Best Dog Backpack for Hiking: 7 Top Packs for Your Pooch

Instead of adding more weight to your pack, why not let your pup carry their own backpack? Learn which models are best for four-legged hikers in our best dog backpack guide.

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Best Doggie Backpacks for Trail Time With Your Canine

Looking for the best backpack for dogs?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Why you should let your furry friend carry some of the load!
    • Review of 7 great dog backpacks
    • Our recommendation of the best backpack for dogs overall
    • A selection of dog hiking backpacks for both small dogs and larger dogs

If your dog could use a mental and physical challenge, why not have them carry their own gear? A doggy backpack is a practical tool that can help your pup burn off excess energy while having a fun job to do.

As with hiking gear for humans, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to dog backpacks. The last thing you want to do is waste your money on a low-quality pack that will be uncomfortable for your pooch or tears after only a few outings on the trail.

For this reason, we’ve created this guide to help you find the best dog backpack for your four-legged hiker. In addition to reviews of our favorite 7 packs, we’ve included lots of tips on how to choose the right one for your pooch at the bottom of the page.

Best Doggy Backpacks by Category

Budget: Lifeunion Adjustable and Outward Hound DayPak
Small Dogs: Kurgo Baxter and Ruffwear Approach
Big Dogs: Mountainsmith K-9 and Ruffwear Palisades

Editor’s Choice

Mountainsmith K-9

Mountainsmith K9 Dog Pack, Adjustable Chest and Back Harness Canine Backpack, Saddle Bags with Zippered Pockets for Camping, Travel, Outdoors, Backpacking, Hiking

From day trips to overnight adventures, the Mounainsmith K-9 is our overall top choice for dog backpacks for hiking.

Thanks to its vet-approved, “dognomically” shaped torso and 4-point adjustable chest harness, the K-9 promises a snug and secure fit. It also has an adjustable belly strap and back harness, which all together allow for a snug and comfy fit minus any chafing.

The bag features two pannier pockets with additional zippered accessory pockets for stashing small gear. If you’re looking for a bag that’s comfortable for your pup yet spacious enough for carrying all your dog’s crap (in a literal sense?!), this is it.

While the K-9 is a bit heavy and a little on the pricey side, it strikes an excellent balance between comfort, carrying capacity, and adjustability. Thanks to this plethora of features it is still great value and so the Mountainsmith K-9 wins our Editor’s Choice award.

Bottom Line: A pricey pack but the one most likely to let your pup enjoy their time most on the trails.

At a Glance: Quick Recommendations

  • Editor’s Choice:  Mountainsmith K-9
    “If you’re looking for the very best for your pup, get them this vet-approved, ergonomically shaped bag.”
  • Runner Up:  Ruffwear Approach
    “A durable, high-capacity pack with plenty of size options (including XS!)”
  • Honorable Mention:  Ultimate Direction Dog Vest
    “If your pup needs to carry food or just the bare essentials, this sleek and lightweight vest won’t slow them down.”
  • Best Budget:  Lifeunion Adjustable Service Doggy Supply Backpack
    “A budget-friendly and lightweight option that’s perfect for occasional hikes.”
  • Best for Big Dogs :  Ruffwear Palisades Dog Backpack
    “A rugged, multi-featured pack designed to support your canine on any outdoor adventure.”
  • Best for Small/Medium Dogs:  Kurgo Baxter
    “A lightweight bag with a small capacity, perfect for the smallest of four-legged hikers.”
  • Best Value :  Outward Hound DayPak
    “A great beginner doggy backpack at a great price.”

Best Dog Backpacks: Our Top 7 Picks

Mountainsmith K-9

Editor’s Choice

The Mountainsmith K-9 has been around for 40+ years but recently received an upgrade in both appearance and functionality. Best for medium to large dogs, the K-9 offers enough flexibility and comfort for both day trips and multi-day treks.

A sled-dog veterinarian assisted Mountansmith in creating this ergonomically shaped pack. Six cinch points allow for maximum adjustability and all the straps that lay against the dog’s body are padded for extra comfort.

Mesh panels along the back will keep your pup cool while reflective trim along the side panels will keep them visible after dark. For days when the weather acts up, its ripstop nylon, waterproof construction has your canine covered.

Overall, the K-9 is our favorite pack for both short and long hikes.

  • PROs

    • Vet-approved torso
    • Mesh panels
    • Padded straps
    • Durable ripstop nylon
  • CONs

    • A bit on the heavy side

Bottom-Line: Treat your pup to the ultimate dog backpack. The K-9 offers the most adjustability and breathability on our list – and at a reasonable price point, too.

Ruffwear Approach

Runner Up

The Ruffwear Approach is a high-capacity bag made from insanely durable 420-denier ripstop nylon. Thanks to its weight-forward saddlebag design, and 5 adjustable straps, this premium pack creates passive compression that helps stabilize the gear load on your dog’s back.

The Ruffwear Approach has two spacious saddlebags with smaller, exterior pockets to stash stuff like stinky poo bags. Despite all the space, the Ruffwear Approach is light enough for both day hikes and short, overnight trips.

Other useful features include external gear loops, reflective trim, and a padded handle and girth straps.

The Ruffwear Approach is also the only pack on our list that’s available in XS, making it a great choice for tiny dogs.

  • PROs

    • Available in many sizes
    • Adjustable
    • Lots of stash pockets and gear loops
    • Reflective trim
  • CONs

    • On the pricey side
    • Saddlebags not removable

Bottom-Line: A durable and high-capacity pack loaded with extra features. It’s also the only pack on our list that comes in an XS.

Ultimate Direction Dog Vest

Honorable Mention

Ultimate Direction is known for their performance-enhancing outdoor gear and they’ve harnessed that knowledge into creating a lightweight and sleek dog pack designed for carrying just the essentials.

The Ultimate Direction is a barely-there vest with two large pockets and a side stash pocket for easy access to small essentials like a leash or waste bags. While it is only available in 3 sizes, its multi-point harness adjustment system ensures a snug and secure fit.

The Ultimate Direction is one of the lightest dog backpacks on our list, making it an excellent choice for getting your pup accustomed to wearing their first backpack.

As an added bonus, a lightweight collapsible bowl for food and water is included with the pack.

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Durable ripstop nylon
    • 2 leash attachment loops
    • Collapsible bowl included
  • CONs

    • Low capacity (can carry very little weight)
    • No padding on the straps

Bottom-Line: A sleek and no-fuss vest that’s perfect for minimalist hikers or pups getting used to wearing backpacks.

Lifeunion Adjustable Service Dog Supply Backpack

Best Budget

The Lifeunion is a highly adjustable and waterproof pack for dogs and is the lightest dog hiking backpack on our list along with the Ultimate Direction Vest. Despite its light weight, it offers plenty of features to help you control your pup, like a sturdy rubber handle and a D-ring leash attachment.

An adjustable chest strap and multiple cinch points allow for a custom fit for medium to large-sized dogs. Its underside is padded and made from breathable mesh materials whilst a buckle closure system makes it easy to secure and adjust to your pup.

The Lifeunion does have some durability issues due to its lightweight construction, so it’s best for hikers looking for a no-fuss, occasional day pack to carry small essentials.

If you and your pup are regulars on the trail, you might be better off choosing something sturdier like the Ruffwear Palisades or the Mountainsmith K-9.

  • PROs

    • Price
    • Lightweight
    • Waterproof
  • CONs

    • Not as resilient as other packs

Bottom-Line: An ultralight dog hiking backpack perfect for occasional outdoor adventures.

Ruffwear Palisades Dog Backpack

Best for Big Dogs

If you’ve got a big dog that needs to carry a lot of stuff, get them the Ruffwear Palisades.

The Palisades features two rugged and high-capacity saddlebags for carrying all your K-9 pal’s on-the-trail essentials. Both saddlebags are removable so you can lighten the load while your dog is resting.

This bag is designed for all day-comfort while allowing you easy access to items thanks to stash pockets and external gear loops. A handy compression system even allows you to stabilize the pack’s contents for extra comfort and stability.

It comes in 3 different size options and with the Palisades’ 5-point adjustment system, you can create a custom fit for your four-legged hiker.

This is by far the most durable, and expensive, bag on our list thanks to its quality construction and materials. If you’re looking for a dog hiking backpack with similar features at a lower price point, check out the Ruffwear Approach.

  • PROs

    • Spacious
    • Durable ripstop polyester
    • 2 leash attachment points
    • 2 collapsible water hydration bladders included
  • CONs

    • Pricey
    • Heavy

Bottom-Line: Our best pack for big dogs thanks to its durable construction and large carrying capacity.

Kurgo Baxter

Best for Small/Medium Dogs

The Kurgo Baxter is the perfect bag for day treks or weekend trips into the backcountry. It features a flexible, 2-in-1 design that acts as both a backpack and a harness for your dog.

If you have a hound that loves to pull, the Kurgo Baxter offers plenty of help in managing your pup. A large padded handle allows you to easily lift them over obstacles while front and rear leash attachments offer flexibility in controlling your dog.

The Kurgo Baxter is also highly adjustable with an impressive 8 adjustment points. While such adjustability usually comes at a high price point, the Kurgo Baxter offers great value for its affordable price tag.

Despite all these cinch points, the Baxter is best suited for medium or larger ‘small’ dogs. If you’re looking for an adjustable pack for a very small dog, try the Ruffwear Approach instead.

  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Breathable
    • Adjustable
  • CONs

    • Only 2 sizes
    • Minimal padding

Bottom-Line: A lightweight, breathable, and fully-adjustable bag jam-packed with extra features.

Outward Hound DayPak

Best Value

If you need a removable pack for a smaller dog, the Outward Hound makes a good choice for beginners and seasoned pups alike. It’s one of the smallest and lightest packs on our list.

This pack has a saddlebag-style design with 4 expandable storage compartments. Its thoughtful construction features mesh panels that help keep your dog cool on warm-weather hikes and has light padding around the webbing.

Adjustable straps allow for a full range of motion as your dog carries their own food and other hiking essentials, while its brightly colored design will keep your pup visible both night and day.

While the Outward Hound is available in large, it’s best suited for small to medium-sized dogs that weigh less than 85lbs. If your dog’s body weight exceeds that limit, you’ll find similar value for large dogs in the Ruffwear Palisades.

  • PROs

    • Affordable
    • Expandable storage compartments
    • Ultralight
  • CONs

    • Small capacity
    • Minimal padding

Bottom-Line: This affordable pack for a small to medium dog strikes the perfect balance between comfort and weight.

How to Choose a Dog Backpack for Hiking & Backpacking

Size/Capacity

Doggy backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, but your top priority should always be your dog’s comfort. 

The average carrying capacity of dog backpacks ranges from 5L to 25L. 

There is no universal chart to help you determine the correct size of a backpack, so you’ll have to rely on measurements. Be sure to accurately measure your dog’s neck size, weight, and girth, and compare that to the manufacturer’s size chart. The pack should fit snugly and not shift around when your doggy walks. 

Be sure to consider the activity you’ll be doing with your pooch as well. If you’re just heading out for a day trip, you can stick to smaller daypacks or even hydration packs. If you’re planning any multi-day backpacking trips, you might want to invest in a pack with bigger side saddles like the Ruffwear Palisades.

Big dog wearing backpack on a hike
For backpacking trips, you may want to invest in a pack with larger saddlebags.

Don’t choose a backpack solely based on your pup’s weight. To get the best fit, you’ll need an accurate chest measurement to get it right. If your dog falls between two sizes, read some reviews to see if you should size up or down. 

Weight

One of the most important factors to consider is the weight limit of your dog pack. While most backpacks for dogs are fairly light at an average of two pounds or less, you’ll need to factor in the weight of the pack combined with everything you want to put in it. 

Dogs should never carry more than 25% of their body weight, but that’s the upper weight limit. For most dogs, between 10% to 15% of their weight is a good starting point. For puppies and older dogs, this drops to 5% to 10%. 

How much weight your dog should carry is also determined by factors like their age, breed, physical ability, and comfort level. It’s a good idea to check with your vet before heading out on your first hike. 

While extra components can be useful for carrying things like water and your dog’s poop bags, they’ll all add extra weight. If your dog is small or you plan to hike in the heat, your best bet is a minimalist-style backpack or vest like the Ultimate Direction Vest. 

Small dog wearing backpack hiking along rocky path
The breed and size of your dog will determine what packs will be most suitable.

Never guess the weight of your dog’s pack. It’s easy to accidentally go over the weight limit. Always double-check the weight of the pack with an actual scale before hitting the trail. 

Comfort

We all know the pain of lugging around an uncomfortable pack during a long trek and it’s no different for our four-legged hikers. 

Always use a backpack that is specifically designed for dogs and look for comfort-enhancing features like padded straps and harnesses. If you’re planning on lifting your pup by a handle, make sure there is sufficient padding on the chest strap. 

No matter which backpack you ultimately choose, keep an eye out for signs of discomfort like fatigue, limping, whimpering, chafing on your dog’s skin, or if they bite or snap at the straps. 

Be sure to get your dog used to wearing his/her pack at home on short walks before you head out on longer treks. 

Dog wearing backpack standing in tall grass
Test run your new doggy backpack in the park before hitting the trails.

Breathability

Keeping your dog cool when out on the trail isn’t always easy. If you live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to ensure that your pup’s pack is made of a breathable material and/or with mesh panels, especially along the spine.

The Outward Hound DayPak is a good example of an affordable pack that excels in hot weather thanks to the mesh panels along the back. The Mountainsmith K-9 is also a good choice for warmer climates thanks to its combo of mesh panels and perforated EVA padding.

Adjustability

Most dog backpacks are created with a saddlebag style that distributes the pack weight evenly on both sides. If the weight isn’t evenly balanced on your dog’s back, you’ll restrict your dog’s movement and risk causing them discomfort or even injury. 

To ensure maximum stability, a doggy hiking backpack should be snug but not so tight that it leads to chafing. Make sure that the saddlebags sit directly above your dog’s shoulders, since that’s the strongest part of your pooch. Make sure you can always fit two fingers between your dog’s body and the straps. 

Husky dog wearing backpack through forest
Make sure the two saddlebags sit over your dogs shoulders.

One-piece packs offer the least amount of adjustability. If you opt for this style, take extra care to ensure your measurements are correct to ensure a comfortable fit. 

The most adjustable bags feature a number of adjustable straps along your dog’s back that can be shortened or lengthened to ensure a snug fit. The 4-point adjustable system of the Mountainsmith K-9 and 8-point adjustment system of the Kurgo Baxter are the best examples. 

Waterproofing 

If you regularly hike in wet or cold weather, you might want to consider choosing a pack that’s waterproof. As with humans, a wet pack on your dog’s back can cause them discomfort and inadvertently lower their body temperature, which can spell trouble in cold temperatures. It will also, of course, result in wet gear inside and add to the weight of the pack.

Look for materials with a high denier rating (denser fabric is less permeable) or a water-resistant coating. If your dog’s pack becomes soaked through while hiking, consider carrying it yourself until it dries. 

Dog wearing backpack standing in pool of water
Dogs can be unpredictable so a backpack with waterproof coating should be a priority.

Durability

From rolling around in the mud to running through the underbrush, your pup’s pack is likely going to take a beating. If you’re living with a rambunctious dog, choose a pack made from durable and rip-resistant materials like ripstop nylon. 

Most dog packs fail at either the seams or at the leash attachments, so look for strong stitching and reinforced panels. If you plan on having your dog carry a heavier pack, check for strong buckles and thicker handles, too. 

The Ruffwear Palisades is the strongest pack on our list but the Lifeunion Adjustable Pack also holds its own considering its affordable price. 

Leash Attachment Points

Most bags come with either 1 or 2 places to attach your dog’s leash. These different attachment points are just about your personal preference, although leash points in the back might offer less control over heavy pullers. 

If you have your own heavy-pulling pup, you can buy leashes specially designed to hook onto both attachment points for better control. If your dog is particularly strong, look for a D-ring leash attachment made from steel or aluminum rather than plastic. 

Dog wearing backpack running through a forest
For ‘strong willed’ pups make sure the D-ring attachment is metal rather than plastic.

Features

There are a few features that can make your life a whole lot easier while on the trail with a four-legged companion.

Nobody likes carrying their pup’s poop during a hike, but if you choose a dog hiking backpack with exterior pockets you can make Fido carry his own waste (remember, poop can harm the environment so it must always be carried out!). You can also stash other gear like waste bags, treats, and water. 

Handles are another important feature. They allow you to easily lift your pup over obstacles or keep a hold of them as others pass you on the trail. The problem is that not all handles are created equal.

If your pooch is heavy, double-check the construction of the handle. The last thing you want is the handle to break, so look for reinforced stitching and a padded grip for comfort. 

If you regularly hike after dark or near hunting territory, reflective trim is an absolute must. Bright colors and reflective trim (and a bell!) can help your pup from getting mistaken for prey in the bush. These are also great if you plan to use your pack in urban areas. 

Dog wearing backpack showing handle and reflective trim
Features like handles and reflective strips can help get your pooch out of any tight spots!

Best Dog Backpack for Hiking: The Verdict

There you have it! There are a lot of doggy backpacks out there, but we hope this guide has shed some light on the perfect dog backpack for your pooch. 

And here’s a quick summary of our top picks:

While the Mountainsmith K-9 is our overall top choice thanks to its comfort and adjustability, the Lifeunion is another great, budget-friendly option, while the Ruffwear Palisades is perfect for a larger dog. 

Remember, while your pup is getting used to carrying his new backpack, cut back on the length of your hike and always give them plenty of time to rest. Having your dog wear their own pack on the trail takes some of the load off of you, but you don’t want to overburden your trail buddy too soon.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. And if you’d like to share this article with any other dog owners you know, feel free!

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Jolanda is a full-time writer and life-long outdoor enthusiast. Growing up on a small island off the Eastern Canadian coast, she spent most of her childhood hiking, swimming and fishing in the Atlantic ocean.

After a short stint in the corporate world, Jolanda quit her day job to write full-time and check out what lies beyond the Canadian shores. Ever since, she’s been hiking, biking and kayaking her way across 11 European countries and counting.

Jolanda currently lives in the beautiful, Tuscan countryside. When she isn’t hanging out in the woods or at the beach, you’ll catch her foraging for mushrooms and truffles with her truffle-dog, Red.

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