After food, water, and a sturdy leash, the K9 Sport Sack is our must-have.
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It all started with a reusable grocery bag. Gus, my 18-pound, Caribbean-born mutt, and I were hanging out at a friend’s place in New York City. It started raining as we were about to leave. Gus hates 'weather' (be it rain or snow) and won’t walk in it, and I was pretty sure a ride-share car wouldn’t pick us up with him loose on a leash. In a pinch, my friend came through with a reusable grocery bag that, to my delight, Gus didn’t mind being put or carried in—to be fair, he’s an easygoing doggo—and the car driver was A-OK with our makeshift carrier.
For those outside of the city, allow me to explain: Dogs in bags are a thing in New York, thanks to the subway rule that “no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.” Loosely interpreted, that means dogs can only travel by subway if they’re somehow restrained, be it a carrier, backpack, IKEA tote, or, yes, grocery bag. Bags are also way easier to carry and contend with than the typical fully enclosed pet carrier, especially if you intend to stay mobile once you get to your destination, such as spending a day in the park.
But there was one problem. Gus weighs almost 20 pounds. That makes for a hefty shoulder bag, especially when said carrier had very thin straps, like the grocery sack. To lug him around on one side for any distance longer than a block or two—ouch! Plus, could I really expect even sturdiest supermarket tote to last for the long haul? We tried a few other bag options, and ended up feeling like Goldilocks. (Note: Most were too big.)
Then I saw a woman bring her 25-pound beagle to Gus’s daycare in a backpack. Specifically, the K9 Sport Sack Air. It’s basically a Baby Bjorn for dogs that puts the dog facing your body in the begging position, front paws free to rest on your back (or front, if worn that way). I had to own one. We waited a couple months for the Black Friday sale—35% off, making the $70 pack cost $45.50—and asked for one for Christmas from the grandperson (a.k.a., my mother).
This bag is so great, I wish I'd paid full price months earlier (for me, that's saying something). On first use, Gus was skeptical. I can’t really blame him: It probably feels like being put in a straight jacket, which is what it kind of looks like. The company offers video instructions of two techniques for loading your dog, while standing and from the ground. I couldn’t wrap my head around how two hands would be enough to get Gus into this thing while I was standing up, so we went with the on-the-ground method.
The trickiest part for me was getting him to keep his paws through the arm holes without him retracting them back to his chest. But once I got him zipped in—other than the paw thing, he didn’t struggle much—I briefly worried that the size-medium bag we ordered was too big. However, with some finagling of the bag’s side cinch straps, and futzing with the shoulder straps and sternum strap on me, he seemed to be in there securely. The company sizes the bags based on the length of the dog, and also sells foam boosters for growing puppies or to help dogs who are in between sizes.
Here’s the fun part: He loves being in there! Now, all I have to do is put the bag on the floor and he comes over and sits on top of it, knowing we’re going on an adventure. We’ve gone walking, hiking, riding in cars, erranding into stores, tooling around on ride-share bikes, and, of course, on the subway. It’s more comfortable for me to wear him in the bag on my back, but I’ll swap him to the front whenever I’ll be seated somewhere, like in a car or train.
Design-wise, the bag is pretty great, and very sturdy. However, I can think of a few improvements I’d like to see.
First, Gus is a skinny pup and those side cinch straps at the top aren’t quite enough to make the fit narrow enough for him. The security straps across the back that keep the bag from unzipping don’t make it any smaller. An additional set of side cinchers a little lower would fix that issue, I think. I’ve also noticed that the collar strap seems to loosen up sometimes, making Gus slosh around a little in the carrier, though I’ve never worried he’d fall out.
As for the fit on my body, I’m also mostly happy. The sternum strap, while a welcome addition for stability, just doesn’t seem like it’s designed for wearers who have breasts—it can be slid up and down along the shoulder straps some, but not really to any spot that’s ideal for my frame. I’d prefer if the bag had waist strap or, even better, both a sternum and a waist strap.
I got the Sport Sack Air in late 2017, when it was only available with the two side water-bottle pockets. Those are OK for toting water bottles (of course) or smallish items that fit into their bucket-like shape and aren’t likely to topple out when you bend down while wearing the bag, but I’m jealous that the company’s newer version (for $20 more) has a separate clip-on bag that holds more stuff and zippers shut—but not enough to buy a whole new $90 bag to get it.
Finally, because the bag isn’t a fully enclosed carrier, it’s not permitted for use on planes or Amtrak. That’s not K9 Sport Sack’s fault, of course, but it is a bummer.
Honestly, I recommend it to every city dog owner I meet (and we meet a lot of them!), as well as folks who like to hike with dogs that may not be able or willing to keep up all day long. When we got ours, the company only offered the Sport Sack Air in four sizes, extra small through large, for dogs up to 30 pounds. Recently, it released the Rover, a similarly designed backpack that picks up from there, coming in three additional sizes rated from 30 to 80 pounds, for $180. (It also has a waist strap, which you’d definitely need to secure to your back a pup that potentially weighs half or more of your own body weight!) You’d have to be committed to dog carrying at that upper range (and that price), but at least now the available bag sizes aren’t the limiting factor for giving it a go. And with the company’s liberal 60-day try-it-or-return-it policy, there’s not much risk in seeing for yourself if you love the K9 Sport Sack as much as Gus and I do.
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