First, a confession: I do not walk my dogs on leash very often. I’m fortunate to live in a rural area with lots of open space and trails and not very many people. I rarely see another person when I’m out with my dogs.
But when I foster dogs who do not yet have reliable recalls, or I travel down to the San Francisco Bay to visit friends and we take our dogs for hikes in that area’s popular parks and on crowded trails, having a hands-free leash is a gift. Such a product allows you to walk or run with a natural arm and shoulder motion – something that is perhaps most appreciated by older athletes who exercise through the aches of age and former injuries – while maintaining control of your dog. You can even drink from the water bottle, take photos with your cell phone, or pick up dog poop without losing control of your dog or getting tangled in the leash.
Until recently, however, I hadn’t seen a hands-free leash-attachment product that was well-made, comfortable, convenient, and secure. But now there’s one I can recommend!
Ruffwear’s Trail Runner System
The Trail Runner System is comprised of a wide, lightly padded, adjustable belt that is fastened (with a wide plastic side-release buckle) in the front. (The belt fits waist sizes from 25 to 45 inches.) To secure the leash to the belt, you thread a separate strap through the hand loop in the end of a leash, and fasten it with a plastic cam buckle. The cam buckle is a safety feature; this type of fastener is secure, but in case of emergency, it releases instantaneously if the end of the strap is pulled backward across the buckle.
All the competing products I’ve seen employ a D-ring sewn onto the belt to connect your leash to the belt; you either use a snap or loop the leash through the D-ring. On some products, it’s clear that it wouldn’t take much pulling to rip the D-ring off the belt and release the dog. In contrast, both ends of the leash-attachment strap are well-sewn onto the belt of the Trail Runner.
The advantage of this strap versus a fixed D-ring is that the leash can slide from side to side across the front of the wearer’s body, helping prevent tangles and enabling the dog to be positioned on whichever side of the wearer that is preferred.
Though any leash can be used, Ruffwear’s Ridgeline Leash is included. This leash uses Ruffwear’s “Wavelength stretch webbing,” which is not made of fabric-covered rubber bands as in some stretchy leashes, but made of a unique woven elastic webbing. When relaxed, the leash is conveniently short (2.5 feet), but can be stretched to 4.25 feet to provide shock-absorption if your dog suddenly pulls ahead or one of you trips. (The Ridgeline Leash is also sold separately in a 3.3- to 5.9-foot length.)
The Trail Runner has a few other features that add to its utility, but not so many as to make the product unwieldy. There is a zipped pocket that can hold even a long cellphone, with an opening for an ear-bud cord; inside the pocket is a sewn-in clip for a key-ring. A small stretch-mesh pocket holds a roll of poop bags.
Also included is a 21-ounce water bottle with a push/pull lid, which nestles securely in an angled holster on the back of the belt. The position and design keeps the bottle from bouncing on the wearer’s body, which can bruise and cause fatigue. These features actually make the Trail Runner useful on walks even if you don’t fasten your dog’s leash to it!
Are you looking for a great harness to attach the Trail Runner to? We reviewed the best.