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It feels like a herculean feat to carry around a cumbersome old cooler during beach days or camping trips, which is how we started looking into backpack coolers. Our former commerce editor, Cam Vigliotta became interested in them after his trusty hard cooler lost a wheel while traversing bumpy terrain. According to Anthony Vontz, the Director of Product Management for CamelBak, “A backpack cooler is the most convenient way to haul cold beverages and offer the best weight distribution.” Unlike bulky hard-sided coolers that can retain ice for days, these more streamlined options from brands like Camelbak and Icemule prize comfort and portability above all, helping you carry supplies to the beach, park, trail and all points beyond.
Using expertise from Vontz to guide us, as well as research and some testing of our own, we compiled a list of the best backpack coolers. We were sure to include different sizes as well as ones all along the price spectrum. Below are our picks for the best backpack coolers.
Best Overall: CamelBak ChillBak Pack 30 Soft Cooler and Hydration Center
Runner-Up: Hydro Flask 20 L Day Escape Soft Cooler Backpack
Backpack Cooler for Massive Loads: IceMule Boss
Best Basic Design: Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler
Best Backpack Cooler for Under $50: Coleman Chiller Series Soft-Sided Backpack Cooler
Most Versatile Backpack Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack
One More Great Backpack Cooler: IceMule Pro
Things to consider
Durability: When looking into backpack coolers, Vontz tells us that durability will be an important factor to pay attention to, telling us that “You want something that can hold up to some abuse, such as getting tossed in the bed of a truck, on a trail or rocky river banks.” Because they are holding liquids and ice, you don’t want something that is poorly made and is prone to leaking, with Vontz stating, “As the ice melts, you want to ensure water isn’t going to be leaking out”. Many options on our list feature welded seams for added durability to help prevent this issue.
Cold Performance: As the name implies, a backpack cooler should keep the things inside of it cool. Or better yet, cold. “Cold performance is paramount,” Vontz tells us. While some options on our list fall into the lower end, being able to keep things cold for up to only about 12 hours, we also have options that are able to maintain the ice inside for 72 hours.
Portability: Backpack coolers are convenient because you don’t have to drag them around, so it’s vital that they are easy to maneuver. “A backpack cooler needs to be portable and easily worn to and from the vehicle,” says Vontz. That means including features that promote even weight distribution and comfort, like waist or sternum straps as well as added cushioning in the shoulder straps.
Vontz also notes that some coolers “perform well enough that they can replace a hard cooler because hours cold are comparable, and it’s much easier to transport and stow away when not in use.” Features like compressibility and being able to roll up the cooler can help make them a great option when not in use.
Price: Of course, you’ll want to ensure that you aren’t breaking the bank when you purchase a backpack cooler. That’s why we were sure to include a range of coolers along the price spectrum, as there’s no shortage of affordable options that can work as well. However, affordability can sometimes sacrifice other features, with Vontz warning, “ A lower price point or more minimal backpack cooler will perform less well regarding hours cold or durability.”
With enough room to hold 24 drinks and six liters of chilled water, CamelBak’s Pack 30 is our clear choice for the best overall backpack cooler. It can retain 15 pounds of ice and keep everything cold for 72 hours before any melting occurs. It has six liters of liquid storage, which Vontz tells us “will help minimize needing additional gear or using single-use plastic water bottles.” The outside features a hose with a spigot to easily refill whatever you need to, but what we really love is the four liters of dry storage that are above the cooler. We also like that this option features a sleek design and is available in Adriatic blue and monument gray.
Pros: 72 hours of keeping things cold, hose with spigot on the outside, dry storage above, free ground shipping
Cons: Pricier than other options, tough to fully zip when the bladder is full
We were also very impressed with this option from Hydro Flask for a few reasons. It’s unsurprising that the brand that makes water bottles that are excellent at keeping the inside cold also excels with backpacks as well. This option can keep things cold for 36 hours and can hold 36 cans when there’s no ice inside. In terms of durability, it features a 600D polyester shell that is also waterproof and lightweight. A padded mesh back panel and shoulder straps keep you comfortable, while a compression molded base enables this backpack to stand upright on its own.
Pros: More affordable than best overall, can stand upright on its own, two color options
Cons: Less storage than best overall, stays cold for shorter than best overall
Best Backpack Cooler for Massive Loads
If you’re in the market for a backpack cooler that can carry everything you need and then some, we recommend IceMule’s Boss. With a capacity of 30 liters, a weight limit of over 60 pounds, and the ability to hold 24 cans with ice, or 34 cans without ice, this thing is no joke. It also features welded seams and the brand’s proprietary MuleSkin fabric makes it waterproof to ensure that it can last for years. We also appreciate that this option also comes with a wide-mouth driptop, enclosure to make it easier to access whatever you need without having to deal with a zipper.
Pros: High capacity, waterproof, durable
Cons: Pricier than other options, zippers can be hard to open
For a more affordable option that may not have all of the bells and whistles of other models but still excels, we love Stoic’s Hybrid Backpack Cooler. It still has a 28-liter and 24-can capacity and features waterproofing. However, the zipper isn’t waterproof so it may still experience some mild leaking. Reviewers note that it does a good job of maintaining ice and keeping drinks cool for the entire day. It’s also much lighter than other options, only weighing two pounds, and it includes a bottle opener in case you’re dealing with pesky non-twist options.
Pros: More affordable option, only weighs two pounds, 28 liter capacity
Cons: May experience leaking, ice doesn’t last as long as other options
Best Backpack Cooler for Under $50
For an even more affordable option, we were really struck by Coleman’s Chiller Series Soft-Sided Backpack Cooler. With a 28-can capacity, this option offers as much space as the far more expensive ones out there. The exterior is made from recycled polyester and it includes welded seams that are designed to prevent leaking. Additionally, while the ice retention is shorter than other options on our list, it still provides 12 hours, which is more than enough for a fun day out in the world. Lastly, we appreciate that Coleman provides a one-year warranty.
Pros: Affordably priced, uses recycled materials, welded seams
Cons: Only 12 hours of ice retention, bottom doesn’t offer much stability
With a lower compartment for six pounds of ice and 12 cans, and an upper compartment for your hiking gear, you won’t have to compromise with REI’s Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack. Plus, the cooler insert is removable, so you can free up even more space if you choose to use this option just as a standard backpack. And with front lash straps to attach items like camp chairs or blankets, this can really be an all-purpose backpack.
Pros: Affordably priced, features room for both ice and other items, cooler insert is removable
Cons: Not as spacious as other choices, water can slosh through zipper
One More Great Backpack Cooler
While smaller in stature than IceMule’s Boss, which we listed above, the Pro is a great choice for a handful of reasons. For starters it’s lighter, weighing only 3 pounds, 8 ounces. Reviewers appreciate this one because it’s comfortable, and it also floats even when full, which is a nice bonus. Reviewers also note that this backpack cooler is easy to clean. Unlike other options on our list, it features no zippers and has welded seams to aid in waterproofing. Plus, it also has an IM air valve that enables it to be rolled up and compressed for easy storage.
Pros: Affordably priced, easy to clean, cooler insert is removable
Cons: Not as spacious as others, no pockets on the outside
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