Update: We ended up passing this harness on after realizing we’d only used it 6 or 7 times in a year, and when we put in our order for a Groundbird Gear pack that will become our new versatile harness because it’s lightweight, breathable and can be compressed when near empty. Main reasons for giving up the Webmaster Pro were its stiff and non-breathable harness structure, its small capacity pockets and the color – red just isn’t Robin’s color.
I purchased this harness in red, size XS at a discount through BackcountryK9.
Sizing and colors: XS (17-22″ girth) through Large/XL (32-42″ girth) in bright red.
Robin’s orange Ruffwear Approach is overkill for most day trips, but when he’s just wearing a collar or basic harness, I miss the convenient pouches (and handle). Enter the Webmaster Pro, a streamlined harness with pockets- it strikes a nice balance and even better, comes in Robin’s size (XS) which was excluded by Ruffwear’s minimalist Singletrack pack. It’s the slimmest of their pack lineup (and of all the packs I’ve seen), perfect for traveling fast, although casual hikers
The harness is constructed similarly to the standard Webmaster harness, but with tough red nylon pockets on the outside and a more rounded shape. It lacks the trim tape that edges the harness body and handle on the Webmaster, which makes the edges of the harness and handle a little less stable and prone to distortion and wear. Plastic side release buckles have been replaced by metal fasteners through which the straps must be threaded, and the chest straps are also adjusted with metal sliders. The handle is glove-sized (much larger than the handle on Robin’s XXS pack, but significantly larger even than a standard XS handle) since the harness was designed for avalanche dogs. We don’t yet have an XS Webmaster for comparison, but I’m pretty sure the Pro is more thickly padded than the standard Webmasters, and as a result it doesn’t conform to the body as easily, especially when pre-packed. Unlike Robin’s Webmaster, which just drapes onto his body, the Pro has to be guided into place to tighten up the straps.
There’s not a lot of space, at least in the XS pack- I have room for Robin’s silicone bowl, maybe some treats, and a light or bell. It seems fairly spacious when lying flat, but once it’s strapped on, there isn’t enough give in the outer fabric of the pocket to flex around the objects inside. A seam or gusset in the pocket would create a lot more space; I’d find the pack a lot more useful if it was roomy enough to carry a whole snack bar (not exactly a huge burden for an 18lb dog). Compared to Robin’s Approach pack, I do really miss having a daisy chain for strapping on gear- thin jackets can be rolled and tucked through the handle, but I’m contemplating adding a daisy chain myself.
Because there are no plastic sliders on the belly straps of the Pro (unlike the Webmaster), a little hook-and-loop patch has been added to the inside of the strap to keep it from slipping right off. Unfortunately, Ruffwear put the fastener on the outer side of the belly pad, rather than the inner side- otherwise, the excess strap could be tucked into the belly pad sleeve.
At an 18 – 19″ girth, Robin’s close to the bottom of the XS range, and a dog with a girth much smaller than his would have trouble fitting into the pack- I think Ruffwear’s 17″ – 22″ designation is a little generous. The back belly strap can slip a little far back on Robin, but so far it hasn’t been a problem and this wouldn’t be a concern on a female dog.
I usually put the pack on and adjust snugly, then re-adjust again a few minutes later, since it takes some movement for the items inside to settle in place and for the foam harness base to conform to Robin’s body. As with the standard Webmaster, the multiple adjustment points make it easy to get a custom fit, and the sturdy metal sliders don’t budge once they’re positioned.
I love this pack for its convenient pockets and big grab handle. I haul Robin around by the handle a fair amount (mostly to keep him from leaping off 6′ boulders) and the big handle is easy to grab. I actually find this harness easier to adjust than the standard Webmaster, so it’s convenient for days when Robin starts out with a couple layers and sheds them along the course of the hike- no more fiddling with the belly strap sliders trying to get enough slack to fasten the buckles. The flip side is that it does need to be adjusted every time. In cold and rainy weather, the doubled back webbing loops can be hard to unfasten, but as a result they don’t slip.
Despite my complaints about pocket size, they do hold all of Robin’s dayhike gear aside from water, and I haven’t taken out his Approach since getting this pack. I also love the color and the amount of space on the pockets- I’ll be sewing mountain patches onto it as we progress through our 2016 peakbagging project.
Build quality: 5/5
Like all Ruffwear gear, the pack is made to last. The metal hardware, tough zippers, coated nylon and sturdy webbing should stand up to years of use. Unlike Robin’s Approach pack, this harness places the reflective trim (often the first part to show wear) up along the top rather than right on the sides where it would rub against trees. So far, aside from the dirt and hair, everything about the pack looks brand new except for a little bit of fuzziness on the tow loop and front belly strap, and a scrape on the handle where Robin decided to squeeze under a sharp metal bench.
I reach for this harness for all of our bigger day hikes, and just love the prominent, easy to grab handle and streamlined design- but I still plan to pick up a red standard Webmaster eventually for casual and hot weather hikes, and I definitely hope to see slightly roomier pockets on a future edition.
Best for: day hikes, peakbagging, traveling fast and light, lifting without buckle slippage (although for major lifting, get a weight-rated harness like the Doubleback), winter use due to large handle.
Not ideal for: Short walks, long backpacking trips (small capacity), dogs with girth smaller than 18″, hot weather (extra coverage and thickness).