Ruffwear Grip Trex

[Short of time? Read the haiku instead]

I’m worried I gave dogs a bit of a bad rap in my last post, implying that they were just waiting for the right moment to turn on us and rip us to shreds. Of course that isn’t true. Well, not usually. I did have another nasty experience whilst hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit in the Peruvian Andes, where an over-eager mongrel went ballistic when I wandered too close to its master’s farm and savaged my leg. Well, it nipped my calf as a warning, leaving me an awesome set of teeth marks and rabies paranoia. It wasn’t foaming at the mouth though, and the rabies vaccination series is supposed to be horrendous, so I ignored that possibility.

Anyway, to prove I don’t hold any grudges I’ve decided to review a product made just for our four-legged friends – the Ruffwear Grip Trex! And I don’t even own a dog! (And I’ve never used the product but at this stage in our relationship I think it’s safe to say that you probably guessed that).

The Grip trex in action!

Don’t laugh, please, this is serious. Dogs need hiking boots too. Imagine walking for 20km on a rough trail with a heavy pack (yes, Ruffwear make those too) in winter – your feet would be in shreds. Okay, you’re not a dog (unless you are a super-intelligent Lassie type who is capable of reading, or a robot dog like K-9) but I’m sure you can empathise with tender paw syndrome. Enter the Grip Trex! Your best friend will love you forever, and with good reason rather than just the usual blind canine adoration.

Now these aren’t just your everyday doggie footwear, designed for hot pavements and chemical spills - you’re thinking of the Summit Trex. These are rugged, hiking-specific models with reflective trim and Vibram soles! I’m not kidding – Ruffwear have partnered with the biggest brand in hiking boot soles to give your mutt the durability and traction it’ll need for scaling high mountain passes. And these aren’t even the most extreme boots on offer – Ruffwear also make the Polar Trex, with integrated ankle gaiters, a three-layer DWR shell and ice-specific Vibram rubber compound. Should you wish to take Gary (your dog, obviously) on your polar ski expedition, now you can.

The only time I can think that these would have come in handy when I hiked the Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail in South Africa. I stayed the night before in a backpackers in Nature’s Valley and, to save money, began walking to the start of the trail. As sometimes happens, one of the hostel dogs decided to accompany me. Just, y’know, going for a sociable stroll. The trouble was, she didn’t go back. After a few kilometres I wasn’t sure she’d get home okay; I had to get rid of her. I tried shooing, shouting and even resorted to throwing stones but she kept following me. Dogs weren’t allowed in the park anyway.

To cut a long story short - she stuck with me. The Tsitsikamma Trail runs 60km through a coastal mountain range and is recommended to take 6 days, although I was planning to do it in four, and for those 60km we were constant companions. Each day I’d share my food with her – freeze dried rations in the evening and porridge in the morning, which she always ate very politely. I slept in a trail hut each night and she slept underneath, keeping guard. Apart from frantic barking at anything that came near, she never made a sound. Fortunately we didn’t see a single other hiker the entire time, and I was on edge constantly in case we encountered a ranger who’d fine me and throw me off the trail. In fact, the only people we saw were a work crew, including one poor black guy who nearly soiled his overalls when she exploded into a barking lunatic. Bless.

On the 4th day we reached Storms River and the end of the hike, now firm friends. The trouble was, I had booked a bus direct back to Cape Town from here. What should I do with her? I had to call the hostel: “Oh, hi,” I said to the girl who answered, “Have you noticed one of your dogs missing for the last few days? Medium build, tan coat, strong & silent type?”

“Hmm, now that you mention it I haven’t seen Chica around recently.” Chica, so that was her name. I explained the situation and added that if someone didn’t embark on a 120km round trip sharpish then Chica would be adopted by an eager petrol pump attendant and used as a guard dog in the local township. Fortunately, her owner arrived just in time and I was able to pass her back with a heartfelt hug before boarding the bus. We never saw each other again, but the funny thing was, her paws were just fine.

Chica & me at the end of the trail

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