*Discloser: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through one of my links, at no cost to you.
Imagine going on a multi-day hike with your four-legged friend: You’re gonna choose an amazing trail and your dog and you will have the best time together, enjoying every moment of it. In the evening you’re gonna go camping and Fido and you will sleep peacefully back to back.
But wait: wouldn’t you have to bring a whole lot of stuff? Not only will you have to carry your own things, but you’ll also have to bring things for your dog.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if your dog could carry his stuff himself? It would, right?
But how much weight can a dog actually carry in a backpack?
Here’s the short answer: In general, a dog can carry about 10 % to 20 % of his own weight. Some will be able to carry up to 30%. But this is rare and needs proper training. And others, especially very small dogs, probably won’t be able to carry anything at all.
Now, let’s look at the question a bit more in detail.
Is a dog backpack a good idea?
A dog backpack can be very beneficial for you and your dog.
Not only will it wear him out more thoroughly, but it also stimulates him mentally.
Plus, of course, he can help you by carrying some of his own things.
So, yes, a dog backpack is a brilliant idea!
Why should I use my dog to carry things?
Adding to all the things I’ve just mentioned, it gives your dog a job!
Believe me, this is an amazing benefit for your dog. Many dogs are bored and unconfident because they don’t know what their role is with you. Some dogs start barking at other dogs or people because they think they have to protect you. Others get really shy because they’re overwhelmed by all the stimuli in his life life.
When you give your dog a job, he can calm down. Now he knows: ok, my task is to carry this backpack. This is what my human wants me to do, I don’t need to worry about it anymore.
For hyper dogs, it’s also a great way to provide extra work out. It’s like when you go hiking with a heavy backpack. This just needs a lot more energy.
Are backpacks safe for dogs?
If you choose one that fits and train it properly, dog backpacks are absolutely safe.
However, if you choose the wrong model, don’t train your dog properly or put too much weight in it, it can be painful for your dog. Not only this, but overloading it can even cause longterm issues, such as Arthritis.
So make sure, all these things are looked after and your pup will be just fine.
We’ll look at what’s the best dog backpack for you and how to train your dog in a minute.
How much weight should a dog carry in a backpack?
Now let’s look at this question in a little more detail.
In general, you shouldn’t exceed 20% of your dog’s body weight, even with training. Only dogs that were specifically bred to carry or pull things can carry up to 30% of their own body weight.
Most dogs feel the most comfortable at about 10% to 15%.
Keep in mind that this provides extra work out for your dog. A backpack loaded with 20% of your dog’s body weight makes a walk feel twice as long for your dog. So, make sure to keep that in mind and start with shorter walks. We’ll get to the training in a minute.
If in doubt, consult your vet
To get an exact number that’s appropriate for your dog, it’s best to consult your vet. She’ll tell you exactly how much your dog will be able to carry to still feel comfortable. She’ll also be able to tell you, how much more intense a walk with a backpack will be for your dog.
What items can my dog carry?
It doesn’t really matter what you give your dog to carry. What seems most logical is to give him some of his own things, such as water, food (if it doesn’t distract him too much), poop bags, collapsible bowls, long leash etc.
Some people also like their dog to carry their phone, wallet and keys.
Personally, I would never do that! There’s always a chance that your dog runs away. And then you’re screwed! Maybe I’m being paranoiac but, well, I wouldn’t do it 😉
If you give your dog poky things to carry, such as your keys, make sure they don’t hurt him and wrap them in something softer.
How to train a dog to wear a backpack
Now, you might be surprised that wearing a backpack needs to be trained. Wearing something on his back isn’t natural for your dog. So, you first have to teach him that it’s okay to have something there and that there’s no need to freak out.
At what age can a dog carry a backpack?
It’s very important that you don’t start training too early. Just as with hiking, you should only start training to wear a backpack when your dog is fully grown. For smaller dogs this is usually at around 1 year old. For larger dogs, it generally takes up to 18 months. In order to be sure, consult your vet on this matter.
Btw, if you want to learn more about hiking with dogs (specifically small ones) and how to get ready, make sure to check out my complete guide to hiking with a small dog.
Start with an empty backpack
Once you got your dog pack, always start training with the pack being empty.
This is the only exception to starting training when your dog’s fully grown. As long as it’s really light, you can even strap it on before he’s fully grown, in order to get him used to it.
Start with strapping the pack on your dog’s back. Only leave it on for a minute or two. Always praise him when he’s calm and give him lots of treats. Once he seems fine with it, you can even walk around your house a little bit.
If your dog is used to a harness, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Once he’s calm when wearing the backpack, start taking a short walk with it strapped on. Then go for a longer walk and see if he’s still doing fine.
Build it up slowly
Once your dog is super comfy with his empty backpack on, you can start filling it up slowly.
Start with just a few light things, maybe 1 lb in total and make sure it’s spread evenly. Then slowly increase it, always allowing a few days with the same weight.
After a few days or weeks, you’ll be at your dog’s max. carrying ability and you’re ready to hit the trail!
For a real in-depth training guide, check out Jaymi’s article here.
What is the best dog backpack?
So which dog backpack suits your dog best? Here are some indications how to choose one that fits.
For a more in-depth overview, check out Pet Fashion Weeks post on the best dog backpack for hiking.
Get a backpack specifically designed for dogs
This is very important!
You obviously can’t just take a normal backpack or any bag and put it on your dog. Only buy one that is specifically made for dogs. Dog packs are designed in a way that let’s your dog move normally without the pack hurting him.
Measure your dog
Before you get a dog pack, make sure to measure your dog and weigh him. Ruffwear has a very good measurement guide. This way you know which size to get.
The minimum chest girth width for all the Ruffwear packs is 22 in. So it’s not made for small dogs.
Even after searching for a long time, I couldn’t find any pack that would fit a small dog, such as my Miniature Poodle Baloo. If you know a backpack that fits a small dog, please let me know!
The best options
Here’s a quick overview of the best models, depending on what you use it for.
Ruffwear is the clear winner, no matter what you use it for. They just know the needs for active dogs the best.
While they’re on the pricier side, they use very durable materials, which means that the pack will probably last a dog-life long. So, in the end it’s actually cheaper than to buy a new one every year.
Best dog backpack for hiking: Ruffwear Palisades
What’s particularly convenient about the Ruffwear Palisades is that the harness and the bags are separate. This makes it really easy to take the compartments off. Plus, you also get a very sturdy harness with a handle on top.
Best dog backpack for extra work out: Ruffwear Singletrak
The Ruffwear Singletrak isn’t very spacious. However, it comes with two collapsible water bottles. This is ideal for training or extra work out. By filling these, you can start slowly with 1 or 2 lb.
To put a backpack on your dog can have a lot of benefits. Not only does it give him a job, but it also provides some extra work out and mental stimulation. And it takes some of the load off your shoulders (literally).
With training, most dogs will feel comfortable with carrying about 10% to 15% of their own body weight. Sturdy and strong dogs can easily take 20% of their own body weight. Theoretically, dog breeds that were specifically bred for carrying or pulling things (e.g. Bernese Mountain Dog), can even take 30%. But it isn’t recommended to go over 20% of your dog’s body weight, as overloading can cause health issues, such as Arthritis, for your dog.
Struggling with your puppy's hyper behavior? I offer private 1:1 online coaching to help you with your puppy's behavioral problems (biting, crate training struggles, crying, barking, separation anxiety, daily schedule etc.). Schedule a free 15-minute video Zoom call to get started!
Please note that I'm not a professional dog trainer. Everything I know is from my own experience with my hyper Mini Poodle Baloo and hundreds of hours of research.