogs stride, ultimately causing chaffing or sores.Dog Backpack Buyers Guide

Hikers will need to consider both the in-town features as well as the long excursion features below.

Important Features for Backpacks Used for Neighborhood Walks

  • Fit and Comfort: look for fully adjustable 5 point chest and girth straps.
  • Avoid putting weight on the loin area of the dog.  The weight should be distributed with the greatest weight at the shoulders, then lessening the load on the back as the pack extends to where the rib cage stops. The back pack should not put stress beyond that point on the spine (the loin area).
  • Shorter dogs will need shallow saddlebags; they should reach no farther down than 1 inch above the elbow of the dog.
  • Your climate determines the proper backpack for your dog. For those in hot climates should look for a backpack with a mesh harness or water bladders to dissipate the heat.
  • “Y” designed chest straps help stabilize packs and reduces strain on the neck.
  • Reflective tape and bright colors improve visibility for both you and your dog for motorist on rainy days and low light conditions. “Safety Orange” is a popular color for neighborhood walks


Important Features for Extended Hiking Excursions

  • Choose a light weight pack at around one pound or less. Your dog will be carrying his supplies and will tire quickly toting a heavy pack in addition to his supplies.
  • Look for a sturdy padded handle to help lift your dog through rough terrain and over obstacles.
  • Wide, padded girth straps will assist you in comfortably lifting your dog over obstacles.
  • Choose a backpack with removable saddlebags, for crossing streams and comfortable rest stops.
  • Water resistant material helps preserve food and treats in rain and stream crossings. (Use Ziplock baggies to protect food on overnight hikes)
  • Bright color backpacks can aid in rescue should your dog accidentally get separated from you in the wilderness.
  • Look for saddlebags that taper towards the rear of the dog as they place the bulk of the weight on the shoulders rather than the spine of the dog.
  • Padded harnesses reduce wear on the dog and the possibility of sores or hot spots.
  • Select a backpack with tough nylon material or rip stop especially if you will be hiking in an area with rock faces that could tear open the pack.

Outward Hound Backpacks with Removable Saddlebags– The Number 1 Best Selling Backpack

Outward  Hound by Kyjen is renowned from making affordable and durable outdoors gear for dogs of all sizes.  Made from the same material as their life jackets, these backpacks are great for neighborhood walks, but not durable enough for the rigors of trail hiking.

For in-town use, the backpacks are ideally tapered and can easily accommodate 1 liter water bottles to add weight and to help focus to the dog. Treats can be stowed in its pockets, which make the backpack that much more pleasurable to wear.

However, backpackers complained that when heavily loaded, the removable saddlebags did just that.  The packs tended to roll to one side or another if not perfectly balanced, and in some instances slipped off of the Velcro harness attachments entirely.


  • Affordable starting at $24.95
  • Sturdy Construction
  • Tapered design keeps weight focused on the shoulders of the dog
  • Lightweight material
  • Removable Saddlebags
  • Bright colors and reflective accents improve visibility on roads.
  • Water bottle holders with elastic straps and mesh pockets for treats, ice packs and keys


  • Not Waterproof or particularly water resistant
  • Tends to shift easily if load is not perfectly balanced especially on steep inclines and rough terrain.
  • Girth Straps are narrow and handle is not padded, so not a great solution for lifting dogs over obstacles.
  • No leash attachment on the backpack harness, you will need a collar or another harness under the backpack.
  • Material is not made with rip stop.
  • Some users experienced buckles snapping in temperatures below freezing.

Recommendation:  This is a great backpack for neighborhood walks, and used in a suburban setting is should last for years.  However, we don’t recommend this for hiking the Appalachian Trail. Those wanting to navigate steep terrain with sharp rock faces will do better with one of the more expensive, heavy duty backpacks (See Reviews below).

Note: Kyjen does make another model, the Kyjen Excursion, with a padded harness and D-ring connector built into the harness.  However, it places much of the weight on the center of the spine and the saddlebags are not removable.  The Excursion is not a model we recommend.

The Kurgo Wander Dog Pack – One Size Fits All

Another popular dog backpack is the unique Kurgo Wander Dog Pack. This has a universal design; one size fits all, as long as your dog is between 30-85 pounds. It seems that is pack is better suited to dogs 35 pounds and up.

The leash ring is situated at the back of the harness nearest to the tail.  This improves control over the dog and comfort of the pack.

The relatively small harness contours to the dog to support the rather small saddlebags. Each bag will hold one 16 ounce bottle of water and another small thing or two such as keys or a cell phone. The small size of the harness provides some ventilation, making this a good warm weather pack.


  • Affordable at $26.99
  • Side pockets don’t hang too low
  • Easily Adjustable straps – Universal fit – adjusts to accommodate dogs 30 – 85 lbs
  • Lightweight
  • Rear mounted leash hook for added control
  • Unique ASB (Adjustable Saddle Bag) system achieves a customized fit for your dog
  • Saddle bag individual dimensions: 10″ long x 6″ Height x 3″ Deep
  • Water resistant


  • If there are no weights in the pockets it tends to slide to one side
  • If you need lots of room in the pockets this pack isn’t for you. Total volume: 3.75L = 230 cubic inches = 125oz
  • Straps tend to loosen 20 minutes into the walk (which is typical of many packbacks), some users remedied this by sewing the straps in the correct position and cutting off the excess strap material.
  • 15% of users have experienced splitting seems early into ownership.  All Kurgo products come with a Lifetime Warranty, so contact the manufacturer if you have an issue.

Recommendation:  This is a nice pack for short hikes and neighborhood walks. Your dog will be able to carry two water bottles on the trip. The saddlebags themselves are too small to carry any meaningful loads for long excursions. Over stuffing the saddlebags is likely to stress the seams and zippers.

Ruffwear PalisadesThe Cadillac of Dog Backpacks

The Ruffware Pallisades has all of the bells and whistles any serious hiker would like to see appointing their best friend. The saddlebags are positioned in a weight forward design and are easily detached for rests and crossing streams. This pack and the Ruffwear Approach have the best balancing design of any of the packs tested.

Designed for long hikes and camping, the pouches have enough capacity to hold 2 liters of water, food for up to 3 days and collapsible food and water bowls. Keep in mind when loading it up that a dog should not carry more than 25% of his body weight.

The strong padded handle with complementary padded girth straps make this a comfortable pack for both hiker and dog when assistance is required.

The pack comes with two collapsible plastic water bladders that are positioned to protect the dog from the gear and work as a cooling system.


  • Removable saddlebags for rest stops or water crossings
  • A modified Web Master™ Harness frame with four attachment points provides load stability and weight distribution
  • 1680 denier ballistic nylon
  • Collapsible, BPA-free water bottles, 2 included, each with a 1L capacity
  • Load compression system secures the load
  • Padded assistance handle makes it easy to help dogs up and over obstacles
  • Padded Girth Straps
  • Trail-ready details: stash pockets and external gear loops
  • Single-piece, anodized aluminum V-ring leash attachment provides a secure leash attachment point
  • Low-light visibility with reflective trim


Interesting one price fits all pricing scheme. No matter your size you will pay one price and a stiff price point at that, ranging from $129.00 – $149.00.

Recommendation: This is a great pack for any situation, neighborhoods, trails warm or cool weather.  If you are camping consider purchasing this pack or its little brother, the Ruffwear Approach reviewed below.

Ruff Wear ApproachHighest in Customer Satisfaction

Customers can’t think of anything negative to say about this pack, unless they are used to removable saddlebags.  That is the single drawback we can find with this dog pack.

The Ruffwear Approach is a slightly scaled back version of the Palisades, and if money is a consideration the Approach will amply provide the most bang for your buck. It does not come with the collapsible water bladders that the Palisades comes with, and as we mentioned the saddlebags are sewn to the harness.

Like its big brother, the Approach is made with ultra durable 1680 denier ballistic nylon with solid stitching on the seams. Well tailored, this pack fits most dogs securely. Again the packs hold a lot of goodies, so be careful not to overload your dog.  25% of his body weight is the most he should carry.


  • Attached saddlebags feature an efficient weight forward design
  • The Web Master Harness frame provides load ventilation as well as stability and weight distribution
  • Padded assistance handle and girth straps make it easy to help dogs up and over obstacles
  • Trail-ready details such as stash pockets, coated zippers and external gear loops
  • Y-breast strap and 5 different adjustments to fit your dog.
  • Soft padding in sensitive areas.
  • Great handle and sturdy leash hook.


  • Still an expensive pack starting at $79.95
  • NOT waterproof, so put things in plastic bags when hiking.
  • Saddlebags are NOT detachable

Granite Gear Alpha Dog Pack – Best Pack for Dogs with Small Torsos

The low profile bags of the Granite Gear Alpha Dog Pack make this pack ideal for dogs with a short distance from the shoulder to the elbow. Heavy duty, this backpack is appropriate for city streets as well as the Rocky Mountains!

The zippers on this pack are large and sturdy, and are easy to operate with gloves on.


  • Weight forward and ergonomically designed to fit the contours of your dog
  • Padded for comfort
  • Adjustable for a custom fit
  • Dual-side interior zipper pockets for organization, each side can hold 2 1- liter water bottles
  • Leash hook on the rear of the pack
  • Large reflective accents for visibility from all directions
  • Saddlebags hold a lot of stuff, be careful not to over load your dog:
  • Size Small Volume: 8 liters / 488 cubic inches
  • Size Medium Volume: 12 liters / 732 cubic inches
  • Size Large Volume: 16 liters / 976 cubic inches


  • Saddlebags are Not detachable
  • Handle on top is not well padded

Recommendation: This pack tends to run large, so if your dog is near the sizing break point, go down to the smaller size.  This pack is comparable in price and quality to the Ruffwear Approach pack.  Choose between them based on your personal style preference and the build of your dog.

The each of the packs reviewed is examined in the videos below. The packs are turned inside out so you can find the one that suits your needs best. Many of them look quite different fully loaded on the dog.

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