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Reviews > Animal Companion Gear > Dog Packs > RUFFWEAR APPROACH PACK > Test Report by David Wilkes

October 06, 2017



NAME: David Wilkes
AGE: 52
LOCATION: Yakima Washington
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer. I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lb (14 kg).



Pack Top
Year of Manufacture:
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US$79.95
Listed Weight: 1.3 lb (590 g) (L/XL)
Measured Weight: 1.22 lbs (552 g)
Volume (L/XL) 1,465 in (24 L) capacity
Pack Bottom

Meg's Bio

Name: Meg Wilkes
Age: about 12 months
Gender: F
Shoulder Height: 20" / 51 cm
Weight: 70 lbs / 32 kg
Girth: 32"/ 89 cm
Torso Lenght: 22" / 56 cm
Breed: Mixed (Chocolate lab and Pit...we think)

I was rescued by my family in the fall of 2017 after being found abandoned, malnourished and having some (rope?) wounds. I have gone through basic puppy training and learn quickly because I love to please. I have been on a few day hikes, one snowshoeing outing, and one 4 day camping trip. I love going on outings with my family. Of course I am up to date on all my shots, have been fixed, and visit my Veterinarian regularly.


RUFFWEAR is based out of Bend Oregon and produces an assortment of outdoor and performance minded products for dogs including collars, food/water bowls, coats, harnesses, leashes, safety products and more. We are somewhat familiar with the company. Soon after Meg joined our family we purchased a RUFFWEAR webmaster harness (size medium). Meg wears it virtually every time we leave the house and she has just about grown out of it.

At the time of this report RUFFWEAR offers 5 different models of dog packs. They all seem to be based on the same basic design as the harnesses and the Approach model is kind of the base model of their packs. Lowest cost and having the least specialized features.

This product seems to be based on the webmaster harness with the addition of non-removable packs on either side. The harness itself consists of one primary section that covers the dogs back. It has a 5 point strap system utilizing 2 plastic clips, and all the straps are adjustable. One strap passes under Meg's belly. The front strap section is connected to a second V strap that connects to below the neck. All of the straps are adjustable and experience has shown the initial fitting can take a bit of time and effort to get right. The two straps that pass under the dog each have a padded movable cover to help improve comfort and fit. Putting the harness (and hence the pack) on consists of slipping this neck section over megs head and putting her right paw through the leg loop (formed by where the front strap connects to the neck straps), then securing the strap to her left side with a plastic clip.

The main section of the harness includes a handhold attached to the rear of the harness at one end and about the middle of the harness at the other. At the back end of this is a loop (similar to what I have seen on some human climbing harnesses) to be used as an alternate connection point (e.g. for having the dog pull a load). At the rear of the handle there is also a flat strip of material with an image of a light. This is for attaching a light to the harness. In front of the handle is a metal leash attachment point. Along the edges of the harness is reflective piping and there are other reflective details at various points on the harness and packs to improve viability (A feature I much appreciate).

There is a single pack on each side of the harness. They both run the full length of the harness and are permanently attached (unlike the Palisades pack in which the packs are removable). Each pack consists of one large zippered compartment with a smaller zippered compartment in what would be the lid of the larger compartment. Along the top of the packs where they attach to the harness is a piece of webbing that is sewn to create a series of loops. The material of the pack appears to be a water resistant nylon.

Based on the sizing guide on the RUFFWEAR site, Meg is right between top of the sizing for a M and the bottom of the L/XL. Since we have a size M harness already I was confident that a size L/XL would fit her.


Camera Shy

As mentioned above the initial fitting and adjustments can be a bit of a chore. It does not help that Meg does not understand what is going on and thinks it is an opportunity to play. I started by shortening some of the straps, especially the belly strap since she (unlike me) has a very trim middle. I made some adjustments after I got it on her, but that was rather difficult. But that was because she would not stay still, not because the straps are difficult to adjust. So I ended up putting it on and taking it off a few times before getting it right. After getting it set up and on her, even though she was used to wearing a harness, she found the packs on the side a bit distracting and I had to tell her that they were not for chewing on. She is a good dog and complied quickly but I would not leave the pack on her unsupervised. I know from experience with trying to get her to wear a shirt and/or coat that she would most assuredly chew it up the first chance she got. I noticed right away that getting her used to the packs on the side is going to take some time. One of the first things she did was go around a corner a bit short and the pack snagged and it surprised her. She then snagged it on the door frame and was again surprised. Things like trees and brush when outdoors is going to be interesting.

I noticed a few things right away, primarily having to do with the lack of organization options. There are no organization pockets or loops inside the pockets nor are there compression straps. I expect this will make it important (possibly difficult) to keep the load evenly distributed in the packs. I also notice there is no poop bag dispenser as I have seen on other packs, which is unfortunate but not critical.
First Use
Fun in the snow

After getting the pack fitted on her we went out for a short walk. I put a small tug toy in one pack and a role of poop bags in the other. Very soon into the walk I was already appreciating the pack...when she was able to carry her own full poop bag for a change.


Initial impressions are that the pack seems to be well constructed. It fits her well and has some nice features such as the reflective details. I wish there were more organization options, a poop bag dispenser and think some sort of volume adjustment (e.g. compression straps) would be beneficial.



Cowiche Canyon (uplands trails and canyon trail) - 5-6 day hikes
Umtanum Creek Central Washington - 1 night (~2 miles / 3km)
Pacific Crest Trail Central Washington (Dewey Lake) - 1 night (~ 6 miles / 9-10 km)


Sitting with a full pack

Not long after posting the Initial Report Meg managed to dislocate her hip. X-rays revealed that she has very bad hip dysplasia. Nothing we can do about it but prophylactically treat her to help slow down the inevitable problems she will eventually experience. On the bright side our Veterinarian said hiking and moderate backpacking is good for her and as she is "freakishly strong" (his words) it should be a long time before she experiences any major problems. He also was kind enough to show me techniques on how to reduce her hip myself should it become dislocated again.

With that we started the Field Review period by taking day hikes in the Cowiche Canyon areas primarily the Highlands trails. The terrain is what is referred to as shrub steppe (very much like high desert) with a mix of shrub, sand, dirt, and rocks. The trails range from old jeep roads, to narrow bike ruts. It tends to be gently rolling terrain on the upland sections and the trails leading in/out of the canyon tend to be steep, narrow and sometimes a bit treacherous. It is also a multi-use area so dodging the occasional mountain bike is necessary. The temperatures early in the reporting period were pleasant, but due to the almost complete lack of shade after a few weeks it became far too hot for a short hair dog. The first overnight was a short hike up the Umtanum creek trail, where we did a bit of exploring after setting up camp and returned the next morning. The second outing was more aggressive. A scouting trip on the section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I am the steward for (Washington, South of Chinook Pass). We got a midday start, hiked to the first lake, set up camp and spent the rest of the day exploring trail and lake area. The trail is in rather good shape but involve various conditions including crossing a few seasonal streams and late season snow fields. There were also sections of dry sand/dust, and talus. It was a busy day on the trail so we passed many other hikers (some with dogs of their own) where I tried to teach Meg some basic trail etiquette, but she was way more interested in meeting all the new "friends".

I have struggled with effectively utilizing the Ruffwear pack. Getting Meg to carry her food/snacks, water bowl, waste bags, and extra cord (to secure her at camp) is a no brainer. I tried to get her to carry her own water but keeping her pack balanced was a problem and heavy items tend to shift around in the pockets resulting in her being thrown off balance. I suspect this may not be an issue, or maybe less of a problem for calmer and/or more mature dogs, but Meg tends to be very excitable and high energy. As a result I have avoided putting heavy items in her pack. I really wish the large pockets had some method to better secure the contents; elastic internal pockets, elastic loops, or maybe external compression straps would help.

Having experience with my previous Ruffwear harness I had no trouble getting the pack straps adjusted for a comfortable and secure fit. Since Meg associates the harness and leash with fun times outdoors, she gets really excited when she sees it, and while she loves getting it put on, her excitement makes it hard for her to sit still while I put it on her. My wife (an elementary school principle) says she sees the exact same thing with over excited kids who know what they should be doing but simply can't contain the energy. Once the pack is on, she seems to completely forget about it.

The pack fits well. I have been able to use the handle to help lift her into/out of my truck when she is reluctant to jump because her hip is bothering her. And it provides a very secure location to attach her leash. This is important because I avoid attaching her leash to her collar due to her neck being almost the same diameter as her head. As a result her collar can easily slip over her head.

The reflective details of the pack are subtle during the day but in low light conditions reflect any light sources and become quite visible. In addition the orange color of the pack I received makes Meg quite easy to pick out amongst trees and brush that she might otherwise easily blend into, something I much appreciate.

At one point on the Pacific Crest Trail, Meg was apparently feeling a bit overheated and decided to simply lie down with her belly in one of the icy streams. The contents of the pack stayed dry.

So far despite pulling on various parts of the pack (handle, leash attachment, straps, and even the packs themselves sometimes), as well as brushes against trees, rocks and branches the pack has picked up a bit of dirt but otherwise is showing little to no signs of wear.

On a side note: since the pack/harness covers so much of her body, it helped protect her from mosquitos on the Pacific Crest Trail. After we returned she had many welts from bites, but most of these were on areas the pack did not cover. (I wonder if the pack could be treated with some sort of insect repellent like such as Permethrin.)

As an additional note, I have found that the standard 6 ft (2 m) leash is too short for most trails where it is often too narrow for Meg to walk by my side, and if she gets in front of me she is often too close causing me to have to work to avoid kicking or stepping on her back paws. I have found about 9ft (3 m) to allow her enough room to move around while still being manageable.



Cooling off

I don't have much to add to what I have already said about this pack. Since the last report Meg's hips have gotten worse and she has dislocated her hip a few more times. She is a real trooper and more than willing to hike as long and far as I want regardless of the conditions. And a few times we have overdone it a bit and she would be clearly uncomfortable by the time we got home. So I have been trying to keep her active without overdoing it. We have done about 4-5 day hikes on the local trails just west of Yakima but mostly limited our outings to only a few hours.

On one particularly warm day we stopped stream side too cool off in the shade and Meg who is obviously smarter than I am, quickly slipped into the water so her belly was submerged. After she had cooled off she came out and I checked the contents of the pack to find everything perfectly dry. During the walk home the wet parts of the pack and harness picked up quite a bit of dirt, most of which simply fell off as the pack dried.

I have inspected the pack for wear or damage to see how it has held up to the use so far. While it is a bit dirty in places (I have not found the need to clean it) I was unable to find any signs of wear.

At the conclusion of this test I would say that I am happy with the construction of the pack and its durability. I anticipate we will continue to use this pack more as the weather cools off. The pack should provide her some comfort from the cold and rain/snow.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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