Gear Review - Ruffwear Palisade Pack
(Small) (Medium) (Large)
Weight: (2.0)(2.25)(2.4) lbs
Capacity:(610)(793)(1098) cu. in.
Dimensions(girth):(21-30)(26-36) (32 - 48) in.
2 hydration bladders (1 L capacity each)
Load Compression System
Balanced Assistance Handle
Field of Use
Choosing a pack for my dog was a tough and complicated ordeal for me. So much so that I decided I should write a hub on it How to Choose a Dog Pack. What i ultimately decided to get was the Ruffwear Palisades Pack. While it was one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, it had everything I wanted and more out of a dog pack. I shudder to think of what kind of problems I'd get into if Zoe's pack broke in the wilderness and left her with no food or left me carrying all the extra weight of her stuff as well as my own. My wife's family has taught me that spending the extra money for a quality piece of equipment is far cheaper than buying a lesser quality item, only to replace it with a better quality one later. I took their advice with this purchase and couldn't be happier.
I've been using it on Zoe since she was about 6 months old. If my memory is correct I've used the full pack (saddlebags and harness) on at least 10 day hikes (4-8 hours of hiking) ranging from jaunts in the local forested parks to trips to Red River gorge. There have been countless hour long walks in the parks and forests around home. I've sadly only had the chance to go on 1 solid overnight backpacking trip with her this year. I had her carrying enough supplies for 3 nights/ 4 days. She has carried the same amount of gear used on our overnight-er on the day hikes for training purposes so the pack has actually seen a fair amount of packing use.
She's been given ample opportunity to crash through brush, take swims in lakes and streams, squeeze through sandstone, as well as give the pack a good thrashing while rolling in every dead thing she finds. She has used it in pouring rain, 90 degree sunny days (sparingly :), snow and 0 degree days. I think it's safe to say it has been through the wash a few times! I have used just the harness even more. The fact that the saddlebags are detachable is quite possibly this pack's greatest feature, but I'll get to that in a minute. I've been rollerblading with Zoe in the harness since I got the pack (so the better part of a year). We go rollerblading on average 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 3 miles and a maximum of 8. She flies in this harness! I have clocked her running a 5:36 mile split and hitting 19 mph using my runkeeper app on my phone! So with all that background out of the way on to all the fun features!!
So as I mentioned above, I think the fact that you can take the saddle bags off of the harness is one of this pack's best features. Now the reason I love this feature is that it really takes the dog's safety and your convenience to heart. When everyone slings their packs to the ground your dog can get a breather as well! Not only that, but if you come to a stream and want to let your dog cool off as you refill your water you can detach the bags keeping everything dry while the dog runs a-muck, down stream of the fill spot hopefully;). If you want to pack the backpack in the morning, or unpack it at night without taking the whole harness off the dog you just unclip it and don't have to worry about trying to fuss with the dog moving all over the place.
Now you might be thinking sure that sounds great but it's probably an awkward cumbersome process that really isn't worth the effort. But Ruffwear thought this through! The process isn't hard at all, it takes maybe a minute the first time you do it, 20-30 seconds after you've done it a handful of times. The saddlebags detach/attach to the harness via 4 plastic clips and two velcro straps, that's it! Four snaps, two rips and the pack is off. The velcro keeps the pack securely against the dog and not bouncing around the sides making the dog uncomfortable and being a potential snag hazard. The clips are very accessible, right on top of the harness, I can take the bags off in about 20 seconds if Zoe isn't squirming to much. Attaching them is just as fast. Did Ruffwear sacrifice pack security for convenience? I really don't think so, the pack looks very secure against the dog. The clips are made of durable plastic that haven't broken even after the abuse Zoe's given them.
The bags themselves are very spacious. With the large size I had more than enough room (1098 cu in.) to carry all the gear and food I needed for a 4 day/ 3 night trip. I honestly think I would hit the weight limit that Zoe can carry (about 17 lbs) before I would hit the bag storage capacity. Zoe's pack for the 4 day/ 3 night trip without water was 8 lbs, with water added it was 11 lbs. With a larger dog that can carry more weight the capacity may be an issue but it is doubtful in my mind. You have to be careful with a larger capacity pack because it can be easier to overburden your dog if your not watching your weight limit.
Every zipper on the pack is waterproof. They slide easily but do a great job at keeping water out of the pack. Now the pack as a whole is not waterproof, I would call it water resistant. But in the downpours and quick dips into water the pack holds out water well. A longer duration swim or play in some high water will get water in the pack. There are drains built into the pack to drain it as the dog walks though! The pack has reflective qualities built all over which greatly improves visability. Another great safety feature is the color. The red really stands out and helps you keep track of your dog as well as alert others to its presence as a pet and not a wild animal.
By Ruffwear designing the pack with detachable saddlebags you are essentially buying two products when you get this pack. The harness by itself without the bags is a fantastic product, and as such can actually be bought separately. The harness is just expertly made with loads of features. It has padding in all the right places, on the back, on the straps, on the chest. I'm not sure how the padding would do on a short haired dog, but on my long haired malamute it is more than adequate. I haven't ever found any chaffing. The harness uses 2 belly straps and a Y-shaped chest strap. I noticed a little bit of slippage in the straps early when I got this pack but I can't remember a time in the last 6 months that I've had that issue. This design allows Ruffwear to offer the best of ALL worlds in harness design. The harness keeps even houdini dogs securely inside, allows unlimited mobility for the dog to traverse the landscape, distributes the weight of the pack properly to the shoulders, and can be used as a pulling harness!
The harness has two lead attach points both of which are accessible while the pack is on. The back lead attach point is used for pulling as it evenly distributes heavy loads from behind the dog more efficiently than the metal attach point which is used for your leash. The metal attach point gives you better control over your dog for walking/hiking because it is closer to the dog's center of gravity. Both of them are reinforced with heavy stitching and are very secure.
The handle built into the harness is another just incredibly convenient and safe feature. At first when shopping I thought the handle was just kind of a neat feature but not all that important. Since then I have grown to think of the handle as an indispensable tool. I use it far more often than I ever thought I would. The handle allows you to grab a hold of the dog at a moment's notice and yank them to safety. It allows you to lift them over logs and rocks too tall to clear. It also gives you a firm grip on the dog when you need to maintain control of the animal if it is off the leash. It is an immensely useful handle to get Zoe out of a dog fight at the dog park or elsewhere without getting your hands in the fight and near the neck area. The handle, like the attach points, is reinforced with very heavy stitching. I'd imagine this thing can handle quite a bit of dog. Zoe is about 68 lbs and I have lifted her up completely by the handle before. I never had a thought of worry about whether the handle would hold. The harness and handle has been designed to pick up the dog safely so that there is no fear of injuring it.
First of all let me say that I love that this pack has the water bladders. This was yet another feature that edged the palisade pack into a class of its own in my mind. The importance of a dog being able to carry its own water was taught to me the hard way on my overnight-er when I decided to leave the bladders at home thinking the amount of water I normally carry for myself would be adequate for both of us. I used the water I had much more rapidly than I had thought and was very fortunate the area we were hiking in had plenty of streams for me to constantly refill my supply. Having the extra 2 liters of water would have saved me several trips to refill my water and treat it when I just wanted to sit by the fire and relax. I also would not have needed to ration my water at times to make sure both Zoe and I were staying hydrated between streams. So that being said they are very important!
Each bladder works just like their human counterparts. They hold a liter of water each for a total of 2 liters. The pack itself has a built in compartment on each side to keep the bladders separate from the rest of the storage area. This protects the bladders from damage a bit and also helps keep them manageable and secure right next to the dog. They are probably going to be the heaviest single item in your dog's pack and thus they should be the closest to the dog. There is an opening with a zipper built into the bottom of the pack that allows you to pull out the hose and access the water without getting inside the pack.In theory this is great but the hydration system is the area that needs some work. The bladders are probably the weakest part of the pack. When I say weakest I don't mean they are terrible, I just mean that I actually could see some improvement needed here whereas with the rest of the pack I honestly don't see any reason or way to improve the design. The design of the pack as a whole compared to the design of the bladder system is just on different levels.
The bladders themselves are the real hang up. I could see the current design working if different bladders were used.The hose attachment on these bladders are designed to make the hose go straight up, this makes it very difficult to pull the hose sideways through the opening in the pack. The hoses twist into the bladder so that they are removable to clean. When you manage to pull the hose through the opening in the pack the bladder twists and restricts the water flow (check out the picture above and you should see how the bladder twists). During this process the hoses (not every time) can also twist loose from the bladder causing a significant amount of water leakage and gear in the pack getting wet. Due to that I am usually rechecking the hoses for security every time I use them. Which means I have to get inside the pack thus defeating the purpose of the design. It is also difficult to get a hose through an opening on the bottom of a pack that is attached to a fidgety dog.
I had more success with the hydration system when I take the pack off of the dog (a process which is very easy! ). It still wasn't perfect but it was easier than fighting the design and the dog. I also had an easier time if I would simply take the bladder out of the pack and then put it back in after I was done. Essentially using them as water containers and not as water dispensers. The separate bladder compartment made this easier, however, when doing this method I wished that I didn't have to get inside the pack, rearranging gear sometimes, to remove the bladder or replace it.
Load Compression System
Load compression is the ability to cinch up loose and fluffy material in the pack. What this does is lessen the profile of the dog and pulls the weight of the pack closer to the dog. This gives the dog more comfort, less work, and a more natural balance of gravity. If you hold two 15 lb weights in your hands and extend your arms out on either side of you the weight gets heavier the further out you go, now try to move around and walk through a door. It gets rather awkward and difficult right? Bring the weight to your chest. It is considerably easier to handle and you have better, more natural, balance as well as a more manageable profile. The load compression works the same way in this pack. It brings the bulk and weight of the pack as close to the dog as possible. The system is very simple to use and a very important feature for your dog's comfort and safety. Simply pull the straps outward to compress the pack. Pull the yellow string up and then pull the bottom strap out to loosen it back out. When I say profile I mean the space on either side of the dog that the pack sticks out. A dog has to adjust to being bulkier on its sides when wearing a pack. When your dog is training with a pack for the first time it is recommended you stuff the pack with newspaper to bulk it up while not adding weight just so the dog gets used to the larger profile. It can be quite comical watching a dog walk through a forest for the first time with a pack! It will bump into things over and over again and look very confused. Now this will begin to wear on your pack and that brings me to the durability section of this review.
I have been pretty impressed with the durability of my pack. I read some reviews that the durability of these packs was average to poor, others said that they were outstanding. The outstanding ones were definitely in the majority from what I saw and I would agree with them. After all the abuse Zoe has put this thing through it has held up extremely well. There are no rips or stains to be found. There are 2 places on the pack that have some visible wear but their total area equals about the size of a nickel...and they aren't even close to degrading the integrity of the pack. The only area that shows any signs of the abuse this pack has endured is the reflective material on the harness. The reflective material has definitely worn as would be expected after a year of rollerblading and hiking. This is the same stuff that you find on your running shoes or vests or anything else and it always wears. There is still quite a bit of reflective quality to it as you can see from some of the pictures I took where the flare is from the flash reflecting off the pack.
The saddlebags look almost new, I was afraid the mesh holding the bags together may not hold up well but it looks perfect, no loose threads, no holes, nothing. The strapping of the harness is intact, no fading is evident, the connections all look solid, barely a frayed string to trim. There are some strings that could use some trimming around the handle area and attachment points for the leads. Other than some white hair all the padding looks to be in good condition. No fading, no signs of thinning material, some wrinkles. The entire pack is machine washable. I have washed the harness to many times to count and the saddle bags at least 5 times. Another great feature of the pack is that just about all of the material can be cleaned easily by wiping it with a wet towel or wetnap. It sheds dirt pretty easily.
Some areas that I could see being problematic that I haven't had a chance to use are the lashing provided on the top of the saddle bags. I've not had to lash anything but that material doesn't seem like it would last very long maybe a few trips. The stitching is good like always but the rubber-like material I fear would not hold up well. I would prefer if the material was a nylon or rope of some form. If you use a washing machine with the spinner in the middle there may be some concern if all the straps and other things get a bit more worn due to the possibility of tangling easier, I don't know there.
My final impressions of this pack are very high. I think this pack is going to last me for quite some time to come. I got it early in Zoe's growing and it has allowed for quite a bit of growth. The versatility and features on this pack are unmatched when I have both a backpack and a harness that I can use separately or together for a variety of different activities. The stitching and materials used show the quality and workmanship that have gone into making this pack a durable and incredibly resilient design. Things like detachable bags, drainage ports in the bags, watertight zippers, handle, padded straps, Y-style chest strapping, and hydration all show how much thought and care went into making the pack both safe and convenient for the dog and owner.