Ruffwear Float Coat

We loved Hurtta’s Life Savior so much (and it was so far above all the lower-end competition) that I decided to order a Ruffwear Float Coat for a fair comparison. As I said in my Life Savior review, Ruffwear is the only other life jacket I’d expect to perform as well, and the only brand I’d trust to make a rugged, reliable and functional safety item. The Life Savior and Float Coat are pretty much direct competitors- comparable pricing (Hurtta’s is $75-85), high end construction and thoughtful design. It didn’t seem fair to only try one of the pair! There will be a lot of direct comparisons made between the two in this review. 

I tried to be brief but you guys know how I am.. so settle in for this novel, or skip to the “Overall” section for the quick summary!

Price: $79.95

Sizing and colors: XXS (13-17″) – XL (36-42″) in yellow-orange (the best color for visibility), light blue, and red. I’m disappointed that the light blue has pink accents because with gray or red accents it would have been my pick for Robin.

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There’s a lot to like about the Float Coat. In several ways, it’s better than our reigning champion, the Hurtta Life Savior. I prefer the sleek styling – it’s not often that Ruffwear design looks more high fashion than Hurtta – it’s clean, contrasty and low profile. I’ll discuss this more in detail below, but the hidden telescoping chest strap looks super clean compared to the typical velcro + buckle combination. I had my fingers crossed that it would work well for us.

On the con side, there are a few. On the minor side, it’s stiff, though less boxy than I remember the previous version being when I tried it on in store. After the flexibility of Hurtta’s foam strut design and padded belly panel, Robin’s not happy to put on the Float Coat. And the handle is tiny and low profile, which makes it harder to grab especially in a panic situation. On the more major side- well, we’ll get to that below.

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Construction: 3/5

The Float Coat is extremely well made. Its shell (available in yellow, red, and bright blue) is a durable, textured water-resistant nylon fabric, thicker and more rugged looking than the Life Savior’s lightweight ripstop nylon, which probably contributes to the weight difference between the two (8oz for the Float Coat, 7oz for the Life Savior). Overall, the Float Coat’s trim, topstitching, and reflector placement make it look professional and well finished, while the Life Savior looks basic in comparison. The Float Coat has more reflectivity (reflectors run along the spine as well as each side) and a questionably useful “Light Loop” for clipping on Ruffwear’s Beacon light. The leash attachment point is a plastic ring that’s hidden under the handle; the placement looks cleaner than Hurtta’s floating ring, though I’m curious why Ruffwear chose plastic rather than their trademark aluminum V-ring. The hidden ring is harder to clip into with one hand, especially using Ruffwear’s own Roamer which has a bulkier clasp. More annoyingly, it gets in the way of my fingers when trying to grab the handle.

Unlike every other life jacket we’ve tried, the Float Coat features two full girth straps (straps that completely encircle the body and fasten with a side release buckle), and they’re visible as part of the design as the two high-contrast charcoal webbing stripes. Full encirclement straps are more secure, since they don’t rely on the fabric and construction of the jacket to provide secure containment, and they improve response time for the handle since the jacket moves more as a unit. Hurtta jackets have one, while most jackets don’t use any. Ruffwear buckles are my favorite of all the jackets we’ve tried – they’re super easy to fasten with one hand because the female side is “sheltered” under a flap – supposedly to reduce snagging, but most practically to keep the buckle from moving during clipping.

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The good design doesn’t stop there- the front chest strap is also totally innovative. It’s similar to (or the same as) the previous model K-9 Float Coat – a telescoping strap where one side tucks into the other as you tighten the strap. It does require your dog to be comfortable having something passed over his head, since it can’t be undone completely, but I love not having velcro (I hate velcro, though it’s a necessary evil for some items) and while it’s a little stiff, it doesn’t stand as far out from the chest.

Like the Life Savior, the Float Coat uses single-piece construction on the outer shell, with no seams or joins to fail, and the inner lining is one piece as well over a thin foam panel, while the Hurtta jacket has a spacer mesh lining on the belly for comfort and quick draining. Both fortunately lack the absorbent, heavy neoprene so common in life jackets; I prefer Hurtta’s spacer mesh for comfort but its absence on the Float Coat makes the Ruffwear jacket more sand-friendly. I don’t prefer to see flotation material on the belly but the panels on the Float Coat are thin enough that they don’t risk competing with the back panels and turning the dog upside down.

So after all that raving, why the lower score? Two reasons. First, the belly panels don’t overlap on Robin’s belly, and he’s right in the middle for his jacket’s size – it’s meant for girths 17-22″ and his is 19.5″. Excluding this Float Coat and the regrettable Outward Hound Dawson, ever single life jacket we’ve tried has wrapped securely around the belly. Even Ruffwear’s previous model was released with this image and a blog post about “ample belly coverage“:

Credit: Ruffwear

The short belly panels on the current version leave larger-girth dogs supported only by the bare webbing straps on the belly – yet Ruffwear’s Webmaster harness, also designed for lifting, has pads on the webbing straps, so why not here? Mid-girth dogs like Robin may experience some pinching during movement as the jacket flexes, since only a small sliver of belly is exposed, but at least they’re not being lifted just by bare straps. Ruffwear’s old old Portage Float Coat had this same design and I figured it was a mistake they’d learned from. It’s clear from their stock photos that this isn’t a sizing issue for the latest model- they don’t mean for it to overlap.

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And the second issue? The handle sits too far forward, almost at the neck, so when you lift the dog the hindquarters swing and hang uncomfortably as the jacket slides up around the neck. This placement was not a mistake, according to the product image above – it’s intended to put the dog’s body into a vertical position. Perhaps it’s easier to hoist a 60lb dog back onto a boat when you’re mostly lifting the front half. I do find it odd that the handle placement here doesn’t match the handle placement on the Webmaster harness, which is quite balanced and a fan favorite.

Either way, this is another example of a brand scaling down a product without considering the different needs of small dogs. For a big dog, you might avoid lifting except in an emergency situation, or for quick assistance to help them scramble back onto a paddleboard. But the little guys aren’t heavy – we can lift their entire bodies like a little suitcase, and they’re often less comfortable in the water and less able to climb out of a pool or back onto a board than a larger dog. It makes sense to have a comfortable, balanced setup rather than an awkward front-focused handle when that setup isn’t necessary for weight reasons.

Is the Float Coat safe, despite the belly and handle design? Yes, I think so. It might not be as comfortable as a full wrap belly and a balanced handle, but Robin doesn’t slip out (I tried) and it doesn’t seem to ride forward on him while he’s actually swimming – only while being lifted. While I don’t prefer a life jacket that rides up or fits oddly in any common scenario, I wouldn’t call the Float Coat unsafe or dissuade people from choosing it.

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Fit: 5/5

Belly and handle design issues aside, the Float Coat fits Robin perfectly. The cut is similar to the Life Savior, fairly minimal, although the Float Coat has a bit more coverage in the back and sides. There’s plenty of extra strap, and the neck goes small enough to fit him securely. Aside from some resistance during the putting-on process, Robin wears it without complaint, and we didn’t experience any chafing or restrictiveness. The neck and chest section is overly stiff especially in his small size (XS) but I’ve heard that they tend to soften up over time.

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Function: 4/5

The small handle is a problem – while I’ve been able to snag it, it’s hard to wrap my fingers into it especially with the leash attachment sharing the already tiny space. Tiny handles are a common theme in Ruffwear gear (aside from the Webmaster Pro) and I’d like to see either a taller handle design or a wider footprint. In an urgent situation, it could be hard to accurately grab him and I might end up just catching him by the chest strap.

Despite the exposed webbing on the belly, Robin didn’t experience any chafing and the cut is designed for full range of motion – he had no trouble hopping around and was unencumbered. Comfort-wise, I’d say this is #3 of everything we’ve tried, after the two Hurtta life jackets which are both more flexible and soft.

The Float Coat is a beast. It looks good, works well, and it’s tough and engineered.

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Value: 4/5

Hurtta and Ruffwear are the main competitors in this price bracket, and both brands’ life jackets stand well above the less expensive competition. Gone are the flimsy buckles, restrictive cuts, tacky styling and cheap fabrics. Both brands make jackets that are solidly built of durable materials and thoughtfully cut for activity. The Float Coat is the most attractive looking, and it’s tied with Hurtta’s old-style Life Jacket for a low-profile fit, yet is less flexible and lightweight than the Life Savior.

Some of our friends with larger dogs like the Float Coat over the Life Savior because of its trimmer profile. In Robin’s size, they’re almost the same in packed size, so the bulk difference is minimal, but it all depends on where a dog falls in the size range for either (Hurtta is sized mainly by weight, while Ruffwear is sized by girth). Aim for your dog to be in the middle, if possible. For small dogs, I’d definitely recommend the Life Savior for its balanced, generously sized handle and secure, padded belly. For larger dogs, the scaled-up handle may not be a concern, so consider the thickness, clean design, and the fit/comfort of the belly panel. The Float Coat is definitely a strong contender but it wasn’t right for us.

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Overall: 4/5

The irony of preferring an item with velcro over one without does not escape me (for those new to the blog, I’m a pretty established velcro hater). If the handle were balanced, this would have been a harder choice, since the near-overlapping belly panel is workable on Robin’s midsized girth. The Float Coat definitely has its strong points, and it was definitely a close contender. I’m glad we tried it out even though I don’t believe it’s the best option, at least for the little guys.

Best for: Dogs at the low end of each size range (for belly overlap), larger dogs who will be rarely lifted

Not ideal for: Small dogs due to tiny handle size and unbalanced lifting, larger-girth dogs in each size range due to undersized belly panel.

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