Last summer, I decided to add value to Robin’s orange Ruffwear Approach Pack by making the bags detachable, and after six months of testing I’m ready to share the process! The modifications have held up perfectly and I love having a standalone Webmaster for light hike days.
There are two possible approaches (geddit) to this project: make the put-together pack look similar to the unmodified version, or design the attachment system so the fasteners aren’t obvious on the standalone harness. I chose the first method, and decided to attach the bags using heavy duty zippers along the previously sewn attachment lines. I basically replaced seams with zippers and hooks. This is the method to use if you already have a separate Webmaster or a different favorite hiking harness, and might also be the best choice for larger, heavier packs, since the mod doesn’t change the loading of the harness. The alternative method would likely involve a webbing or fabric support structure for the packs similar to the Ruffwear Palisades pack, and use small unobtrusive clips to hold the bags in place, leaving the harness mostly stock.
Why modify a solid piece of gear (and void the warranty)? Several reasons.
- Take a load off along the trail (or in the car on the way to the trailhead): it can be safer to keep your dog in the harness, and removable bags make it possible to lighten the load during rest stops.
- Add versatility: you get your very own standalone Webmaster harness without paying $60 for a brand new one.
- Mix and match harness and pack sizes: I recently discovered that Robin’s XXS harness could actually be dangerous for him if he’s lifted too quickly – the back belly strap hits him right at the floating ribs. At 19″ girth, he’s a solid XS (17-22″) but the XS bags were ginormous on him (photo). A properly sized XS harness would be a much safer fit.
- Update previous model packs: the mod allows older style bags to be used on the new harnesses without having to pay full price for a new Approach or give up a favorite pack color.
Convinced? Let’s get started! Here are the 5 steps. Click on any picture to see it larger.
Materials and tools:
- Approach pack
- 2 sturdy zippers (I used #5 YKK vislon fully separating zippers in Dark Gray), which were great because the zipper sliders were reversible
- 2 sturdy hook and eye closures
- Needle(s) and gray polyester thread
- Seam ripper
- Needle nose pliers
- Utility knife
- lighter or flame
- one Ruffwear flopper stopper plastic clip (or similar) – the ones on the XXS pack say “NIFCO MFR10”. Ruffwear sent me a couple; I can’t assume that they’d be happy to send them to everyone, but it’s worth a try since I couldn’t find the part online. If you have a previous-model approach (green/blue), you’ll need 2.
1. Take those bags off! Start by tearing out the seam that attaches the bags to the harness, but be very careful not to catch the harness fabric. Pull on the bag as you go to apply tension to the seam; stitches are easier to cut when taut.
2. Attach the zippers to the bags. The zippers will zip back-to-front (hip to shoulder) since they’ll be backed up by a hook and eye closure at the shoulder. When matching up the zippers, ensure that the side of the zipper with the slider will be on the bag, since when the harness is used as a standalone, you won’t want jangly zipper heads along for the ride.
3. Attach the zippers to the harness. You’ll sew two lines here too- one close to the zipper teeth, and one along the loose edge. I folded the zipper tape in half longitudinally to make it less obvious on the harness.
4. Sew on hook and eye fasteners. The hook and eyes go on the webbing tabs at the harness shoulders to keep the packs from unzipping and anchor the fronts of the bags.
5. Add a clip to the webbing “flopper stopper” (Ruffwear’s term for the little straps on the underside of each bag that attach around the belly strap). One already has a little clip, but now that both bags are removable, you’ll want a clip on both for easy removal. (On previous-model Approach packs, you’ll have to add a clip to both.) I wrote Ruffwear to ask whether I could purchase an additional clip and they sent some free!
And you’re done!
The modification was a success. The packs are really fast to remove, and fairly quick to put back on- that tiny little “flopper stopper” strap clip is the hardest part, just as it always was, and my bungee cords get in the way a bit. I always meant to add a webbing strap between the packs, but haven’t yet. On a large dog, I’d definitely add a front and back webbing cross strap to take some pressure off the zipper and help support the weight when attaching the bags.
However, now that I’ve learned that Robin’s XXS harness isn’t safe for lifting, I’ve purchased an XS harness and I’m planning to do another Approach mod. Knowing how much I like to use the Webmaster as a standalone, this round 2 modification will focus on keeping the Webmaster as “stock” as possible. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear yours! Let me know in the comments. And if you do any Approach modifications, please share! I’d love to see.