Shayla M. (Owner of PlayBarkRun)
Today we some very special guests to help us test out all the best backpacks. Meet our new writer Katlin Primrose, and her dog (and very handsome) Wylie the Tamaskan. Katlin runs her own collar and leash business, and is an expert at analyzing the build quality of these types of products. Wylie is here to model (of course) and do some in-field testing for us. So I'll let Katlin do the rest of the talking...
Hey everyone 🙂 I've been making dog collars, leashes, harnesses, and backpacks out of my home for about 10 years, so I'm pretty good at picking apart the finer details. And today we'll be closely analyzing some the most popular saddlebags and packs for our canines.
But to further my testing I took my dog, Wylie, on a hike with these items to do some real live testing. And the results were interesting...
Quick Look At The Best Backpacks:
Our Overall Rating:
What To Look For in a Backpack
Whether you're going on a hike, trail ride, camping trip, or just want your pup to burn some extra calories, you'll want to watch out for these 5 primary things.
Balance and Stability
Nature has made your dog into an agile, efficient little machine. So adding extra weight can really throw things off, especially if that weight is off balance.
Saddlebags with big open pockets will mean items are free to roll around and mess up your poor dog's natural stability. It can make running and exploring an exhausting chore.
Storage should be snug, and tight to their body, and evenly balanced on both sides. Which means you want pockets to be the perfect size, and tightly packed. The harness should be snug to their body (without suffocating them or causing discomfort).
Tight pockets and sections allow for secure items.
Take a close look at what you're strapping to their body, and feel every corner with your hands. Now imagine how that might feel after several hours - will it rub, irritate, or cut into their skin?
Even seemingly comfortable straps and webbing can cut into their neck, chest, and armpits over time (especially when there is extra weight attached). Straps should have thick, comfortable padding in all the areas it will rub, with no harsh corners or abrasive edges.
Also consider heat retention - does the fabric breathe? Or will it feel like wearing a winter jacket on a hot summer day?
An example of thick padding, and a layer of breathable airmesh. Good for keeping your dog comfortable and cool on long hikes.
Here's an area that often gets overlooked - how good is the stitching? Big dog's have a LOT of force behind them, and can easily tear through weak stitches or webbing. Which is especially dangerous if your Labrador decides they want to go chase a bear through the forest.
Take a look at the leash ring, there should be 3 layers of stitching to ensure it doesn't rip off from force. Also look around the chest area (where a lot of force can be applied) and look for any loose threads. It should be as secure as a seat belt in a car.
Here's an example of a good leash ring: a metal ring secured in place with strong webbing and stitching.
The next place to look is the buckles. Cheap buckles will break. There is nothing wrong with plastic buckles as long as they feel strong (you should hear a hearty "click" when you snap-in the buckle). Metal buckles are also good, but tend to rust over time.
Finally, there should be some reflective material and bright colors. This is to protect your canine from hunters, and making them easier to spot if they get lost.
Just like we covered in Safety and Comfort: always take a very close look at stitching, buckles, webbing, and padding. A single bit of stitching isn't going to work, you want these straps to be as secure as your vehicle seat belt. Look for multiple layers of stitching where the most force will be applied.
If all those bases are covered, your bag should be up for some long term wear and tear. A few final items to look over are zippers, and if the material can handle being in the woods
Finally, we look at the overall capacity of the bag. But this is up to you and how much your dog can comfortably carry.
Just remember, you don't want to add too much weight on long trips, it can lead to overheating and exhaustion. Also, items should be evenly balanced, and snug so it keeps things balanced and efficient.
The Best Backpacks Reviewed
Sleek, low profile, and perfect for half day hikes. Ruffwear does an excellent job of fully padding their packs with breathable, lightweight fabric so it's very comfortable for long trips.
You can tell Ruffwear spent some time picking high quality materials (and stitching) that can handle wear and tear from days spent in the mountains, woods, or rain.
Another essential feature is this pack stays tight and snug to the body so it doesn't hinder their ability to run and explore, and the chest pad and webbing is perfectly placed.
Storage space is somewhat limited, but having tightly packed pockets allows for proper weight distribution (items aren't rolling around freely and causing your dog to go off balance).
However, one big issue we have is the leash loop is poorly designed and can easily rip off. We highly recommend using a separate collar when attaching a leash.
Our 2nd Pick:
Ruffwear Approach Pack
This came is a very close 2nd place, and is another great Ruffwear Pack. Just like our first pick - this one is really well padded, and comfortable. It's lightweight and breathable, but the material can handle some wear and tear from long hikes.
The leash attachment is a huge improvement from other Ruffwear packs - it's secure and can handle some heavy pulling dogs.
Ruffwear really went all out with storage space on this one, and while that's nice to have it can also be annoying. Without sections, items are free to roll around and throw your dog off balance.
Canine Equipment Ultimate Trail Backpack
While the Ultimate Trail Backpack pretty much nails all the best qualities in a backpack, they left in one massive issue that made hiking very frustrating. There is no chest strap, so the weight of the pack is cutting into the dog's throat. And, without that center stability the pack constantly shifts to one side or the other.
That being said, here's all the things I loved about this bag. The saddle bags are removable, which is a lovely feature. The quality of the material, padding, stitching, and webbing is fantastic. Almost everything about this pack is beautifully designed, comfortable, and well thought out.
If there was a chest strap this would have easily won our top pick.
Outward Hound Daypak Backpack
We tried this one out due to it's popularity. While the price makes this pack very attractive, I found they got a few things wrong.
First, here's some things they did well: the buckles and zippers are actually quite good. There is some moderate padding (which may wear down quickly) and it's somewhat breathable. As you can see from the pictures it's compact, but not a lot of storage space.
But as you might expect with a low cost item, there is some cheap design. It's very flimsy, and I have doubts the materials would be up for any kind of long term use.
The belly straps are not padded, which means it will rub and irritate after a few hours. Stitching is moderate at best. And the small bag locations are not ideal for proper balance.