Finding the perfect backpacking set-up for your dog can be a challenge. There are many options available, but it can still be hard to find the perfect fit. This is where Groundbird Gear comes in. Groundbird Gear is a small company with a big passion for creating a great backpack for dogs. Founded by an avid backpacker who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and has her own four-legged hiking companion, this company has filled a gap in dog backpack production. So if you need a custom lightweight and comfortably designed harness for your pup, look no further than Groundbird Gear.
The harness is the most customizable piece of the Groundbird Gear harness and pack combination. There are six measurements that you will need to obtain in order to fill out the online order form. Don’t worry, the online order form has helpful pictures to help you obtain the most accurate measurements possible.
The harness slips over the dogs neck without having to pull a leg through. Then there are two buckles on either side of the harness. Even though the harness is custom made, the collar area and each of the buckles is adjustable. This allows for weight gain/loss and (if you have a dog like mine) sweaters to fit underneath the harness.
A note on adjustments. Make sure you spend some time adjusting the harness prior to filling the pack and starting out on a backpacking adventure. You don’t want to do what I did when I took Glia on our first solo backpacking misadventure. Even though Glia had worn the harness and pack before, we hadn’t readjusted it the day off. And for her the harness needs to be worn a little snugger when she has a loaded pack to help keep the pack from sliding to the side.
The harness is comprised of two main panels, one that lies over the dog’s back and one that lies along the chest/abdomen. The top panel includes two handles to help assist your dog on difficult terrain and a sturdy metal ring to attach to the leash. The harness can be purchased and used with or without a pack.
A medium sized harness is reported to weigh approximately 6.5oz. According to my kitchen scale, Glia’s harness weighs 6.7oz. For comparison, Glia’s Ruffwear Webmaster harness weighs 8.2oz. The Groundbird harness is made of 30 denier uncoated Cordura and a 3D mesh. This fabric is made to be breathable and comfortable for the dogs.
After sending in Glia’s measurements and waiting a few weeks for her pack to arrive in the mail, we were very excited to see a package on our step from Groundbird Gear. We opened the package quickly and immediately tried it on. Overall, the harness fit Glia well.
We liked several things about the fit of this harness. As you can see in the picture above, the first straps buckled well behind her axillary region (armpits). This helps to ensure that no rubbing occurs when she is out hiking. The lower panel covers to the point that her chest begins to taper upwards, so the harness is secure and she cannot back out. Glia moves around very comfortably when she is walking in this harness.
Groundbird Gear will make any alterations necessary, so know that if the harness doesn’t fit well, they will work with you. After initially trying on the harness, we did not have any concerns. After a few hikes however, we have noticed a few small fit issues.
Glia has a very narrow body build, despite having a deep chest. After hiking with this harness a few times, we have found that if the collar straps are tightened, then the strap behind the taper of her chest gets a little tight. When that is tight, Glia is not as comfortable when she is laying down (potentially this segment of her harness could be a little longer). When tightened, the harness is also close to her neck and rubs a little when she lifts her head to look up. If the collar straps are looser, then the harness slides around a little and occasionally impedes the movement of her shoulder joint slightly. If we redid this harness for her, I think extending the fabric between the first and second buckle straps and narrowing the angle of the Y at the chest and neck would fix these small fit issues.
The Groundbird Gear packs are amazing. They come in beautiful colors and you can choose the size that best suits your dog.
Made out of a durable polyurethane coated and DWR treated 400 denier packcloth with tough webbing and thread, the packs are built to last. The packs attach to the harness with two velcro areas and two clips and is very secure. Ours have survived several Glia rolling sessions. The pack has a roll top, meaning you can roll it down as tight as you want. It velcros closed and then clips securly with buckles. You can also cinch the pack from the bottom. To top things off, there is an elastic belly band that joins the packs and helps prevent bouncing of the packs.
Currently the packs come in three color options: Americana, Trail Princess, and Safety Dance. When I ordered no additional color customization was possible, but recently Groundbird Gear opened up another option. For an extra $20, you can pick from a wider variety of colors for a truly customizable pack option.
We couldn’t be happier with Glia’s Groundbird Gear packs. The packs are nice and secure. Even though Glia likes to roll around with it, the pack has never loosened. The rolltop is easy to load and to take things out of while hiking. Compared to other backpacks we have tried, these packs are easy to balance and tighten close to Glia’s center of gravity.
The Customer Service
If I didn’t like anything else about Groundbird Gear packs, the customer service would be worth a good review. Groundbird Gear is a small company and they aim to create relationships with every customer.
When I purchased Glia’s pack I made a mistake on the order form. Apparently, I clicked the option for an Americana style pack, when I really wanted a Trail Princess. Marie, the woman behind Groundbird Gear, was so kind about this mistake and so willing to work with me to change the pack to the correct collar. She was also available to answer questions about fit and potential changes to Glia’s harness. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience working with Groundbird Gear.
So what does this high quality custom harness that comes complete with great customer service cost? The current price is $250 dollars for a harness with a pack. Yes, Glia and I agree that this is a big price tag. But if you research this harness and pack, you will find that many long distance hikers are convinced that this is the best backpack you can find for your pup.
Things we love about this harness and pack:
- Lightweight: Remember the harness only weights 6.7oz.
- Breathable: Materials, like the 3D mesh, were picked to be breathable.
- No rubbing: After many long hikes in this harness, I have never noticed any sores or hair loss on Glia.
- Solid chest/belly panel: Both the top (dorsal) panel and bottom (ventral) panel are one continuous piece of fabric. If you compare this harness to other harnesses on the market, you will see that many comparable harnesses have a free floating belly strap. The continuous fabric means that you have to pick your dog up by the handles, there is better support underneath the dog.
- Handles for assisting your pup: These are great for helping your dog up over difficult terrain. They are also a little quicker to grab than the collar. As a final added plus, Grounbird Gear recommends threading your leash through them to prevent the leash from getting caught under the packs.
- Smaller/customizable pack size: Many dog backpacks on the market have larger packs that can be easy to overload and harder to secure close to the dog’s center of gravity.
- Style and appearance: I mean, the packs look great, right?
- Customer Service: My entire experience of working with Groundbird Gear was phenomenal. Questions and concerns were answered promptly and addressed well.
- Supporting a small business: It always feels good to support the smaller companies and ones that are local (and by local, I mean in the same country).
Things that we don’t love about this harness and pack:
- Price: This is one of the most expensive dog backpacks on the market. It’s not that we don’t think it is worth it for a custom harness for your pup. It just means that this backpack is probably most worth it for an avid backpacker.
- Soft back panel: Glia and I are used to day-hiking with a Ruffwear Webmaster harness. That harness has a stiff back that doesn’t move around much if Glia were to pull on the leash hard (say darting after a squirrel). Due to the lightweight fabric used for the Groundbird Gear harness, there is more give in the harness when Glia occasionally pulls after something. It also bunches a little when Glia moves at certain angles. Since Glia can’t tell me which is more comfortable, I just notice when it moves around her back more than the stiffer harness. However, it is important to note that this is a direct result of two of the pros: lightweight and breathable.
- Slightly wider design around the neck than ideal for Glia: The angel of the Y around the neck is a little two broad for Glia’s narrow build. Sometimes when we hike it slips down her shoulders a little further than desired. If tightened up, it is a little tight behind her neck and at the upward curve of her chest to abdomen. But remember, Groundbird Gear is amazing and willing to rework a harness until it fits just right.
Overall, this is our favorite backpack for Glia. We find that we often reach for the Ruffwear Webmaster harness for day hikes. The stiffer back and the parallel (to Glia’s spine) handle are a little more practical for us when weight doesn’t count. But the fit of the custom sized Groundbird Gear packs can’t be beat. So if Glia needs to carry anything, this pack is our go-to.
Want to find other reviews?
Don’t just take my word for it. Check out some of the other reviews of Groundbird Gear harnesses and trekking packs.
On Groundbird Gear’s website, you can find several reviews.
If your dog has a Groundbird Gear pack, what are your thoughts on this harness and the trekking packs? Or tell us what your favorite dog backpack is.