It’s hot out. Summer in Minnesota has finally arrived. Despite the heat, I always want to take full advantage of the beautiful sunny days.
Adjusting from winter to summer hiking is always a little hard. In the winter, I hike in the middle of the day and rarely need to bring water with me unless I am hiking all day. In the summer, heat exhaustion is a real concern when hiking mid-day without adequate water. And as much as I am susceptible to heat, my dog is at an even higher risk.
Dogs can’t sweat all over their bodies as people can. Instead, dogs are limited to a few small areas of sweat glands (like they have on their paws) and mostly rely on panting to cool off. Since panting relies on the evaporation of water, it is important for a dog to stay hydrated for panting to be the most effective. So always bring lots of water for your dog on hot days to reduce the risk of heat stroke.
Both panting and sweating work through evaporation, as heat is used to turn water from a liquid to a gas. The big difference between panting and sweating is the amount of surface area available for this water evaporation. Your dog’s tongue is nowhere near as big of a surface area as your skin.
Because it is a little harder for dogs to cool off compared to their humans, I am often adjusting my summer hikes to reduce the risk to my dogs. We hike earlier or later. I pick trails with access to lakes and rivers or with plenty of shade. And I often hike slower.
But I have also been looking for good cooling gear to help my dogs stay cool on hot hikes. In 2020, I looked through all of the available research I could find on cooling vests for dogs. I shared what I found in this blog post – “Do Cooling Vests Actually Work?”. And honestly, the answer seemed to be inconclusive. In some studies, they helped, and in others, they didn’t.
And most of the cooling vests I could find at the time weren’t very compatible with a harness. I prefer to hike with my dogs in harnesses, so I didn’t purchase any cooling vests for my dogs at that time. Then this summer, Ruffwear came out with a new cooling harness and I couldn’t resist trying it out.
Meet the Swamp Cooler Cooling Dog Harness:
The following link is an affiliate link to the official Ruffwear website. I may earn with qualifying purchases.
Ruffwear describes their Swamp Cooler Dog Cooling Harness as “an all-in-one cooling solution for dogs exploring in hot conditions. This harness integrates [their] Swamp Cooler evaporative cooling tech with Ruffwear’s reliable multi-use body harness platform.”
The harness fit my needs, but if your dog doesn’t wear a harness regularly Ruffwear also has a Swamp Cooler Cooling Neck Gaiter, a Swamp Cooler Cooling Dog Vest, and a Swamp Cooler Zip Cooling Dog Vest.
How Does the Swamp Cooler Harness Work?
Ruffwear’s cooling gear is designed to take advantage of evaporative cooling. (Yep the same system that panting and sweating utilize.) Ideally, you should soak the harness before putting it on your dog. Then on the hike, you can re-soak the harness with a water bottle or by letting your dog take a dip in a lake or other body of water.
The water in the harness will evaporate as you hike, helping your dog maintain a cooler temperature the same way that sweating helps you cool off.
Because the gear works by evaporation, the Swamp Cooler line is likely to work best in drier climates (as compared to humid regions). If it is really humid where you adventure, you could consider a cooling vest that utilizes conductive cooling instead of a cooling vest focused on evaporative cooling.
Examples of vests that use conductive cooling are the Glacier Tek Chilly Dog Vest or this Horay World Cooling Vest (<-the second link will take you to Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate and earn from qualifying purchases).
I don’t have good research study results for these harnesses, but the University of Florida ran a research study with cooling vests that had rechargeable packs (brand unknown) and found that although dogs didn’t stay cooler while wearing the vests, they did cool off faster than dogs who were not wearing a cooling vest. For more information about the studies I found on cooling vests, click here.
Alright, let’s get back to the Swamp Cooler Harness.
Does the Swamp Cooler Harness actually keep your dog cooler?
So before I start to talk about the fit and features of this harness, let’s answer the most important question. Does this harness actually work to cool your dog?
If you’ll remember, earlier I mentioned that the research regarding evaporative cooling vests and whether or not they work for dogs is overall inconclusive. In fact, one study found dogs’ temperatures were higher post-running when wearing water-soaked jackets than in dogs who did not wear jackets. However, I don’t think these jackets were compared to dogs wearing other types of jackets
Subjectively, in my experience, so far the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler harness seems to be helping my black dog, Glia. Her fur feels cooler to the touch after wearing this harness when compared to no harness or one of her other Ruffwear harnesses.
That being said, I haven’t yet put this harness to any objective testing. So for now, if you want some data, you will have to take Ruffwear’s word that their harness works.
Ruffwear’s research found that dogs stayed cooler with the Swamp Cooler gear on, but a lot of variables impacted how much the garments helped. Based on the data that Ruffwear has published so far, on average a dog’s surface cooling rate was 6x greater when wearing cooling gear compared to that dog’s baseline natural cooling rate.
You can watch the following video to hear more about what Ruffwear has to say about the testing.
Fit and Features of the Swamp Cooler Harness
Now that we have discussed some of the science behind how the Swamp Cooler harness keeps dogs cool, let’s take a look at the fit and features of the Swamp Cooler harness.
The Swamp Cooler harness is the 5th Ruffwear harness that I have purchased for my dog, Glia (if you don’t count her Front Range Daypack). The only Ruffwear harness that I really didn’t like for her was the Front Range harness (which interestingly is Ruffwear’s most popular harness). The others have all been wonderful, but there are some significant variations in the style of fit.
Glia regularly hikes in the following 3 harnesses:
Both the Web Master and Switchbak harnesses have a free-floating 3rd strap across the dog’s abdomen. As a result, these harnesses fit Glia’s deep chest a little better. The Flagline, even though it is my favorite harness, does not extend as far back on her body, making the fit a little less secure. She could slip out of the Flagline if I don’t have it fitted perfectly.
As you can see in the photos below, the belly strap of the Swamp Cooler Harness is located similar to the Flagline, making it sit further forward than the last strap of the Web Master or the Switchbak.
Another item to note is that the neck circumference can’t be tightened as far on the Swamp Cooler as it can on the other three harnesses. So you can see that even though I have the neck area as tight as it can go on the Swamp Cooler, it still sits over Glia’s shoulders a little more than the other three harnesses. (All harnesses pictured are a size S.)
Despite these minor fit differences, Glia still fits in a size S Swamp Cooler Harness well and it is a functional harness for hiking.
The harness has many of the features of a classic Ruffwear harness, such as a handle to help lift/assist your dog, the main leash attachment just in front of the handle, and a leash attachment at the back of the harness (just behind the handle). There is not a chest panel leash attachment point on this harness.
The harness has reflective trim and a light loop for attaching a light (like Ruffwear’s “The Beacon”). And like the Flagline, there are 2 clips on each side of the dog so your dog doesn’t have to step into the harness. You can simply slide it over your dog’s head and buckle it on.
The harness is a bit stiffer than the Flagline and is heavy when soaked with water, but still fits my 40-pound dog comfortably. And even when fully soaked, the harness does have a mesh liner to help keep your dog dry.
The harness comes in 5 sizes from XXSmall to Large/Xlarge. You can choose from three colors: Graphite Gray, Sage Green, and Heliotrope Purple. Glia’s harness is a Sage Green.
The light colors help reflect the sun, but just be aware that this harness does show dirt more easily than other Ruffwear harnesses.
Overall, this harness is a nice addition to our collection. We will keep using our Flagline harnesses for everyday hiking, but for hot days this harness helps add a little extra cooling for the dogs.
It might be hard to keep the harness soaked on long hikes without access to lakes or rivers. But since I mostly hike in Minnesota, we typically have an opportunity tor to for Glia to take a dip during our hikes. And after she swims, the Swamp Cooler retains a lot of water, keeping her nice and cooling for another few miles.
Have questions about how the harness is working for Glia? Let me know in the comments section below.
Oh, and in case you’re curious. The leash in this last picture is a ZougaDog leash. It is super secure and tested to withstand 500lbs of force!