5 Best Dog Carriers for Travel, Cars & Airlines (2017)

Carriers that are safe and comfortable for your pup

Dog carriers are an essential item for travelling with your canine companion - especially for long trips. In this article, James Hall reviews five of the best dog carriers to help you make a choice your pup will love.

A dog in a pink carrier

All dog owners need a carrier at some point. Whether you want to take your companion on an aeroplane, or just need a secure way to transport him to the vet, a comfortable carrier is an essential tool.

The problem is that there are seemingly endless types of carrier. Each varies in size, shape, material and price, which can make it difficult to choose the right one for your pup.

Also, to put it bluntly, many carriers are not worth the money. The worst are overpriced, uncomfortable for your pet and weak.​ It's hard to find the right carrier that also provides great value for money.

For this reason, I've put together a list of the best dog carriers. The list is organised by type, as I hope this makes it easier for you to choose. I've also provided mini reviews of each carrier, including essential details such as weight limit and external dimensions. Let's get started!

How to Choose a Dog Carrier

Before we get to the best pet carrier section, it's important to know what you're looking for. Here are some of the most important factors when choosing a carrier.

Type of Carrier

There are two broad categories of carrier: soft-sided and hard-sided. I consider dog backpacks (such as the Ruffit) a different category, which is why we've written a separate article for these. There's not a "best" type, as the right option depends on your requirements. Here's an overview of the pros and cons of each type.

Hard-Sided Carriers

  • More durable
  • Better protection for dog
  • Wide range of sizes including larger breeds
  • Can be wiped clean
  • Can be used as a temporary kennel/crate

Soft-Sided Carriers

  • Lightweight
  • Often more comfortable
  • Great for small or medium-size breeds
  • Can sometimes fit under aeroplane seats

So, which is the right choice for your pet?

If you need a carrier that's built to last, hard-sided models are the most durable. The rigid exterior also provides greater protection for your dog.​ A bonus is that hard walls are easier to clean than those made from fabric.

Something else to consider is that hard-side carriers are often available in larger sizes. This makes them suitable for big or even giant dog breeds.​

There are some downsides to a hard-sided carrier though. They are heavier than soft-sided models, making them less easy to carry around. ​The hard walls may also be less comfortable - although you can use a blanket or crate pad so your dog isn't sleeping on the carrier floor.

Another drawback is they generally aren't suitable for under an airplane seat. While very small hard-sided carriers might fit, you'll probably need to put your dog in the cargo of the plane. Regardless of where you want to put your dog, it's vital to make sure the crate is airline-approved - otherwise it won't be allowed to fly.

Soft-sided carriers are generally more popular - mainly because they are lightweight and more convenient to carry. Most dogs prefer them too, as the soft sides are more comfortable.

This type of carrier may also be better for air travel. Many smaller models will fit under a seat, making them great for in-cab air travel. As I mentioned before, however, the carrier must be approved by the airline.

A drawback is that soft-sided carriers are much less durable. This means they may not withstand determined chewing - although this depends on the strength and chewing-aggression of your dog. Soft-sided dog carriers are also less convenient to clean - especially if your dog has accidents!​

Keep in mind that a carrier is not always the same as a soft-sided crate. Crates tend to be bigger, more durable and designed for training and daily living. Carriers are mainly for transportation.​

Size of a Pet Carrier

The size of your dog, along his weight, is probably the most important factor when choosing a carrier. A carrier that's too small will be uncomfortable for your pet - especially on long journeys. Your dog should be able to stretch out and easily turn around whilst inside the carrier. 

The AKC provides some useful guidelines for sizing a carrier - here's a quick summary:

  • Start by measuring your dog's length (base of tail to front of neck)
  • Add 3 inches to this measurement
  • Then measure shoulder height (bottom of front feet up to top of shoulder)
  • For soft-sided carriers, add 2-3 inches to this measurement. For hard-sided, add 3-5 inches.
  • These two measurements are the minimum size your dog needs

If your dog's measurements fall between two carrier sizes, go for the larger option. And if your puppy is still growing, buy for his current size and then upgrade when he outgrows it.

You also shouldn't rely on weight limits to choose the size of the carrier. A dog may be light enough for a carrier but too large to fit in it comfortably.

An image guide to sizing a dog carrier

Other Considerations

  • Purpose. What do you plan on using the carrier for? If it's just for car trips (and you don't want to use a dog car seat), getting one that's lightweight and comfortable may be your only considerations. If you want to take your dog on an airplane, however, you'll need a carrier that follows your airline's regulations on construction and size.
  • Weight Limit. One of the most important considerations when choosing a carrier is the weight limit. Once you've found a carrier with the features you want, the next step is to ensure it's suitable for your dog's weight. 
  • Top or Front-Loading. Most carriers are front-loading, but some come with a top-loading option too. This can be useful if your dog refuses to walk into the carrier.
  • Weight of the Carrier. Aside from the weight limit, make sure you know how much the carrier weighs. The heavier it is, the less convenient it'll be to travel with.
  • Durability. It's important to choose a carrier that's sturdy and durable. This is especially important if your pet is an aggressive chewer or digger.
  • Ventilation. Proper ventilation is important to make sure your dog doesn't overheat while travelling. Look for crates with plenty of air vents to allow circulation.
  • Wheels. Even small dogs can become tiring to carry after a while. For this reason, carriers with wheels can make transporting your dog much easier (or you could choose a stroller instead).

5 Best Dog Carriers & Mini Reviews

Now you know how to size a carrier and choose one that meets your requirements, here are five of the best carriers on the market. I've chosen a range of different types - including both soft-sided and hard-sided - so there should be an option for every pet.

Also, none of these carriers are crash-tested - they are mainly designed for air travel or carrying. For in-car safety, I recommend getting a crash-tested dog crate.​

Please note: I've included whether each carrier complies with airline regulations. This does NOT guarantee that the carrier will be allowed by all airlines - just that the manufacturer claims the bag is compliant. You should always check with the airline before you travel.​

ImageNameTypeAirline Suitable? (Always Check With Airline)Price RangeView Price
Sherpa Deluxe Pet CarrierSoft-SidedUnder Seat$$View Price
PetPeppy Expandable Pet CarrierSoft-SidedUnder Seat$$View Price
SturdiBag Pet CarrierSoft-SidedUnder Seat (Smaller Versions)$$$View Price
PetMate Sky KennelHard-SidedCargo (only if plastic bolts replaced with metal)$$$View Price
AmazonBasics Two-Door Pet KennelHard-SidedNo$View Price

Best Soft-Sided Dog Carriers

The Sherpa Deluxe is one of the best carriers with soft sides

1. Sherpa Deluxe Pet Carrier

One of the best soft-sided dog carriers is the Sharp Deluxe. It's a lightweight and front facing pet carrier that's designed to make travelling with small dogs as easy as possible.

As you can see from the photo, the Sherpa is a sturdy carrier that provides plenty of ventilation via the mesh panels. It has a padded strap, luggage belt that doubles as a seat belt, and a completely machine-washable faux lambskin liner. The zippers also lock to prevent your pet escaping.​

​The Sherpa is designed with air travel in mind. It's approved by "most" airlines, according to the manufacturer. It even has a spring frame that allows the rear to be pushed down a few inches for fitting under a seat. As always, make sure you check your airline accepts the Sherpa before you travel though - and be aware that the small, medium and large sizes may be approved by different airlines.

​Other features include a pocket at the back and "professional" design. It's also available in five colors, including gray, brown, plum, black and Delta black.

Quick Summary: The Sherpa is my top pick for a soft-sided dog carrier. It's great for almost any type of travel, including car and aeroplane. The Sherpa also provides great value for money.

  • ​Type: Soft-Sided
  • Doors: Front & Top Loading
  • Complies with Airline Regulations: Yes
  • Sizes Available (LxWxH): Small (15" x 10" x 8.5" & dogs up to 8lbs), Medium (18" x 10.5" x 11" & dogs up to 16lbs), Large (19" x 11.5" x 11.75" and dogs up to 22lbs)
  • Price Range: $$
  • Excellent dog carrier with a durable design
  • Good ventilation via mesh sides
  • Padded carry strap
  • Not suitable for dogs over 22lbs
  • Faux lambskin is unlikely to survive aggressive chewing

The PetPeppy has expandable sides

2. PetPeppy Expandable Pet Carrier

Another excellent dog carrier for small breeds is the PetPeppy Expandable. As the name suggests, this comes with two expandable walls that can significantly increase the internal space of the carrier - but can be retracted for storage or when you're on a flight. It's made with high-quality fabric and components, so it provides excellent value for money.

A common problem with expandable carriers - and why I usually hesitate to recommend them - is that the walls sag, so your pet doesn't get much more usable space. This isn't an issue with the PetPeppy though. The top is built from a wire frame, which prevents sagging while providing a small amount of protection to your dog.

In terms of ventilation, the carrier has mesh vents at the top and sides. The expanded interior also helps to promote airflow, as the expandable sides are made from breathable mesh. There are both top and side loading doors, which can help if your dog refuses to go into the carrier on his own.

PetPeppy has designed the carrier to meet airline regulations. It claims airlines such as Alaska, American, Delta and Virgin America have all approved it for under the front cabin seat. It's only suitable for small dogs, but is a great choice that most pets will love.

Quick Summary: If you want the option of providing more space for your pet, the expandable walls of the PetPeppy make it a great choice. The lack of a car seatbelt might be a problem though.

  • ​Type: Soft-Sided
  • Doors: Front & Top Loading
  • Complies with Airline Regulations: Yes
  • Sizes Available (LxWxH): 18" x 11" x 11" (when not expanded), & suitable for dogs up to 14lbs
  • Price Range: $$
  • Expandable carrier with two opening sides
  • Approved for under front cabin seat by a number of major airlines
  • Side pocket and fleece base
  • Roof doesn't collapse to aid getting it under a seat
  • No car seatbelt

The SturdiBag pet carrier is available in several sizes

3. SturdiBag Pet Carrier

The SturdiBag pet carrier is a slightly more expensive option that the first two on this list, but is made with premium-quality components and provides great comfort for your pet.

There are several versions of the SturdiBag, but I prefer the heavy mesh version. It's a tough carrier made from durable fabric for withstanding claws and teeth. This makes it a great choice if your pup has a tendency to chew his bed or carrier. It's also built with bendable tension rods to give it a solid shape, while the fabric is machine washable.

Other features include a padded shoulder strap, mesh door, 4 tie downs and built-in tether leash. Security clips are included on the zipper, and you can pull back the "privacy flaps" at the top of the carrier to reveal extra air vents.

One of the best features of the SturdiBag - at least for air travel - is that the tension rods can be compressed. This flexible design makes it easier to fit under seats during landing and take off.

While the SturdiBag is designed to meet airline requirements, the extra large and XXL versions are bigger than most airlines allow for in-cabin travel. The manufacturer claims some customers have still used it for in-cabin, but this is something you need to check with your airline.

Note: SturdiProducts also produces Cube and Mini Cube versions. These are slightly different in design, but are suitable for smaller breeds. There is also a "Divided" version which can be used for more than one dog.

Quick Summary: The SturdiPet is a durable soft-sided carrier that's great for under-seat air travel (at least in versions up to "Large"). Its flexible rods make it easier to place under seats, while the seat belt strap is handy for cars.

  • ​Type: Soft-Sided
  • Doors: Front & Top Loading
  • Complies with Airline Regulations: Yes (some sizes)
  • Sizes Available (LxWxH): LARGE - 18" x 12 " x 12 " & dogs up to 30lbs, EXTRA LARGE - 20" x 12" x 16X & dogs up to 50lbs
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Suitable for air travel (up to the Large size) with flexible interior rods
  • Privacy flaps can be retracted to improve ventilation
  • Seat belt straps
  • XL and XXL are too big for in-cabin flying

Best Hard-Sided Dog Carriers

The Sky Kennel is available in much larger sizes than soft-sided carriers

4. PetMate Sky Kennel

One of the best hard-sided dog carriers is the excellent PetMate Sky Kennel. It's a much heavier-duty carrier than others on this list, making it suitable for larger breeds and in-cargo travel.

The Sky Kennel is made from heavy-duty plastic and strong steel wire. The wing nuts are also made from non-corrosive plastic, so this isn't a carrier that's going to fall apart at the first sign of a few bumps (although I would have preferred metal bolts - more on that in a minute). It's also capable of protecting your dog much more effectively than soft-sided carriers.

One of the great things about this carrier is that it's available in a range of sizes. The smallest is suitable for breeds such as chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers, while the largest can hold dogs such as German shepherds and Rottweilers. The durable design also means it's difficult for your pet to damage. So if you're looking for a large dog carrier, it's a great choice.

As you can see from the photo, all sides of the carrier have ventilation to help keep your dog cool. The door securely latches so there's no chance of your pet escaping mid-flight. There's also "Live Animal" imprinted on the side.

While the Sky Kennel is designed to meet the requirements of most airlines, you should always check with your airline before you fly. The plastic bolts also need to be replaced with metal for most (if not all) flights when travelling in the cargo section, so it's a shame these don't come with the kennel. Fortunately, there are universal metal bolts available that are relatively cheap, which is why it's still one of the best airline dog carriers.

Quick Summary: The PetMate Sky Kennel is a strong and durable carrier that's available in a range of sizes. While it doesn't quite meet airline regulations - you'll need to replace the plastic bolts with metal ones - it comes close and only requires a few modifications. As always, check with your airline well in advance of your flight though.

  • ​Type: Hard-Sided
  • Doors: Front Loading
  • Complies with Airline Regulations: Yes - if plastic bolts are replaced with metal
  • Sizes Available (LxWxH): 21" x 16" x 15" & up to 15lbs, 28" x 20.5" x 21.5" & up to 30lbs, 32" x 22.5" x 24" for up to 50lbs, 26" x 25" x 27" for up to 80lbs, 39" x 26" x 30" for up to 90lbs, 48" x 32" x 35" for up to 125lbs
  • Price Range: $$$
  • Highly durable hard-sided carrier
  • "Live Animal" label
  • Range of sizes to suit almost any size of dog
  • Plastic bolts need to be replaced with metal for airline travel
  • Not as comfortable as soft-sided beds

The AmazonBasics is a cheaper hard-sided carrier

5. AmazonBasics Two-Door Pet Kennel

If you just need a durable dog carrier for car travel or going to the vet, then the AmazonBasics is one of the cheapest options. It's not suitable for air travel, but provides great value for almost any other type of travelling.

The AmazonBasics is made from a durable plastic exterior and steel wire door. There's also a top-loading plastic door if your pet doesn't feel like going through the front door! As a bonus, the top door opens to either the left or right.

While the carrier doesn't have quite as much ventilation as the PetMate Sky Kennel, there are still vents on all sides. The top and bottom also snap together securely and there is a handle for carrying.

A downside to this carrier is that there are only two sizes available. The largest is 23" long, which means the AmazonBasics is only suitable for small breeds. Even so, if you're looking for a hard-sided carrier for vet visits or car journeys, it could be an option to consider.

Quick Summary: The AmazonBasics is a cheap dog carrier with a handy two-door design. It's not suitable for air travel, and it's too small for medium-size dogs, but for smaller breeds it provides great value.

  • ​Type: Hard-Sided
  • Doors: Front and Top Loading
  • Complies with Airline Regulations: No
  • Sizes Available (LxWxH): 19" x 12" x 10", 23" x 15" x 13"
  • Price Range: $
  • Very low price for a hard-sided carrier
  • Tough and durable 
  • Two-door design
  • Not suitable for use on an aeroplane
  • Even largest size is only big enough for small breeds

Summary

A dog carrier is an essential purchase if you want to take your dog travelling - or even for securely transporting him to the vet. The five carriers in this article all have different features, but provide excellent value for money and a secure place for your pet.

If you're looking for a soft-sided carrier, I recommend the ​Sherpa Deluxe Pet Carrier (unless your pet likes to chew his carrier). It's a durable model with excellent ventilation and a well-thought out design. If you need a hard-sided carrier for air travel, the PetMate Sky Kennel is a great choice - although you'll need to replace the plastic bolts with metal ones.

Do you have any questions about choosing the best dog carrier for your pet? Or is there a carrier I've missed? Let me know in the comment section!