When you’re adventuring with a dog, honestly, there isn’t much you need.
Dogs are, as they say, natural minimalists. Which is why Luna’s travel gear list isn’t a particularly long one. A couple sweaters/shirts. A harness and leash. Some small toys. Medications for emergencies. And paperwork for crossing borders.
And, of course, some bags.
Because when you’re traveling the world with a small dog, most forms of transit – from trains to planes to cycling – will require some sort of carrier.
(Psst, this post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something through one of my links, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.)
I’ve already raved (several times) about our airline-approved Sleepypod Air carrier, which is still the brand I love, trust, and use today. It’s perfect for taking Luna on flights with me (in cabin) and works well for long-distance train and bus rides (which I do much more often than I fly).
But there was one thing the Sleepypod really wasn’t great for—and that was any day trip where I didn’t want to lug it with me all day. Because even though the Air folds down relatively flat, it’s still rather bulky.
It doesn’t fit into a standard-sized backpack. Unfolded, it was a bit too bulky to carry around all day when exploring a nearby city or (worse) hiking in the Alps. And so for a few years I’ve been testing out lighter, less bulky options for shorter travel days.
During this quest, over the past couple years, Luna has also had several incidents where her knee popped out of its socket. It always pops back in quickly and she’s always been okay afterward. But for awhile after each incident, she’s been stiff and uncomfortable and needed to be carried. And even a small dog like Luna (who weighs about 5 kg or 11 pounds) starts to feel really heavy when you’re manually carrying her up a hiking trail or across a new city.
Thus: our dilemma. We needed a lightweight dog carrier that fit into my backpack (when not in use) that I could use on the train or bus when taking Luna on day trips or hikes. Something trains and buses would allow and something Luna would like and could use if her knee pops out again.
I tried a few bags and shared some of our quest on Facebook…which is when my fabulous friend Sonja—author of the best dog travel blog on the internet—offered to send me the K9 Sports Sack: a dog carrier backpack with a sturdy, stylish, and breathable design.
She bought one for her two traveling cuties, but they’re much smaller than Luna (less than half her weight) and the bag was too big. So, did I want it?
Sure, I said. I’ll give it a try.
And oh my dog, I’m so glad I did.
Even though I had four bags at my access this summer, this one quickly became my go-to for day-to-day use. I took Luna on buses and trains. I carried her through Geneva when she got a bit stressed (she doesn’t love city noise). I took her on a bike ride and laughed out loud to hear her sniffing excitedly over my shoulder as the wind whipped past us.
Luna seems to like it and relaxes easily once she’s on my back, leaning back and forth to look over my shoulders.
So, why do I love it? Here are some quick pros and cons and then some longer details about how I used the sack and why I love it for those who like more thorough info.
K9 Sport Sack pros in a nutshell
:: Folds up small enough to fit in my backpack
:: Sturdy construction and escape-proof for Luna
:: Luna feels safer inside in cities
:: Lightweight (a big pro for those traveling and dealing with luggage weight limits)
:: Cute design that I can hike with but also doesn’t look too casual for city use
K9 Sport Sack cons in a nutshell
:: Front strap frayed and came off after only a couple months of use
Want to skip the rest of this review and buy? Here’s where you can find the K9 Sports Sack on Amazon. If not, read on for more details about how I use the bag.
Traveling by train with the K9 Sport Sack
In Switzerland, at the moment (though, disclaimer: you should always check the latest rules because things change), small dogs can travel free on trains as long as they are in a carrier.
Unlike other countries, the carrier does not have to be fully enclosed. Which is great news for the sports sack. Because Luna likes it. I like it. It’s an easy, hands-free way to carry her on the train. It rolls up relatively small, so I can fit it in my day-pack for hiking. And it’s cute enough in its own right to act as my own backpack when we’re doing a day trip to a city and I don’t need to carry all my hiking gear (water, jacket, lunch, etc.).
Unfortunately, the rules in France are different, so for our vacation there this summer, we had to revert to using our Sleepypod for day trips by train. And while I (again) love our Sleepypod for air travel and distance travel, being forced to lug it around all day in between transit reminded me how much I love the sport sack for this kind of travel.
Traveling by bus with the K9 Sport Sack
We also used the sport sack to take Luna on a number of bus rides, mostly during our vacation in France. Technically, I think buses want your dog to be in an enclosed carrier, but since we were going on long walks each time, we took the chance and none of the bus drivers ever said a word about Luna hanging off my back with her head free.
Incognito in the grocery store with the K9 Sport Sack
If there’s one thing that is unfortunately universally true, it’s this: Dogs aren’t allowed in grocery stores.
Even the most dog-friendly countries technically ban them from shopping with you.
Normally, this isn’t a huge deal. If Luna is with us, Chad can stay out with her while I run in and I can stay out with her while he runs in. Or I can leave her at our Airbnb while I make a grocery run.
But what about when you’re in transit and you stop at a train station grocery store to buy some chocolate milk or a pastry or a snack-sized pack of nuts? And what about the times when I’m alone?
In the past, my only options were to skip my own hydration/meal or tie her up outside and fly into the store in a panic terrified that someone would steal her. Not ideal either way.
Which is why I decided when I had her in the sport sack on my back, totally confined, quiet, and mostly just napping or looking around calmly, I was going to see if anyone would say anything if I marched into the grocery store and bought myself a snack.
I did this in 3+ different no-dogs-allowed Swiss food shops and at least one not-dog-friendly food shop in France and not one person said a word. Now, maybe I got lucky. Maybe people don’t care enough to enforce the rules in general. Or maybe knowing she couldn’t get into any mischief in the store because she was strapped to my back and I was clearly in between trains, food shops were just fine with it.
Either way, every attempt I made to enter a no-dogs establishment with her on my back was met with either indifference or even delight, with people waving at her and talking to her and reaching around my back to pet her.
Cycling with the K9 Sport Sack
Now, I’m guessing cycling is one of the main reasons people buy the K9 Sport Sack. For me, though, it’s my backup. I find that a basket on the front of the bike where I can securely strap Luna in feels like the safest cycling choice for me.
If the bike and I go toppling over, chances are, the bike is going to land on its side, keeping Luna safe, if a little banged up, inside the basket, which only opens on the top. If I have her on my back, on the other hand, and I go flying off the bike, there’s a decent chance that I’ll land on my back and seriously injure her.
For short bike rides or if I don’t have access to a basket, I’d use the K9 Sport Sack. She’s well secured in there (I know because she tried to get out the first time we went for a bike ride with it on; though now she’s happy to stay inside). I like the sound of her sniffing happily in my ear. And I think a crash is actually pretty unlikely. But when I do have access to a bike basket, I’ll probably stick with that just in case.
City travels with the K9 Sport Sack
This probably doesn’t apply to most dogs, but for Luna, cities are scary. She hates car noise (and tram, bus, or truck noise is even worse). She doesn’t love crowds (and I’m with her on that). And after even a short walk in a busy city, she gets anxious and will try to go into any nearby shop that’ll open its door to her.
So, when walking through a busy part of a city on our way to somewhere she will like (e.g. when we went for a weekend in the Geneva area and visited the city center on our way out to a cute town along the lake), I’ve started offering to take her in the sport sack.
My sense based on her body language and her willingness to get into the sack is that she feels much more comfortable in cities when she can ride with me.
Hiking with the K-9 Sport Sack
We’ve taken the sport sack on something like 8 – 15 hikes now, many of them in the high Alps.
I don’t actually carry Luna during these hikes (she is an avid hiker girl and can run circles around me), but because she has that history of her knee popping out, I feel much more comfortable hiking with an easy way to transport her back down if she ever needs me to. During the hikes, since I’m not carrying her, I roll the bag up and put it in my day pack with my other gear (poncho, jacket, water, etc.). Then I pull it out when it’s time to take a train or bus back home.
K9 Sport Sack quality
Overall, the sport sack is hearty and feels very solidly constructed. The one problem we did have is that on our last hike, when I was about to board the cable car back down the mountain, I went to fasten the strap in the front of the sack (the one that fastens the two shoulder straps together) and it came off.
This was after a couple months of fairly frequent use and I have no idea how many times Sonja tried to test it before sending it to us. But that was a disappointment.
I kept the strap and plan on visiting a tailor to see if we can get it sewn back on.