Taking to the outdoors – how to pick the right dog pack!

Hiking this summer is one more gloriously fun way you can share your life and good times with your dog.  You probably already own a good fitting backpack for yourself, but what about one for your canine buddy? Make the hiking adventure fun for your dog too with the right type of dog pack.

A dog pack essentially consists of two compartments attached to a yoke or pad over the dog’s shoulders. The compartments, called panniers, hang down on either side of the dog. Gear (whatever you are taking along) is packed in the panniers.

According to Charlene LaBelle, author of Backpacking With Your Dog (Alpine Publications, www.alpinepub.com) the main things to look for when buying your dog a pack are: proper fit and suitability for the type of hiking you plan to do.

Generally, packs are sized according to a dog’s weight. Small (30-50 pounds), medium (50-75 pounds), large (75-100 pounds), extra large (100+ pounds). Ideally, you’d like your dog to try on the pack before you buy it. Even if you order online or from a catalog, it’s a good idea to go to a store and try on packs for size.

LaBelle stresses the importance of selecting a pack constructed of quality materials,  and making sure it fits properly. A poorly fitted pack can cause injury to back and legs. If the pack sags, it can rub a dog’s elbow raw. A pack with a yoke that is too narrow will sit on top of the dog’s back, wearing his coat and can cause sores on his back. A poorly constructed pack cannot withstand the rigors of the trail. You don’t want zippers that break or material that rips, spilling the pack’s contents along the trail.

Packs generally are one or two-piece. One-piece packs are light weight, usually have a narrow yoke and small compartments. They are great for small dogs with narrow backs and for day hiking.  Two-piece packs are more durable and hold more gear. They make a better choice for larger dogs and are perfect for extended trips.

Whether using a one or two-piece pack, it has to be placed properly on your dog, with a snug (not tight) fit. When using a one-piece pack, fit the pack to your dog before you fill it. If you are using a two-piece pack, fit the pad on, then place the evenly filled packs over your dog’s shoulders.

The yoke on the pack should be wide enough for the dog’s back but not so wide that the top of the panniers hang down on his sides. A correctly fitted yoke will allow the panniers to hang straight down to or just slightly below the dog’s belly. The yoke distributes the weight evenly, preventing soreness and injury.  The weight of the packs should ride over the dog’s shoulders, not on his back.

A dog pack will have either D-rings or buckles for attaching the panniers. A pack should have at least three straps – a chest strap and two belly straps. One strap goes across the chest in front of the forelegs. A second strap fits just behind the front legs like the girth on a saddle and the third strap angles back towards the flank. An optional fourth strap that goes around the rump, under the tail, is sometimes used for very steep terrain.

Some people use brush straps when hiking in rugged country.  10-12 feet long, the straps thread through the D rings on the pack and encircle both dog and pack several times. A word of caution though, when using brush straps. In case of an emergency, it’s almost impossible to get the pack off quickly enough. For most hiking adventures, the Velcro straps on the packs do a great job of holding the panniers in place.

Here’s Charlene LaBelle’s quick checklist for picking out a quality dog pack:

•  Constructed of durable, sturdy material

•  Designed especially for a dog

•  Easy to use fasteners

•  Heavy duty zippers with protective flaps

•  Double nylon zippers or double pulls

•  Leading edge and bottom of each pouch reinforced

•  Loops or D-rings for securing gear to outside and top of pack

•  Correct size for your particular dog

•  Reinforced or double seams.

And from LaBelle, one more, common sense tip: “NEVER pack all of your survival supplies on one dog. You never know if the two of you may be separated.”


More information on backpacking with your dog can be found in Charlene LaBelle’s book,  A Guide to Backpacking With Your Dog . Available at Alpine Publications.

One thought on “Taking to the outdoors – how to pick the right dog pack!

  1. Pingback: Dog Packs

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