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Reviews > Animal Companion Gear > Dog Packs > RUFFWEAR APPROACH PACK > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Product Information Back to contents
Product Description Back to contents
The Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack is essentially a pair of non-removable saddlebags combined with a harness system specifically designed for canines. It secures around the dog's chest with an adjustable four strap harness and around the belly with one adjustable strap. Both straps are padded and secure around the dog's frame with plastic quick-release buckles. At their origination point with the harness, each of the straps is affixed with a small section of elastic, allowing an extra bit of breathing room. Each saddlebag has a six-link daisy chain running along its length and two zippered gear compartments; one larger main pocket below and a smaller pouch above. Along the middle of the back panel between the saddlebags there is a metal leash attachment ring. Behind the leash ring there is a padded lift handle and a second leash attachment loop. This one looks like nylon webbing material, certainly not metal. At the base of the lift handle is a small slit where a safety light can be clipped. At the front of the harness, just below where it sits at the dog's neckline the pack is curved, presumably to allow for more freedom of movement for the dog's head. Ruffwear calls this a "radial cut".
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
I was happy to find the Approach Pack on my doorstep last Friday, especially since I had planned to hike a few days later with Izzy and a few other folks from the canine hiking group I belong to. Izzy was so excited to see her new swag she almost mustered the energy to raised her head up from her bed. Haha! She's a very chill character until we actually get outside. I was also happy to find the pack in perfect condition. Everything looked to be in working order inside and out. Thankfully, it was also the correct size. The Medium is a close fit though. Ruffwear's sizing chart says to gage the dog's girth by measuring around the widest part of the rib cage, which I did. With a breed like Izzy, however, she's equally as thick at her mid-drift, maybe a tad thicker. The chest harness section fits her with room to spare, whereas the belly strap is at its max length. No more table scraps for Izzy for the remainder of the test I guess. She won't be happy!
As for attached informational material
there was very little, just a simple hangtag. The tag offers customer service
contact info, load capacity specs, a sizing diagram with listed measurements
for the XS thru L/XL sizes and a short list of pack features in English, French,
German, and Japanese. It also lists the country of origin which I was very
thankful to see written in an obvious location so I didn't have to search
for it. I'm one of those weird consumers that likes to know where stuff was
made. Missing from the tag or the backpack itself is any mention of weight,
the fabrics from which it's made, care and cleaning instructions and instructions
on how best to adjust the harness for a proper fit. Weight and cleaning details
are listed on the website, however, which is helpful in my case since I can
look up those details for this report from my computer but not overly helpful
if I was buying the product off a store shelf. Lastly, I found a couple of
informational discrepancies between the capacities listed on the website and
those on the hangtag. The website lists the XS capacity as 366 cu in / 6 L
and the MD as 885 cu in / 13 L whereas the hangtag lists the XS capacity as
427 cu in / 7 L the MD as 885 cu in / 14.5 L. Incidentally, 885 cu in is 14.5
Although I've owned several other canine packs in the past, this is my first from Ruffwear. I've seen them on dogs out on the trail before, having heard many good things about their harness system. Trying it on Izzy that first night I was pleased with how easily the straps adjusted and how well the harness contoured around her body. The buckles are well hidden behind padding so I don't expect we'll have any comfort issue with those. In fact, I couldn't find any points of contact that looked worrisome. That's a good start. I was surprised by how spacious the main compartments are. Much larger than they looked from the website and certainly more roomy than I'll need for our dayhiking essentials. The Orange Poppy color was a little brighter than expected, but I'm totally okay with it. I'd rather Izzy be highly visible on our treks, it's a good safety measure.
In my initial assessment of the pack and its features, two things stuck out as potential negatives. First, the main gear compartments do not have drain holes. I don't know if this will be an issue, perhaps the fabric is permeable enough on its own so that holes are not needed. What I do know is quite a lot of my summer outings with Izzy involve water so the pack will definitely be getting wet. Second, the outer sides of the saddlebags seem to be made of two different types of nylon-type material, with the slightly thicker type covering the bottom half of the pockets. Neither is heavily reinforced, however, which is good for keeping the weight of the pack down but I'm not sure how well the exterior will hold up to all the doggie abuse. Izzy, like most Pitbull Terriers, is about as graceful as a bulldozer. I'm really hoping the Approach can handle her level of goofballness!
JJD - 2017
April - Day hike along West Clear Creek near Camp Verde, Arizona. Elevation around 3,000 ft (910 m). Sunny with gorgeous temps in the upper 60's F (20 C). This trail passes through both high desert and riparian zones with a few water crossings.
May - Short, hour-long hike along the Maricopa Trail in Peoria, AZ. Elevation around 2,000 ft (610 m). Partly cloudy and windy with temps in the low 70's F (22 C). This section of trail is a single track that runs through typical Sonoran Desert terrain (lots of cacti, small shrubs and thorny trees).
July - Day hike in the Prescott National Forest near Crown King, AZ. Elevation 6,000 ft (1,800 m). Weather was rainy and cool with temps in the mid 70's F (24 C). Our hike was more a wander through the forest using a combination of game trails and jeep tracks with bits of off-trail walking. The terrain in this area is somewhat steep with mostly pine and oak covered slopes.
Field Tests with My Work Dogs
May - Five
day hikes averaging 3 to 4 miles (5 to 6 km) each in the Phoenix
Mountains Preserve, Phoenix, AZ. Average elevation is 1,700 ft (520
m). For each of these outings we had partly cloudy or sunny conditions
with temperatures in the low to mid 70s F (22 - 24 C). These preserve
trails wind up and down rocky and less rocky stretches of hills
and valley covered in Sonoran Desert flora.
Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents
In the outdoors there are many sights that delight the soul, among those is most certainly the wobbly gait of a slightly chubby Pitbull determinedly bounding down a shady path in pursuit of a lizard she has no chance of catching. The chaotic bobbing up-and-down of two bright orange saddlebags makes this scene even more comical. Such was a cool morning in April as we gave the Ruffwear Approach Pack its inaugural test. Needless to say, Izzy adapted to wearing it quite quickly, once we managed to get it on her that is. Although I had pre-fit the pack for her at home, putting it on an antsy dog who'd been riding in a crate for the last 2.5 hrs was slightly more challenging than expected. I think the Approach fits Izzy well enough, where we ran into problems is clipping the two straps into their respective buckles. The buckles sit right under the left saddlebag so the bag must be lifted up in order to see the buckles. While the pouch is empty, it's only a slight nuisance, when it's holding water bottles and such, it's a three-handed job at best. The good news is, once the pack is on, it seems to stay put even when the straps get wet.
On our Wet Beaver Creek hike one of Izzy's water bottles popped open inside its pouch causing a drastic loss of weight on one side. Not unexpectedly the saddlebags hung unevenly on her frame. The nice thing about the Approach harness system is, even though the pouches were clearly not equal, Izzy was still able to walk unobstructed. Wearing it like this for a long period of time wouldn't be ideal but at least I know as long as the load is remotely close to evenly distributed the harness system will do its job.
The leaky water bottle and our various jaunts into the creek reveled a missing aspect of the Approach pack: drain holes. I've never owned a doggie backpack that didn't have these so when I knew we were headed to water I was curious to see what would happen. The pouches are made of some type of nylon and while they didn't drain quickly, the water did eventually make its way out of each pocket. I personally don't see any reason to not have drain holes in a dog backpack, especially given the likelihood that in all but the shallowest of streams a dog is very likely to dunk at least the bottom part of their saddlebags. I guess as long as the water can escape in a reasonable period of time, their absence is a minor issue.
To my surprise, I've been using the lift handle far more often than I thought I would. Izzy had a strange neurological episode at the beginning of the year and since then she stumbles here and there or has trouble dealing with certain obstacles. The lift handle has been such an asset. I have used it to assist her with some boulder hopping and a few water exits in Wet Beaver Creek, climbing up and over some slippery downed trees on our Crown King hike and up into my SUV on several occasions. My son also used it to help hold her still while I clipped the harness straps and her leash in place on our last outing. The handle gives me something solid to grab when she's off-leash and I need to restrain her. It's a good fit for my hand and offers full control over her body. It's my favorite feature on the pack so far.
found the Approach's storage capacity to be perfect for my needs.
I primarily just have the dogs carry their water, some poo-pick-up
bags, a water bowl, and a few dog specific first-aid items to balance
things out. This doesn't even come close to maxing out the saddlebags.
The two main compartments are roomy with wide openings, making loading,
unloading and cleaning out debris effortless. God only knows how
so much of the desert or forest finds its way into a closed pocket!
The two smaller pockets are a nice touch for keeping things organized,
especially for poo-bags. I like having those right on top for quick
access. I think it would be helpful if the zippers on the small
pockets had different colored pull tabs or started from the opposite
side of the larger pockets though. When the compartments are closed
their respective zippers are right next to each other. I find myself
grabbing the wrong one sometimes, which seems silly when you look
at the pack while it's nice and still but when it's moving or my
attention is elsewhere, it is all too easy to mistake one pull for
Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents
During the final two months of testing I've used the Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack ten more times with the help of three different dogs. Field conditions for the late summer/early fall tests were similar to what we experienced back in May. All hikes were day hikes, averaging 3 to 4 miles (5 to 6 km) on various desert trails within the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Phoenix, AZ. Elevations ranged from 1,700 ft (520 m) up to 2,000 ft (610 m). Weather conditions were sunny on every occasion with temperatures falling between 78 - 88 F (25 - 31 C).
In addition to Izzy, Lucy, Ginger, and Abby who's info I've already provided in my Field Report, I added Slugger, an American Bulldog mix, to my list of K9 helpers. Slugger is the tallest of my work dogs but he's thin around the middle so I thought the pack might work for him. He weighs about 67 lbs (30 kg). Regrettably I do not have a chest measurement.
Long Term Findings Back to contents
After eighteen outings with the Approach Pack, not one of my little "beasts of burden" has hedged a formal complaint so I'm taking that as a good sign that all the doggies are happy with it. I too have been mostly pleased with this piece of gear. It fits a respectable variety of dog breeds and has done so without any noticeable discomfort, even when the dog and the pack were totally wet.
One of my initial concerns was whether or not the side pouches would be durable enough to hold up to all the scrapes and scratches incurred while the dogs moved through brush or past boulders. So far, this material has withstood all we have thrown at it. All other components of the pack are in equally good condition: zippers, seams, straps, buckles, etc. all working perfectly. The Orange Poppy color has become slightly muted as we have inevitably amassed more dirt and black marks from the leashes but obviously that doesn't affect performance.
On the underside of the harness, where the pack touches the dogs' bodies most, there is a fair amount of hair building up. In my experience with doggie saddle bags this is quite normal and unavoidable. I think it's worth noting the material Ruffwear chose seems to be pretty good at deterring the accumulation. Fabrics on other packs I've owned have done far worse.
Both leash attachment points work well. I've alternated using them whenever possible. From the perspective of the person holding the leash, I don't find either to have an advantage over the other except when the safety light slot is in use. The metal ring attachment point is less functional in this case. With a light sticking up out of the slot, the leash will brush past it several times, eventually knocking the light out. Since the fabric loop sits behind the safety light slot, it's a better choice.
still have only one negligible nitpick of the Approach
pack, it's tedious strap adjustment system has continued
to plague me. This is of course a problem more unique
to my situation in that I'm transitioning between
four or five different dogs each week. The changes
are subtle from dog to dog but the harness straps
are stubborn. It's really a catch-22 because immovable
straps are an asset once the pack is fitted and
on the dog. A feature I very much appreciate. In
all uses thus far I haven't noticed any slippage,
zero, even when the harness and dog were fully wet.
To that end, the difficult nature of the straps
is a good quality. For someone like me, however,
I might be willing to put up with the occasional
"in-use" fine-tuning for a system that's
a bit more forgiving during the pre-hike fitting.
Final Thoughts Back to contents
The dogs gave the Approach five paws up and I'm a thumbs up as well. The bright color was great for visibility. The fit and balance of the harness system allowed the dogs to move freely and comfortably without any regular readjustments. Lack of drain holes didn't seem to make a difference regarding water exiting the panniers. The size of the compartments was sufficient for my day hiking needs and the addition of the two shallower pockets was helpful to keep smaller items organized. Both leash loops held up to our abuse, as did all zippers and the sides and undersides of the saddlebags. I found the lift handle to be the most useful feature, whereas the placement of the buckles and the strap adjustment system created the most frustration. I never used the daisy-chain. I do expect to continue using this pack for many years to come. Mostly for Izzy but probably on my work adventures here and there too.
My only suggestion for improvement would be to differentiate the small pocket zipper pulls from the larger pocket pulls.
My thanks to Ruffwear for giving us a chance to evaluate their product and to BackpackGearTest.org for choosing me to be part of this test series.
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Reviews > Animal Companion Gear > Dog Packs > RUFFWEAR APPROACH PACK > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto