Hiking With The Ruffwear Approach Pack – Dog Backpack Review


If you have read any of my recent posts about hiking, then you’ve seen photos of my Labrador Retriever, Rio, sporting a bright orange backpack. We’ve been testing the Ruffwear Approach Pack on several trails throughout Georgia and North Carolina. Ruffwear is known for making high-quality outdoor dog gear for those who like an intense adventure as well as for the casual weekend explorer. I’m a combination of both, so I looked forward to strapping the doggie backpack on Rio and hitting the trails. Here’s my product review on the Approach Pack.

dog backpack reviews, ruffwear approach pack

Ruffwear Approach Pack – Dog Backpack Review


I’ve been testing the backpack for a few months. Rio and I have been on several hikes and it’s held up well – so far durability is good. This is Rio’s first experience with wearing a doggie backpack. He is young and energetic and often plows straight through the brush. The backpack has been scraped against trees and rocks. So I’m keeping a close eye on the sides of the pack – that’s where I expect to see the first signs of wear & tear. But for right now – all is good.  The heavy water-resistant, nylon material is rugged and tough.

Fit and Comfort

Rio likes wearing the backpack and it appears to fit comfortably. We’ve not experienced any chafing – we took our time and went on several short walks with the pack before adding any weight or going long distances. Additionally, the pack has a slightly padded, 5 point harness system to help with load distribution as well as comfort.

Regarding fit, I have to admit – I made a mistake. Rio has a big blocky head so I had fully loosened the head opening of the pack so that it would slide easily over his head. However, that also allowed me to slide the backpack down and center it in the middle of his back. But I noticed that the pack would shift some during our initial walks. Technically, the pack should sit snuggly above the shoulders – not centered on the back. Once I made that adjustment, the pack sat and rode well.

dog backpack reviews, ruffwear dog backpack, approach backpack
Rio wearing his pack – notice the placement is over the shoulders and not centered on the back.

Loosening and tightening the straps is very simple. Ruffwear also provides brief, fitting tutorial videos on their website – I would recommend watching, as this will help you understand how to adjust the backpack as needed.

Also Read <How To Teach Your Dog To Wear A Doggie Backpack>

Cargo Space

When I started the backpack review, I had a pending three-day / two-night backpacking trip planned for the Appalachian Trail. The Approach Pack is considered as Ruffwear’s “full-day hiking” pack and the Palisades is their “multi-day” pack. I wondered if I should be looking at Ruffwear’s Palisades Pack instead due to it’s larger cargo capacity. However, I was surprised at how much could fit in the Approach Pack. I easily fit a liter of water in each side pocket, including all of his food with room to spare. Like I mentioned, Rio is still getting accustomed to wearing a heavy pack so I carried his food and didn’t weigh him down too much – but I could have!

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For a visual – here is an example of how much you could fit into the Approach Pack. A liter of water for each side pocket including food. Each of the zip lock bags displayed contain approximately 10 cups of dry dog food.

dog backpack reviews

Personally, I think the Approach Pack is plenty sufficient for multi-day hikes. I understand that each dog and hike are different and unique. But I would encourage shorter multi-day hikers to consider the Approach Pack and not automatically jump to the conclusion that you need the Palisades.

Additional Features and Considerations


Currently, the pack is offered in two colors – light blue and a bright orange. I’m more of a blue guy but I’m not looking to make a fashion statement while hiking. I selected the orange because I did not want Rio to be mistaken for a black bear. Many hikers may be surprised to learn that hunting is allowed at or near many of the popular hiking trails. Even if hunting is not allowed at your favorite hiking destinations, brighter colors are easier to spot in case of an emergency. Go with the bright orange!

External Gear Loops

The external gear loops make it easy to attach additional lightweight gear to the outside of the pack – attach an extra light source or collapsible dog dish – endless possibilities. Featured in the photo below is my friend’s dog who is carrying his own doggie sleeping pad attached to the gear loops.

dog backpack reviews, Ruffwear Approach Pack


At the top of the backpack is a sturdy and padded handle. It’s a great feature if you ever need to lift your dog or help him cross over / through something.



The price is on the higher end compared to some other backpack manufacturers but you’re getting a dependable product – so I’m comfortable with the price. It retails for $79.95.  In this case, as the saying goes….”You get what you pay for”.

Trail Label

On the underside of the backpack is a label for you to place your dog’s trail name and favorite hiking destination. Obviously, this is not a necessity but it is a fun and cute way to help identify your dog’s backpack. However, after only moderate use the label does start to fade away.

Overall Assessment of the Approach Backpack

I highly recommend the Ruffwear Approach backpack – it’s a great pack.  Yes, there are cheaper doggie backpacks available in the market. But if you’re wanting something durable and well constructed, then you will love the Approach Pack. It’s definitely a backpack that you can depend on for serious trekking or casual day hikes.  It adjusts easily and has good load stability.

I also like to factor in, that the company supports animals in need. I admire how Ruffwear partners with the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – a no-kill animal rescue sanctuary based out of Utah. Ruffwear provides them with funding and helps them promote pet adoption.

Regardless, if you are new to hiking or if you are more seasoned, this is a quality pack that you can take on your hiking explorations with confidence and pride.

WagBrag’s co-founder, Russ Boles, has a deep history in animal rescue and welfare. For the past 12 years, Russ has served in various roles with Atlanta-based animal advocacy organizations focused on rescue, training and education. In addition, Russ led a local rescue volunteer team into New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina, assisting in efforts to rescue and care for stranded animals. This experience changed his life, and animal rescue and advocacy will always be a part of everything he does.