Your dog can help carry the load, but how much can they actually carry? Don’t just load up your dogs pack and hope for the best. There’s a simple formula (refer to the table below) to figure out how much your dog can carry in a backpack.
How much weight can a dog carrying in a backpack? Dogs can usually carry approximately 25% of their body weight in a backpack. Some breeds can carry 10% more while older dogs and puppies will need to carry less. Just make sure your dog is physically ready to carry a pack.
Almost every dog can carry a pack after some basic training. How much they can actually carry depends on the breed and dog. Refer to the table below for more information.
How Much Weight Should My Dog Carry Backpacking?
There’s a lot that goes into figuring out how much weight your dog can safely carry in a pack. How old is your dog? What type of dog is it? Does your dog regularly exercise? Can they even wear a pack?
You need to think about all of those factors before hitting the trail with a pack. When I started looking into packs for my dog Zoey I had a difficult time figuring out how much weight she could carry.
I kept seeing rough estimates in the range of 10-25% of her body weight. It’s great to have a general range, but I quickly learned that there’s more to it. Every dog responds differently to backpacks. Some love them and others hate them.
Not every dog will be able to handle 25% of their body weight. They need to be in peak athletic shape between the age of 2-7 years old. You also need to factor in the dogs previous work experience and breed standards. Some breeds are better at pulling and carrying weight.
The following chart should point you in the right direction. Just remember that it won’t be 100% accurate for every dog. Start off light so your dog can get used to his pack and slowly build up weight.
|Dog Weight||Pack Weight |
(25% of Body Weight)
|Senior Dogs and Puppies|
(10-15% of Body Weight)
|20 lbs||5 lbs||2-3 lbs|
|30 lbs||7.5 lbs||3-4.5 lbs|
|40 lbs||10 lbs||4-6 lbs|
|50 lbs||12.5 lbs||5-7.5 lbs|
|60 lbs||15 lbs||6-9 lbs|
|70 lbs||17.5 lbs||7-10.5 lbs|
|80 lbs||20 lbs||8-12 lbs|
|90 lbs||22.5 lbs||9-13.5 lbs|
|100 lbs||25 lbs||10-15 lbs|
Don’t Rely Solely On Your Dogs Weight
Don’t rely solely on your dogs weight for sizing a pack. Measure around your dogs chest to get the right fit and make sure the pack fits right.
Let your vet know that you’re thinking about adding extra weight to your dogs pack. They should be able to give you a healthy starting point to work off of.
The right weight will depend on a number of factors including your dogs breed, age, fitness level, and energy level. Some dogs will be able to handle a heavier load while others won’t want to carry any weight. These are questions that your vet should be able to easily answer.
Your Dog Needs To Be Physically/Mentally Fit
You can’t expect a dog to wake up one day and carry 25% of their body weight in a pack. It will take a few months of training to build up your dogs strength.
Dogs get sore from hiking just like humans. Hiking will be miserable for your dog if you don’t give them enough time to adjust to the added weight. Start off light and slowly add weight to the pack.
Start with just the pack so they can get used to it. Once they get used to carrying a pack you can add about 1 lb of gear per trip until you fill up the rest of the pack.
You might have to temporarily reduce your hiking distance until they get used to the added weight. Watch for signs of muscle stress and take extra breaks.
Check out my other post explaining how far a dog can hike in a day.
- Start off with short 1-2 hour hikes without a pack. Go on 2-3 short hikes per week just to get used to hiking and basic trail etiquette. After about 1 month of regular hiking plan a nice 7-8 hour day hike.
- After a few weeks hiking start using a pack around the house. Your dog probably won’t like the pack at first. Start off with a few minutes and slowly build up time. Once your dog gets used to using a pack it’s time to hit the trail.
- Once again you’ll need to start off with short hikes with an empty pack. It will take time for them to get used to how the pack rubs on their sides. Watch for rashes, cuts, and other signs of irritation.
- As your dog gets used to the pack add a little bit of weight. Slowly build up both weight and distance over 1-2 months. Just make sure you monitor the dog for sores/rashes and look for signs of muscle strain. Remember that dogs will get sore so take lots of breaks.
Keep An Eye On Your Dog
Not every dog will be able to handle 25% of their body weight. Without regular exercise your dog won’t be physically strong enough to carry extra weight. Keep an eye on the dog and watch for signs of muscle exertion.
It’s hard to describe, but you know when your dog isn’t acting right. If they’re acting lethargic or mopey it’s time to reduce the weight. Hiking/backpacking should be a fun activity for both you and the dog.
We start off with an empty pack so your dog has enough time to get used to the pack. They have to get used to the straps, added weight, and hiking distance.
Going on long hikes too soon increases the risk of the packs straps rubbing into your dogs skin. I’m sure you’ve experienced chafing at some point in your life. It’s not fun! Plus it will take you both off the trail for a few weeks.
Don’t take a gamble on your dogs health and safety. Take them to see a vet at first sign of injury. Dogs are great at hiding injuries. Limping and yelping means there’s definitely something wrong.
Some Dog Packs Are Better Than Others
Remember that some packs will be better than others. Spend the extra money on a quality pack with multiple adjustment points. I really like the Ruffwear Lineup of dog packs.
They can be a bit pricey, but they’re by far the best packs on the market. I started off with a cheap pack and had nothing but trouble. My dog Zoey had a nasty rash under her armpits where the pack rubbed her raw.
We quickly switched over to the Ruffwear Approach pack which is their budget dog pack. It has lots of padding and 5 adjustment points so it stays tight without rubbing. It’s the perfect size for both day hikes and long multi-day backpacking trips.
I eventually switched over to the Palisades Pack which is way more expensive, but easier to use. It’s nice to be able to take off the side saddle bags once we set up camp.
Does The Weight of The Pack Count?
Yes, you do need to factor in the weight of the pack. However, it will be close to your dogs body so it shouldn’t throw off their balance.
This isn’t a big deal with large dogs, but it seriously cuts down the amount of weight a small dog can carry. Considering the small Ruffwear Palisades pack weighs 1.75lbs that’s 25% of a small dogs carrying capacity. The rest of the pack will be filled with food/water.
Pack Needs to Be Well Balanced
Obviously not everybody will be able to afford a ruffwear pack. There are lots of great deals available if you search Amazon. Just make sure the pack has multiple adjustment points and it’s well balanced.
Look at the 2 packs pictured above and try to figure out which one offers the most support. It should seem obvious that the Ruffwear Approach Pack on the left will be more stable.
Notice how the forward strap is centered on the dogs chest rather than the neck. Budget packs usually have a single strap that wraps around the dogs neck. This allows the pack to wobble and sway which causes rubbing as the dog moves.
Most of the weight should be centered around the dogs middle/sides. The packs balance will be thrown off as the pack weight goes farther away from their center of gravity. As the weight gets thrown around it will place more strain on your dogs muscles.
Balance Water Bladders
Water bladders/bottles are by far the biggest cause of shifting weight. Have you ever tried to carry a 5-Gallon bucket of water? It’s not only heavy, it moves and sways as you walk causing instability.
You can minimize the water sway by using small hydration bladders on both sides of the pack. They won’t move as much and they take up less room.
Some Breeds Can Carry More/Less Weight in Their Pack
Not every dog breed will be able to carry weight on their back. Working and athletic breeds will be best at carrying heavy loads. Some other breeds won’t be able to carry weight at all.
It all depends on the type of dog and what they were bred for. Dog breeds in the working group and Sporting Group can usually carry additional weight. You might want to check out the AKC List of Working Breeds and Sporting Breeds for more info.
Just keep in mind that some working breeds will be better at pulling/carrying than others. Dogs with known hip issues will have a hard time carrying weight.
I was surprised to learn that dogs in the Herding Group have difficulty carrying weight. Herdings dogs like the Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, etc make great hiking companions, but they weren’t bred to carry weight.
Try to start off in the 15-20% range so you don’t cause premature hip problems. After lots of experience you can slowly increase the weight.
Senior Dogs and Puppies Can’t Carry Much Weight
Senior dogs and puppies won’t be able to carry as much weight. Dogs are usually in their athletic prime from 2-7 years old. Younger and older dogs won’t be able to carry as much weight.
Even a dog that’s consistently carried 25% of their body weight for years will need a break once they get older. Slowly reduce the pack weight and slow down your pace/distance as your dog gets older.
My dog Lucy was carrying about 7 lbs of gear in the picture above. She’s no longer with us, but she was hiking until the month before she died. You’d be surprised how much weight senior dogs can handle.
Puppies on the other hand shouldn’t carry a pack until they’re at least 1 year old. Start off by using an empty pack and build up weight over time. Your dog should be able to handle a heavy pack once they’re about 2 years old.
What Do You Put in a Dog Backpack?
Your dog should be able to carry all of their own gear on 2-3 day backpacking trips. Load a hydration bladder, food, first-aid kit, small travel bed, and 1-2 light toys.
Definitely check out the Ruffwear Highlands Dog Bed. It folds down small and weighs about 12 oz. It’s the perfect size for your dogs pack.
Don’t Guess The Weight of Their Pack!
Everybody accidentally goes overboard when first loading up a dogs pack. They go over the recommended weight limit and cause unnecessary strain on their dog.
Keep a scale handy and double check the final weight to verify the load. An additional 1-2 lbs can make a huge difference to a small dog.