Gear Guide: How To Choose A Dog Backpack For Hiking


April 4, 2018

How To Choose A Dog Backpack


Pawtivity’s Gear Guides are here to help you learn how you can pick the best gear for your dog.

Instead of reading specific reviews of branded products, it’s useful to get an overview first of general features to look out for when choosing the best gear for your dog by fit and use.

This gear guide will cover dog backpacks for day hiking use. Dogs should be over a year old and well-trained to go hiking before they start carrying their own backpack. Consult your vet for more guidance on specific requirements suitable to your dog’s unique needs.




Even if you are going on a day hike, you still need to carry equipment and gear for you and your dog. Lessen your load by giving your dog something to carry. Some say your dog actually becomes more focused, calm and more compliant with a dog backpack on. Sounds good!

Dog backpacks provide your dog with added weight to give them more exercise while on a hike. This is necessary for more athletic dogs that need a challenging workout. Dog backpacks also make it easier to keep your dog still and attend to his needs without freeing up your hands just to take off your own backpack.



If your dog is new to wearing a dog backpack, don’t put anything in it. Give your dog time to get used to the bag. Add more weight over time. Most dogs will be able to carry about 10% of their weight. Stronger breeds can carry up to 25% of their weight. Each side of the backpack should be weighted evenly so as not to throw of your dog’s natural gait or running stance. Doing so may force your dog to favor one side and cause him injury.

Items that you may put your dog’s backpack include:

  • Water
  • Water Bladder – Instead of bringing a bottle, consider getting a water bladder or pouch that distributes water weight more evenly in your dog’s backpack. You can buy these separately, but some dog backpacks come with them.
  • Bowl – You will want something very portable.
  • Poop Bags & Ziplock Bag
  • Shovel
  • Kibble & Treats
  • Doggy First Aid Kit
  • Towel
  • Coat or Rain Coat
  • Wipes
  • Paw Balm or Wax
  • Frozen Water Bottles – Extra water supply that helps cool your dog down.
  • Extra Leash
  • Chew Toy / Favorite Toy
  • Waterproof Mat

Any extra items that don’t belong to your dog should be non-essential hiking items. If you and your dog should get separated, you don’t want anything you may need with your dog. Do not give your dog any valuables, keys, or non-waterproof electronic devices to carry.



Durability – Consider a dog backpack an investment. You want it to last a long time and not snag and tear on any brush your dog happens to walk or run past. Pay attention to how well the bag is stitched at the seams. The best fabrics to consider are rip-stop nylon or cotton canvas.

Breathability – This may a more important feature if you are doing more strenuous hiking, biking, running, or other workout that will make your dog heat up quickly along the back and shoulder areas.

Water-Resistant / Waterproof – We think all bags should at least be water-resistant and quick drying. If you are out hiking through deeper water or wet weather, you’ll want something that is waterproof, otherwise your dog will have a lot more weight to carry from a wet backpack. Wet straps may also chafe against your dog’s skin. Use ziplock bags to keep items dry inside the backpack.

Padding & Grips – Padding helps provide more comfort to your dog. The best area for padding are along the straps and …. Padding can help prevent rubbing or chafing. Some packs have added grip to ??

Access to Leash Attachments – Many dog backpacks come with a separate ring where you can attach your dog’s leash or any other items. You’ll need to make sure that the placement is somewhere your dog is used to.

Carry Handle or Haul Strap – Some like being able to grab their dog by a strap to get a more secure hold on their dog. This may prove more useful for a hunting dog or a dog you may want to hold back on purpose. The handle also helps if you need to guide your dog over difficult terrain. If you have a small dog, you likely won’t need this handle.

Reflective Strip – This is useful for added visibility in the dark. Not all bags have these, so it’s good to consider if you do a lot of evening hikes or trail runs. Some backpacks come with 360 degrees of reflectivity.

Pockets – Some dog backpacks come with a number of zippered pockets. Deciding how many you need really depends on what you bring and if you like things compartmentalized. The more smaller items you have, the more need you may have for pockets. Some backpacks give your expandable or removable pockets so you can carry more just if you need it or easily handle certain items. At the very least, it’s wise to separate out food and water from any bags of dog poop. We suggest bringing a ziplock bag for used poop bag. The ziplock bag will help contain the smell and prevent accidental leakage.

Color – If your dog is off leash a lot you may want to consider getting your dog a backpack that is highly visible during the daytime. Choose a bright color such as red, yellow, or orange so you can spot your dog easily. If you are in an area that allows hunting, wear orange.



Pack Sizing – The size of your dog and average length of time out on the trails will matter greatly in your choice of a dog backpack. Some packs, for example, are not made for very small dogs. They won’t be able to carry too much anyway. Make sure the main pocket doesn’t come down too far down the side of your dog so it bumps against his belly. Remember that the larger the pack size, the more you need to pay attention to giving each side even balance.

Integrated Harness – While you can use a harness under a dog backpack, it’s better to get a backpack with an integrated harness that will give you better control of your dog if he likes to jump or lunge forward. If your dog is active, they will prefer wearing the integrated harness.

Adjustable Straps – You will want to look for a backpack with adjustable straps that don’t slip easily with your dog’s movements. Adjustable straps can be found to give a better fit in the chest and sides. We highly recommend getting a backpack with an adjustable chest strap which will provide more stability. Steer clear of thin straps that may cut into your dog more.

Backpack Weight / Bulk – Weight and bulk may come into play more if your dog is doing strenuous hiking or running that may require a more streamlined and lighter fit so that he can move without feeling a substantial load. You also want the main part of the backpack to sit above the dog’s shoulders and not the middle or lower back. Carrying too much load in the back may lead to injury.

Manufacturer Fit – Each dog backpack manufacturer will have their own guidelines on measuring your dog for a backpack that fits them well. There’s never a one size fits all backpack and most will ask you to measure the girth (thickest part of your dog’s rib cage), neck, and consider your dog’s weight. It’s also important that the backpack doesn’t fit too far down the back of your dog as you want the bag to fit over your dog’s shoulders. If you really want to see how a backpack fits on your dog, go to a retail store where you can try on different backpacks on your dog.

Return Policy – You may have to go through two or three backpacks until you find the right fit for your dog. It may be wise to choose a retailer or manufacturer that has a more flexible return policy so you give your dog enough time to try on the backpack and take it out for a few walks around your house just to test how well it fits. The Return policy will vary by retailer and manufacturer.



If you’ve purchased a dog backpack and are testing it out on your dog, here are some red flags to watch out for that indicate a poor fit for your dog.

  • Backpack shifts and slides easily on the side and from front to back.
  • Straps rub or chafe against your dog’s chest or by your dog’s legs.
  • Backpack restricts walking or running movement by your dog.
  • The weight of the bag doesn’t sit too much at the top of your dog, but rather by your dog’s shoulders.
  • If your dog is running, the backpack should not be flopping up and down. It should remain snug to your dog’s body.
  • Backpack extends too far down the dog’s back. You want it over your dog’s shoulders.


How did you pick a dog backpack for your dog?


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Related Pawtivities: Pup’s Pack – HikingBest Dog Backpack?, Gear Roundup: Hiking, Hiking, Backpacking
Activities: Hiking, Backpacking, Great Outdoors, Running, Trail Running, Canicross, Biking, Camping

About the Author

Life is an endless journey with a dog at your side. Find your next dog friendly adventure on Pawtivity!  We are a community that inspires and captures the stories of our dogs.

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