The Ruffwear Approach Pack is a day hiking harness for dogs that offers saddlebag storage, a performance fit, and all-day comfort for your four legged friends. For the last three years, Isla and Lilly have each been happily wearing a Ruffwear Web Master Harness with no storage options. The Web Master is a great harness, but there were times I wished I could have easier access to my dog’s essential hiking items. Things like waste bags, their collapsable dog bowl, food, and treats were always stashed away somewhere in my pack. With the new Approach Pack, these items are now much easier and quicker to access, making Isla and Lilly (and me) happy campers. In this review, I’m going to cover the build, fit, and performance of the Approach Pack, as well as provide photos and anecdotes from our 3-month review period.
*Note from Ruffwear: “It’s recommended that your dog carry no more than 25% of their body weight in their dog pack. If your dog is new to dog packs, start with a light load and work up to a heavier load as your dog gets accustomed to wearing the pack.” For this reason, only Isla is wearing the Approach Pack as her size and strength allows her to carry the extra weight. Lilly is a great hiker, but she’s a tiny girl with no interest in adding to her payload 🙂
If you’ve never taken your dog out onto the trails, I’ve put together a guide for how to start hiking and backpacking with your dog.
Build and Customization:
The Ruffwear Approach Pack is made of a light (1.05lbs size S) but highly durable 420-denier ripstop nylon. The saddlebags have a radial cut to provide comfort and a free range of motion. The freedom of motion is what kept me from getting a saddlebag pack earlier. Whenever I saw them, I wondered if they would inhibit motion or freedom to play. I’m happy to say that Isla’s movement in the Approach Pack is just as free as her movement while pack free.
Isla wears a size S in the Approach Pack which has a whopping 12.5 L of carrying capacity. That’s more than some of my running vests. This capacity has proven to be more than adequate for carrying anything and everything my dogs need. On cold outings, Isla is able to carry a jacket for herself and Lilly on each side.
As you can see in the photos below, each side has a lower main compartment zipper and an upper envelope side stash zipper. For things like treats and waste bags on shorter outings, I like to use the smaller upper pockets. The smaller pockets have little volume, which keeps things close to Isla’s body and free from movement. The larger lower pockets are great for layers, full waste bags, leashes, and food. There are also molle attachments on the top of the pack for extra customization as well.
On the top of the Approach Pack, Ruffwear has added a padded handle, which is great for lifting Isla up and over boulders and sections of trail that her shorter legs might have trouble with. Next to the handle is a light loop, which is great for night hikes. Finishing off the top of the Approach Pack is an anodized aluminum V-ring for leash attachment.
On the underside of the pack, Ruffwear uses a comfortable and breathable one-piece foam panel. The webbing harness and suspension is built on a five point adjustment system. There are three points of adjustment built into the chest plate. The chest plate is attached to the padded adjustable strap that runs behind Isla’s front legs. The final point of adjustment is on the straps on the back of the pack that run across Isla’s midsection. This adjustable strap and suspension system has proven to be incredibly stable with varying saddlebag loads.
Fit, Functionality and Performance:
As I mentioned above, the straps on the Approach Pack are highly customizable which allows for a dialed in fit for Isla’s body. This is really important with a doodle, as Isla’s body can change shape quite a bit with a seasonal haircut. She’s worn the Approach Pack on fast short days, longer big days, overnighters, on trail runs, and while playing fetch at the park, and each time the pack has been more or less invincible. The only con I can list about the approach pack is that it can trap heat in warm weather. This is especially noticeable on summer hikes at lower elevation here in Southern California.
Most of Isla’s experience with the Approach Pack has been on day hikes. These hikes have ranged from as little as 3 miles to as many as 18 miles. Many of these hikes gained more than 3000ft of elevation. The Approach Pack is perfectly suited for day hikes short and long as it’s dual pocket sizes allow for a lot of load customization. On short hikes when the saddlebags are empty, the pack still rides and performs well. When the pack is slightly heavy or full, Isla was comfortable and could still hike to her full ability.
For overnight trips, the Approach Pack is used pretty much like we use it on longer day hikes. The exception to that is the packing of layers. Isla and Lilly both use a light layer for cold summer nights (Ruffwear Cloud Chaser). These layers can take up a lot of space in my pack, so it’s really nice to let Isla carry those to our campsite.
If you have a dog that loves water, you’re going to love how well the Approach Pack sheds water and then dries when it does get wet. Isla and Lilly are notorious for diving into any water they can get close to. Luckily, the inside of the pockets have remained relatively dry. The straps and foam have also impressed me with how quickly they dry.
The most important factor for me when picking out a piece of gear for my dogs is comfort. If they’re not comfortable wearing it, then I won’t buy it. The Approach Pack has proven to be very comfortable on Isla. Even after a long day, she will relax while still wearing it, and does not come up to me asking to have it taken off.
The Ruffwear Approach Pack is a very well made piece of hiking equipment, Isla has been very hard on this pack in the last few months, and the only signs of wear I see are from dirt accumulation. This is par for the course in my experience with Ruffwear, as my dog’s Web Master harnesses have held up very well over a few years of abuse.
The Ruffwear Approach Pack comes in at $79.95 and is available in XS, S, M, and L/XL. At this price, I feel that the Approach Pack is a high value investment for any dog. The comfort, performance, fit, and durability are a real winning combination in Isla’s book. I just have to wonder if I’ll ever be able to convince Lilly to wear one!