Mod: Detachable Ruffwear Approach Packs

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.

Invisible modifications

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
  • Pins
  • Needle(s) and gray polyester thread
  • Seam ripper
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Scissors
  • 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. 

The bags are attached to the harness along a strip of gray webbing.
Remove the stitches that attach the webbing to the harness, but leave the webbing attached to the bags. The gray tabs at the shoulders (visible in the left photo) have the tightest stitches. Work carefully and use a needle nose pliers to remove the loose threads when finished.

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.¬†

Match up the zipper with the back edge of the pack webbing and pin (the front of the bag is to the right). You’ll pin “right” sides together – the “wrong” side of the zipper is visible in the right photo.
Sew in place! In this photo, the “right” or top side of the zipper is visible. Be careful not to sew too close to the zipper teeth, or it will catch when zipping. I did two seams- one close to the zipper teeth, and one on the outer edge to secure it to the webbing.¬†Don’t sew all the way up to the front of the bag, because you’ll be cutting the zipper tape and tucking it under.


Trim the zipper tape about 1/2″ longer than the gray webbing, and seal the end with a flame. Use needle nose pliers to remove the extra zipper teeth by pulling parallel to the zipper tape. Tuck the end underneath and sew flush with the end of the webbing. This will create a stop for the zipper slider (lower right).

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.

Pin the zippers onto the harness right over the previous stitching holes, and zip both packs on to ensure that they’re balanced. Sew the zippers in place with a single line of stitching close to the zipper teeth. As with the pack zippers, leave some space at the end to fold under excess tape.
Zip both bags onto the zippers again, and determine where to cut the excess tape. Remove the extra teeth, fold the tape under and sew.
Fold the zipper tape underneath itself to reduce its visual presence, and sew another line of stitches.

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.

Sew the hooks to the pack tabs and the eyes to the harness (since they’re flat). I opted to sew through only the bottom layer of the tabs for a cleaner look on the top side, so I used a hex wrench to hold the tab open. Line up the hooks approximately where the original stitches were; make sure that the hardware isn’t obvious when the hooks are fastened.

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!

Flopper stopper positioning on pack


Insert the corner of a stiff piece of cardboard into the webbing loop. Heat a utility blade in a flame and cut through the strap. There’s absolutely no excess webbing here, so using a hot blade to seal the cut is critical. I cut right in the middle, but I recommend measuring and cutting so that the clip is over to one side like on the Ruffwear-original flopper stopper, which is marginally easier to fasten.
Sew on each side of the buckle, using the absolute minimum amount of webbing. There’s not a lot to work with here!

And you’re done!


Overall thoughts:

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.


I read¬†this,¬†this¬†and¬†this¬†after¬†I got the idea to modify Robin’s Approach.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Wendy Heath says:

    Im a little confused on step 5. Where is this located?


    1. There are little webbing straps on the underside of each bag to hold them to the belly straps. It keeps them from flopping around when the dog runs. Since the bags are now removable separately from the harness, a clip is needed so you don’t have to unthread the harness belly straps. I’ll snap another photo and add it so it’s clear!


    2. Wendy, I added a couple more photos. Hope they clarify things!


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