An Expert Guide to Hiking Packs for Your DogPublished on 08/31/2023 · 18 min readExplore the ultimate guide to choosing hiking packs for your furry companion! Ensure comfort, safety, and enjoyment for both you and your dog.
Photo by Adventure Stock
Tl:DR: When searching for a dog hiking pack, prioritize your dog's comfort and safety to set both you and your pup up for a successful, fun time outdoors. Consider your type of hiking, your dog's size, breed, and temperament. Look for features that will make your life easier and keep your dog safe, like adjustable straps, breathable material, and balanced weight distribution. Always make sure the pack is a comfortable fit for your dog and isn’t too heavy.
I have been hiking and camping since I was a young kid. I thought I got outside a lot, but that all changed five years ago when I got a border collie. When I first got her as a 1-year-old dog, she was an absolute ball of energy. I started to go trail running, hiking, and camping way more than I ever had just to get her exercise.
When I first learned about dog hiking packs shortly after adopting my dog, it seemed like the perfect piece of gear. She already had way more energy than me, so it only seemed natural to have her carry some of her gear to take some of the load off my back. As an overly anxious dog parent, I did a ton of research before deciding on a dog pack. I have tried a few different packs for her for various activities. I wanted to ensure that I kept her safe and comfy so she would still enjoy running and hiking, even with a little extra weight.
With all the research I have done over the last five years, I have a great knowledge base of what to look for in a dog pack that will be useful for you and safe for your pup. I’ve summarized it in the guide below to help you and your furry companion find the perfect match for your hiking adventures!
What Is a Dog Hiking Pack?
A dog hiking pack is a lightweight backpack that can be strapped onto a dog's back, allowing them to carry their own food, water, treats, and other essentials. Dog hiking packs are designed with comfortable and adjustable straps to ensure a proper fit for the dog's size and shape. They often come with multiple pockets and compartments for easy organization of gear. Dog hiking packs allow dogs to actively participate in outdoor activities by shouldering some of the load, making them ideal for longer hikes or backpacking trips where the dog's owner may need to carry less weight. Giving your pup a hiking pack also provides mental and physical stimulation for dogs, giving them a "job" to do.
A dog hiking pack can enhance the outdoor adventures of both the dog and their owner. So, for any outdoor enthusiast with a furry hiking companion, a dog hiking pack can be a worthwhile investment and a practical gear option!
Safety Tips on Dog Packs
Since your dog can’t tell you when their pack is too heavy or uncomfortable, it’s up to the owner to ensure their dog is comfortable and safe while wearing their pack. Here are a few tips to ensure the safety and well-being of your pup on the trails!
- Choose a dog hiking pack that is appropriate for the size and fitness level of the dog.
- Make sure the pack is adjustable and provides a secure but not tight fit on your pup. A pack that is too loose can cause rubbing and irritation, and a pack that is too tight can cut off circulation and be uncomfortable!
- Introduce the pack gradually to allow the dog to acclimate to carrying the extra weight. Take your pup on a few hikes with the pack empty so they can get used to wearing it before you add anything to the pockets.
- Don’t load their pack up too much. Though their fitness level and breed play into how much a dog can carry, it’s better to err on the side of caution. A good rule of thumb is to keep the total carrying weight (which includes both the weight of the pack and the gear inside) under 25% of the dog's body weight. For example, my border collie weighs around 40lbs. I would not give her a backpack that weighs more than 10lbs total at the absolute most, even though she is very active and a high-energy breed, because it could increase her risk of injury.
- Senior dogs should carry less weight, and you might consider opting them out of even wearing a pack since it can be harder on their bodies.
- Puppies should wait until they are fully grown to carry any weight, but putting an empty pack on them can be a great way to get them used to wearing it if you plan on taking them on backpacking adventures when they’re fully grown!
- Take extra water breaks and monitor your dog’s behavior while they’re wearing their pack. If it seems like they are slowing down a bit or getting tired faster than usual, take some weight out of their pack.
To ensure the proper fit, make sure to take your dog's measurements before settling on a size. The video below explains how to measure your dog's chest girth to ensure the chest straps, shoulder straps, and back harness are the proper size for your pup.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Dog Hiking Pack
What is the size and weight of your dog?
Just as we human hikers need our hiking backpack to be the right size and fit, the same applies to a hiking pack for your pup. Their pack should distribute weight evenly across the dog's shoulders and back without causing chafing or restricting movement. It’s important to try the pack on them for shorter hikes and make sure they’re comfy and can move well before any long treks since, unlike humans who can verbally communicate when their pack is uncomfy, our dogs can't tell us quite as easily! A properly sized pack ensures your dog can carry a safe weight and remain comfortable during hikes.
How long are the hikes you plan to do?
Longer hikes might require your pup to carry more supplies, meaning they need a larger pack. Short trips might only require room for a bit of water, a snack, and some toys. Knowing what kind of hiking you plan on using your dog’s hiking pack can help gauge just how much storage you’ll need in their pack!
What kind of climate and terrain will you and your pup be hiking in?
The terrain and climate you are hiking in will determine what materials your dog's pack should be made of. If you're mostly hiking in rainy conditions, you might need a waterproof pack so the gear your dog is carrying doesn’t get soaked. If hiking in more rocky canyon areas, try to find a durable pack that won’t get holes if your dog scrapes it on the edge of canyon walls. Not only are weather and terrain a factor, but if you have a dog that tends to lay down or roll around in any water they find, you’ll also want to consider that. Maybe you hike in relatively dry climates, but if your dog loves rolling around in rivers, plan for their pack to get a bit wet and much dirtier than your pack!
What do you plan on putting in their pack?
Knowing what kind of gear you will be stowing in your dog’s hiking pack will determine the size and number of compartments you’ll need in their pack. One compartment is probably enough if you want your dog to carry a collapsible water bowl and a small water bottle. But if you want them to carry more gear, such as their food, a few liters of water, treats, and a bowl, look for a pack with more pockets so that you can more evenly distribute the weight they are carrying.
What Are the Different Types of Dog Hiking Packs?
When narrowing down what pack you might want for your pup, it’s important to note that there are various dog hiking packs for hikers, hiking types, and dogs. Let’s take a closer look at the types and some of their pros and cons!
If you are not planning on taking your dog on long backpacking trips or don’t need them to carry much gear, a single-compartment pack is the perfect solution. These are the simplest dog hiking packs since they have one main storage compartment. They are great for short day hikes where you don’t have much gear for your furry friend to carry or as an introduction to hiking packs for dogs new to carrying weight.
- Easy to put on and remove
- Great for beginners and dogs wearing a pack for the first time
- Limited storage
- Not suitable for long trips
- Not as easy to stay organized since there is only one compartment
A step up from single-compartment packs, multi-compartment packs have multiple pockets and compartments. If you want to do longer adventures with your dog, such as backpacking or multi-day trips, or need them to carry a bit more gear than could fit in a single compartment, these are a better option. The various pocket options also help to keep the pack organized.
- Better weight distribution
- Allows organized storage
- More space for gear
- Can be heavier than single-compartment packs
- May be more complex to adjust and fit
- Not as good for small dogs or dogs who haven’t worn a pack before
Saddlebag packs are balanced packs that sit on either side of a dog's back, resembling saddlebags. They are similar to multi-compartment packs but have a better weight distribution and can carry more gear.
- Even weight distribution
- Suitable for medium to large dogs
- Can carry more weight and gear due to design
- Too heavy and large for smaller breeds
- Bulkier than other types of packs
A vest pack is essentially a class dog harness with pockets and is more streamlined and versatile than other dog hiking packs. This gives you the best of both worlds since a harness is something many dog owners typically use on hikes anyway, and a vest-style pack gives you a harness with some storage. Vest packs are also a great intro pack for dogs who have never worn a pack before and are great for shorter hikes.
- Dual purpose: harness and pack
- Provides better control over the dog
- Good introduction pack for dogs new to packs
- Limited storage
As the name suggests, waterproof packs are designed to protect the gear inside the pack from moisture. These packs are great if you plan on hiking in areas with a lot of rain or hiking near water and have a dog who likes swimming or jumping in rivers and streams. If you are hiking in hot conditions, these wouldn’t be a good option since they are much less breathable and can cause your dog to get too warm.
- Keeps gear dry
- Perfect for rainy conditions or water-loving pups
- Usually heavier than non-waterproof packs
- Not as breathable, so it can be dangerous for your dog if hiking in hot climates
Features to Look for When Buying a Hiking Pack for Your Dog
Having spent so much time on the trails with my pup, I've seen and tested quite a few types of hiking packs with many different features. Here's a list of features and technologies to watch for when choosing your dog’s pack.
1. Adjustable Straps
A pack with adjustability in the straps will allow you to customize the fit of your dog's pack until it’s just right. Since dogs come in different shapes and sizes, rarely will you have a perfect fit right out of the box. The perfect fit is necessary to ensure their pack is snug but not too tight. It can prevent chafing and ensure the gear inside their pack stays secure throughout your adventure! The more adjustable points, the better it is to provide your furry buddy with the right fit.
2. Breathable Material
Like human backpacks, dog packs can get hot, especially in dryer, hotter climates or on long hikes. A pack that provides enough airflow and ventilation will help prevent your pet from overheating, which can be a serious safety issue for them. Some lightweight packs come with a mesh nylon material either on the entirety of the pack or at least around the waist and chest. Packs with this material will be the best dog backpacks for hotter days to keep Rover safe in the heat.
3. Integrated Harness
Some, but not all dog packs come with a built-in harness. This can be super handy for a few reasons. First, if dogs are new to wearing a hiking pack but are familiar with a harness, as many dogs are, it can make an easy transition if the pack comes with an integrated harness. Packs with a harness have a similar shape and feel on your dog than a non-harness pack, so it won’t feel totally unusual to them the first time you put the pack on.
Secondly, and more importantly, an integrated harness gives you quicker and more accessible control over your dog. If you have a situation where you quickly need to have your dog on a leash or close to you, it’s easier to just clip the leash onto an integrated harness on the backpack as opposed to fidgeting around under their pack for a collar. If you don’t need a full harness in your dog’s pack, at least ensure there are easily accessible leash attachment points in case you need to quickly put your pup on a leash while on the trail.
4. Reflective Trim
Many dog hiking packs have reflective trim on some part of the pack. This is a great safety feature for evening or early morning hikes. If there are bikes or other motor vehicles on the trails you are on, it allows them to see your pup more easily so they don't accidentally hit your dog with their bike or other vehicle. It is also a great safety tool for you to use if you want to let your dog off-leash but are worried about being able to see them easily. Reflective detailing will make your dog much easier to spot so they can run free on the trails. You can see them without worry that they have wandered too far or have found anything they shouldn't have, such as deer feces or wildlife.
5. Waterproof or Water-Resistant Material
This feature is essential if you're hiking in areas prone to sudden rain or near bodies of water. A waterproof pack ensures that the gear inside remains dry and that the pack itself remains that way, as a wet pack can be significantly heavier and add more weight to your dog's back. Even if you don’t want something fully waterproof, a water-resistant material can still protect your dog's pack from getting soaked and heavy.
6. Durable Zippers and Fastenings
Nothing's more frustrating than a zipper breaking mid-hike, and dogs are harder on their gear than humans are, so durability is key. High-quality zippers, clips, and buckles ensure your dog’s pack will last a long time, and the gear inside will stay safe and secure instead of falling out when your dog gets the zoomies on the trail.
7. Balanced Weight Distribution
Some packs are better at weight distribution than others. Even weight distribution is important for your dog's comfort and health, avoiding any strain on one particular side of your dog’s back or part of their body.
8. Padded Areas
Dog packs with padding, especially in the chest and belly areas, offer added comfort and extra support for your dog. This extra padding can reduce the chances of chafing, blisters, or pressure points, keeping them happy and healthy for the duration of your hike or backpacking trip.
9. Quick-Release Buckles
Quick-release buckles come in handy when you need to remove your pup’s pack fast. The need for quick release can be as simple as a brief rest where you want to give your dog a break from carrying gear, or it can be as serious as some emergency, such as your dog's pack getting hooked on a tree or branch. Long hikes can sometimes leave you feeling tired and with diminished motor skills. So, no matter why you need to take your pup's pack off, setting yourself up for the easiest and most hassle-free pack removal possible is a great idea.
10. Built-In Handle
A handle on the top of the pack can be super useful when you need to lift your dog or have a secure grip on them. This could be a rocky section of the trail, a stream, wildlife, or an off-leash dog approaching you. A handle gives you extra safety and control to ensure your hike goes smoothly for you and your dog.
The specific features that will be helpful to you depend entirely on your hiking situation and dog, but the ones listed here are the most common and useful features in dog packs that I have come across!
How to Choose the Right Dog Pack for Your Dog
Even with all the info in this article, it can still feel tricky to narrow down the exact pack for your exact pup, style of hiking, and needs. Below are three examples of real Curated customers and their pups whom I helped find their perfect dog hiking pack. Each represents a different person shopping for a dog hiking pack, some things they should look for, and some suggestions for an exact pack.
Mike and Bruno: Weekend Wanderer and His Border Collie
Mike lives on the outskirts of Seattle and enjoys hiking on weekends to escape the business of the city. He and Bruno, his 2-year-old border collie, usually hike trails between easy and moderately difficult. These hikes are typically between 5-10 miles. Bruno is agile, full of energy, and loves to run ahead. Sometimes, if they get to the end of the hike and Bruno is still full of energy, Mike will play fetch with him for a while to get some more exercise. Mike wants a pack for Bruno to carry his water, treats, a small ball, and a collapsible water bowl.
Features Mike should look for in Bruno's Pack:
- Quick-release buckles for easy removal during breaks or when they play catch.
- Reflective trims. Since the trails around Seattle are densely forested, Mike must always see Bruno well.
- Multiple pockets for storing the ball and allowing quick access to treats.
- Lightweight and not too bulky since Bruno loves to run and wouldn’t like it if his pack restricted his movement.
Packs that would be a good fit for Mike and Bruno:
Naomi and Rocky: Urban Explorer and Her Miniature Schnauzer
Naomi lives in New York City, and while she isn't near any huge hiking trails, she loves exploring parks and the city's outskirts with Rocky. Their hikes are more like long walks—exploring new neighborhoods, parks, or city events. Rocky is small but has a lively spirit. Naomi would like Rocky to carry water, his tiny raincoat, and doggy waste bags.
Features Naomi should look for in Rocky's Pack:
- Compact design. Since they are commonly in more crowded urban areas, the pack should be snug and not too protruding.
- Integrated harness for easy control of Rocky in city crowds.
- Breathable to keep Rocky cool during their summer city adventures.
- Easy access to pockets so Naomi can quickly grab waste bags or Rocky's raincoat in case of a sudden shower.
Packs that would be a good fit for Naomi and Rocky:
Raj and Kali: Avid Climber and His Siberian Husky
Raj lives in Colorado and lives for his time in the mountains. Every month, Raj tries to summit a new peak, and he pretty much always brings along his Siberian husky, Kali. Their hikes are long, strenuous, and often in chilly weather. Kali is the perfect dog for long hikes in the cold since she's strong and has thick fur. Raj wants her to carry her food, bowls, extra insulation, a small light, and sometimes Raj's extra water bottle.
Features Raj should look for in Kali's Pack:
- Balanced weight distribution to ensure Kali stays comfortable during rigorous mountain hikes.
- Durability. Since the terrain they typically hike in can be rough and hard on gear.
- Waterproofing or water resistance since they sometimes have snow, rain, or encounter streams.
- Built-in handle so Raj can help Kali navigate over challenging obstacles or rocky terrain.
Packs that would be a good fit for Raj and Kali:
- Ruffwear Palisades Dog Pack
- Hurtta Trail Pack
Find the Best Hiking Pack for Your Dog
Sharing the gear load with your furry friend can make hiking and backpacking adventures more enjoyable. You will have a lighter load for yourself, and your dog can both get more exercise and feel like they have an important job. No matter which pack you settle on, make sure it’s a good fit for your dog’s body and isn't loaded up so much that it strains their back, neck, or shoulders.
If you still need help figuring out which pack is right for your dog, reach out to me or a Curated Hiking and Camping Expert! Our team of Experts is ready and willing to offer free, personalized advice tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. Happy camping!