The 7 Best Backpack Coolers, According to Our Resident Cooler-seur
Emphasizing comfort and portability, these coolers are ready for any adventure
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I started using backpack coolers after my beloved hard cooler lost a wheel while traversing bumpy terrain.
Tired of hauling food and drink by hand, I was eager to adopt something more mobile and functional; the novel backpack cooler, which positions an insulated backpack on your shoulders, much like a traditional hiking pack, fit the bill. Unlike bulky hard-sided coolers that can retain ice for days, these more streamlined options from brands like Yeti and Coleman prize comfort and portability above all, helping you carry supplies to the beach, park, trail and all points beyond.
Over the years I’ve tested dozens of the best backpack coolers. Some are entirely insulated, while others divide space between food and gear. My favorites are made with lightweight but durable materials, have enough space for a day’s worth of food and drink, and provide support even when loaded with ice and a 24-pack of cool ones. Perfect for shorter outings from the backyard to the backcountry, one (or all) of these should meet your needs.
The Best Backpack Coolers
The Best Overall Backpack Cooler: Yeti Hopper BackFlip 24
The Yeti Hopper BackFlip 24 is the brand’s first crack at a backpack cooler, but you wouldn’t know it. Like all good Yeti products, it’s exceptionally durable thanks to a combination of tech and design features. For instance, the high-density shell fabric is not only waterproof but puncture-, mildew- and UV-resistant as well. Inside, Coldcell insulation performs admirably to retain ice and prevent food from getting warm, even as temperatures approach triple digits. Adding to its comfort, the Yeti BackFlip employs a chest strap and waist belt to center the load across your torso. The backpack’s Hydro Lock zippers are also leakproof and waterproof to protect your food and drink from the outside world.
Runner Up: Hydro Flask Day Escape Cooler Pack
Hydro Flask is well-known for its iconic insulated bottles, but the Oregon brand also knows a thing or two about backpack coolers. The Day Escape maintains key features from the original Unbound Cooler Pack: comfortable backpack straps, a stretchy mesh pocket and a food-grade liner. But it replaces the flip-open lid with a wider opening that features a toothless waterproof zipper as well as carrying handles on either side. The compression base is molded to keep the pack upright when it’s not being worn, and it’s also beefed up with more insulation. Hydro Flask maintains the Day Escape will keep everything cold for up to 36 hours, making it a steal in comparison to costly rivals.
Best Backpack Cooler for the Beach: Icemule Boss Cooler
The Icemule Boss is one of the roomiest backpack coolers on our list. It’s also one of the heaviest and most expensive, making it the best backpack for the beach, picnics or car camping, but less ideal for longer overland jaunts. To maintain comfort, the pack’s shoulder straps and back pads are ventilated, while the hip belt is padded. Icemule integrates a tri-fold top that seals out water like a traditional dry bag, and the shell fabric feels durable enough to handle wear and tear. For those looking to bring extra gear, three exterior pockets are a welcome addition; each one features a waterproof seal, padding and insulation. This pack can handle 60+ pounds, but we don’t recommend lugging that much food and drink for more than a mile or two.
The Best Backpack Cooler for Under $50: Coleman Soft Pack
The Coleman Soft Pack isn’t winning any awards among backpack coolers, but it also won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Capable of hauling up to 28 cans of your favorite beverage, it looks and functions like a traditional school backpack. Shoulders straps are adjustable, side pockets store bottles, and the front pocket offers quick access to utensils and supplies. For added peace of mind, Coleman heat-welded the seams and introduced an antimicrobial liner to prevent mold and mildew from collecting. It isn’t the most luxurious model, but it gets the job done.
The Best Backpack Cooler for Ice Retention: OtterBox Trooper LT30
Backpack coolers are only useful so long as they keep contents cold. Even the best models can’t compete with a traditional hard-sided cooler, but the OtterBox Trooper comes close. Beneath its nylon exterior, you’ll find a rugged layer of thermal insulation that retains ice for up to three days. The clamshell opening makes it easy to access what you need, but it’s tricky to use the first time around. Most backpack coolers look similar, but the Trooper stands out because it transitions from a backpack to a tote. On the outside you’ll find extras like a dry storage pouch, accessory mounts and a water-resistant pocket. If you forget the bottle opener at home, fear not — OtterBox throws one in for good measure.
The Most Versatile Backpack Cooler: REI Cool Trail Split Pack
Nobody likes a difficult decision. For instance, should you swap out a few beers to make room for a cozy fleece? Or should you ditch extra layers to make room for brews? With REI’s Cool Trail Split Pack, you don’t have to decide. The 29-liter design features a lower compartment for ice and a top compartment for daily essentials. To prevent your gear from getting wet, REI outfits the lower compartment with a “leakproof cooler insert,” but we just call it a lunchbox. Should you choose to forgo snacks, simply remove the insert cooler for additional space. And if you need a little more room, external pockets and lash straps are quick to lend a hand. Padded shoulder straps pair with a chest strap to dial in the perfect fit.
One More Great Backpack Cooler: Icemule Pro
It may be the younger sibling of the Icemule Boss, but the Icemule Pro is no slouch. As one of our favorite backpack coolers, the Pro is extremely comfortable over long distances (unlike its sibling). Wide shoulder straps are soft and the cooler’s flexible shell molds around your back. It doesn’t boast the greatest insulation, but the roll-top design features an air valve for additional insulation if need be. Plus you can roll it up completely when you return home for easy storage. The bungee cords on the front are helpful, though most coolers have one or several pockets to store everyday carry items.
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