Dog Jaunt's new pet travel book is now out! Buy it, or learn more about it here. And please review it on Amazon!

A side-by-side comparison: Large SturdiBag next to Sherpa Delta Deluxe Pet Carrier

I’ve said plenty of rude things about Sherpa carriers over the years, but I’ve only briefly owned two (the large- and medium-sized wheeled bags). That all changed at the end of December, when my husband and I decided to bring home a cat my parents had rescued but couldn’t, realistically speaking, keep. We had no idea how well Cora would handle the stress of travel, so I decided to buy a good quality carrier, and the best one I could find in central Ohio was a Sherpa.

And indeed they are sturdily-made carriers. My objections, over the years, have instead been to their size (the Medium too small for larger small dogs like Chloe, the Large too huge for in-cabin use) and their design. Since I began writing this blog, Sherpa has added new carriers to its line-up, and has fiddled with the measurements of its existing carriers. I’m happy to report that it is now easy to find a reasonably-sized Sherpa carrier. We bought the Sherpa Delta Deluxe Pet Carrier at a Petco store. There’s some on-line confusion about the carrier’s measurements (Sherpa’s measurements are wrong, oddly enough, but Petco’s are right: 18″ long, 11″ wide, and 10.5″ tall). Cora, a 9.5 lb. cat, had plenty of room, and the carrier fit in the under-seat spaces of our Southwest 737-700 planes.

Here’s what I liked about the Sherpa carrier: It was readily available in rural America; it’s solidly constructed; there are extensive mesh ventilation panels; the provided faux sheepskin pad is thick and comfortable; there is a capacious zipped pocket on one long side, and a smaller pocket on the other; and (my favorite feature) there is a luggage panel on one of the long sides, to hook over your suitcase handle, and to string a car safety belt through.

Cora did scrape a bit at the Sherpa bag, mostly during car travel to and from the airport, so I was grateful that we’d sprung for a carrier with sturdy mesh. Once she resigned herself to her fate, she curled up comfortably in the carrier, and has gone into it voluntarily since her arrival in Seattle.

Here’s what I don’t like: The top panel of the Sherpa carrier is solid fabric, so you cannot see down into the carrier — and for most of your travel day, your pet will be at your feet. The zippers were stiff and difficult to unzip, making it a question whether I’d get my hand into the carrier before Cora got one or more body parts out. Only one end unzips, so the carrier cannot be collapsed. Both ends are reinforced so they’re solidly square — while the middle part of the bag is less structured, and flexes a bit, the stiff ends make it difficult to maneuver the carrier around under-seat obstructions. The stiffness of the ends, too, made unzipping the one end that opens (to reach in and pet Cora) unworkable — your hand and wrist are pinched and abraded by the time they make their way into the carrier. The privacy panels on the ends are kind of a nice touch, but really, they’re pointless, since one entire long side is mesh — and doesn’t have a privacy panel. There is no pad on the shoulder strap. The handles are long and floppy — which means they can be used to reinforce the luggage strap (see the picture below), but also means that they’re annoying unless they’re Velcroed together.

A light-blasted photo of the Sherpa Delta Deluxe carrier on my husband’s carry-on — you can see the carrier’s built-in luggage strap, supplemented by the handles (as well as a hint of black-and-white Cora)

Chloe’s large SturdiBag is not perfect. After all these years, I have come up with three flaws I can’t overlook: There is no protective strip of fabric under the top panel zipper, so I always risk catching Chloe’s head fur in it when I open/close it to reach her (mind you, the Sherpa zipper is exactly the same — but it’s so balky I never open it, so the problem doesn’t arise). If the black plastic ends come off the supporting carbon rod ribs, the rods will poke through their fabric pockets (a very rare problem). And while there is a better seatbelt solution on the SturdiBag (two vertical nylon twill straps force the seatbelt to hold the carrier tightly against the car seat), there is no luggage strap — looping the handles back over your suitcase handle works to a point, but for real security you need extra help.

As you see in this picture, both carriers fit equally well under a Southwest 737-700 seat.

Large SturdiBag on the left, Sherpa Delta Deluxe on the right. The SturdiBag looks longer, but only because it has that 1.5″ fabric awning around the end that zips open. I still have no idea what purpose it serves.

However, Southwest’s under-seat spaces are generously sized, and are relatively easy to maneuver around. In nearly every other airplane I’ve flown on, there’s less space, and the space available is complicated by projecting electronics boxes or life jacket containers. After giving a comparable Sherpa carrier a good workout, I still prefer Chloe’s large SturdiBag.

17 comments

  • Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz

    I kind of have a carrier fetish and have bought and resold many over the years, but I love the Sturdi Bags (I am not sure what purpose the ‘awning’ serves, either) but with a cat, I do have to secure every zipper or they weasel their way out. I have a Sturdi double bag that zips down the middle so 2 kittens up to about 4 months can fit in each side.

    My 2nd favorite bag is the Bergan Comfort Carrier, as it has a nice fine mesh that won’t abrade noses and a nice little side zipper just wide enough to fit your hand inside…smart design and ‘crushable enough to fit under seat but won’t collapse when zipped, either.

  • Kat

    I completely agree with you about your most of the complaints… for this particular bag. I’ve owned a Sherpa Original Bag for years that I love to travel with. It’s easy to unzip and poke my hand in for a reassuring pat and small enough that I can bring the bag to my lap if the attendants allow it. There’s plenty of storage space in the back pocket for all our doggie airplane needs. Last Thanksgiving we managed to make it all the way to the airport before realizing we forgot the carrier though and had to buy the Delta Sherpa bag at the counter. While I was so happy that they had one to purchase, it is inferior to the original bag. The zippers are awful and the sides are too stiff. It was such a pain that once I got her inside I didn’t want to fiddle with the thing again if I could avoid it. Do yourself a favor and don’t be fooled by the ‘Delta’ logo, it’s an inferior product to their original.

  • Lydia

    I have a westie 18lbs, will he fit in a large Sturdi bag? We are flying from Denver to Oslo Norway on United. Thanks!

  • Hi, Lydia — He might, if he’s all muscle. The best thing to do is try it out — if you don’t want to order the large SturdiBag without knowing, you might go to your local pet store and try him in the Medium Ultimate Sherpa (or the Delta Deluxe Sherpa — they’re the same size) — a pup who fits in that will also fit in the large SturdiBag.

  • Lydia

    Bought the Sturdy bag already. I am a dog trainer and my dog would not go in by himself due to the low head space at entry and maybe the darkness Tried treats and he just stretches to get them. If I help him in he panics. Gave the bag to a neighbor and bought a Sherpa large. The top entry makes all the difference for my dog. He gets in on his own and fits just fine. I prefer the quality of the Sturdi bag, if only it could have a top entry. With the design, I do not think it possible. Thanks for your reply! Lydia

  • I’m so glad the Sherpa works! Chloe doesn’t care one way or the other about top entry (it’s worse for her, in fact, than front entry, because I tend to catch her head hair in the zipper), so I never think about that issue. I don’t love the Sherpa bags, but they’re sturdy enough and they get the job done. Safe travels, and have fun together!

  • Lydia

    Thanks, my dog does not use the front entry of the Sherpa either and I do wish that the top opening was not solid. Maybe we need to design our own bag? Take care. Lydia

  • Alex

    I have both these bags but never used the Sherpa – because it is much heavier than the SturdiBag and my dogs can push the carry-on weight limit at times!

  • carol

    i have used PET VOYAGE dog carrier with wheels and telescoping handle as well as should straps and hand straps. this is oblong
    shaped. my dog is long. it has open zippers on top her head can peak out for a rub. it has zipper that open the whole side panel. she can get out/in by opening top or side. it pulls easy in the airport and fits under even spirit seats. I love it but have worn it out. and want to replace it. do any of your readers know where i can purchase Pet Voyage with wheels/telescoping handle. we “commute” nyc to FL.
    please help if you can. best to all pet people and their pets. c

  • Hi, Carol — It sounds like you’re talking about this product, from Vo-Toys: http://www.vo-toys.com/catalog/detail.php?BEID=7645 It’s not currently available on Amazon, as I’m sure you know, and I couldn’t find it anywhere else myself. I’ve sent Vo-Toys an e-mail asking who might sell it, and if/when they respond, I’ll let you know what they say. Or follow up with them yourself — their e-mail address is [email protected]. Hope it works out — it sounds like it works really well for you and your pup!

  • Hello again, Carol — Good news! I got a reply from Vo-Toys, who say that the blue is out of stock but you can buy the green:

    “We have sold out of #21320 – color Navy Blue but we do have the identical Back-Pack in color Olive Green.
    It’s our item #21404. Current price is $49.95 plus S&H.
    We can ship intermediately.
    If you wish to order, please send us your shipping address together with your credit card information.”

    Write to them at the [email protected] address I gave you in my first reply, and you should be in business!

  • Krystal

    Carol, or Mary Alice, what are the measurements on that carrier? I followed the link, but there’s no measurements on it.

  • Hello, Krystal — I’m sorry for the confusion! The large SturdiBag is 18″ long, and 12″ high and wide (though the top and sides flex a great deal, on demand). I think the blog posts provide the measurements for the Sherpa carrier it was being compared to. Hope that helps!

  • Desiree

    Hi, I used your site for research before I got my two chinese crested puppies a year ago and found it very helpful! I do, however, have to say that I prefer my medium Sherpa bag over all the other carriers I researched and tried. In my case, I take my dogs to work with me and often to bars, restaurants, and stores as I live in New Orleans where pets are often allowed. I like the way my Sherpabag looks with it’s nice quilting, but more importantly, I love that the top opens as I strap it over my shoulder, unzip the top, and let Skylar and Josephine stick their heads out so they can experience the environment and, most importantly them, get petted and cooed at by the people they meet :-). They LOVE their bag so much that they pack themselves into it every morning when I get dressed and any other chance they get. “Get in the bag” is actually the first command they willingly obeyed! I fly with them once every other month and both it’s sturdy construction and size has been great for flying. I do love the way the Sleepypod bags look and was going to buy one to carry them on their daily outings, but you must unzip the sides to unzip the top, so sadly, it won’t work. I also have to say that my first Sherpabag lasted a whole year with daily use! It was definitely worth the 80 bucks it cost me and more. The only complaint I have about my Sherpabag is the unpadded shoulder strap. I’m about to order my second one, and order one for my mother and her new tricolor Cavalier puppy (named Tiffany) too, but I’m thinking purple instead of black this time. Tiffany was the runt and my breeder (who is great and luckily for us breeds both cresteds and cavaliers) said she’s one of the daintiest puppies she’s had, so I imagine she’ll be a little smaller then your beautiful Chloe and should still fit in a medium bag when she grows up. I am, however, going to diligently search for a shoulder strap solution!

  • It’s good feedback, Desiree! (I’m standing by the SturdiBag, though, because it has that roof hatch for periscope action — and I like it that it only really lets an adult dog’s head and neck out. I want to encourage Chloe to keep the majority of her body inside the carrier!) About the strap — Tom Bihn has a very nice shoulder strap that you can buy separately from their bags. Pricey, but mercy, it’s comfortable.

  • Melanie K

    There is such great information on this site, but I’m still torn. I’ll be flying for the first time with my 12-13 lb. Bichon on Alaska Airlines. They currently publish on their web site that the soft side bags should measure 17X11X9.5. I currently have a medium Delta Sherpa bag which has the dimensions you mentioned: 18X11X10.5. I’m a bit nervous for the first time to try to take on a bag that is over the size limit. I have been looking at other bags (including Sturdibags) but I’m concerned that the carriers that fit Alaska’s dimensions will really be too small for my dog. Can anyone share any comments specific to Alaska Airlines? (Also, I wonder if I can trim the bottom board in the Sherpa bag the same way you’ve mentioned on the large Sturdibag?)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *