Ruffwear Approach Review

I tested the Ruffwear Approach dog backpack and this is my verdict.

June 15, 2023
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The Ruffwear Approach is a dog pack known for its capacity to be used on both day hikes and backpacking trips. While it would be nice if the panniers detached from the harness, overall this pack is a solid choice for day hikers and thru hikers alike.

Product Overview

Ruffwear Approach

ruffwear approach

✅ Good pocket size

✅ Easy pocket access

✅ Padded Harness


❌ Buckles are harder to adjust

❌ Must step into harness

❌ Pack is not removable


  • Weight: 18 oz (1 lbs 2 oz) website, 12.8 oz (0.8 lbs) home scale
  • Volume: 5 liters (XS), 10 liters (S), 13 liters (M), 21 liters (L/XL)
  • Material: 150 Denier Polyester, Laminated, molded bonded mesh and perforated foam (harness chassis), ITW Nexus Airloc side-release buckles (buckles), Anodized 6061-T6 aluminum V-ring (leash connection point), YKK reverse coil zipper (zippers)
  • Sizing: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Number of Pockets: 4
  • Number of Straps: 2 buckles/connection points
  • Leash Attachment?: Yes, two attachment points
  • Handle?: Yes
  • Dog Tester’s Weight: 75 pounds
  • Dog Tester’s Size: Medium

The Ruffwear Approach is a great choice for those looking to go on longer day hikes, overnighters, and even thru-hikes with their dog. It is best for folks who are doing more relaxed overnighters with their pups or ultralight backpackers looking to go the distance.

The medium-sized panniers are a great size for most dogs as they make it harder to overload a dog which helps to prevent injuries. The zippers make it a breeze to get in and out of the saddlebags when evening out the weight or trying to access gear on trail. I did find it frustrating that the dog must step through the harness when putting it on and taking it off, especially given that the saddlebags do not detach from the harness. Overall, the Approach offers a blend of features and functionality that is greatly appreciated on trail.

For other dog backpack reviews, read our post on the best dog backpacks.

Performance Test Results

ruffwear approach performance score graph

How We Tested:

My dog, Prima, and I tested the Ruffwear approach out while on a thru-hike of the Lone Star Hiking Trail near Houston, Texas. The hike was during mid-March so temperatures ranged from the mid-40s at the beginning of the trip to 80 degrees with 80% humidity towards the end. We averaged 20 miles per day over the course of 5 days and Prima carried her food, leash, bowl, and a toy. After the Lone Star Trail, we continued to use the pack in snowy southern Colorado as well as the red rock country of Utah.

hiker and dog wearing Ruffwear Approach in camp

Weight: 9/10

Just like with humans, pack weight figures into the overall base weight. Because dogs should only carry between 10-25% of their body weight, pack weight can make a huge difference in how much they are able to safely carry.

The medium Ruffwear Approach weighs 1 pound 2 ounces on paper and came out to 0.8 pounds on my scale. While there are one or two features that add a small amount of weight, this is a pretty fair pack weight and puts the Approach at about average or a bit lighter when compared to other dog packs on the market.

dog using the Ruffwear Approach

The Ruffwear Approach weighs 0.8 pounds on my scale; lighter than what is advertised for a medium-sized pack (1 lbs 2 oz).

Price: 7/10

This pack is a bit on the expensive side, but still reasonable if you plan to get an abundance of use out of it. Considering the higher quality harness, beefier saddle bags, and bonus features such as an attachment point for a light, the price tag is likely worth it for anyone looking to get several uses out of the pack each summer.

Compared to other dog packs on the market the Approach is priced at about the middle of the road.

ruffwear approach features close up

You can find the Ruffwear Approach on multiple vendors at $109.95.

Storage and Capacity: 9/10

While testing out the Approach, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this pack had more than enough room for a five day backpacking trip considering it is marketed as a heavier day pack or lighter overnight pack.

Unlike human packs, dog packs don’t have a maximum load capacity. Instead, most professionals recommend limiting the weight your dog carries to 10-25% of their body weight. Less is generally better for younger dogs, older dogs, dogs who are not accustomed to wearing a pack, and dogs who will be covering a large number of miles and/or thru hiking.

For this reason, the Approach is a good choice for those who are conscious of how much weight their dog will be carrying. The smaller, more compact saddlebags make it more difficult to overload your dog and are less likely to cause injury as they do not stick out as far as other models on the market.

The Approach includes four pockets: two main compartments on each side along with two smaller pockets closer to the center of the pack. I generally found this to be helpful as it provided some organization options without struggling to remember where I had stashed gear.

The large, easy access zippered pockets also made it easy to get in and out of the pockets while hiking compared to other dog packs I have used. This is a helpful time saver when adjusting the saddlebags so that they ride evenly early in the day or after adding/removing items.

Some sort of inner mesh might be a nice addition for organization, but overall the Approach offers a balance of space, and convenience, and limits the likelihood of overloading your dog.

dog using the Ruffwear Approach

The Ruffwear Approach has a 13-liter volume capacity.

Comfort: 9/10

Comfort has to be one of the most important considerations when purchasing a dog pack. Unfortunately, differences in dog build, amount of hair, and weather conditions can impact how well a specific pack wears. That said, the Approach performed well in the field.

Over the course of several 20-mile days in a row with warm temperatures, there was no chaffing or visible discomfort due to the pack. The harness has thick, armor-like padding along the spine and beneath the buckles that aid in comfort while still allowing airflow.

Additional padding is found on all straps and it seems as if a fair amount of attention has been paid to these details. The pack rides fairly high up the spine over the shoulders but didn’t seem to impede shoulder movement any more than other packs found on the market.

Overall Prima seemed comfortable wearing the Approach, even over the course of many miles.

dog using Ruffwear Approach

Design and Features: 8/10

Ruffwear packs tend to include more features than other packs on the market as a rule. Some features are helpful while others may add unnecessary weight for those looking to buy a pack for longer trips.

Notable features include reflective strips for nighttime visibility along with an attachment point for a night light. Twin webbing is stitched along either side of the spine providing external attachment points for a towel, bungees to hold a sleeping pad in place, etc. The pack includes both a sturdy metal leash attachment and a webbing attachment point, which seems to be a bit overkill in most situations.

A padded handle is a nice addition for holding onto your dog as well as adjustment straps in the pockets to tighten up the saddle bags so that they do not stick out as much. Hooks on the bottom of the saddlebags attach to the body straps to prevent the panniers from bouncing and small drainage holes in the main compartment prevent fluids from accumulating.

One feature that I found to be a bit cumbersome was the lack of a buckle on the right side of the pack behind the shoulder. This meant that every time the pack was put on or taken off the dog would need to place their paw through a strap opening rather than just clipping around the right leg/shoulder.

All in all, the Approach offers more features than the average dog pack although some may not be useful for all users.

Ruffwear Approach features close up

The Ruffwear Approach is packed with lots of features, but some of these features add unnecessary weight to the dog backpack.

Adjustability: 6/10

While the Approach offers a fair number of adjustment points, there is something left to be desired. All buckles on the harness portion are adjustable, but the straps tend to be a bit challenging to feed through in order to change the length. Likewise, there are adjustment points inside the pack to compact the saddlebags, however, there are not any straps to adjust the other aspects of the saddlebags such as how close they sit to the spine.

This model also does not offer the option to detach the panniers from the harness which makes it more time-consuming to remove at breaks and eliminates the ability to pair various size harnesses with different capacity saddlebags. Overall, the Approach offers the bare minimum in adjustability when compared to its competitors.

hiker putting Ruffwear Approach on dog

    The Ruffwear Approach has several adjustment points that I found challenging to use.

    Waterproofing/Resistance: 7/10

    The nature of polyester fabric dictates that it is water resistant, but not waterproof which was evident when testing the Approach. Weak points included zipper closures and the bottom of the pack where there is a small drainage hole. If all zippers are closed the inside pockets will stay dry in a light sprinkle for some time, but heavy rain and water crossings will cause the fabric to eventually wet out.

    The good news is that this problem is easily remedied by putting gear into a ziplock bag and the pack itself doesn’t seem to soak up too much water. In comparison to other packs on the market, the Approach is somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to waterproofing.

    Ruffwear Approach waterproof test

    After the waterproof test, I found the Ruffwear Approach as water-resistant, but not waterproof.

    Durability: 9/10

    Dogs with packs are a recipe for getting snagged on branches and other objects found in the wilderness. Most dogs don’t realize they are wider than normal so tend to scrape along rocks or get stuck on objects as they hike.

    That’s where 150 denier ripstop polyester comes in. While there are other materials used in the outdoor industry that are stronger, polyester performs well when it comes to punctures and abrasion.

    While testing this pack out on the Lone Star Trail, Prima frequently brushed by tree branches just due to the overgrown nature of the trail. The pack still looked brand new and didn’t show any wear or tear from those encounters at the end of the trip.

    The Approach does have a weak spot. While I love the zippers for quick access to the pockets, zippers tend to be one of the first areas to wear out when it comes to gear. The zippers still work great after our tests, but anyone buying outdoor gear should keep in mind that they will get stickier over time with use.

    Compared to other dog packs the Approach is average or slightly above when it comes to durability. Polyester is par for the course for the above-mentioned reasons. Being able to stand up to the wilderness over time is an important quality and Ruffwear did a good job in that department.

    dog using the Ruffwear Approach

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    Bailey Bremner photo

    About Bailey Bremner

    Bailey (aka "PseudoSloth") is a Colorado based thru hiker and adventurer. She has thru-hiked several thousand miles including the Continental Divide Trail, Great Divide Trail, Pinhoti Trail, and several self made routes among others.

    About Greenbelly

    After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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    • No Cooking
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