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Dog backpack carriers are having a moment—you’ve probably seen them while hiking, commuting, or even just walking around town. Which may make you wonder: “Do I need a dog backpack, too?”
Pet parents consider dog backpack carriers for a lot of reasons. If your dog has mobility issues, is a senior dog, is an adventure companion, joins you on your commute, is traveling with you, or is a puppy just getting used to the world—these are all reasons that might make the ability to carry your dog handy.
But before you run out to purchase a dog backpack carrier for your next camping trip, there are some important design and health considerations to keep in mind, plus a few good tips that can help you find the right fit for your particular pup. In order to find out if a dog backpack is right for your doggo, we consulted veterinarian Dr. Shannon Barrett of Downward Paws.
How Backpack Carriers for Dogs Work
Have you ever wanted to go on a hike but knew your little Chihuahua wasn’t quite up to the climb? Or do you like to bike places but need a way to take your dog with you?
That’s where dog backpack carriers shine: when you need a hands-free way of transporting your dog for journeys that, for whatever reason, they might not be up to on foot.
There are also a lot of scenarios, like commuting on public transit, where having your dog on your person might be preferable for both you and your pup. Backpack carriers also let you set the pace, whether you walk faster than your dog or like to hit the road on two wheels.
Dog backpack carriers have a lot of variation, not just in materials and colors, but also in design and carry style. Some backpacks have your dog facing toward you, with their paws on your shoulders and their head peeking forward, while others position your dog so they’re facing away from you, watching where you’ve been.
Packs also differ in how hard or soft their structure is. Some backpacks actually have you carry your dog in front like a baby, while others completely enclose your pup like a padded, well-ventilated crate that you wear on your back.
The Kurgo G-Train, for example, is a popular rear-facing dog backpack designed for hiking. It loads from the top and can hold a doggo up to 25 pounds. We liked its padded, adjustable straps (extra nice for long distances) and sturdy tactical materials, like breathable mesh and a structured, waterproof Armorsole base so you can set it down while on the trail. Oscar the test pup gave it four paws up. Our only caveat? Extra small dogs may have trouble reaching the peek hole.
The Timbuk2 Muttmover is another rear-facing backpack, but with a lighter, commuter-friendly design. Our testers liked that it’s made with more mesh than the Kurgo, which makes for a more open and lighter ride for your pup—though it’s not as comfy for long hikes. The peephole can be rolled up and secured with a Velcro strap, and the main pouch unzips all the way to the base, giving your dog the option to walk in themselves. It can hold pups up to 20 pounds.
The PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack is an example of the cozy-crate type of dog backpack. It’s not as hardy as the packs above, but it’s made with a soft sherpa bottom, good airflow, and extra-padded straps for getting around with pups up to 18 pounds. If you’re just looking for a comfy way to get your pal to and from work, the vet, or a visit with friends, it’s a solid, affordable choice.
For a front-wearing pack, there’s the Outward Hound PoochPouch, which lets you carry your dog on your front instead of your back. The PoochPouch has mesh ventilation and a water-resistant exterior. It comes in two sizes and has a clip and drawstring top for added safety. This pack is not for dogs over 20 pounds and is a bit trickier to wear, as you can’t bend or lean, and carrying in front may require your body to work a little harder.
Wondering about large packs? There’s one big-dog backpack on the market that we know of: K9 Sport Sack’s Rover 2, which can hold a dog up to 80 pounds! It’s a front-facing backpack, making it a nice option for pups who would prefer to have you in their line of sight—or see where they’re going. The K9 comes in seven different sizes, including the smaller Plus 2, which we tested on a puppy with promising results.
Bear in mind this pack has a softer base, which may not suit older dogs and pups who need careful spine support (looking at you, Dachshunds). It’s also important to be realistic about just how much dog your own back can take!
For more examples of dog backpacks on the market, check out “The Best Dog Backpacks To Bring Your Pup Along for the Ride.”
Do I Need a Dog Backpack? What the Experts Say
As you can see, there are quite a few things to consider when it comes to finding the right backpack carrier for your dog. To help us break it down, Dr. Shannon Barrett of Downward Paws shares some insights on what to look for.
First, Dr. Barrett prefers packs that have a structured floor, which may allow your pet more freedom to adjust their position and provide support for a dog’s body. If considering a less structured bottom, Dr. Barrett says to make sure the fabric is soft against your dog’s skin and is breathable. Also, take the height and weight limits seriously: “Make sure to check your dog’s weight and measurements before purchasing.”
Dr. Barrett suggests looking for the following features when choosing a backpack carrier for your dog:
- Good ventilation to prevent overheating
- Additional chest straps to keep your pet safely attached to you
- Padding inside the pack to keep your dog comfortable
- Zippers with a safety feature so your pet can’t escape
Though a dog backpack can be great for outdoor adventures, it’s not a pass to take your dog on a ten-mile hike. “For me, dogs should not be carried in backpacks for longer than 30 minutes. An hour is pushing the maximum time I would keep them in the backpack.”
That’s because being confined in one position for too long can be unpleasant. “Imagine if we were strapped to the seat and not allowed to move while the plane hit some turbulence. You can’t stand, stretch, or go to the bathroom,” she points out. Dog backpacks are best used for short-term adventures and transportation—or with a mix of walking and riding, like Oscar does when he hikes.
As for dogs who should definitely take a hard pass when it comes to dog backpacks, giant breeds such as Great Danes and Bernese Mountain Dogs are not good candidates. A dog backpack is also not a good choice for dogs with arthritis or back disease, as being in a dog backpack may make joints stiffer.
“If you have an aging pet that can no longer go on hikes with you, it may be nice to put them in a backpack so they can get back to your favorite nature spot,” says Dr. Barrett. “If that spot means a short walk, they may be okay in a backpack, since they don’t have to be carried for very long.” But, she says, ensure the backpack provides good support without requiring a lot of manipulation of their bodies to get them in.
“Also,” she adds, “be careful if your dog has certain respiratory diseases such as a collapsing trachea. Some backpacks can be tight around their necks, especially those where you carry your dog on your back. If your dog already has trouble breathing, a dog backpack may not be a good idea for your pet.”
If you’re in any doubt, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian to see if your dog’s health and body are a good fit for a dog backpack carrier.
Final Verdict: Is a Dog Backpack Right for Your Dog?
Dog backpack carriers can be a great way to get around with your dog, whether the two of you like a short hike, riding together on your bike, or seeing the world together in a way that’s otherwise limited due to age. They’re a fun way to get from Point A to Point B, but finding the right style is all about 1) knowing your dog and 2) the kind of journeys you like to take together.
But that doesn’t mean backpack carriers are right for all dogs. Pet parents with giant breeds and dogs with health issues—especially back problems, breathing problems, arthritis, and other orthopedic issues—should consult with their vet before taking a dog backpack for a spin. And if your dog is quick to react or can’t tolerate being confined, then good old-fashioned walking on a leash is still your best bet.
For backpack-compatible pups, however, a backpack carrier can be a fantastic tool to have on hand, making adventures that once seemed out of reach possible—and, as our testers have discovered, making the journey fun to boot.
How We Chose
The products featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a comprehensive look at customer reviews across a wide variety of retail platforms, and an interview with DVM Shannon Barrett. Our product selections prioritize carrying capacity, comfort for human and pup, convenience, breathability, and durability. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated pets, who are never stingy with their feedback.
- The Best Dog Backpacks to Bring Your Pup Along for the Ride
- Meet the Kurgo G-Train, the Comfiest and Coolest Hiking Backpack for Dogs
- Review: Timbuk2’s Muttmover Dog Backpack Is an All-Purpose Winner
- Can Puppies Ride in Dog Backpacks? A Review of the K9 Sport Sack
- Our Ultimate Dog Hiking Gear Guide
- Joy Rides: These 10 Top Dog Carriers Will Make Your Bike Ride a Breeze