Canine hiking buddies can carry their own gear

I think it’s time for Oreo to carry his own weight in this relationship.

That’s right. I’ve carried his hiking gear for far too long. So yesterday, we went shopping for a dog pack. From now on, he can carry his own food, water, bowl, medical tape and whatever else he needs on the trail.

We ended up with a Mountainsmith pack — size small, red and black, $50. The compartments on each side of the pack are roomy and easy to access. But what I like best about this particular backpack is the fleece sleeves that cover all the straps. Extra padding is good for dogs like Oreo — you know, dogs without much fur.

While size small is meant to fit dogs that weigh 20-40 pounds, it fit Oreo perfectly (with plenty of room to grow), and he’s 46 pounds. It’s not a mystery. Oreo is wiry. He carries most of his weight in his compact muscles and his big silly head. Each dog is shaped differently. So I suggest bringing your dog with you when shopping for a dog pack.

If you’re an online shopper, well, you’ll just have to look at the size charts, cross your fingers and pick one.

Here are a few good quality dog packs to check out:

-Ruff Wear dog packs at www.ruffwear.com

-Mountainsmith dog pack at www.mountainsmith.com

-Wolf Packs at wolfpacks.com

-Kurgo dog pack at www.kurgostore.com

-Granite Gear dog pack at www.granitegearstore.com

Since most dog packs cost at least $50 (and some as much as $130), the big question here is — is it worth it?

While cruising the internet, I came across “10 Reasons to Buy a Dog a Backpack,” written by Lindsay Stordahl, published on www.thatmutt.com in 2008. Five reasons on Stordahl’s list stood out to me as especially important:

1. “Your dog can carry his own doggy bags.” Hallelujah. That’s one task I will not be sad to give up. Oreo may not be able to scoop his own poop (wouldn’t that be a nice trick), but now he can at least carry it.

2. “Your dog will get more exercise while wearing his dog backpack.” Oreo always has more energy than I do. In fact, he seems to try to walk even faster while going uphill, while I tend to slow down. Maybe if the backpack helps him expend more energy, he won’t yank on the leash as much.

3. “Your dog can carry your stuff in his backpack, too.” It may sound like I’m taking advantage of my hiking partner a bit, but I’m the one carrying the honking camera everywhere I go — plus an extra lens. So if Oreo wants to carry my granola bars and extra water, the more power to him.

4. “It’s easier to see your dog while he wears his dog backpack.” Since Oreo, on a leash, is usually no more than four feet away from me, seeing him isn’t a problem. But during hunting season, I always worry about our visibility in the woods. The same thing goes for when we walk along the road. I want drivers to be able to see us and recognize us for what we are — a human and a dog. Many dog backpacks are brightly colored and have reflective strips in their design. And if they don’t, you can always adorn the pack with a bright bandana, reflective tape or a flashing light.

5. “Carrying a dog backpack gives your dog a job to do.” I’ve heard this idea before, that dogs need jobs so they don’t get bored. It makes sense. If a dog is focused on a “job” you give him, he’s a lot less likely to come up with his own “jobs,” for example: chasing a squirrel or shredding a sock to pieces. But are dogs really that smart? Do they understand that by carrying a backpack, they’re helping lighten the load for their owners? Do they really consider it a job? I don’t have an answer to that question. I’m skeptical, but I guess I’ll just have to see how Oreo behaves on our next hike, when he’ll test out his new pack.

Regardless, I don’t think the doggy backpack will end up being a bad decision. If Oreo carries his own stuff, I’ll no longer have to worry about dog treats getting into my trail mix. I’ll no longer have to differentiate his water bottle from mine by peeling down the label (we conserve water by pouring whatever he doesn’t drink back in the bottle from his bowl). And I’ll no longer have to tie his poop bag on the outside of my Camelbak. Yippee.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.