We’ve considered trying a dog backpack with Riley for a while but just weren’t convinced the rewards would equal the relatively high cost of a quality backpack. Well this review turned out to be the perfect opportunity for us to try several dog backpacks on Miss Riley (our lovely model and review pooch).
Dog trainers say backpacks change a dog’s mentally. This is because your pooch becomes more focused on the job at hand (walking, and carrying the load), better behaved, and even receives more strenuous exercise. This is especially true for working breeds who need a job.
Well, let me begin by saying that backpacks really work! Everything we heard about “giving your dog a job” is true. We simply loaded the pack– two cans of baked beans, poop bags, and car keys–strapped it onto Riley’s back and then hit the road.
But after reviewing several models, we highly encourage you to find the correct backpack for your specific pup, as it’s important to find a pack that fits well and provides the utility you need.
For this comparison, we purchased three backpacks from REI.com, one of our all-time favorite outdoor gear stores. With Riley tipping the scales at 50 pounds, we ordered all 3 backpacks in size medium.
1. Adventure Dog Backpack by REI
The REI Adventure Pack is stunning in it style and appearance. We actually bought the orange/yellow backpack which looked beautiful on Riley.
Out of all the packs, the REI Adventure Pack was the easiest to get on and off. As you can see in the pictures, the buckles are accessible and snap together very easily. Overall the pack is light and portable. Additionally, the underside of the pack contains meshing, which allows for continuous airflow on hot days. The pack also features three body straps, two deep pockets on each side, a snug form-fit, and a metal D-ring to attach your leash for ultimate control of your pooch.
First of all, the front strap fits around the dog’s neck. This immediately struck us as awkward, since this placement could potentially place too much pressure around Riley’s lower neck. And even though a piece of mesh fabric protects the dog’s skin from being pinched inside a closing buckle, this same mesh material isn’t quite large enough to serve is full purpose. If your pup has medium/long hair then beware of this pack as their locks may get caught in the snaps. One other downside to this pack is how its straps got looser as Riley walked around. In fact, on one of our walks to the dog park, I had to stop once to re-adjust the pack…this is not an easy feat for a dog who’s impatience (and excitement) about a dog park in the distance keeps her body bouncing around. Also, the pack has no reflectors, so beware of traffic when walking your dog during the twilight hours.
This pack works well for shorter neighborhood walks, but we don’t recommend it for camping, hiking, or carrying heavier loads. With its light weight and mesh ventilation, this dog back pack should work great in warmer climates. And even though we had a few gripes, we do recommend the REI Adventure Dog Backpack for its comfort, durability, and easy on/off qualities.
“I really have to concentrate hard with this thing on my back. But I really don’t like how it slips around when the straps get loose, so I try to walk straight and get it right. I’d say this pack thingy is comfy—except for those darn cans of beans I have carry around as weights! But I ‘m glad to work. Best of all when we get home I get treats super fast because it only takes 2 seconds to get this thing off me. And, of course, I look beautiful in my yellow/orange pack. It shows off the different colors of my coat.”
Small $40.00, Medium $45.00, Large $50.00
Doglirious Rating (out of 5)
2. RUFFWEAR Approach Pack
Similar to the REI pack, the RUFFWEAR Approach Pack also has three body straps. However, unlike the REI backpack, the front strap on this RUFFWEAR pack fit more like a harness. As you can see in the picture, you’ll have to lift your dog’s paw in order to get the backpack on and off. This is a bit more time consuming but does provide for a better fit with greater support.
The overall fit of the backpack is stellar. The harness design, coupled with plush padding throughout, takes pressure off the neck. This allowed Riley a wider range of movement in her legs and also allowed her to jog and even lay down while wearing the backpack. This pack features two D-rings: one metal and one fabric, which provides more options for you with attaching the leash. Reflectors run down the entire length of either side for ultimate visibility during nighttime city jaunts. Unlike the REI Adventure Pack, the padding surrounding the buckles on the RUFFWEAR pack is spectacular. If you have a hairy or fluffy dog, you can rest assured that you won’t easily buckle your pup’s fur in the clips. Additionally, this same padding protects your dog’s skin by distributing heavier weight loads across a wider body area. The Approach Pack’s straps remained firmly in place while Riley walked, and each strap is enclosed in soft padding, which increases doggy comfort on those longer hikes and camping trips.
The sizes are strange. For example, RUFFWEAR makes the Approach pack in XXS, XS, S, M, and L. Since Riley was a medium in the other packs, we bought a medium Approach pack as well…big mistake. It was too big. In fact, a 50-pound dog is actually between sizes, so we went back to the store and tried a Small on for size; that was much snugger and more supportive. On the downside, it’s pockets were smaller than the Medium. Also, as described above, putting on (and taking off) the harness is more time consuming, and it is a bit difficult to adjust the straps—although once you adjust them, they won’t slip or come loose during the walks.
We love this pack! Even though it’s the most expensive pack in our review, it’s by far the best of the bunch. The RUFFWEAR Approach Pack is one of our favorites, and the company’s reputation is built upon solid design, comfort, and durability. There’s even a higher-level RUFFWEAR backpack that we’re looking at for hardcore biking, hiking, and camping trips. Oh, and remember, these backpacks run large, so you may want to get a size smaller than other brands. In fact, we’re going to return our medium pack and get Riley a small.
“I’m ready to take this puppy (is that what humans call a “pun”?) hiking, running, to the lake…everywhere! This RUFFWEAR Approach Pack makes me the most stylish pooch on the trial. Oh, and I know I’ll be able to carry my weight without the straps digging into my sides with all of this padding. So now, I can concentrate really hard while I work and carry tons of heavy stuff. The best part is I can still jump around with this backpack on, and I can comfortably do my business while out on my walk—the bag doesn’t get in the way at all. I even carry my own dog poop bags (empty ones of course). I can’t say that I love getting in and out of this thing, but my parents always give me lots of treats when they do—which by the way, is the very best way to get your pup to enjoy the backpack experience. Overall, this backpack makes me feel so important. After all, I really love working for my food and water. I bet your dog does too. Ruffwear! Ruffwear! “
Small $65.99, Medium $76.99, Large $76.99
Doglirious Rating (out of 5)
3. Granite Gear Ruff Rider Backpack
The Granite Gear Ruff Rider immediately struck us as an inferior backpack. A quick visual inspection revealed its two body straps (compared to the three straps on our other reviewed packs) and no neck support.
The underside of the backpack is lined with soft fleece, and it sports a couple of huge pockets and reflectors.
We just can’t get over the two straps! And if that wasn’t bad enough, only one of the straps buckles; the other just tightens (no buckle). The first time we put it on Riley, we thought maybe it was defective…”Is this thing missing strap?” Granite Gear should have spent more time designing this pack. For the price, it isn’t the most expensive model out there, but it isn’t the cheapest either. In fact, it’s in the same price range as the REI Adventure Pack in this same review. I wouldn’t suggest putting much weight inside of this backpack.
We don’t recommend this dog backpack. Not only isn’t it sufficient for carrying heavy loads, but for the price, you’d do way better with the REI Adventure Pack. This Granite Gear dog backpack *might* work for smaller dogs, but again, for the price, just go with REI’s brand. We’ll give this dog backpack a single star just for the fleece lining and reflectors.
“Well, I am not sure what that thing was—maybe a shirt with big pockets? I never got to carry my heavy cans of beans around town while wearing it, so I was kind of bored. And for some reason Mommy wasn’t comfortable putting stuff inside these great big pockets. Oh well, I can’t complain. It was kind of comfortable with the soft…fleece…I think it’s called.”
Small $50.00, Medium $55.00, Large $60.00
Doglirious Rating (out of 5)