Alicia Erskine runs a dog day-hiking business, West Coast Heeler Pack, in British Columbia and has two canine companions. She also is a longtime Ruffwear wear tester — she puts our prototypes to the test in a variety of conditions and with a number of dogs. The feedback of testers like Alicia helps us improve our gear, making sure it meets our standards of functionality and durability before we share it with the world. Here, Alicia shares how she does this critical work and her experience with our new lightweight jacket, the Wind Sprinter.
When the Wind Sprinter™ arrived for me to test, my first thought was, “Will this last through the first hike?” The fabric on this jacket is so light and thin that it seemed that one snag of a branch could make it rip. That’s how it all starts, with a first impression.
Let’s go back a little bit. I’m Ali, owner/operator of West Coast Heeler Pack. I have two cattle dogs, Kona and Cali. They like to think they run the show. I am a dog hiker and trainer, and I compete in agility.
I started West Coast Heeler Pack over a year ago. The push to do all this came after being a struck by a car in a crosswalk during my lunch break from my office job. It was quite the journey through physical rehabilitation, depression and PTSD. Working with my dogs, taking them out hiking, moving my body, redirecting my thoughts to training was all a part of my healing process. I’m still not 100 percent and probably never will be, but I find joy and happiness nowadays doing what I do.
I’ve been using Ruffwear products since Kona was a puppy. It began with leashes, collars, and the Palisades Pack. When given the opportunity to be a Ruffwear Wear Tester, of course, I agreed. And I’ve now been doing it two years.
Having two heelers doesn’t mean having the same results. Kona and Cali, while having some similarities, are very different. Kona is slow and steady. She keeps more to the trails. She’s also very stubborn, grumpy and her mood can flip very quickly.Cali is a free spirit, a wild child. She tends to follow natural drive and scent, or mostly, run wild just for the fun of it with no rhyme or reason. She’s always very happy, but has nervous tendencies. With her, we are always working on her confidence and reactivity to other dogs, which is now very mild compared to when she first came to us.
When items arrive to test, I look them over, and of course I have my first initial thoughts on them. Cali will wear one item for several days/weeks. This is because it can be so tough finding a good and true rain jacket, and when you live on the “wet coast,” it is essential. Kona will wear a different item for the same several days/weeks. Then the dogs trade products. Each dog will spend the same amount of time using each item. I do this so it allows me to evaluate products in different forms because Kona and Cali move differently and run on the trails differently.
I watch how the dogs move in jackets. Are they walking or running differently, or the same? Are they slower? Any changes in behavior? This is how I judge if a jacket allows for appropriate, free range of motion and is comfortable for the dogs.
Now, let’s go back to the Wind Sprinter. Both dogs wore the jacket many times. Using the jacket changed my impression.
On one hike when Cali wore it, she got sidetracked and ran through thick brush that included prickle branches. I gasped in the anticipation that she’d come out and the jacket would be shredded. She barreled out of the bush full force towards me. Once at my side, I looked and the jacket looked the same as when she ran into the bushes. I couldn’t believe it! Could this be a coincidence, maybe luck? This is why each item will be worn and used multiple times by Cali and also by Kona. On another hike, Kona wore the Wind Sprinter. Cali got Kona riled up, chasing her through the trees. Kona got caught on one of the branches. As she was pulling away to get free, I thought it would be a given that she’d rip the jacket … but nope! The jacket survived.
Testing Ruffwear gear isn’t limited to hiking. We go to the beach, where the environment is different. The air is salty from the ocean. The dogs may chase sticks and crash in the sand. We test during obedience training and agility, another aspect of ensuring the dogs can move with little to no restrictions.
What I love most about testing products is being made comfortable to give honest feedback, and that feedback being valued and heard. When there is an aspect of a product that has shown flaws or deterioration, those comments are taken, reviewed and, in one particular case, updated. During testing of a jacket, the material covering the chest started pilling after a couple weeks of wear. The fabric was updated and a second edition was sent to us for testing. After another several weeks of wear, the second edition jacket was not showing any signs of pilling.
Seeing firsthand the value in those of us who work on testing products for Ruffwear gives and allows for a genuine relationship and trust in the gear I use for my dogs.
Shop for the Wind Sprinter and other gear at ruffwear.com, and share your stories with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you have any questions, feedback or ideas, please don’t hesitate to bark.