How to pack your dog’s backpack (and what to put inside)

I’ll be honest- when I first started hiking I thought a dog backpack looked silly and wondered what they even carried inside of them. Could they be that useful, or is it just another piece of useless gear to buy?

Truth is, packing for your pup’s adventure is as essential as packing a diaper bag for a child- because let’s face it, our furry friends are children!

Dog backpacks, or saddle bags, are worth using if it is the right decision for your dog. I don’t go on a hike without it!

In this post I’m going to share with you reasons why you may want to use a dog backpack, things to consider when purchasing one, how to get your dog acquainted to the new gear, tips on packing the pack, and lastly, what to put in it for day hikes!

Phew, let’s get started.

dog backpack for hiking

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Reasons to use a dog backpack for your hikes

  • Gives high energy and nervous dogs a “job”.
  • Can help slow them down so they hike more at your speed.
  • They can carry their own supplies which means you don’t have to!

Things to consider when choosing a dog backpack

There are so many options of brands, styles, colors, and prices when it comes to shopping for your dog’s saddle bag. One may not be better than the other. What it really comes down to is your preferences and what will best fit your dog.

Here are some things to consider:

How will it fit your dog?

A lot of sizes of backpacks are listed based on the weight of your dog. However, you should never go strictly based off of the weight. Just like humans, it isn’t one size fits all.

Some dogs have a deep chest, are more round, etc. It is best to measure your dog and look at the specs before purchasing.

What are you using it for?

If you’re looking for a backpack just to walk around the neighborhood then you may not need a lot of storage.

But if you’re purchasing one for outdoor adventures like hiking or backpacking you will want more storage and organization because you’ll have a lot more gear to carry.

What features do you want?

Dog backpacks can get quite complex! It is best to figure out what features are most important to you.

Do you want a backpack that has removable saddle bags so it can double as just a harness?

How are things stored in the pack? Do you want interior pockets, straps, outside straps, etc?

Maybe you want a reflective backpack or one that has Velcro strips that can read “do not pet”, “service dog”, etc.

My suggestion would be to browse around at the different features offered and decide what you need. This may change in time after you’ve tried out a few backpacks and as your adventures grow.

The most important features I consider are:

  • Lightweight pack that doesn’t sacrifice on durability.
  • One that doesn’t chafe around the legs/chest.
  • A backpack that does not go around the neck to prevent choking.
  • Sturdy leash hook that will not break off.
  • Large saddle bags that offer organization inside.
dog backpack-what to pack

Get them acquainted with the new gear

Some dogs will not be phased by the backpack at all, while others will be timid about the idea. You want to introduce it to them slowly at first so they don’t become afraid of the new gear.

To do this you could sit on the floor and open it with them if they are a curious dog. Act excited to get them excited!

Lay it on the floor and let them sniff it. When it comes time to putting it on them just do so slowly with encouragement and even training treats if need be.

Once you get your dog use to the idea of the backpack it is best to take them for a couple walks wearing it. You’ll want to do this without weight.

When it comes time to adding weight you’ll want to gradually over time keep adding items into the backpack and not all at once.

what to put in a dog backpack

How to pack your dog backpack for hikes

Consult your vet first

Before you begin adding weight into the backpack you should first consult your vet to be sure your dog is in good enough shape to carry a pack.

You want to be sure you don’t add weight while they’re too young, or add weight if they are old because it can affect their joints.

How much weight can your dog carry? It will depend upon a few different factors. Online you’ll find a range of different advice telling you no heavier than 10-25% of your dog’s weight.

That is quite a range right there.

Truthfully, the amount of weight your dog can carry will depend upon their weight, physical fitness, and any health issues they may have. Your vet can help determine how much weight your dog can carry!

Even out the weight

When packing your dog backpack you’ll want to pack each side evenly so they aren’t lopsided. Otherwise the pack will slide off on the heavier side and it won’t only look silly, but also be uncomfortable for your dog.

Try to pack the backpack tight

You want to be careful not to over-pack the dog backpack, but try your best to pack items in each pocket tightly.

Doing so will help keep things from shifting and bouncing around. To be sure items will be packed tight you can choose a backpack that will not have too large of pockets and/or includes organization hooks and pockets inside.

Read: Hiking with your dog- 10 essentials to pack

What to pack in the dog backpack

What you choose to pack in your dog backpack will vary depending on the adventure. Are you going for walks around the neighborhood? Will you be day hiking? Are you packing for a backpacking trip?

It will also vary depending on your dog’s size, weight, and carrying limit.

Since this post is geared towards packing for day hikes I’ll be listing all the things I pack in my own dog, Monty’s, backpack when we go hiking. For reference he is a 70 pound German Shepard who is very active, lean, and middle aged in great health.

You can use this as a guide for your own dog and pick and choose what you’d like to have yours carry as well as add some of your own!

Food / Treats

Our dogs burn calories on the trail just like we do, so they’ll need some fuel! What you pack will depend on your needs and length of the hike.

If your dog is in training it would be a good idea to pack training treats. Bringing along some every day kibble isn’t a bad idea, but it can get bulky fast.

I usually pack some dehydrated treats or just recently started making homemade dog bars and treats. This way I can control which ingredients go in them, make as much as we’ll need, and they save room in the dog backpack!

Water

You have a few options when it comes to water- you can find a water bottle with drinking cap on the top that will fit in the dog backpack, use a water bottle for your dog and carry it for them, or use a hydration bladder.

I have Monty carry his own water, so I use 2- 1L hydration bladders from Ruffwear and put one on each side of him. The Ruffwear bladders are made to fit in saddle bags, are very soft, and have a waterfall spout which is easy to use.

If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, you can try a Platypus bladder and purchase a separate cap to waterfall the water out. Depending which backpack you have the bladder may not fit, so be aware!

Pro Tip: When putting water in your dog backpack be sure to still distribute the weight evenly. The weight will lighten as you use the water throughout the hike. Since I have a bladder on each side, I alternate which one I use so things stay even!

Poop Bags

Leave no trace principles apply to your dog as well. You are responsible for picking up your dog’s poo on the trails! I always pack poop bags in the dog backpack so I can easily access them after Monty’s done his duty.

ID Card

The card Monty carries is similar to a drivers license- but for a dog! It has his photo, name, as well as my name and address. It is just another form of identification in case of emergencies. I actually love it because it makes him look so official!

Another option is to have your dog micro chipped, or you can do both!

Benadryl

If you have a medical kit with you (which you should!) it may include Benadryl. I still include some in Monty’s backpack anyways. You should consult your vet when it comes to dosages for your own dog!

I find this especially important when hiking in desert areas. They are full of snakes, lizards, scorpions, and other critters. Monty has been stung by a scorpion before and Benadryl treated his reaction just fine.

Paw Balm

Dog paws can crack or get torn while hiking on all different terrain. I always keep a to-go size tube of paw balm in the dog backpack to treat Monty’s paws if they need it.

I usually apply it while we’re taking a break or at the top of a mountain and relaxing for a bit. This will give it time to soak in the paw pads and not rub off on the ground or collect dirt.

Pro Tip: You should always carry a pair of dog boots for major paw injuries during adventures. You can pack these in the dog backpack or your own!

Safety Whistle

I do carry my own safety whistle in my pack, but I like to pack a second one in Monty’s. I do this because if for any reason I don’t have my backpack, or can’t get into it, I know I’ll have a second option to access one since Monty is always by my side.

Regardless, it is always best to have a safety whistle with you while hiking!

Folding Knife

Using the same thought process as above, I like to store an extra folding knife with me in Monty’s pack. I take safety in the outdoors seriously, especially when solo!

Other items you could pack

The above list includes the items I pack in my dog backpack, but your list could be different depending on your dog and needs. Below are a couple other ideas of items you may want to pack:

Final thoughts on packing a dog backpack

So, are you going to use a dog backpack for your day hikes? I hope this post has helped you decide as well as figure out how you are going to pack it.

Remember, every dog and every adventure is different. You’ll want to start by consulting your vet first. But if you do decide to pack a backpack for your dog, you’ll quickly realize how beneficial it is for the both of you!

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