How to Choose a Pack for your Dog

Dog running in forest wearing dog pack

Dogs packs have a simple goal:  to allow your pet to share the load when you’re together on the trail. Dog packs come in many sizes and configurations, allowing you to find the perfect fit for any trail-ready pet.

Fitting a pack to your dog

Generally speaking, you’ll want to avoid putting weight on your dog’s abdominal spine, sometimes called the loin. This region of the back extends from the rear of a dog’s rib cage to the pelvis. Your dog pack should minimize the pressure and weight on this area.


Many canine packs offer sizing based on weight or girth.

Weight is only a rough estimate of a dog’s build, though, so you’ll likely want to choose a backpack with adjustable harness straps so you can dial in the fit for your pet.

Girth measures the circumference of your dog’s rib cage. Click below to learn more about this measurement.


Just like human pack suspensions, wide, padded straps comfortably distribute weight. These kinds of straps are also more comfortable when a dog is lifted by a harness handle.

As discussed, dogs vary greatly in size and shape. A variety of strap configurations are available that can help you find the pattern than best fits your dog’s body shape.

If you hike in warm climates, or your dog overheats easily, look for mesh straps and panels designed to promote airflow and help the dog stay cool.


Saddlebags vary in size and shape, so be sure that your choice will accommodate the items you want your dog to carry.

Some packs include removable saddlebags, which are useful if you want to let your pet take a dip in a mountain lake or cross a deep creek without soaking their pack’s contents.

Saddlebags should not hang low enough to rub against your dog’s legs. This will depend on your dog’s build but generally bags should not fall below the dog’s ‘elbows’.

Other Features

Leash attachment points – Having your dog on a leash keeps them safe and is often required on state and federal lands. Look to see how many attachment points a pack has and where they’re located. Also, examine the attachments for durability:  a strong, excitable dog needs strong leash attachment points.

Handles – Some packs feature a handle mounted on top of the pack, which can be used to lift small pets or assist larger dogs over obstacles or on steep terrain.

Reflective trim – Bright colors or reflective elements are great for keeping dogs safe and seen. These are particularly useful during evening hikes, near roads and in areas where hunting occurs.


A dog’s ability to carry weight is a topic of some debate among owners. This confusion probably stems from the fact that dog breeds differ in their athleticism and ability to carry loads. Additionally, some of our pets face the same issues we do:  weak backs, bad knees and advancing age.

Generally speaking, most dogs will be limited to carrying their own gear and some water.

You can safely introduce your dog to backpacking by slowly presenting the idea to them. Experts recommend that you first put the empty pack on your dog at home. Let them run in the yard or take walks with the pack on in order to get accustomed to wearing it.

After the dog has adjusted to wearing the pack, start adding small amounts of weight. By taking your dog for walks and short hikes – and watching their behavior – you can determine how much weight your dog can carry comfortably and safely.

Each dog will respond differently but, generally speaking, dogs will tire out faster and go shorter distances when carrying weight – just like we do.

Trail Supplies

The specific supplies that you should carry for your pet vary with your dog’s needs, but some basics include:

In cold conditions, some dogs need additional protection such as insulated layers and foot protection.

Behavioral Benefits

Some experts suggest that dogs wearing packs sense, on some level, that they have a mission or a purpose and behave differently. People have reported dogs wearing packs paying greater attention to their owners, wandering less and being less distracted.

Dog packs can also function like anxiety vests. While rigorous data is lacking, many people report that these garments calm their dogs. The firm compression of these garments can release endorphins, mimicking a hug and helping to reduce stress. Dog packs are not designed for this purpose but may have such benefits.

The Takeaway

Authorities recognize over 300 dog breeds world-wide. And that doesn’t include our planet’s uncountable and beloved mutts. This variation in body types, ranging from lively, diminutive Schipperkes to stately, noble Great Danes, means that you’ll need to think carefully when choosing a dog pack. Things to consider include proper sizing and harness adjustability, breathable mesh, handles and storage space. Give your dog a chance to get accustomed to the pack and then start hiking, running and roaming together.

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