Full-body Harness Comparison: Ruffwear Flagline, Ruffwear Webmaster, Hurtta Trail Harness and Groundbird Gear

I own the Ruffwear Webmaster and Groundbird Gear harnesses (neither sponsored). I had the Hurtta Trail Harness just to try on, and took comparison photos before sending it back. UPDATE 11/2019: I also ordered the brand new Ruffwear Flagline to try on, in hopes that it could replace Robin’s Webmaster. Spoiler alert- I didn’t love the fit from the get-go, so it’s going back and I’m integrating it into this review instead of doing a separate Ruffwear Flagline Review.

Please note: If you choose to purchase from any of the Amazon links in this post, Amazon gives me a few dollars that help support the blog and all the time I spend testing gear and thinking about these comparisons! Links within the post are for Amazon.com; links at the bottom of the page for other countries.

Robin would prefer to be naked 100% of the time, but for difficult terrain, longer hikes and travel I use a full-coverage harness. If he gets hurt or I need to whisk him out of harm’s way, he’s much easier to grab with a handle, and a fully supportive harness helps me keep him in position during a fireman’s carry in case of emergency.

There’s a lot here, so here’s a quick table of contents:

Brief overview
Terminology
Harness Specs
Comparison Photos
Materials
Rankings and Reasons

Overview:

We currently have two full-body harnesses in Robin’s gear trunk – the Webmaster from Ruffwear, and a custom fit harness from Groundbird Gear (GBG). They have different strengths (discussed in excessive detail below) but basically I use the Webmaster for travel and biking, because it’s stiff and structured and provides more lateral stability when he’s running next to the bike, and the Groundbird Gear for hiking, especially when off-leash, because it’s flexible and breathable.

Hurtta America sent us the new Trail Harness to try out and I was really hopeful that it would fit (spoiler alert, the size chart was correct and it was a little too big, but SO CLOSE – more fit photos below). Here’s the Official Comparison, updated to add the Ruffwear Flagline, their newest full-body harness.

For reference, Robin weighs 16 pounds; his girth is 19.5″; his back length is 13.5″ and he’s 14.5″ tall.

Terminology:

Here are the terms I’ll be using to describe different parts of the harnesses:

robinventures_harness_anatomy.jpg

Harness Specs:

1. Groundbird Gear Custom
Price: $105 for harness only
All following measurements are for Robin’s custom-fit size:
Weight: 5.3 oz
Harness Back length (measured): 7.75″
Width at widest point (measured): 8.75″
Robin’s harness is custom, but the girth still covers the following range:
Girth max (measured): 24″
Girth min (measured): 15.5″

2. Hurtta Trail Harness
Price: $65-75
All following measurements are for the size we have on hand, S:
Girth per size chart: 22-30
Weight: 8.8 oz
Harness Back length (measured): 9″
Width at widest point (measured): 12″
Girth max (measured): 30″ (and this is really at the veeeeery end of the strap)
Girth min (measured): 17.5″

3. Ruffwear Webmaster
Price: $60
All following measurements are for the size we have on hand, XS:
Girth per size chart: 17-22″ (their Small is 22-27″ and a match for the Hurtta harness)
Weight: 5.9 oz
Harness Back length (measured): 7.75″
Width at widest point (measured): 11″
Girth max (measured): 22″ (be aware, this harness is stiff so I have it adjusted to around 20.5″ rather than Robin’s true 19″ – I would probably size up with a 21-22″ dog)
Girth min (measured): 17″

4. Ruffwear Flagline
Price: $70
All following measurements are for the size we have on hand, XS:
Girth per size chart: 17-22″ (their Small is 22-27″ and a match for the Hurtta harness)
Weight: 4.8 oz
Harness Back length (measured): 7.75″
Width at widest point (measured): 6.75″
Girth max (measured): 24″ (but I think the straps would get really annoying on the dog’s sides without more harness support, so probably size up before this point)
Girth min (measured): 15″

Note: Sometimes measured dimensions can be useful for getting context on manufacturer size charts (especially for dogs that are between sizes), but generally the manufacturer size range will account for dog proportions and result in a better fit (for example, even though the Hurtta harness goes down to 17.5″ girth, its other proportions will not work on a dog of that size.  

Comparison Photos and Viewing Notes:

Photo comparing fit of Groundbird Gear custom harness, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS) and Ruffwear Flagline (XS) on Robin
Side view, from upper left: Groundbird Gear, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS), Ruffwear Flagline (XS)

Side view notes:

  • All four harnesses have the same approximate strap configuration – shoulder straps, girth strap and waist strap. The difference is in the connectivity between the straps:
    • The GBG is fully integrated from the yoke, through the belly, all the way back to the waist strap, holding the straps at a spacing customized for Robin’s body. Notice the better clearance! This is ideal, but it wouldn’t work for off-the-shelf harnesses that need to fit a wider range of sizes.
    • The Hurtta harness is integrated from the yoke to the girth strap, while the waist strap is left separate. (Note: it’s clear that the Hurtta harness is a size too big for Robin by the backward angle on the girth strap – the yoke is holding the strap a little far back on him proportionally. This means less flexibility of sizing, but when the harness fits, the structured yoke holds the strap out of the armpit which is a great benefit. Meanwhile, the Ruffwear almost looks a little too small, even though the yoke strap is let out.
    • The Ruffwear Webmaster on the other hand, keeps everything separate – the waist strap floats like the Hurtta harness and “yoke” in this case is a strap of webbing that connects to a bulky sternum 3-way connector. This allows for customization of the distance from the sternum bone to the girth strap for the most adjustable harness, but it offers less structure to keep straps in optimal positions and back out of the armpit. That connector over the sternum is also not very padded, so I wonder how comfortable it is when pressing on that bumpy sternum bone.
    • The Ruffwear Flagline is also fully integrated from the yoke, through the belly, back to the waist strap, and the proportions of the belly panel are surprisingly good on Robin for an off-the-shelf harness. It almost looks like a commercial knockoff of the GBG, but without the curved pads on the girth straps and made of a stiffer material. The back panel is much smaller than on all the other harnesses, which is nice especially on small dogs for reducing that “dog being swallowed by gear” look, but the lack of customization and the missing yoke adjustment that’s present on the Webmaster makes this one less flexible for fit than both the GBG and the Webmaster. I don’t like how the belly panel crumples on Robin, unlike with the GBG, which is made of a softer, more flexible material.
  • The buckles on the Hurtta and Ruffwear Webmaster harnesses are on the opposite sides of the body, but both have buckles on just one side (necessitating a foot step-through). GBG and the Flagline have buckles on both sides.
  • Belly pads- while GBG and Flagline have a full belly panel for best support during lifting, Hurtta and Ruffwear have straps with pads on them (Ruffwear does offer two add-ons for the belly, but they are not very flexible fit-wise). More on this below, but the Ruffwear pads are long and run almost the full width of the waist and girth straps, while the Hurtta pads are an afterthought.
Photo comparing fit of Groundbird Gear custom harness, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS), Ruffwear Flagline (XS) on Robin
Front view, from upper left: Groundbird Gear, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS), Ruffwear Flagline (XS)

Front view notes:

  • All three have a roughly V-shaped yoke design, but the Hurtta harness rides higher on the chest and lower on the shoulders (it’s also too big for him, but this is a problem for him with the similarly cut Hurtta Active, Weekend Warrior and Adventure harnesses in his size, as well as many others – Ruffwear Front Range/Hi and Light, Puppia, etc). A big padded front panel is nice in theory for distributing pulling weight, but the bottom edges can impede shoulder movement, while the top edge can cut into the throat and reduce head movement.
  • The yoke between the front legs is continuous and cushioned in the GBG and Hurtta harnesses, while on the Ruffwear Webmaster harness it’s made of webbing (which has the critical benefit of being adjustable). The Ruffwear Flagline is continuous, but uncushioned, which is a concern for chafing for Robin because the fabric is thin and a little sharp on the edges. Some deep-chested dogs get chafing when a too-narrow strap that shifts into one armpit or the other, but Robin gets chafing on the sides of the armpits from wide yokes like the Hurtta, or harsh edges like those on the Ruffwear Flagline (new Ruffwear harnesses don’t have the smooth seam tape along their edges that the old ones did and the Webmaster still does).  Note- the Trail Harness is cut narrower than the Hurtta Active and Trail Pack harnesses (see here for my description of cutting the Active down for a better fit).
Photo comparing fit of Groundbird Gear custom harness, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS), Ruffwear Flagline (XS) on Robin
Top view, from upper left: Groundbird Gear, Hurtta Trail Harness (S), Ruffwear Webmaster (XS), Ruffwear Flagline (XS)

Top view notes:

  • Handles! More discussion below, but they are all different. I do not notice any balance issues with any of the four.
  • Notice the width-wise coverage here, especially between GBG and the two Ruffwear harnesses (Hurtta is effectively one size larger so less useful to compare). The Flagline is the narrowest, GBG adds girth padding, while the Webmaster wraps the sides.

Materials:

groundbird_gear_harness_back_front_webbing_closeup

The Groundbird Gear harness is uniformly made of a breathable fabric. It’s soft but hasn’t shown any wear in the two years that we’ve had it. The whole thing is lined with a spacer mesh, which has a spongy, airy texture – you may be familiar with it from backpack straps. I would say the Ruffwear lining is softer, but this is much more breathable. The edges are topstitched and the lining has stayed in place just fine.

Interestingly, and I didn’t notice this until doing this comparison, the GBG harness uses less webbing reinforcement than the other two. Ruffwear likes to use webbing hidden under its top layer of fabric (as the harness ages, you can see the edges of the webbing), but with GBG, the webbing you see is what you get. They are custom, so I don’t know if it’s the case with just smaller sizes, or with all of them. Skipping webbing inside the yoke increases the flexibility between the front legs, and almost eliminates uncomfortable pressure points on the belly when the dog is lifted.

_KLT3288

To see what I mean, take a look at the above photo – the strap configuration uniquely distributes pressure on the belly using those wider webbing triangles, so there will never be a single circumferential strap holding up the dog’s full weight during lifting. But there is no webbing completely surrounding the dog with this design. I believe it’s totally safe for regular lifting, and you should never EVER use a harness with side-release buckles for any kind of rock climbing or hoisting – get a strength rated harness – but I’m so used to everything being super  over reinforced that it did surprise me.

Hurtta Trail Harness dog harness top, bottom and closeup

The Hurtta Trail harness is mixed-media – the shoulders, back and yoke are made of a densely woven fabric, while the sides are a soft spacer mesh. The mesh is inclined to bunch up a little but I do really like having more breathable area. There’s a lot of exposed webbing on this one (which gives it more adjustability since there’s more room to tighten the straps), and like most Hurtta webbing, it’s thick, tightly woven and shiny. I would like to see thinner webbing on this harness, because it gets pretty bulky where it’s doubled up. There are attachment point knobs on the back and both sides for a light. 

Ruffwear Webmaster dog harness top, bottom and closeup

The Ruffwear Webmaster is the thickest and stiffest – it feels like a thin foam padding with a tough nylon facing on the outside and a soft knit lining (a hair and foxtail magnet, but what isn’t on dog gear) on the inside. Bigger dogs might find it less stiff, but on Robin (and especially on XXS Maui), it definitely keeps its straight shape and doesn’t mold to the body. On Robin, the neck cutout presses into the back of his neck if he lifts his head fully, and the back edge presses into his back. It’s very sturdy and offers good lateral stability without sliding to either side much, but it’s not breathable and traps heat (and attracts it due to its dark color) in summer.

The webbing used is a thin, smooth, tightly woven mil-spec type (exactly like the webbing on a backpack) that’s easy to adjust and stays put. My favorite webbing of the three! More on handles below, but the handle is the same material as the body of the harness. The entire thing, handle and all, is edged in seam tape, which gives the edge nice stability compared to Ruffwear’s newer style harnesses, where the stretchy lining tends to roll to the outside and age them prematurely.

Ruffwear Flagline dog harness top, bottom and closeup

The Ruffwear Flagline is more flexible than the Webmaster by far (though less flexible than GBG), and it’s much lighter than the Hurtta and even lighter than the GBG at 4.8 oz for the XS (vs 5.3 for the GBG). It has a slick lining that I really like – it’s not breathable like the GBG spacer mesh, but it’s a huge improvement on the Webmaster lining, which picks up hair and never lets it go. I imagine it’s more comfortable for the dogs to wear something with a smooth lining because it displaces the hair less.

The Flagline feels like Ruffwear saw the GBG and decided to make a commercial, even lighter version. They’re the exact same length and look so similar except for the round padding under the buckles on the GBG girth straps, which Ruffwear eliminated. I think that was a mistake – it’s not that snapping the fur into the buckles is a huge problem, but that padding holds the side strap a little off of Robin’s ribs, and looks much more comfortable (and displaces his fur less) than the Flagline girth strap.

ruffwear_flagline_Groundbird_gear_harness_comparison.jpg

And on Robin again – I think the girth strap looks better on the GBG (it’s hard to see, but it sits just slightly off his sides due to the padding, where the Flagline is digging under his fur) but I like the curve of the Flagline’s back panel at the waist strap – it has a nice line and finishes off the look of the harness nicely.

ruffwear_flagline_groundbird_gear_harness_comparison.jpg

You’ll also notice that the Flagline uses 5/8″ webbing instead of 3/4″ – I don’t think it really matters either way but do like the width of the 3/4 better on Robin. Ruffwear’s webbing is super thin and slick and it is easy to adjust (but stays in place) BUT because of the slickness or maybe the thinness vs. what the hardware is made for, the male parts of the buckles don’t stay at the end of the straps (see the middle “back view” photo of the harness on the floor above – they slide down into the loops. It’s minor, but I was fumbling to get them while putting on the harness every time.

The Flagline is the only harness of the four with a front attachment. I don’t like front attachments myself, especially Ruffwear’s take on them – I have seen several dogs wearing the Front Range with the front panel of the harness hanging over their shoulder as they haul their owner along. The only way a front clip can prevent pulling is if it 1) stays where it’s supposed to be, on the actual front of the dog and 2) constricts the shoulders a little to discourage pulling. When the harness has this much slop in it, the front attachment is basically for show.

Rankings and Reasons:

Belly Support:
Groundbird Gear and Flagline tie here depending how the off-the-shelf Ruffwear Flagline belly panel fits your dog, because the full belly panel distributes weight more evenly. I would probably give 2nd best to the Ruffwear Webmaster, because while there’s no padding in the yoke strap itself, it does have much more substantial padding on the waist and girth straps. Hurtta actually has no padding on the girth strap (it feeds through the inside of the yoke pad) and the pad on the waist strap is tiny.

Ruffwear does make two removable full belly panel options (the Core Cooler, for cooling, and the Brush Guard for belly protection, using the same Webmaster material) but they were honestly both a bit disappointing. They attach over the existing straps using velcro enclosures, replacing the two pads on the belly and girth straps. On the Brush Guard (below right), the velcro enclosures around the sternum pad  were actually not spaced far enough apart to allow for the corners of the triangle-shaped pad, so they had to close over the corners and be scrunched back. It was so bizarre- it wasn’t an adjustment thing; the spacing was just wrong for their harness (in the same size).  The Brush Guard also wasn’t breathable and seemed pretty claustrophobic coupled with the side-wrapping Webmaster or Webmaster Pro. The Core Cooler was improved, but the strap enclosures still didn’t quite line up (see scrunching on the yoke strap enclosure). Ruffwear Webmaster with Core Cooler (left) and Webmaster Pro with Brush Guard (right), showing scrunched straps where the product doesn't quite fit the harness it was designed for.

Handles:
A big selling point of these harnesses is the handle – so how easy is it to actually grab and use? Honestly, they’re evenly matched, with different strengths. Ruffwear Webmaster is probably my favorite because it’s structured and has some height to it, so I can always tell exactly where to grab for it, but it is absolutely tiny on the XS (and tinier on xxs) so get two fingers ready to grab your dog’s entire weight and all his kinetic energy! They are also bad at making bigger handles – his Webmaster Pro (review) had a larger handle, but it was flimsy and lacked the seam tape to reinforce the edges, so it started to wear fast and got crumpled on our first use of it. The Flagline has a similar handle.

Hurtta uses a taller, longer handle made of folded and sewn webbing. It’s not as nice on the fingers as the Ruffwear harness, and it’s less structured, but it is larger so easier to grab (and maybe to snag on branches if you’re in underbrush – but you can just buckle over it if that’s a concern). I wish they did a handle more like the padded one on their Life Savior (my fav life jacket of ever) but lower-profile, but this works.

Groundbird Gear has two handles positioned cross-ways instead of longitudinally. I usually snag both in one hand since Robin is little. I’ve never actually had trouble grabbing them, but it somehow just feels like they’re harder to grab. I guess that positioning makes more sense with a softer material that doesn’t have stiff support along the spine, and it works with the straps around the body to do it this way. Somehow I feel like they crumple up the harness less, being perpendicular to the spine vs parallel, and the GBG is also the softest fabric so it may need to go this way for support.

Ease of Use:
Groundbird and the Ruffwear Flagline are easiest to put on and take off, with fully exposed buckles on each side and no need to step through. After that is the Ruffwear Webmaster- the partially covered buckles can be fussy to unclip on a small size, especially for people with long nails, limited mobility, or arthritis in the hands. Last is Hurtta – the buckles have to be fed through a band on the harness, then buckled. It’s annoying to do on the small size, which has small and tight bands, and it would be difficult on a wiggly dog.

Style:
Totally personal preference, but you guys know I have a lot of opinions so I’ll tell you mine.

  • Hurtta has the most style and a unique look if it fits your dog properly, but I don’t like the look from the front – it’s still on the wide side as harnesses go even though they’ve trimmed it down from the Trail Pack.
  • The Ruffwear Webmaster is clean and sleek, especially in the gray color (I happen to hate their other two color offerings in the newest webmaster – the trim on the red is slightly mismatched from the harness body and the blue one just looks too monochrome bright. I have the previous version Webmaster in red for Maui and prefer the gray trim to tone down the effect.)
  • The Flagline on the other hand comes in great colors – the teal and red jewel tones are sophisticated and a bit toned down, while still being visible, and the webbing is a close match for the harness body.
  • I don’t like the look of the Flagline from the side, though – the way the straps bunch up Robin’s fur just looks uncomfortable and chafey; the extra girth pad on the back panel of the GBG definitely helps with this problem.
  • GBG is utilitarian; it looks a little military in the greige color I chose and it just looks really comfortable. When Robin’s moving, it’s so clear that this is the most comfortable of the lot- the harness doesn’t shift around in time with his shoulder movement and he doesn’t swing his feet out trying to avoid rubbing the center panel.
  • Reflectivity: If you’re out at night, note that Hurtta is overflowing with reflectors on the sides and yoke, while the Ruffwear Webmaster has smaller reflectors on the chest and side, the Ruffwear Flagline has reflectors on the shoulders and chest, and Groundbird has none).

A note on adjusting full-body harnesses: Keep the waist strap on the loose side and ask your dog to sit after the harness is adjusted to make sure it doesn’t dig in and make them uncomfortable. Looking at these photos, the Flagline and Hurtta are looking a bit snug back there (the Webmaster isn’t, but the stiffness of that belly panel means the extra space sticks out to the sides, vs hanging underneath him) and the angle of the photo makes it a little hard to see that the GBG ends farther up on the rib cage and doesn’t get in his way as much when sitting. Check all straps for comfort and re-check every few uses to make sure things are fitting well!

Hope that covered more than you ever wanted to know about these four harnesses! If this helped you, please comment below and let me know your thoughts, or which harness you’ll be going with!

 

Product links one last time:

Groundbird Gear Custom Harness

USA: Hurtta Trail HarnessRuffwear WebmasterRuffwear Flagline

Canada: Hurtta Trail Harness (but you should maybe just buy the Trail Pack for way less), Ruffwear Webmaster, Ruffwear Flagline not yet available

UK: Hurtta Trail Harness, Ruffwear Webmaster, Ruffwear Flagline not yet available

France: Hurtta Trail Harness, Ruffwear Webmaster, Ruffwear Flagline not yet available

Germany: Hurtta Trail Harness, Ruffwear Webmaster, Ruffwear Flagline not yet available

Extra props to Robin for being so patient for those extremely exacting photos – I wanted them to look the same for each harness for better comparability.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Gabriela says:

    Very informative post, thank you

    Like

  2. Heather says:

    Very informative! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on harnesses. I personally haven’t found much a need in our closet for a harness but you’re selling me on the GBG!

    Like

    1. Thanks so much Heather! It’s definitely a specialty item, but I like having the GBG for helping Robin down rocks or over big stream crossings. We let go of the Webmaster finally since we never use it.

      Like

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