- One-piece or two-piece harness? Most
of the packs use a one-piece harness, with the bags and saddle sewn together. Some use a
two-piece design, where the harness attaches to the dog and the bags attach to the harness
(usually with velcro), allowing you to remove the bags from the harness on rest/swim
- One or two belly straps? All of the
packs have a belly strap that fits just over or behind the dog's rib cage. Some of them
also have a chest strap that fits behind the shoulders. The two-strap design may help keep
the pack more secure, but also may hinder movement and cause rubbing problems. The
one-strap design is adequate to keep a normal load in place, but a lighter load may shift
around without the second strap.
- Mesh, solid or strap saddle? For
the saddle, some packs use mesh, some use padded mesh, some use solid fabric, and some use
straps. The mesh and strap designs may help the dog cool better, but the mesh may be more
fragile. A solid back probably distributes the load better than straps, although with a
small pack and light loads that wouldn't matter as much. Since dog's don't do much cooling
through their backs, that probably isn't a factor.
- Chest strap design? All of the
packs have some means of securing the bag across the chest. Most use a cross strap between
the two bags, some of which are sewn on at a slight angle. Some use a V-style strap, more
like a traditional harness. The V-strap may offer more freedom of movement of the
- Compression straps? If so vertical or
horizontal? Horizontal or vertical compression straps help to stabilize the load
when the packs are not full. Smaller packs and those with compartments probably don't need
them at all. Horizontal straps may be less likely to get hung up on brush, pull the load
forward toward the shoulders, and don't have be undone to get to the zippers. Vertical
straps pull the load up toward the back so it doesn't sag and have one or two keepers
(like belt loops) to reduce the risk of getting hung up.
- Saddle design: some have a contoured back (like a
scooped neck shirt) for freedom of neck and head movement
- Elbow clearance: Some bags have an angled front edge
(as opposed to rectangular) so the elbow is unhindered during the stride; others are
designed so they ride high enough to not interfere with the elbows at all.
- Vertical Profile: Some are low-profile - when viewed
from the side, they are less boxy and don't extend as far down the dog's side. Some are
high-profile, more boxy, and can hang down even below the dog's rib cage. This is a
consideration for the dog's comfort while resting.
- Other features to consider?
- Tie-downs: D-rings, lash tabs or laced shock cord
for extra tie-down capacity; loops at front of saddle for attachment of leash; loops at
rear of saddle to use as a modified pulling harness
- Fabric: ballistic nylon or other heavy-duty fabric
panels for abrasion resistance (brushguards); weight/durability of fabric (packcloth vs
different weights of Cordura, 1000-denier being the most dense)
- Padding: padding on harness or bags; padding
underneath buckles and/or straps
- Safety: reflective trim for safety; grab handle for
control of dog and assistance over obstacles
- Construction details: storm flaps over zippers and
location of zippers (top or side) for water-resistance; cord, fabric or rubber zipper pull
tabs to improve accessibility; taped seams to prevent raveling
- How much capacity? My initial
instinct was to get as much capacity as I could. Upon reflection, I realized that you
could easily end up over-loading the dog, depending on what you are packing for her. If
you carry bulky, lightweight stuff, you may want a larger capacity. But if the load will
be mostly dense items, like water and kibble, a smaller bag may reduce the risk of
overload. Also, large bags may be more prone to hindering the dog's activities in tight
quarters, like the woods.
- How much weight? Some of the
manufacturers have recommended load limits, ranging from 25% to 50% (gasp!) of the dog's
weight. Rather than rely on an arbitrary figure, you should use these numbers as
guidelines but adjust them based on common sense. My tall lanky dog is not going to be
able to carry the same weight as a shorter stockier dog of the same weight without risking
her back. But since she is an athlete in great shape, she'll be able to carry more than a
couch potato of the same weight. Remember, your dog is not a mountain goat...
- What kind of use will it get? If
you are planning to hike or backpack in the woods, you probably want to consider a medium
or heavy-duty cordura pack with good ergonomics. If you just want a pack for walks,
therapy visits or dog shows, you may be more concerned with convenience, number of pockets
and lighter weight fabric. And do take a close look at the packs in the Specialty category - you might find exactly the
feature you are looking for in that group.
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Last updated 11/07/2010
© Holly Newman 2000-2016. All rights reserved.
Photos for owner's use only. Reproduction or commercial use allowed only with permission
of both owner and photographer.