dog wearing a backpack in the woods
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The 8 Best Dog Backpacks—Plus Usage and Safety Tips From a Dog Behaviorist and Vet

Whether you need extra storage for hikes or you want a way to cue your dog that it’s time to work, a dog backpack is helpful gear to have on hand.  
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Nothing boosts the spirits on a hike like seeing a happy doggo up ahead—especially if said doggo is sporting an adorable backpack. But, cuteness aside, backpacks can be quite useful if you keep a few guidelines in mind, says Alex Crow, DVM, a UK-based veterinarian who works with Happiest Dog.

"Always check the maximum weight that the bag can carry and be sure that it will not be too much for your dog," he says. As a rule of thumb, Crow suggests making sure your pup's pack weighs under 10 percent his bodyweight. If you have an older dog or one with shorter legs, skip the pack altogether so you don't put extra strain on their backs and joints.

Stuff your pup's pack with some poop bags, water, and snacks, and hit the trail for an exciting adventure for both of you. Scroll to see our top picks, as well as get additional safety tips.

Our Top Picks

ruffwear front range dog day pack
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Best Overall: Ruffwear Front Range Day Pack

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Lightweight enough for everyday use but with enough internal organization and space to fit plenty of gear for a big hike, this pack also features three different leash attachments, an integrated padded harness, and an adjustable belly strap to make sure your pooch is perfectly comfortable, mile after mile.

zippypaws adventure dog backpack
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Best Budget: ZippyPaws Adventure Dog Backpack

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With dual zippered pockets providing plenty of room to stash all your pooch's most important stuff, this pack is made from a lightweight, breathable graphite fabric complete with reflective trims for added safety. If you're looking for a bag on a budget, you'd be hard pressed to find a more perfect pack.

ultimate direction dog vest
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Best Splurge: Ultimate Direction Dog Vest

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This backpack looks serious, and with six pockets, front and top rings for secure leash attachment, and collapsible bowls for food and water included, it's up to the task of some serious fun. Just remember that, even if there's room to fit more in those pockets, the weight adds up, so use caution when loading up your pup.

arcadia trail packable dog backpack
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Best Packable: Arcadia Trail Packable Dog Backpack

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Sometimes you need a pack at the ready, but your dog doesn't need to wear it all the time, and since this bag packs into itself for super simple transport, it's a great option for pet parents on the go. Additionally, it includes its own name tag, reflective trim, and water repellent fabric to help keep your dog safe and comfy.

ruffwear palisades dog pack
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Best for Multi-Day Hikes: Ruffwear Palisades Pack

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When you and your favorite four-legged adventure buddy want to explore the backcountry with confidence, this highly adjustable pack, complete with included water bladders, is the perfect choice to support your adventures. But don't forget that the added weight of a backpack full of gear and heavy water can make each mile a little more difficult, so pay attention to your pooch as you trek, stopping for a rest or water if she seems to be slowing down.

outward hound daypak
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Best for Rough Terrain: Outward Hound Daypak

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The breathable mesh material at the base of this bag will help your hound beat the heat, and the sleek design makes it easy for him to wind through the woods with ease. And when you hit a rocky section of trail—or just need to get your pup back into the car when you're done—the heavy-duty handle will come in awfully ... well, handy.

onetigris dog pack
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Best Vintage Vibe: OneTigris Hoppy Camper Dog Pack

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On the hunt for a backpack that's more slick than sporty? The padded underside and high density cotton canvas fabric with reinforced stitching ensures comfort for your canine—plus, it has a cool, slightly retro look you're sure to love. It fits medium to large dogs best, though, so small dogs might need to keep searching.

kurgo baxter dog backpack
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Best All-Purpose: Kurgo Baxter Dog Backpack

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From long walks down the road to far more rugged endeavors, this pack can do it all. Ergonomic, padded spine support, paired with a custom fit, large handle, leash hooks, and two saddlebags make it an awesome option for dogs ranging from 30 to 85 pounds.

Are Dog Backpacks Safe?

For many healthy dogs, yes—but there are caveats, like weight and distribution. Just a few pounds can be a lot for your furry friend, so if you have something heavy, put it in your own pack.

Keep that weight under 10 percent of your dog's bodyweight, at least, Crow says, and, "always watch your dogs when they wear the backpack to ensure they're comfortable and not struggling."

"You also want to make sure that there is an even distribution of weight, so look for a backpack that has storage on both sides, not just one," he says. Even though the bags shaped like a human backpack are adorable, steer clear; they place unnecessary pressure on your dog's spine.

Other considerations include making sure you can still access your dog's collar or harness when the backpack is on, and the pack doesn't slide around or rub when your pup is on the move.

Should My Dog Wear a Backpack?

The answer to this depends on your dog, Crow says. Senior dogs, especially if they have arthritis or other mobility issues, should not wear a backpack. "Placing something on their back, even if it's not that heavy, can limit their mobility and cause strain to their joints," he says. "You also want to use caution with dogs who have shorter legs and are closer to the ground such as corgis or dachshunds."

However, most other dogs should be fine wearing a lightweight, well-fitting backpack on all kinds of adventures. And, in fact, some dogs—especially working or herding breeds—can truly benefit from wearing one, says Kayla Fratt, dog behaviorist and founder/canine handler at K9 Conservationists.

Although she does put some minor gear, like a GPS, in her dog's pack, that's far from its only use. "The backpack tells them it's time to go to work," she says, "and I use a specific backpack with a handle so I can hoist the dog up and over a big boulder."

She consistently uses the same backpack and gear in the field, which, she says, helps form the dog's picture of what it means to go to work. "I actually use different gear to tell the dogs when they're allowed to pull in competitive skijoring," she says. "Different types of gear, like backpacks, can cue your dog about how you're going to be interacting out in the world."

Whether you've got a real job for your dog to do or just want an easy place to stash a few extra biscuits or poop bags on a long walk, a dog backpack could be a fun thing to try with your pup.