Dog backpacks are great for hiking, backpacking, and camping as they allow your dog to carry much of his own gear for a trip. Most dogs can carry backpacks, and backpacks come in a variety of sizes, colors, and materials, from those designed for warm climates to those with velcro for sticking on name panels or ID cards. Sizing a dog backpack is easy and can be done at home with no special equipment.
Your dog should be fully grown before wearing a backpack. Young dogs (especially large breed dogs) need plenty of time for their skeletons to finish growing before carrying any weight. Putting even a few extra pounds on these sensitive joints could cause lifelong health problems.
Look for a backpack that has plenty of padding between the fabric and your dogs body to reduce pressure points. You'll also want to make sure that the pack is not so large that it hangs off your dogs sides. He should be able to sit, stand, lay down and walk normally while wearing his pack, with no impediment of movement in his shoulders.
Your dogs pack should fit snugly on his body, not so loose that it wriggles around and rubs all day, nor so tight that it traps heat and makes him uncomfortable. If you live in a warm climate, a well-ventilated pack is a must, whereas if you're going on hikes with a lot of incline, look for a pack that uses multiple straps to keep the pack sturdy while you walk. Most dog backpacks will have a minimum of 2 straps, one across the chest and one under the ribcage, but some packs offer 3 or more straps to better stabilize the pack.
To fit your dogs backpack, you'll need to take measure around your dogs ribcage. Because dog backpacks come with adjustable straps, your measurements don't have to be exact. It's more important to choose a backpack that fits balanced and centered on your dogs back.
In a perfect world, you can use tailors tape, which you can wrap around your dogs ribcage at the widest point (typically, closest to his elbows) to get a perfect measurement. But if you don't have tailors tape, you can simply take one knuckle of your finger—equivalent to about an inch— and run it down your dogs side, from his shoulderblade to his elbow. Then multiply that figure by 2.
This gives you a pretty good approximation of what size backpack your dog will need. Pick a backpack with an 1” or 2” of leeway in either direction so that you have some room to adjust the pack for a better fit. For example, if your dog measures 19”, get a pack that fits dogs with a girth of 17-22” or similar.
Wearing a backpack is a great way to tire your dog out even further while hiking, but don't wait until you get on the trail to put your dogs backpack on for the first time. Even if you buy a backpack with the right measurements, the style of backpack is very important when it comes to getting the perfect fit. For this reason, it can be better to try out dog backpacks in person before making a purchase — or at the very least, shopping at a pet store with a generous return policy.
Like kids, dogs reactions to new things can be unpredictable. Some dogs may be afraid of wearing a backpack, or try to rub it off, others may not be OK with the sound of the zippers right behind their head and not want it adjusted. For most dogs, these knee-jerk reactions fade away quickly, as they quickly realize that their new backpack isn't a problem. Still, if your dog is sensitive to new things, introducing him to the backpack slowly and letting him smell it and get comfortable with it before putting it on will go a long way in making him feel safe.
Your dog shouldn't carry more than 10-15% of their body weight, to start. For most hiking trips, that's plenty. Stock your dogs pack with everything he'll need for the hike, including:
The contents of your pack may change, but a sturdy pack will last for years. Most are washable and durable enough to go through mud and dirt many times over. Take the time to find a backpack with a balanced fit and wait until your dog is fully grown to ensure you get the right size. Most dogs become comfortable wearing a backpack almost immediately, and can hit the trails with it as soon as you're both ready!