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Review: MountainSmith K9 Dog Pack

A how-to guide on selecting the perfect dog pack for your four-legged companion!

By: Kalli Hawkins + Save to a List

After carrying Riley’s water bottles, bowls, treats, doggie bags, booties, and paw wax for many years I had decided it was time that Riley started contributing by carrying his own weight on our hiking adventures. 

Dog Pack designs have developed extensively in popularity and practicality in recent years. Gear companies recognized that their outdoor enthusiast customers are often exploring with a four-legged sidekick, and there was a need in the industry for a canine backpack. I spent days doing extensive research and analyzing all the components I knew I wanted in a reliable and comfortable dog pack for Riley. As the company Ruffwear is a leader in outdoor dog gear, they tend to come with a heftier price tag. I'm a firm believer that I don't have to have the most expensive gear to enjoy the outdoors, and that with proper research, less expensive gear is just as comparable.  

I have had a MountainSmith Backpack of my own for the past two years and have been amazed at the durability and flexibility that the backpack has provided me throughout my various hiking and ice climbing adventures. When I discovered that MountainSmith had a K9 Dog Pack for an affordable price, I couldn't help but purchase it and try it out on the trails!

Consider these main components when purchasing a dog pack:

  1. 1. Fit - Making sure that your dog is comfortable while wearing their backpack is of utmost importance. A wrong-sized backpack can rub and irritate your dog while walking or running on the trail. Make sure to properly measure your dog at the widest part of their chest. Riley is a larger dog at 80lbs, so I went with a large pack based on the sizing chart. I've included a dog sizing illustration below for reference.

  2. 2. Versatility & Features - Make sure that the backpack has adequate adjustable straps, large enough pockets on each side, a durable handle on top, a metal D-ring for leash attachment, and a padded chest strap.

The MountainSmith K9 Dog Pack had all the qualities I was looking for as a pack that Riley could use for a day hike as well as a multi-day backpacking trip. The K9 Pack consists of breathable mesh panels that ensure Riley remains comfortable. There is a 4-point adjustable chest harness that helps to secure the backpack in place and prohibit it from moving while Riley is walking or jumping. The handle is my favorite feature and has come in handy more times than I can count! When hiking slot canyons in Utah, the handle allowed me to have more control over his body and was beneficial in helping me to lift him up and over massive boulders. The K9 Pack also comes with reflective trim for safety purposes in situations where minimal light is an issue. 

Important steps to take before heading out on the trail: 

  1. 1. Packing - The key is to have a consistent balance of weight on each side. When deciding how to pack Riley's backpack, I lay everything out that I want him to carry and I make sure to start with the heavy items first. Each side should be equally distributed, and then I add the smaller and lightweight items until I feel it is adequately balanced. A general rule of thumb in the hiking-with-dogs community is to start off on your first hike with no more than 10% of your dog's bodyweight, and then gradually increase up to 25% if needed (be sure you consider your dog's fitness level, plus the terrain and distance you're covering together).

  2. 2. Test Run - I always do a test run in the house before we leave for an adventure. I pack Riley's pack and then let him wear it around the house for 30 minutes or so to see how it hangs and if each side is properly balanced. If your dog is unfamiliar with wearing a pack, make sure to introduce your dog to the pack in a comfortable and safe environment first. Let them wear it around the house empty just to get used to it, and then slowly add weight to each side. Even taking a short walk around your neighborhood before heading out on that 10-mile hike can prove to be very beneficial. The worst scenario would be that you get out on the trail and your dog is uncomfortable and refuses to carry the pack and now you've just added that extra weight and hassle to your own backpack! 

Riley & I have put this K9 Dog Pack to the test over the years, from slot canyons in Utah, day hikes, and multi-day backpacking trips in Colorado, and it has surpassed my expectations! Riley has run, hiked, swam, and biked with his backpack on and it will remain an essential piece of gear for our adventures. 

If you're interested in getting your dog ready for outdoor adventures, you can find the backpack here: MountainSmith K9 Dog Pack

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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