If your cat is an adventure cat, she'll love it when you buy her a cat backpack. They're becoming increasingly popular as cat owners realise their cats like to come along on a hike, or to get a better view when they're accompanying their human on a visit. They're also, let's face it, a lot easier for the human involved - a backpack spreads the weight more evenly and leaves both your hands free, compared to a regular carrier that puts all the weight on one side of your body.
There are also advantages for your cat. Normal, hand-held cat carriers swing around as you walk, because your arms move backwards and forwards. With a backpack, the pack moves around less - giving kitty an easier ride. And instead of being at about the same height as everyone's knees, she's way up high, with a great view of the world around her.
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Issues to consider when choosing a cat backpack include making a note of how large and heavy your cat is. Most backpacks are for smaller cats up to 12 lbs, but we did find a few packs that would take a larger cat. Then you need to think about whether your cat prefers confined spaces, or wants to be on top of things; some cat backpacks are basically a box on your back, while others give your cat the chance to pop her head out or peer through a transparent bubble or window and take a look around.
And you'll also want to think about how much of your stuff needs to go into the backpack, whether that's just your keys, or a smartphone and tablet and lunch and a water bottle. Not all packs have much in the way of pockets or additional storage space. You'll also want to think about what you're using a rucksack for. Not all packs are comfortable for real hiking; some are best for the cat about town rather than for a full-on adventure cat.
By the way, if you're thinking about the kind of backpack you often see small dogs in, with little holes to put their legs through - don't. Dogs look cute in these, and they're super happy in them, too. But very, very few cats enjoy that kind of a ride.
Here are our top five picks for the best cat backpacks that you can buy:
The Petsfit Comfort Carrier is a firm, almost cubic backpack with padded back and straps (except for the waist and chest straps, which aren't padded). With mesh windows at the sides and back, ventilation is good and your cat can watch the world go by. It's tall enough for the cat to sit upright, and it has a tether fitted inside so you can attach your cat's harness to stop him jumping out.
The pack can be loaded from the front or from the top, and there's a side pocket for keys or smartphone - but not much more storage space. The top panel can be opened if you want to let your cat look out of the top of the pack.
The bottom is good and firm, and is removable for easy cleaning, and the whole thing folds flat for shipping and easy transport. At around $50 this is a good, solid carrier that you could take on a day hike with your cat. There are two drawbacks - limited colour options, and the fact that if your cat's heavier than 15lbs, this pack won't cope. A bit more storage space also wouldn't hurt.
PetGear's Escort Roller Backpack isn't really for hiking, but it's a great option to free your hands when you're taking kitty to the vet or off on holiday. It's the most flexible cat carrier backpack we've seen - it can be used as a backpack, a wheelie suitcase with a telescoping handle, a tote, or a car seat (it has loops to pass the seat belt through).
With mesh windows and ventilation panels, this is one of the larger backpacks we looked at - if it's not big enough you can go up to 'traveler' size (the product page contains detailed information on the different sizes). It's roomy and good for cats who don't like to be confined, and at $40-50 it's inexpensive considering the number of ways you could use it.
There are a few niggles. The mesh is not the most robust in the world and it could do with some more padding in the bottom. A few buyers have had problems with the wheels, often a weak point in rolling luggage. It's also a pity that it's not airline approved, otherwise the roller would come in really useful. So this might not be right for you if your cat likes to claw things - but the versatility of the carrier makes it a real contender.
Lemonda's futuristic carrier is like a space capsule for your cat, with a huge cat bubble window and big ventilation grommets - if your cat aspires to be an astronaut, this is for you. There's no mesh to tempt you cat's claws (though the bubble can be replaced by a mesh window if your cat prefers it). This pack is a great one if your cat likes being the centre of attention, because she's sure to get noticed. It also comes in quite a few funky colors like bright yellow, electric blue and lime green.
The pack is made of a moulded acrylic panel with a robust canvas backing, and comes with a lovely velvet pad inside to make your feline as comfortable as possible. Because the acrylic panel is quite rigid, the pack keeps its shape well. It has padded shoulder straps, but it doesn't have a waist strap to stabilise it, so it's not the best pack for serious hiking, more for strolling around town. A big handle on top makes it easy to use as either bag or backpack.
This isn't a budget option - it will cost you $60 or so - and it probably won't suit a larger cat. There are a couple of drawbacks, too; the plastic dome can get scratched or cracked, and it can be a little bit tricky to fit to the front panel of the pack. But if you want the best looking, most hip backpack for your cat, this is it.
The CozyCabin backpack is a cute pack with a big porthole in the back of it. Your cat can stick her head out and look at whatever's going on.
Of course, that also means she can escape, and being a cat, she 'll probably try… so there's a leash attachment. Be careful to make sure it's a short leash that doesn't let her jump out!
Some cats will love this pack. Other cats will hate it, and it's fair to say that this pack mainly sells to dog owners. But it's a nicely put together and well-padded pack, with padded shoulder straps and a waist strap, and it comes in three different sizes up to 17.7 inches tall for cats up to 12 lbs. As usual with cat carriers, it's probably best to go one size up from the one you think you need.
Some owners have had niggles with the straps on this pack, and don't find it at all comfortable. At around $30 it may be worth a try if you think your cat would enjoy it.
KritterWorld's backpack is really only for the littlest cats, up to about 7lbs, but if you have kittens you need to take places, it could be a really good option. It's similar in design to the Petsfit backpack, pretty boxy with mesh panels in the top and front of the pack, and a deep mesh pocket on the side.
It's a top-loader, and quite well padded, with a removable fleece bed making it easy to clean. It's also fully collapsible once you get home from your hike, and comes in several trendy colors like hot pink.
At under $30 it's one of the less expensive backpacks available. It's a pity that it's just half an inch too big to count as airline approved, though some owners have got away with it by just squishing it a bit or lying it on its side under the seat. It's also not the most robust of packs - apparently a few cats have managed to claw their way through the mesh panel.
And the winner is .... the Petsfit Comfort Cat Carrier. With both waist and chest strap it's the best suited to serious hiking, with a sturdy bottom giving your cat great support and plenty of ventilation. It's also smart enough to use around town.
If you're not looking for a serious hiking pack, the PetGear Roller is a good choice for its flexibility - backpack one day, wheelie carrier the next.
By the way, if you want to leave the top of the bag open and use the safety harness attachment, make sure your cat is wearing a proper harness and not a collar. If he makes a jump for it and is left dangling, he's going to be pretty unhappy even if he's wearing a harness - but at least he won't choke.