Friday, August 21, 2015

Gear Review: Kurgo Big Baxter Pack

Kurgo introduced a new dog pack recently and, thanks to Backcountry K-9, we were able to test it out.  The Big Baxter Pack retails for $45.00, carries 7.5L and comes in four colors/combos.  Timing couldn't have been better with the impending arrival of our foster dog Liza, from Saving Carolina Dogs.

Great saddlebag size! 
My first impressions were positive and I was excited to strap someone into it.  It was lightweight and I liked the shape of the saddlebags.  They seemed like they would distribute the weight well and keep gear close to the dog's sides.  The saddlebag size is also nice for the sizing/weight range suggested by Kurgo and perfect for dayhikes.  The outer pockets were a big draw to this pack, as well as the conveniently shaped zipper pulls but more on that later.  Finally, The sternum strap is not a single strip of material; there is a buckle between the girth strap and chest padding, which I accurately guessed would turn out to be very convenient.  (In total, the pack has five points of adjustment, which I see as the only way to go in pack design.)  But why stare at a new "toy" when one can take it for a test run!

Grueling first test of material
We started by very lightly packing the saddlebags (leashes, gloves) and unleashing the beast dog in a heavily wooded local conservation area.  Ty loves to get off trail there and it was a tough starter test for durability.  I heard her scrape against trees and the bark-colored streaks evidenced the abuse but the fabric wasn't damaged.  Unfortunately, her bushwhacking caused the outer pockets to be pulled open and I was glad I hadn't put anything in them.  Even still, it was a productive first outing!

Testing continued once Liza arrived (now adopted!) and we went up to the Whites for a few hikes.  My favorite qualities are the pack's durability and high profile handle.  Once she was accustomed to it, we loaded the pack down with water bottles and clothing to tire her out.  The pack handled the weight as well as it did being battered against tree trunks.  These crazy Carolina Dogs love to chase and the pack was squeezed between rocks and slammed against trees plenty for me to say that Kurgo accomplished the lightweight and hiker-tough durability combination.  Being particular about pack handles, I like that the Big Baxter Pack's is tall; it never lay flat.  That made grabbing Liza a quick, easy task.  In-hike adjustments aren't as easy as a bipedal's daypack but  not as frustrating as some others the dogs have worn over the years.  The sternum strap having a buckle is of huge convenience for tightening.  It also made getting the dog suited up easier since I didn't have to lift a leg between straps.  The saddlebag placement straps are much more difficult to adjust while on the dog and a heavier pack weight will cause them to scoot down ever so slowly.  I'm impressed by the Big Baxter's resistance to wear and functionality.

I fit a cooling vest and small water bladder in each bag,
stuff that was extra or too bulky for my pack.  Also note the height of the handle!
I'm just as happy with the pack when it has less volume in it -
no flappy excess material
Great reflective striping too
With 50 and 55 pound dogs of different builds but similar chest depths, I came to the conclusion that I love this pack... for a larger dog.  Kurgo states it is for dogs 50-80 pounds (they sell a much smaller 3.75L capacity Baxter Pack for dogs 35-85 pounds).  The saddlebag size on the Big Baxter is more appropriate for my dogs and excursions but the Big simply did not fit them unfortunately.  The chest straps had to be brought up further than designed by using carabiners (trail MacGyver, I am!) for it to be nearly snug enough.  The pack appeared to fit both girls well, but add rocky terrain to maneuver and/or realistic weight to the pack and it would go lopsided.  I made every possible adjustment and ensured the saddlebags were symmetrical in weight and weight distribution but all of that couldn't negate the fact that the fit is just not right.  Another note of caution - do not use the outer pockets if your pup is going to be off leash around any natural objects of height.  The zipper pulls are likely to snag and you'll quickly lose your gear (trust me!).  When Liza was my leashed pack mule, I loved the side pockets for easy access to poop bags.  This is a great pack for the right size dog, no doubt about that.

Our off-center issue
Our adaptation to the loose chest straps -
drawing them up tighter using carabiners and the existing saddlebag straps
I'm grateful to Backcountry K-9 for sending us the Big Baxter Pack for testing; it was nice to get away from our usual packs to discover another option I can recommend to friends and family.  The Big Baxter Pack has a great overall design, is durable, and I honestly think is the best pack for your (60+ pound) dog at the price they offer it at.  Lastly, I wanted to point out that Kurgo has a phenomenal lifetime guarantee that they stand behind and that is something I can say from experience!

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