There’s nothing like venturing into the backcountry with your best four-legged buddy. But dogs can require quite a bit of extra gear to keep them happy and healthy on the trail. Having your pooch carry their own equipment in a dog backpack will not only take the weight off your back, but it can also give them a fun job to do.
When you start the search for the perfect backpack for your dog, you’ll find there are a whole lot of options. We researched and tested all of the best dog backpacks on the market to help you find the right one for your dog.
Check out this quick list of our favorites if you’re in a hurry, or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
What’s Most Important to You in a Dog Backpack?
PRICE – You don’t need to break the bank to get a functional dog backpack, but we find that spending a little more is often worth it for the added padding, adjustability, and durability.
WEIGHT – It’s important to consider the weight of your dog when picking a backpack for them. Dogs should carry no more than 25% of their body weight, and the weight of the pack itself will account for some of that allowance.
VOLUME – If you’ll be taking your dog on long backpacking trips, you’ll probably want a backpack with a large capacity so they can carry most of their food and gear. If you’ll just be doing day hikes or walks around town, go with a smaller backpack that can accommodate some treats, water, and bowls.
FIT – Make sure to measure your dog before purchasing a backpack for them. Most backpacks are sized by chest girth (measured around the widest part of the chest to the top of the shoulders), and you should consult the manufacturer’s size chart to determine the correct size for your dog. Additionally, we prefer backpacks that have multiple adjustment points for a customized fit.
Best Dog Backpacks of 2023
BEST DOG BACKPACK OVERALL
WEIGHT (Medium): 1 lb. 3.2 oz.
VOLUME (S, M, L): 6 L, 10 L, 18 L
FITS CHEST GIRTH: 20-44 in.
PROS: Highly adjustable, well-padded, excellent value, spacious, breathable, fits large & small breeds
CONS: A little heavier than others
BOTTOM LINE: The Mountainsmith K9 is the most adjustable dog pack on our list. There are six cinch points for dialing in the fit, and you can change the position of the saddlebags to help balance the weight on each side. The parts of the pack that sit against the dog’s body are very well-padded, and they’re made with breathable paneling to keep your dog comfy on warm days. We love the K9 dog backpack because it’s designed with many of the most important details found in human backpacks, and we highly recommend it to anyone wanting to put in serious miles with their pooch.
LARGEST CAPACITY DOG BACKPACK
WEIGHT (Medium): 1 lb. 2 oz.
VOLUME (XS, S, M, L/XL): 5 L,10 L, 13 L, 21 L
FITS CHEST GIRTH: 17-42 in.
PROS: Spacious, durable, well-padded, fits large & small breeds
CONS: Expensive, not as adjustable as some, not as breathable as some
BOTTOM LINE: The Ruffwear Approach is the most spacious pack on our list, which makes it great for long hauls or dogs that require a lot of extra gear to keep them comfortable. In addition to the roomy saddlebags, the Approach also has outer accessory loops for lashing on additional gear like wet items or a stash bag. The body of the Approach is larger than others, so it isn’t our first choice for petite dogs. That said, larger breeds may find the size to be a little more ergonomic. If you and your dog like to head off into the backcountry for multiple days, the roomy Ruffwear Approach may be the perfect pack for you.
BEST VALUE DOG BACKPACK
MSRP: $60 (often on sale for less)
WEIGHT (Medium): 13 oz.
VOLUME (Baxter, Big Baxter): 3.75 L, 7.5 L
FITS CHEST GIRTH: 17-33 in.
PROS: Excellent value, highly adjustable, fits large breeds, breathable, lightweight
CONS: Too big for small breeds, capacity isn’t ideal for multi-day trips, minimal padding
BOTTOM LINE: The sleek Kurgo Baxter is the perfect volume for day hikes or a weekend in the backcountry with your dog. The five points of adjustment and moveable saddlebags make it easy to dial in a custom fit. And since these features usually come at a higher price point, the Baxter is an excellent value. This backpack isn’t the most padded one on our list, so it’s especially important to watch out for hotspots if your dog will be wearing it for prolonged periods. That said, the price can’t be beat if you typically only go on shorter hikes.
BEST DOG BACKPACK FOR SMALL BREEDS
WEIGHT (Medium): 9.7 oz.
VOLUME: Not listed, but it’s big enough for day hikes and around town
FITS CHEST GIRTH: 21-32 in.
PROS: Good size for small breeds, ultralight, affordable, breathable
CONS: Capacity isn’t ideal for multi-day trips, minimal padding
BOTTOM LINE: If you have a smaller dog, it can be especially difficult to find a suitable backpack for them. The Outward Hound DayPak fits the smallest chest girth of any backpack on our list, and the saddlebags are lightweight and compact which makes it more manageable for small breeds. Because of the lower capacity and minimal padding, the DayPak isn’t great for multi-day trips. But it’s an affordable option if you need a dog backpack for day hikes and walks around town. And, since it’s ultralight, it also works well for training puppies to wear a pack and for older dogs who can’t carry a lot of weight.
BEST BUDGET DOG BACKPACK
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 5.4 oz.
VOLUME: Not listed, but it’s big enough for day hikes and around town
FITS CHEST GIRTH: 21-36 in.
PROS: Durable, affordable (usually on sale), well-padded, stylish
CONS: Not as adjustable as some, not ideal for multi-day trips, not as breathable, no reflective details, heavier than others
BOTTOM LINE: If you want your dog to be the style envy of the trail, check out the OneTigris Hoppy Camper 2.0. The canvas construction gives it a classic rucksack look and makes the Hoppy Camper one of the more durable backpacks on the market. We love having our dog rock this pack on local trails and around town, but the lack of breathability means we typically reserve it for short hikes in cooler weather. The Hoppy Camper is very well-padded, so it’s a great choice for dogs who will need something extra comfy to help them acclimate to wearing a backpack.
Ready to hit the trail? Here are some items to make sure you pack along to keep your dog happy and healthy:
DOG GEAR CHECKLIST FOR DAY HIKES
- Any important medications
- An extra meal for your dog in case you’re out longer than you plan
- First aid kit
- Daypack (optional)
- Harness or collar
- ID tags
- Collar light
- Poop bags
- Training treats
- Food and water bowls
- Extra water for the dog or way to filter on trail
- Treat Pouch
- Snacks (peanut butter, jerky, or cheese)
- Boots or Musher’s Wax (optional depending on terrain)
- Clothing to suit the conditions
- Pack towel
- Toy (optional)
DOG GEAR CHECKLIST FOR BACKPACKING
Any important medications
Backpack (if your dog carries their own gear)
Harness or collar
Extra water for the dog or way to filter on trail
Clothing to suit the conditions
Closed-cell foam pad; cut to size (we use this to keep them out of the dirt in camp and for them to sleep on in the tent)
Critical Dog Backpack Considerations
FIT – Getting the right fit on your dog’s backpack is crucial to keeping them happy on the trail. Most dog backpacks are sized by chest girth which is measured from the top of the shoulders around to the broadest part of the chest. Cinch the pack down snug to keep it from moving around, but make sure you can still fit two fingers between the straps and your dog’s body. Keep an eye out for rubbing points while the pack is on, and immediately adjust the straps if you notice your dog showing signs of discomfort.
HOW MUCH WEIGHT SHOULD YOUR DOG CARRY? – Your dog should carry no more than 25% of their body weight in their backpack, and you should build up to the max weight they’ll be carrying slowly. We like to keep our dog’s load as light and manageable as possible so they can fully enjoy their big adventure.
CONDITIONING– Before your dog dons their new backpack on the trail, get them used to wearing it at home first. Start by letting them sniff it, then slowly try putting it on while offering lots of treats and encouragement to create a positive association with the process. Have your dog wear the backpack for a few minutes a day, then slowly increase the amount of time they wear it until they’re comfortable with the pack on.
TIPS FOR HIKING WITH A DOG – Taking your dog on a hike is a great way to get them some exercise and bonding time. Make sure the experience is safe and fun for both of you by reviewing our Tips for Hiking with a Dog post.
Need More Gear Advice?
If you liked this list, you’ll love the CleverHiker Gear Guide where we test and recommend tons of outdoor adventure gear from a variety of categories. here are some links to popular articles:
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- Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.
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Thanks for reading and happy trails!
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