The Craftsmanship Behind the Front Range® Harness
- Cristina Stavro
Mindfully designed. Diligently constructed. Trail tested. Dog approved. That’s the craftsmanship behind every piece of gear from Ruffwear – all from the perspective of your canine explorer, and focused on their comfort, freedom, and experience. Here's a look at how that craftsmanship shaped the Front Range® Harness.
Welcome to the Ruffwear Product Development Room
It’s a Tuesday morning in mid-December, and there’s a biting cold outside that seems to be seeping in and settling on the concrete floors of the Product Development (PD) room at Ruffwear’s HQ in Bend, OR.
Most of the dogs in the room have found places to settle – JoJo on a well-loved Restcycle covered in pinecone confetti, Giles on a pile of foam samples that happens to align perfectly with a patch of sun streaming through the window, and Lennon on a prototype of a soon-to-be-released sleeping bag. Bernie wanders aimlessly, eventually making his way over to the water bowl.
The humans – the entirety of the PD team and a pepper of folks from other departments – have gathered around a long, counter-height table. The conversation ebbs around simpler check-in and timeline topics, and flows as some of the designers dive into an impromptu brainstorm to solve a problem.
There’s debate around the performance, feel, sustainability, and function of various materials being vetted for a new gear solution. Patrick, the founder, twists the cap off his bottle and begins pouring splashes of water as everyone observes closely. The energy around the table is curious and light, but focused.
Patrick harkens back to a lesson learned from the development of our Swamp Cooler cooling vest – wondering if it’s a bit of knowledge that applies here. Behind him is a wall of fabric swatches, webbing samples, hardware – artful in its presence, scientific in its presentation.
Where the Magic Happens
The depth of development that happens behind the doors of the Product Development room is something special. Spend five minutes looking over the shoulder of any Ruffwear designer and you’ll quickly begin to appreciate the attention to detail – the skillful execution of the little things that have a major performance impact.
Like when Monica is scrutinizing picks (the webbing equivalent of a pixel) in a sample of a collar pattern. Or when Timothy’s sharing his CAD (Computer-Aided Design) work on Ruffwear’s custom hardware. He dances between tenths of a degree and fractions of a millimeter – mere micro-adjustments that ripple outward to profoundly influence and enhance user experience.
This is the ecosystem where the idea behind the Front Range Harness began to take root.
Why Another Harness?
The Web Master Harness had long been the Ruffwear harness solution. As the foundation for the Palisades Pack's removable saddlebags, it gained unexpected traction as a standalone harness despite it being “a lot of harness” for most dogs in their day-to-day activities.
Ever curious, the team pondered the concept of a new harness solution that could excel at doing more with less. A lighter, low-profile, easy-to-put-on, comfortable-for-all-day-wear harness, innovatively manufactured to be mindful of our environmental footprint.
Years of researching and honing the art of the canine fit provided a wealth of knowledge to tap into. And a history of loving a good design challenge (see: "The Bowl That Started It All") meant it was only a matter of time before the Front Range Harness came to be.
Looking back on when Ruffwear Product Designer Colin was designing it, Patrick says the development of the harness was an exercise in problem-solving and restraint, taking a moment to consider what the dog actually needs in a standalone harness.
“We said, ‘Let’s take a couple of steps back. Let’s manage the webbing like we do with the Web Master and do it in a more thoughtful way with how it’s being used.’ So we put a large panel on the chest since dogs are leaning into it. And we took away all that superfluous material on the back – distilled it down – since it was only there in the Web Master because it was bearing the weight and functionality of the Palisades pack, not for everyday walking [see picture above]. Then we added the v-ring and front attachment point.”
With the concept dialed, prototypes followed, revealing Ruffwear’s propensity to take the road less traveled.
“After numerous prototypes, we distilled it down to three options, each a different construction and assembly process. After testing, we ended up going with the one that was the most complicated and troublesome product to build. But we chose it because it was the most comfortable, and the cleanest design and aesthetic.”
Lessons from the Road Less Traveled
The Front Range Harness has been fine-tuned since its release back in 2014 – dialing in the details through field testing and the on-going effort to be mindful of our impact on the environment.
Patrick explains, “For years we used to take square ripstop, turn it 45 degrees, and cut it so we could have a diamond ripstop. It looked cool, but it created a poor marker.”
A “marker” is the pattern outline that illustrates how pieces should be cut. In pursuit of the diamond ripstop shell fabric on our original Front Range, the marker yielded around 25% waste – not great.
“When we learned this, we went back to a standard ripstop to make the most efficient use of the fabric and minimize what went to the landfill. Today, we yield less than 5% waste.”
In the latest update of the Front Range Harness for Spring 2020, that ripstop fabric switched to polyester. Extensive testing – both within the walls of the Product Development room and among the elements of countless miles and hours clocked on our canine wear-testers – revealed big improvements. Better durability, and a harness that holds its color and resists fading more than its nylon counterpart.
A Million Adventures and Counting
The Front Range Harness has found quite the furry following, quickly becoming the adventure harness of choice for canines across the globe. It’s not uncommon to see tongue-out, tail-wagging dogs bounding down the trail with miles and miles of dirt and grime embedded into their well-loved, first-generation Front Ranges. Often handed down from one dog to the next, these harnesses could tell some stories.
There’s an approachability in its simplicity – slip it on over the head, clip the two buckles, and you’re ready to go, whatever your path ahead. There’s a confidence in its construction – a continuous webbing chassis encased in durable foam and fabric, and bomber leash clip-in points on both the back and the chest. And there’s freedom in its design – padding and support where dogs need it, cut for ample room as shoulders flex and arms reach.
But for us, it ultimately comes down to the stories of human and canine duos finding inspiration through the Front Range Harness to get out and explore more – the ability for dogs to lead a life of adventure alongside their person. That’s what fuels all of us at Ruffwear. And we hope it inspires you and your furry sidekick to find your life of adventure together, too.