I’m a firm believer that everyone on an adventure should, figuratively, carry their own weight. When out on a hike this means Willow has to carry her own backpack. Her standard load is her water in two one liter Platypus soft bottles (one on each side for proper weight distribution), her booties in case they’re needed, treats and a snack or two and maybe a tug toy in case we meet some fun dogs on the hike. She also regularly carries my Garmin eTrex in a protective Gomadic case for those times she tries to use her pack as a floaty vest before I can remove it.
We started out with an Approach Pack. It worked well and was the right size for her (Medium). Ruffwear still makes the Approach pack but seems to have stopped making them in that green color.
One of my girl’s semi-endearing/semi-maddening traits (she does have a few) is her insistence on acting like a water-seeking fur missile. Hot or not, if she is not on a leash and glimpses a body of water she thinks she can fit her black ass in she does not wait for permission and dives right in. That’s great and all as I live life by the “Contrition is Easier than Permission” guideline as well. The saddlebags have drainage holes and dried out pretty quickly. Once salt water dries off you can just rinse off the evaporated salt encrustations. I soon learned to just not keep water-absorbing items or anything that can be damaged by water in the pack.
We soon decided that the take-off/put-back-on process for water crossings, impromptu swim sessions or just for food or rest breaks was a bit of a pain. Plus, with her back issues sometimes I want to help her up and over some large blockage in the path (downed tree, large rock etc.) and the pack also served as a convenient albeit heavy harness with a handle to grab ahold of and lift her one-handed. So we decided to see what other options were available.
As Ruffwear fans we started and were able to end our search with their Palisades Pack. It is essentially a modified Ruffwear Web Master harness with the saddlebag portion of the Approach Pack attached to it in a removable configuration via four clip attachment points.
A compression system ensures load stability and comfortable weight distribution.
The larger main compartment has a water drainage hole with the nice detail that the hole has a protective covering on the exterior to make it more difficult for debris to enter into the saddlebags from the outside.
In the picture above you can also see one of the two small straps and clips (one on each side) that attaches around the chest strap which you can (and should) use to keep the saddlebags from bouncing up and down and all around and slamming into your dog’s ribs when undertaking vigorous activity like running or jumping.
The material that holds the two sides of the saddlebag portion together is a strong yet light and breathable mesh webbing. The harness itself is strong enough that there is no need to add a lot of additional weight just to hold the two saddlebags in place.
The main compartments are a bit bigger and have a larger total capacity than those on the Approach Pack: 793 in³ (14 L) vs. 732 in³ (12 L) for Medium Size packs.
There is more than enough room on each side to hold one of the included, BPA-Free, 1 liter, soft-sided water bottles much like the Platypus collapsible bottles we used to use with the Approach Pack.
One of the well-thought-out design details is that the padded handle on the harness portion fits through an opening in the mesh between the two saddlebags so you always have that assistance option if the need arises.
The zippers are robust and of the water-resistant style. The factory zipper pull ropes work fine but we replaced them with some MSR Night Glow Zipper Pulls.
The medium size pack fit her almost perfectly right out of the Amazon box but we did make a few adjustments after a test fitting and a couple of short walks to see how it sat on her frame and carried various loads. Since she is a nudist at heart, even after dozens of wearings she still, very much like when her boots are first put on, is momentarily annoyed but then soon remembers that this contraption means we are going on an adventure and Oh Boy! Soon enough she seems to forget it is on and goes trotting off ahead of me in gleeful abandon at being out and about again.
Now, when Willow wears her Palisades Pack, if the need arises I can quickly remove the saddlebags by unclipping and removing the saddlebag section and then she can take a more unencumbered rest, swim or a bathroom break without the extra load. Since she still has a harness on I can semi-easily portage her fat ass (not really – “She ain’t heavy, she’s my girl) over and around difficult obstacles if need be.
We’ve had harnesses and doggie backpacks separately before and now we have all that functionality in the one product. I consider that an upgrade and so does Willow.