Update: We ended up trading up for a black Roamer in size Large – Robin’s off leash so much on the trail that I just carry a traffic lead for human/dog encounters, so the waist leash wasn’t getting used. We found that the Large leash is perfect for biking – it stretches long enough that Robin can drop behind the bike during narrow sections of sidewalk, or give himself some space when he’s running flat out on back streets, yet it’s not long enough to drag on the ground when he’s heeling the bike. I don’t like it for walking though – I’m tall and it’s still too long and unwieldy.
Overall, I’d say if you want a waist leash for hiking, get the Large if your dog will be on it most of the time (and not at a heel), and get the Medium if you’re mostly asking for a heel, or you’ll be letting your dog off leash for longer periods of time.
I purchased this leash in red, size medium through BackcountryK9. Fun fact- this is the first leash I’ve ever bought for Robin!
Sizing and colors: Medium (5.5′ to 7′) and Large (7.3′ to 11′) in red, purple, light blue and black.
With the way that Robin sticks to me like glue, I never expected to be buying a leash, especially one as rugged (and expensive) as Ruffwear’s Roamer. Prior to this, our hiking leash was a length of artfully knotted paracord. But when I recently signed up to do a volunteer park cleanup, I realized I’d need a comfortable, hands-free leash for that.
Jason at BackcountryK9 made a couple of leash recommendations for me, and I picked the Roamer. There are a number of waist-worn, elasticized leashes, but this leash has the simplest and strongest design without unnecessary hardware. Robin’s obviously never going to break the plastic waist buckle on the EzyDog Road Runner (Jason’s follow-up recommendation) or even the extra rings and clips on the runners up, but I favor the simplest designs.
The leash is made of a single piece of webbing with an elasticized section, a sturdy winged clip at the dog end, and a sliding metal hook fastener that allows you to adjust from a hand loop up to a 48″ waist. The whole thing weighs 130g or 4.59 oz on my scale, which is surprisingly light for such a substantial leash. It has no extraneous hardware, but there’s a grab handle at the dog end and an accessory loop on the person end. Unfortunately, it’s not at all reflective.
Ruffwear makes two non-elasticized leashes with the same adjustable waist design, but for most applications I think elastic makes a waist-worn leash more comfortable. It’s worth noting the length differences between the medium and large – when adjusted for hand-held use, the medium stretches from 5.5′ to 7′, while the large stretches from 7.3′ to 11′ (a 50% increase). Robin’s good off-leash so I have no need for a leash with more range, but the large might be a good option for a bigger dog.
The clip on the dog end is a hefty looking winged swivel clip that’s much lighter than it looks. Robin did plenty of yanking when I tethered him at the volunteer event and the clip held perfectly- he’s not strong, but has previously gotten free of several clips by twisting up his leash. (Note- although Robin’s tethered using a collar in the photo, this was only for a few minutes when I popped into the visitor center, and he could see me through the window. Tether using a harness for safety.) On the human end of the leash, the hand/waist loop fastens with a metal “talon hook” through a webbing loop. It’s an effective, low-bulk design, but it takes a few uses to loosen enough to be easy to fasten. The talon hook is also a good place to clip the free end of the leash when it’s not in use.
While the hefty 1″ size medium is overkill for 17lb Robin, it’s not at all heavy. The webbing is sturdy but lightweight, and the clip is much, much lighter than it looks. I’ve used it on his collar several times and it doesn’t even tighten his martingale. However, for waist leashes (where your attention is typically occupied elsewhere) it’s always better to use a harness to avoid jolting the neck and throat.
The length and the range of the elastic on the medium Roamer are perfect for us. I have a ~28″ waist, and Robin’s 14″ tall. He has just enough range to sniff the edge of the trail, but not enough to get twisted up on anything. I considered getting the large size for extra range, but I didn’t want to keep track of the extra slack.
Previously, my issues with leashes stemmed from having one more thing to hold. Now, I clip on the Roamer before I leave home, and forget about it until we see a leashed dog. Even better, I love the security of the waist leash for all kinds of outings. I took Robin to an outdoor standing concert last week and enjoyed focusing on the music without having to keep track of the leash.
I was concerned that the stretchy leash would encourage Robin to pull. We’ve worked extensively on loose leash walking and I don’t want to set back his training. So far, this hasn’t been a problem- he doesn’t use the extra range except when he gets really excited. However, it could still become a problem, so I make a distinction between leash and collar use. When it’s clipped to his collar, I expect him to heel and keep slack in the lead. When it’s clipped to his harness (and he’s less sensitive to tension in the line anyway), I’m more flexible about a tug here and there.
Build quality: 5/5
Like pretty much everything Ruffwear makes, it’s ruggedly built and overengineered, but with streamlined style. On this style of leash, the most likely failure points are the hardware (which in this case is all-metal and extremely sturdy) and the elastic section. Because the entire leash is made of one piece of webbing, with the stretch section just shirred up with internal elastic, failure is a non issue.
The webbing is much less snaggy than standard pet store slick nylon webbing, and doesn’t catch on velcro, but there’s a little bit of pilling on the edges of the leash. It’s surface-level wear and definitely doesn’t affect its integrity.
I really like this leash and reach for it constantly, no matter where we’re going. I’d definitely replace it if lost. So far it’s been perfect for hiking, concerts, walks, airport security- pretty much everything. The medium is a perfect size for keeping Robin close, and I love the red because I can quickly find it in my bag.
Best for: Universally a great option for runners, hikers, or anyone that walks a dog and would like to have free hands.
Not ideal for: High-risk/high traffic scenarios where tight control is needed (consider one of the non-elasticized waist leashes); nighttime use when range/lack of reflectivity could pose a problem.
December 2015: added numerical ratings.
January 2016: minor tweaks to make review more concise.