Gear Guide: How to Choose a Dog Lead

Gear Guide: How to Choose a Dog Lead

  • Erin Swanson

When it comes to the connection that matters most, Ruffwear goes all-out. Every dog lead we make is strong and reliable by design, built to enhance and celebrate the journeys you and your dog take together.

And because every dog-and-human duo is different, we’ve crafted a variety of leads to choose from so you can find one that’s right for the paths ahead for you.

a studio image of four humans with their dogs on leash

With the help of some Ruffwear dog-and-human duos, we’re here to help untangle the often-overwhelming world of dog leads. It'll be a quick-start guide to help highlight the types of things worth considering when finding your next lead.

We’ll cover things like:

  • Hands-free VS hand-held
  • Which length leash to choose
  • Static VS dynamic leads
  • Different lead hardware
  • Choosing a lead based on activity


Leads all start with the same purpose: keeping you and your pup connected. 

From there, different leads can excel for certain applications based on factors like the activity, your preferences, your dog’s personality, and even your height and your dog's height.

Those are the things we consider when designing each of our leads, and those are the things you get to consider when choosing one.

Marcus and Batman trail run in the LA foothills.


When choosing a lead length, make sure to account for your height, your dog’s height, and the space you want in between.

Depending on the height of both the dog and the human, a 2.5 ft (.79 m) lead can create vastly different experience than that of a 5 ft (1.5 m) lead, like Heather and Jackson with our Knot-a-Long™ Rope Dog Lead  on the left and the Knot-a-Leash™ Rope Dog Lead on the right.

human and dog shown with both a short leash and a long leash

A single lead can also have different experiences for different duos. The same size medium Roamer™ Bungee Dog Running Lead fits differently for Liz and Bernie (left) as it does for Travis and Atlas (right). While it provides plenty of room and stretch for Liz and Bernie to run together, Travis and Atlas might need a little more room and opt for the longer size large Roamer™ Leash.

two sets of dog and human duos with the same leash

Looking to find the sweet spot for you and your dog? You can use a piece of string to play around with finding the optimal length for you and your dog, and then measure that. Or, opt for a lead with an adjustable length.

Shorter leads help keep your dog closer in high-traffic zones, like crowded areas, shops, or busy streets.

Top picks for short dog leads:

Person hiking with dog on a short leash

Longer leads offer extra room for your dog to roam or for your legs in full-stride activities like running. And adjustable leads are great for flexing between different activities and needs.

Top picks for long dog leads: 

Top picks for mid-length dog leads:

Last thing to note about lead length: Some lead laws specify a maximum lead length when out walking with your dog. 6 ft (1.8 m) is pretty common, but it's best to check regulations in your local area.

dog and human walking on leash together


For a more interactive connection or a dog that needs a little guidance on lead, go hand-held. You'll be able to help direct or guide your dog a little easier.

Hands-free is great for freeing up your hands while running, hiking, or walking. Hands-free leads are also great in the winter – they free your hands to stay warm in your pocket rather than exposed to the cold elements.

The other perk of a hands-free lead is you can still use it hand-held. The distance between you and your dog will be shorter when worn around the waist compared to using it hand-held, like Nate and Winston (left) and Liz and Bernie (right) demonstrate with the Flagline™ Lead.

two humans with their dogs: one holding a leash, one wearing a leash around the waist.


A static lead (no stretch) will give you a fixed length and a more responsive connection to your dog. If you need a bit more control over the connection between you and your dog, opt for static.

Some of our top-rated static leads are the Front Range™ LeadFlat Out™ Lead (pictured below), Crag™ Lead, and Hi & Light™ Lead

two humans with their dogs on hands-free leashes worn around the waist

A dynamic lead is a little more forgiving for the stop-and-sniffers and a smoother ride for the the dog and human. This is particularly nice when it comes to wearing a lead around your waist for hands-free running and hiking.  

Check out the Roamer™ Leash (hands-free) and Ridgeline™ Leash (hand-held, pictured below).

two dogs and humans with a bungee leash


As you start to dig into our leads, you'll spot different hardware on certain leads.

close up of Crux Clip leash hardware

The Crux Clip™ is light, strong, and lockable, and it's our most low-profile lead connection hardware option. The smaller hardware is featured on some of our lighter leads or wherever minimal bulk would be appreciated. A great option if you're looking for a lockable lead connection.

close up of Talon Clip leash hardware

The Talon Clip™ was originally designed by Ruffwear in response to difficulty in finding reliable bolt-snaps. The Talon Clip's lobster-claw like design is strong, durable, and easy-to-use and can be found on some of our most iconic leads. It's a great option for a quick clip-and-go connection.

close up of carabiner leash hardware

The Carabiner: Our rope leads feature strength-rated locking carabiners. Carabiners are known in the climbing world for their impressive strength. They're not exactly known for being ultralight, but to accommodate our smaller dog sidekicks, the size small in the Knot-a-Leash™ Dog Lead uses a smaller-sized locking carabiner.


Looking for a hands-free running lead? The Roamer™ Leash has bungee-like Wavelength™ webbing that absorbs shock, and the Flagline™ Lead is lightweight with some extra length.

Looking for an everyday walking lead? The Front Range™ Lead and Hi & Light™ Lead are both lightweight, strong, and a great mid-range length for everyday use. Bonus: they have matching harnesses and collars.

Looking for a hiking lead? The Crag™ Lead and Switchbak™ Lead both have adjustability and versatility – not just in length, but in also using both hand-held and hands-free. They'll adapt to any trail ahead.

Looking for an off-leash lead? The Quick Draw™ Lead can be worn around your dog's collar when not in use, and the Patroller™ Lead can be worn around your waist when not in use.

Looking for a long line? The Hitch Hiker™ Lead is adjustable up to 12 ft (3.65 m).

Woman and dog walking on-leash in the woods

If you have more questions, our Pack Support team is here to help. Let us know what you're looking for in a lead, and we can help you narrow down the search. Use the chat box in the lower right corner of this screen, or email

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