Have you ever bought a backpack before? The sheer amount of packs available can be overwhelming, not to mention the features and fits and styles available. I bought my Black Diamond pack about 6 years ago when I was heading to France for six months and wasn’t looking for much beyond a decent fit and carryon compatibility. It’s actually designed for climbing, not hiking. I’m not in love with it but it does the trick. My husband bought a deuter bag last spring that we’re both in love with but we didn’t even research it – we were in the store for something else and it was a great deal.
This is not at all how we went about picking out a pack for Kirby – for two reasons. One: the selection just isn’t there when it comes to dog packs (there’s over 550 human backpacks for sale at Valhalla Pure Outfitters, for example, but only 3 for dogs, and only about 5 more when you include those available at large pet store chains). Two: you can’t buy good quality hiking backpacks for dogs just anywhere, you have to be looking.
So I really put in the time researching a pack for Kirby. It needed to be designed for hiking. It needed to be reasonably priced. It needed to be available in Canada. And it needed to be easy to clean. Anything else would just be a bonus. I quickly learned that although there are a few different brands of dog packs out there, there is one that stands out above the others, one that leads the pack, if you will: Ruffwear. Ruffwear not only makes dog packs, but a whole whack of other dog gear designed for the outdoorsy dogs of the world too. And when it comes to selection, Ruffwear makes 3 different packs: Singletrak (low-profile hydration pack), Approach (everyday pack) and Palisades (multi-day backcountry pack). The latter is the one we bought and LOVE.
According to Ruffwear, their Palisades Pack™ “makes multi-day backcountry adventures possible with features like removable saddlebags, two collapsible water bottles, and a load compression system. This fully-featured dog pack uses a modified Web Master™ Harness frame with four points of attachment to ensure load stability and comfortable weight distribution,” which is fancy for “this pack has it all and some.”
The Star of the Show: The Ruffwear Palisades Pack featuring…
- External gear loops x 8 (this is where we clip his dishes and bear bell).
- Load compression system to secure load (nicely tucked into a pocket).
- Small stash pocket.
- Medium-sized stash pocket that houses the load compression system.
- Waterproofing on zippers.
- Collapsible, BPA-free hydration bottles, 2 included, each with a 1L capacity.
- Reflective trim for low-light visibility.
- Sleeve that separates water bottle from the rest of the pocket.
- Large stash pocket that houses the collapsible water bottles.
- More reflective trim for low-light visibility.
- Padded assistance handle that makes it easy to help dogs up and over obstacles.
- Loop for hanging the harness.
- Loop that secures extra length of strap.
- Sliding padding on straps.
- 1 of 2 clips for securing the harness on the dog.
- 1 of 4 clips for attaching the saddlebags to the harness.
- Padding on 3-point adjustable straps.
- Single-piece, anodized aluminum V-ring leash attachment
- Adjust the front of the harness without creating any excess length of strap.
What we love about our Ruffwear Palisades Pack:
- It has room for everything and some. The Palisades Pack has SIX pockets & EIGHT gear loops for all of your carrying needs. We clip collapsible food and water dishes and a bear bell to the outside. And there’s room for Kirby’s Highlands Bed, food, treats, poop bags and full water bottles in the pockets.
- It’s easy to get the perfect fit. First of all, the pack comes in 3 sizes (S, M and L/XL – check out the fit guide for more information). And there are 5 points of adjustment on the harness to fine tune it for that perfect fit. Although playing with the straps can seem tedious, we have not had to readjust yet – once adjusted it stays put!
- It is quick dry & easy to clean. Anything that a dog wears is bound to get filthy and this pack is no exception. But you can easily wipe it clean or hand wash it and hang it to dry in no time at all.
- It comes with 2 x 1L collapsible water bottles. Not having to buy these separately was a big selling point for us. We used to lug around an awkward dog water bottle with a big plastic dish on the end that took up too much space. Now we have water bottles that get smaller as Kirby drinks and a silicone dish that collapses flat.
- The saddlebags detach. This feature is 100% necessary for our water-loving, snow angel making, mud puddle seeking pup. When we stop for a break, we can quickly and fairly easily take the saddlebags off so Kirby can also take a little break and swim or roll around.
- There’s a handle on the harness. This may not be as useful for bigger dogs, but it makes for easy lifting over obstacles. It has definitely helped us get Kirby up and down a stile or two in the past.
- Kirby doesn’t complain. And Kirby has complained about things before. He does not like clothing (although he tolerates hats and scarves on occasion) and he will suffer through boots. He will even spit a treat out a few times before eating it if he’s unsure. But from day one he has not complained about the pack. He’s even a better dog when he wears it. I mean really, it’s just a heavier but comfy harness and a job to do. Every once in a while though, he does get himself wedged in between some trees because he forgot how wide he was. But the load compression straps help to keep the bag as trim and balanced as possible.
- Ruffwear is a brand made for “ruffing” it. They have taken great care in designing a product that is safe, comfortable and built to last so that your four-legged friend can accompany you on every adventure!
- The money goes to dogs & the outdoors. Ruffwear is partnered with Best Friends Animal Society and The Conservation Alliance and every Ruffwear purchase you makes helps them continue to contribute to animal rescue and the conservation of the outdoors in North America.
What we would change if we could:
- Attaching pack to harness can be tricky. There are 4 big clips that hold the saddlebags to the harness and those are nice and easy to attach. But there are two very small clips that attach the back of the saddlebags to the chest straps to keep them from flopping around too much, and those can be finicky. But you’ll get the hang of it!
- The leash has to come off before the saddlebags can. If you use the aluminum ring on the harness, then you must detach the leash before you can take the saddlebags off. However, if by some freak chance, the saddlebag unhooks itself, you can rest assured knowing the leash will keep it from being left behind in the woods. So really, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
- It’s too big for day-hiking. But that’s why the Approach Pack exists.
A few helpful tips for your backpacking dog:
- Putting a pack on your dog is like giving your dog a job, and dogs love jobs. Our rambunctious terrier settles quite dramatically when he wears his pack.
- Dogs should not carry more than 25% of their body weight in their dog pack.
- Start light (but not empty) and slowly add weight to get your pup used to wearing a pack. See the training plan in this post for a weight progression suggestion.
To get your hands on your very own Ruffwear Palisades Pack for $216 CAD, check out See Sawyer Run or Valhalla Pure Outfitters. They have a wide range of outdoor gear for dogs from leashes and collars to packs, toys and First Aid kits.
Stay tuned for a post about what Kirby carries on our day-hikes and backpacking trips, and for a review of our favourite Ruffwear leashes.