The only thing better than getting outside for a hike is bringing your four-legged best friend along with you.
Dogs are avid hikers, excited to explore new trails and smell everything they can along the way. Better yet, hiking is a low-stress way to get some of your dog’s energy out and keep them fit and healthy. Taking your dog hiking regularly can help stave off joint problems and behavioral problems that result in part from not getting enough exercise.
On top of that, bringing a dog out on the trail can enhance your own hiking experience. Hiking with a dog forces you to stop and take notice of your surroundings, which can lead to a greater appreciation of the little things along a hike – the wildflowers and trees, for example, and not just the sweeping vistas. For some people, having a dog along can also provide a sense of security when you’re hiking alone.
Just as you need food and water for a long day on the trail, so too does your dog. The best way to carry their food, water, treats, and a bowl is in a dog backpack.
Dog backpacks are designed specifically for hiking with your dog, and most models can easily pack everything your dog needs to spend the day outside. On top of just allowing them to carry their own gear, dog backpacks often reduce dogs’ tendencies to pull when on-leash because they’re focused on the backpack. Once your dog is trained to walk all day with a loaded backpack, you can even graduate them to coming along with you on backpacking trips!
There is a huge variety of dog backpacks on the market, so how do you choose the right backpack for your dog? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to find the perfect dog backpack for your canine companion and highlight 10 of the best dog backpacks you can get right now.
How to Choose the Best Backpack for Your Dog
For better or worse, your dog can’t tell you what he or she wants. Short of taking your dog into the local pet supply store and having them bark at a backpack, it’s up to you to determine what pack will be right for your dog and the hikes you plan to bring them on.
To help with that decision, let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that go into choosing the best hiking backpack for your dog.
- Sizing and Adjustability
The best place to start with choosing a dog backpack is to figure out what size pack your dog needs. Just like for human backpacks, dog backpacks come in a variety of different sizes to fit different breeds of dogs. Manufacturers typically rate their dog packs by weight ranges, but if you have a particularly lean and large dog or a small, heavy dog you may have to size up or down.
Unfortunately, the sizing process requires some trial and error. Not every manufacturer’s size ratings are the same, so if you find a manufacturer you like, it may be worth sticking with them. In general, it’s a good idea to order multiple sizes, try them out on your dog, and return the sizes that don’t fit.
Even a pack that fits won’t be immediately ready to load. You’ll need to adjust it so that it fits snugly on your dog’s back without rubbing. Straps around your dog’s chest, shoulders, and belly should cinch down to the point where they are tight, but not constrictive. If your dog is chafing from the straps, you may need to adjust them to be more loose or add some gauze as padding around the strap edges.
- Capacity and Compartments
The capacity and design of the dog backpack your companion needs depends on how big a trip you’re going on.
The vast majority of dog backpacks are day packs, intended for a long day on the trail. These packs offer enough space to carry a few treats, poop bags, and a water bowl. But, they’re otherwise relatively streamlined and won’t have so much space that you can offload your own gear onto your dog. Many day packs for dogs are suitable even for walks around town, especially if your dog has a habit of pulling at the leash.
If you’re planning on trail running with your dog, it’s worth looking into hydration packs. These packs are like day packs, but even smaller and more streamlined to prevent them from jostling around while your dog runs. Typically, they only have a compartment for a water bladder and don’t offer much additional space.
If you expect to take your dog on a mix of hiking and overnight backpacking trips, a multi-day dog backpack is the way to go. These backpacks typically use removable saddlebags rather than the all-in-one design favored by day packs, as well as offer places where you can secure items to the outside of the backpack. Importantly, multi-day backpacks offer padding around the chest and sides so that your dog doesn’t suffer from chafing as a result of wearing the pack for days on end.
While multi-day packs have a lot of advantages, they tend to be expensive. If you only plan to bring your dog on single-day hikes, or if you’re buying a dog backpack for the first time, it’s a good idea to stick with a day pack.
The design of the harness on dog backpacks varies widely between models and is one of the most important aspects of every dog pack. The harness is responsible for keeping the backpack’s load centered over your dog’s back, while also eliminating chafing and allowing you to control your dog as needed.
In general, the best dog backpacks for hiking feature Y-shaped straps across the chest. These can be adjusted so that even if one side of the pack is loaded more than the other, you can center the pack on your dog’s chest. Just make sure the chest straps don’t have sharp edges, as these can quickly dig into your dog’s skin.
Also look for harnesses that feature removable saddlebags. These packs can be more multi-use, as you can switch out the saddlebags for smaller compartments on days when you’re going for a short hike or a trail run.
Finally, consider how you’ll control your dog. Many harness systems feature a leash point towards the top of your dog’s back, which gives you excellent control over them. However, controlling from the upper back isn’t like having your dog leashed from the neck – if they pull hard, they can easily pull you over. If you have a big dog who likes to take off, you may need a leash attachment point on the chest or to use a collar in addition to the backpack. In addition, many harness systems offer a handle, which is nice for holding your dog next to you while someone else passes by on the trail.
Dogs don’t have the best mechanism for cooling themselves – unlike humans, they can’t sweat. To make matters worse, a backpack necessarily compresses your dog’s fur against their body and traps in body heat.
As a result, having a breathable backpack is extremely important if you are hiking with your dog in the summer heat. Many day packs are built with a breathable mesh to help air move across your dog’s skin, as well as try to reduce the amount of space the straps take up on your dog’s chest and stomach. Having space between the top of the harness system and the saddlebags can also provide places for air to get in and cool off your dog.
In almost all cases, a lighter backpack is a better choice for your dog. Ounces may not matter much on a short hike, but if you’ll be out all day or carrying multi-day gear then single ounces can make a big difference. While every dog owner wants to tire out their pup to some extent, weighing them down with an unnecessarily heavy backpack isn’t the way to do it.
Dogs tend to run around in underbrush and lay down on rocks and dirt if you let them, so it’s important that their backpacks can handle some serious abuse. Although mesh is good for breathability and reducing weight, it can also be susceptible to rips and tears.
Make sure that the hard portions of any dog backpack, including the straps, are made of ripstop nylon or another durable material. Likewise, keep an eye out for reinforced stitching around the edges of compartments and saddlebags. Opting for a dog backpack with a lengthy warranty to protect against manufacturer’s defects is also a good idea.
As much as every dog owner would like to get the best, most expensive pack for their dog, the reality is that budget is a consideration when choosing a dog backpack. Cheap backpacks tend to be made of cheap materials that aren’t that durable, but there are plenty of mid-priced backpacks that punch above their weight. Depending on the features you need and the size of your dog, expect to spend around $15 to $50 on a high-quality dog backpack for hiking.
The 10 Best Dog Backpacks for Hiking – Top rated products in 2020
1. Outward Hound DayPak – Best for Summer Day Hikes
This simple and affordable day pack from Outward Hound is a terrific choice for hot summer trips. The entirety of the harness is made from breathable mesh to promote air flow and keep your dog cool.
The pack features two saddlebag-style pockets, which aren’t removable, on either side of the harness. These pockets are plenty large enough to carry everything your dog might need for a day on the trails, but they’re not so large as to be bulky. Expandable secondary pockets on the outside of the main pockets are nice for storing small items – Outward Hound recommends your ID and car keys, but you probably don’t want to put your dog in charge of those!
The chest straps on this pack are wide enough that they don’t cause chafing, even without additional padding. They’re made from ripstop nylon and are extremely durable, even for heavier dogs who like to pull. Watch out for the durability of the pockets, though – they’re not all that sturdy and can easily rip if they’re rubbed against sharp rocks.
- Breathable mesh harness
- Pockets are a good size for day hiking
- Wide chest straps don’t chafe
- Expandable secondary pockets on main saddlebags
- Pockets can rip easily
2. Fuaojia Dog Backpack – Best Canvas Dog Backpack
This canvas dog backpack from Fuaojia is made entirely from canvas, which makes it somewhat unique among day hiking packs. Canvas is significantly less breathable than mesh, so you won’t want to use this with a furry dog in the middle of summer. But, Fuaojia did include a mesh fabric on the inside of the canvas to help with air flow and breathability.
The advantage to canvas is that it can take a beating. This dog backpack is relatively sturdy and won’t suddenly rip if your dog catches the pack on a rock or tree branch.
The pockets on this day pack are about the same total volume as what other packs offer, but take note that they are somewhat tall and narrow. That can make it a little more difficult to fit bulky items like a water bottle, although if you use a hydration bladder instead you’ll have no problem. The pockets are ideally shaped for carrying a collapsible bowl or a baggie of food.
Also beware that the straps on this backpack are somewhat narrow. While they aren’t overly prone to chafing, you may want to add some padding to them before heading out for a long day.
- Canvas construction is highly durable
- Pockets ideally shaped for collapsible bowl
- Mesh fabric inside canvas for breathability
- Pockets are somewhat narrow for bulkier items
- Chest straps are narrow and can cause chafing
- Canvas can get quite hot in summer
3. Wellver Dog Backpack – Overall Best Dog Backpack
This well-designed day pack from Wellver has almost everything you could ask for. To start, the harness is made from a breathable but sturdy mesh that can keep most dogs cool even in warm summertime hiking conditions.
The saddlebags are made from nylon, but have a stylish and smooth exterior that repels water and holds up well against sharp objects like rocks and branches. There are only the two main compartments available on this backpack, but for day hikes you shouldn’t need more organization in your dog’s pack than this. Helpfully, the pockets are quite large and you can fit some of your own gear in your dog’s pack if you want to.
The pack straps are mostly designed well, with wide nylon straps that won’t cause rubbing and a high-visibility chest pad so you can find your dog in the evening light. However, male dogs may have problems with the rear strap that connects from the tail to the hip.
Note that this backpack is only available in three standard sizes, so you may have to do quite a bit of adjusting to get the pack to fit your dog.
- Breathable mesh harness
- Stylish and durable saddlebags
- Large pockets
- Wide nylon straps don’t cause chafing
- Male dogs may have issues with rear strap
- Only three standard sizes
4. AEXYA Dog Backpack – Best Lightweight Dog Backpack
This is a sturdy rucksack-style backpack suitable for nearly any dog. The harness and saddlebags are constructed from a durable combination of cotton and polyester, which allows it to be both lightweight and breathable. However, beware that this blend can soak through very quickly in the rain and takes quite a while to dry – a great feature for cooling off your dog in the summertime, but potentially dangerous for your best friend in the spring, fall, or winter.
The pockets on this backpack are quite large, which is great if you plan to be out for a full day or want to offload some of your own gear onto your dog. In addition, there are external pockets that expand on the outside of each main pocket. These close loosely with Velcro and are perfect for carrying used poop bags without trapping the stinky smell inside the backpack.
The only complaint we have about this bag is that the straps are relatively narrow, which increases the likelihood of chafing during long days on the trail or if the pack shifts off center slightly.
- Durable cotton and polyester construction
- Large pockets with external Velcro-closure pockets
- Lightweight and breathable
- Straps are relatively narrow
- Dries slowly once wet, which can be a problem in cold temperatures
5. Excellent Elite Spanker Backpack – Best Tactical Dog Backpack
This heavy-duty tactical dog backpack from Excellent Elite is designed to handle anything your dog can do to it. The entire pack is made from 1000D nylon with reinforced stitching along potential weak points. Better yet, it features high-quality YKK zippers so you never have to worry that a broken zipper will be the end of an otherwise great backpack.
The backpack uses a double-wide chest strap, which is ideal for eliminating the chance of chafing during longer days on the trail. However, the Velcro strap closure system can be somewhat unwieldy if you dog doesn’t like to sit still while you put the backpack on. Worse, the Velcro quickly gets matted with fur from your dog and needs to be cleaned frequently.
We loved the design of the harness and saddlebags on this pack. The two saddlebags are spacious, with far more than just space for your dog’s items. Bungee cords on the outside are an ideal place to tie down poop bags and other small items. Better yet, you can put a name tag on the Velcro strip on the outside of the pocket, so your dog always has ID on them.
This backpack is somewhat expensive, so it’s nice to know that Excellent Elite stands behind the company’s craftsmanship – you can return this backpack within the first 90 days for a full refund if you don’t like it or if you find a flaw.
- Heavy-duty 1000D nylon construction
- YKK zippers
- Double-wide chest strap to eliminate chafing
- Extremely spacious saddlebags
- Velcro strip on outside of pocket for ID
- 90-day refund policy
- Nylon construction is not very breathable
- Velcro chest strap gets covered with fur and can be hard to close
6. Mountainsmith K-9 Dog Pack – Best Premium Dog Day Pack
This premium dog backpack is designed for canine companions who hike long distances with some frequency. Mountainsmith clearly put a lot of thought into the design of this backpack, constructing it from 420D ripstop nylon as a compromise between durability, breathability, and weight. They struck a good balance – this backpack is sturdy enough to handle rocky terrain without ripping and weighs just over a pound.
What’s notable about this pack is the harness system. The pack’s wide nylon straps are padded almost everywhere to reduce potential points of chafing for your dog. This does mean that there are pads underneath your dog’s chest and stomach that can hold in heat, but this is significantly less of a problem than chafing on the trail. Furthermore, the space between the top of the harness and the saddlebags allows for extra air flow.
The saddlebags themselves are easily large enough to carry everything your dog needs for a long day out. If you didn’t mind carrying your dog’s sleeping bag, you could even use this day pack for a light overnight hiking trip.
We also liked the small touches that Mountainsmith put on this pack. 3M reflective trim makes it easy to find your dog in the dark with a headlamp, and the padded handle on the top of the harness allows you to closely control your dog when needed.
- 420D nylon construction balances durability, breathability, and weight
- Straps are padded throughout harness
- Very large saddlebags
- 3M reflective trim for visibility
- Air flow thanks to design of harness and saddlebags
7. Kurgo Dog Backpack – Best Saddlebag Design
This unique dog backpack from Kurgo features one of the best saddlebag designs we’ve seen. Kurgo flips the usual dog backpack harness design on its head by allowing the semi-rigid harness shell to extend all the way down your dog’s sides. That allows this to fit snugly on almost any dog and, when tightened down, ensures that it won’t move.
The downside to this wrap-around design is that it doesn’t promote quite as much airflow as a harness that sits only on your dog’s back. But, Kurgo saw this problem and lined the interior of the harness with a wicking mesh material that does an excellent job of keeping your dog cool. Just be sure to clean it out relatively frequently since the mesh pores can become clogged with fur.
The wrap-around harness allows the saddlebags to act like saddlebags are supposed to, hanging down off your dog’s sides where they offer a lower center of gravity and more stability. Better yet, Kurgo designed the saddlebags with straps so that you can adjust them up and down depending on the height of your canine companion. Overall, this makes for a much more comfortable and efficient design for long days and lots of miles on the trail.
As if the design of this bag wasn’t enough, it also comes with a lifetime warranty from Kurgo. That gives us a lot of faith that this bag is as durable as it seems to be thanks to the ripstop nylon construction.
- Wrap-around harness design
- Plush mesh lining inside harness
- Saddlebags can be adjusted for lower center of gravity
- Lifetime warranty
- Saddlebags aren’t removable
8. Lifeunion Polyester Dog Saddlebags – Best Overnight Hiking Dog Backpack
This large dog backpack from Lifeunion is perfect if you think you’ll graduate your dog from day hiking to overnight trips in the near future. The pack features two oversized saddlebag compartments, which are perfect for carrying two days’ worth of food and even stuffing in a dog sleeping bag.
Overall, we really liked the construction of this pack. The saddlebags and harness are made of durable ripstop nylon. The grab handle on top makes it easy to control your dog, and the multiple buckles on the chest strap allow you to take the harness on and off quickly.
The only thing we didn’t love is that there’s no space between the harness and the saddlebags to promote air flow. The harness does have a mesh lining, but it can get relatively hot inside the harness during a summer hike.
A nice touch that Lifeunion added to this backpack is to make it extremely high-vis. The pack colors are all very bright and you’ll find reflective tape along the sides of the saddlebags to help your dog be seen in the dark.
- Large saddlebags are good for multi-day trips
- Durable ripstop nylon construction
- Bright colors and reflective tape
- Mesh lining inside harness
- Not great for air flow
9. OneTigris Dog Pack – Most Durable Dog Backpack
This tactical backpack from OneTigris is designed for the dogs who are notoriously bad at keeping backpacks and any other gear you buy for them intact. The backpack is made of 1000D ripstop nylon, making it one of the most durable backpacks on the market. The leash attachment is secured with a thick strip of nylon as well, so there’s very little chance of that ripping away if your dog pulls suddenly.
The saddlebags on this backpack aren’t huge, but a nice touch is the added external Velcro pockets on the outside of each saddlebag. These provide a little bit of extra space for small items and are the perfect spot to hold a poop bag while still allowing it to vent.
The elongated design of the harness on this backpack prevents it from shifting much, which helps to eliminate chafing. However, beware that if the harness doesn’t fit all that well on your dog, the relatively thin nylon straps across the chest can dig into their skin.
We did have a few minor gripes about this backpack. There is no grab handle on the top of the harness for holding your dog close by when someone is passing on the trail. In addition, most versions that OneTigris makes of this backpack are available in black – which can heat up quickly and bake your dog under the hot summer sun.
- 1000D ripstop nylon construction
- External Velcro pockets on outside of each saddlebag
- Elongated harness design is very stable
- No grab handle on top of harness
- Black color can heat up quickly in direct sun
10. RUFFWEAR Approach Pack – Best Adventure Hiking Dog Backpack
RUFFWEAR is perhaps the best-known brand in the world of dog hiking packs, and their Approach pack stands up to the quality that the company’s name is synonymous with.
The Approach backpack features an elongated harness that is extremely stable on almost any breed of dog. While the exterior of the harness is covered in ripstop nylon to protect it against rocks and branches, the interior is padded mesh to maximize air flow and breathability for your dog. A cutout beneath the top grab handle also allows heat to escape from your dog’s back.
We liked the amount of thought that RUFFWEAR put into the strap system on this backpack. The underbelly strap runs horizontal so it works well for male and female dogs alike. Plus, the straps are padded so you never have to worry about chafing on your dog’s exposed stomach skin.
The saddlebags themselves are quite large, although we would have liked to see bungie cord around the outside to allow more external carry (for example, for poop bags). It’s also hard to know what to do with the small ID-style compartments that are sewn into the top of each saddlebag.
- Highly stable harness design
- Excellent breathability and cooling
- Padded strap system is good for almost every dog
- Large saddlebags
- No exterior bungie cords or tie-down points
5 Tips for Hiking with Dogs
If you’ve never hiked with your dog before, the idea of taking your dog out into a foreign environment for the entire day can seem daunting. But, hiking is meant to be a fun experience for both you and your dog. With these five tips, you can ensure that hiking with your dog is safe and enjoyable for you, your dog, and anyone else you meet on the trail.
1. Keep Your Dog on Leash Where Required
Even in the great outdoors, a lot of trails have leash laws. While it might be tempting to let your dog roam free, there are a lot of good reasons why these leash laws are in place. Not everyone on the trail likes your dog as much as you do, your dog can leave poop away from the trail when they’re out of sight, and off-leash dogs can chase and disturb wild animals who aren’t used to their presence.
Before you head out, check to see what the dog regulations around the trail you plan to hike on are. Many trails that require a leash require it to be six feet or less in length. Some trails, like those in the National Parks, don’t allow dogs at all.
If you do find an off-leash trail or an off-leash area within a trail, feel free to let your dog roam as long as they are responsive to commands.
2. Bring More Poop Bags Than You Think You Need
Always pick up after your dog when on the trail. No one wants to step in dog poop during their own relaxing hike, and dog poop left in the woods doesn’t decompose as well as you might think it would.
With that in mind, always bring more poop bags than you think you’ll need for a day on the trail. Poop bags are cheap and weigh next to nothing, so it’s far better to have too many than too few. Depending on what pockets your dog’s backpack has, you can even have them carry their own poop bags for the rest of the day.
3. Bring Water for Two
You may have no problem to remember bringing treats along for your dog, but it’s important to remember to pack them their own supply of water in addition to what you’re bringing for yourself. Dogs aren’t very good at cooling themselves during hot hikes, so it’s extra important that they have plenty of water to drink throughout the day. Remember that dogs aren’t great at drinking the last dregs of water from a bowl, either, so you’ll need even a little bit more than you might think.
4. Bring a First Aid Kit
You don’t want to think about anything bad happening to your dog on the trail, and 99 hikes out of 100 they’ll be fine. But it’s a good idea to be prepared in case they do get injured while hiking.
Most dog backpacks provide plenty of space to throw in a first aid kit that you can use to treat your dog in case they get cut by rocks or develop a limp mid-hike. Keep in mind that if you want to put painkillers in the first aid kit, you’ll need to consult a vet for what’s safe to give to your dog.
5. Respect Your Dog’s Fitness
If your dog has never been hiking before, it’s a good idea to start them off slow. Dogs are notoriously poor judges of their own fitness, and many dogs will push themselves as far as you want them to go – even if it’s not good for them. Be realistic about the shape your dog is in, and work up to big hikes gradually.
The same goes for older dogs. Even if your companion was once able to hike 20 miles in a day, that doesn’t mean they still can if five or more years have gone by. When hiking with an older dog, you’ll need to adjust your pace and mileage accordingly.
FAQs About Dog Backpack
Taking your canine companion hiking is good for both you and your dog. The best way to carry your dog’s food, water, and treats for the day is to make them carry it themselves in a dog backpack – that way, they get some extra energy out and you don’t have to suffer under the weight of extra stuff in your own backpack. With our guide and reviews of the 10 best dog backpacks on the market today, we’ve made it easy for you to find the perfect hiking pack for your dog so you can hit the trails.