The Best Backpack Cooler of 2021 | Gear Fans

2021-11-22 07:05:36 By : Mr. Michael Shan

August 31, 2021 | Morgan Tilton

Whether you are car camping, cycling to nearby parks, fishing, hiking or white water rafting, we provide the best backpack coolers for outdoor adventures.

The backpack cooler is getting cooler. Many brands are developing these super portable insulation bags with high-end structure, style and a series of unique functions.

If you have never thought about it, carrying a backpack cooler is a convenient option, which can be used for single-person hands-free transportation of delicious snacks. This could mean following a car after a party in a running club, taking your dog to a local softball game, or taking a cruiser to a park barbecue.

Some backpack coolers are also very suitable for day hikes and picnics in remote mountain lakes. Others can be tied to a motorcycle, SUP or raft for multi-day tours and white-water adventures.

Backpack coolers are surprisingly complex and provide a range of capacities, ice retention, and special characteristics that help make your outdoor experience more comfortable and provide better fuel.

For more information on backpack coolers and how we test them, please check out the buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Otherwise, scroll through all our recommended purchases, or jump to the category you are looking for:

Icemule Boss ($350) won our ice retention test and is also one of the largest backpack coolers, but with good weight distribution. The backpack is equipped with comfortable double-padded mesh shoulder straps and hip pads, as well as adjustable waist and chest straps.

When we were hiking in Colorado for half a day, when we put a 10-pound bag of ice on our backpack for testing, it was easy to forget that the backpack was on our body. This design provides better airflow than other designs.

The outer MuleSkin 1,000 denier fabric of this design can withstand harsh conditions. The shoulder strap is on the wider side, but does not restrict movement like the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler shoulder strap.

In other words, the belt is not as ergonomic as the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler. We also celebrated three spacious exterior pockets with waterproof zippers-we just wish they opened and closed more smoothly.

Due to the XT insulation of the polar layer, 133 hours have passed before the ice of this cooler completely melted during our test, ranking first among all cooler packages. From the right perspective, this package can hold 24 12-ounce cans.

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At first, we thought the top latch of the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler ($300) was annoying. Once we understand this system, this cooler rises to the top, especially because the high-quality insulating materials make our ice the longest freezing time. This workhorse backpack has one of the widest openings, making it easy to grab food.

We like this cool backpack for park barbecues, road trips, shopping for produce, and hiking in southwestern Colorado. One of our favorite features is the waterproof front pocket for cell phones, wallets and keys. There is also an extra wide pocket, although very thin. The durable, wear-resistant base helps the cooler stay upright.

The sturdy rear panel is suitable for shorter hikes. But we want to see the brand soften the bottom edge of the backpack, which is rigid to the sacroiliac joints: we saw a cougar on the road and was injured.

In addition, the 2-inch wide shoulder strap is pushed into our shoulders, limiting the range of motion. If you need to reach for a dog or toddler, this bag may not be the best choice.

In our test, more than 5 days have passed before the ice of this cooler completely melted, which is very close to Icemule Boss's second place. From the right perspective, this package can hold 50 12-ounce cans.

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For only $35, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler is a very economical choice, comfortable to wear and easy to use. We prepared this backpack for hiking in Colorado, and it did a great job keeping our cargo cold. In addition, the 10 pounds of ice we carried on our hike did not feel heavy.

In most cases, we like to hike with this neat backpack. The shoulder straps and mesh back panel are padded, which is comfortable, stretchable and absorbs sweat. It is not as stiff as the other backpacks here, if you have a lighter weight, it will work. We like the two large and small external front pockets.

According to our tests, the insulation, integrated internal insulation and thick bottom helped ice cubes survive for 70 hours. In our book, this is fair ice reservation. For the size idea, this package can hold 20 12-ounce cans.

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We took the durable Igloo Pursuit Backpack ($100) to fly fishing in the East River in Colorado under the scorching sun. If you need to store other things besides perishable items, this backpack can provide you with a pocket oasis. Options include:

The package can hold two boxed lunches of Tupperware, beer cans, and soda, and there is space. We feel very comfortable when transporting the backpack. The backpack has plenty of cushions, and there are breathable meshes on the back panel and shoulder straps. We also like the soft, buttery feel of the lining.

According to our test, the cooler can keep ice for 64 hours. No, the top zipper is not waterproof. From the right perspective, this package can hold 24 12-ounce cans.

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If you mainly need to bring clothing or equipment and some cooler space, check out the Carhartt Cooler Backpack ($65). We used this simple day backpack for two people on a day hike in Crested Butte, Colorado, carrying a lot of soda and Red Bull.

The shoulder straps are not super strong, but for a few hours of moderate loads, the backpack provides considerable support. This 1,200-denier heavy-duty polyester material is very tough and is treated with a durable waterproof coating to resist drizzle. The thick handle on the top of the bag is easy to grasp.

We love that you can organize your things in multiple locations. In the drying compartment, there are two mesh bags with elastic closures. There is also a large outer front pocket with a zipper and two mesh pockets inside.

According to our tests, the cooler can retain ice for nearly 25 hours. From the right perspective, this package can hold a dozen 12-ounce cans.

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The unique REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) is an adaptable backpack cooler with a detachable cooler insert so you can put down the lining of a traditional daily backpack. Essentially, you can get two styles of suits in one piece of equipment for only $100. If you are not looking for specialized items, this will be a bargain.

We admire the padded back panel and the padded contour waistband most, they can reduce the burden on our back. After rowing on the lake with cans full of drinks, we can still easily carry the bags.

One caveat: this material does not absorb sweat very well, but it will slightly suspend some airflow. The handle is not fancy, but it is easy to grasp-holding it, we carried the backpack a full mile.

These reliable pockets are well-structured and practical. For our 32-ounce Nalgene water bottle and sunscreen, we used two mesh water bottle holders, which are clipped to the front of the side zippered pocket.

This design is more environmentally friendly than the other packaging we have tested because the exterior is made of recycled, tear-resistant nylon.

According to our tests, the cooler can retain ice for nearly 77 hours, which is much higher than the claimed speed. From the right perspective, this package can hold 20 12-ounce cans.

The YETI Hopper Backflip 24 soft cooler ($300) is one of the strongest coolers we have tested. We used this backpack to hike in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for half a day and put a 10-pound ice bag in it for testing.

First, YETI won a huge one-fifth of the strong, leak-proof HydroLok zipper, which is also fast, comfortable and easy to operate. Other waterproof zippers, such as those on the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack and Icemule Boss, require power to move. Secondly, the high-density fabric is waterproof, mildew-proof, and non-condensing.

The backpack is equipped with a detachable chest strap and waist belt, which is very suitable for weight distribution. The rear panel is on the firmer side, but it is also very comfortable.

However, the bottom edge of the backpack is very hard, right on top of our sacroiliac joints-as the cross-country mileage increases, this feeling is not pleasant. This can be solved by adding a little cushion or extending the panel all the way to the floor of the backpack.

According to our test, the closed-cell rubber foam insulation of the cooler can keep ice for about 95 hours. For size comparison, this package can hold 20 12-ounce cans.

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The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200) rewarded us for a two-day hike in Elk Mountain, Colorado. Our group of four packed everything from champagne and dark chocolate to strawberries, luncheon meats and bread.

The ductile walls of the cooler feel quite thin, so we were surprised by the overall comfort and ergonomic support when hiking. We are very happy to wear this backpack for longer hiking and longer time.

Despite its light weight and flexibility, this backpack has a reasonable structure, durable handle and 600 denier polyester waterproof material. The chest straps stabilize the shoulder straps; otherwise, they will slide around annoyingly. We also designed side pockets with elastic mesh, which can easily fit a 1 liter bottle or tableware.

According to our test, this cooler can keep ice cubes for nearly 60 hours, which is beyond the level advertised by the brand. We like that the top zipper is waterproof-it is also silent. The disadvantage is that waterproof zipper requires two hands and more time to open and close than traditional zipper.

From the right perspective, this package can hold 36 12-ounce cans.

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The Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler ($75) complements our four-person fly-fishing crew on the Gunnison River in southwestern Colorado. When we cast, we pack frozen beer, cheese, salami, sandwiches and soda.

We are full of praise for the comfort of carrying the backpack: the size and capacity are just right. It has a padded, breathable back panel. We also like the durable appearance, the blend of 600 denier polyester fiber and flexible plastic. In addition, the design is stylish, and you can currently buy a cooler for less than $100.

The internal insulation layer can keep ice for nearly 62 hours. Note: The zipper of the lid is not waterproof.

From the right perspective, this package can hold 24 12-ounce cans.

For dog walking, hiking and picnics in Taylor Canyon, Colorado, we filled the Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack ($60) with carbonated water, cheese, sausage, and vegetables. This bag has many refreshing pockets-including a side pocket for a 20-ounce water bottle and a large mesh front pocket. There is also a spacious zippered side pocket and another internal mesh hammock.

Other highlights are the light weight of this bag, and because of its width and rigidity, it is easy to access the cargo. The trade-off: when empty, this cooler occupies the same amount of space in your back seat instead of collapsing. Compared with other options, hiking is also less comfortable, so it is a better choice for shorter distances.

We like the soft mesh back panel. Moreover, the insulation performance exceeds the brand's claim, and it can keep the ice layer for 2 days in our test. However, the boxy and rigid docking of our ergonomics, so please make sure you don't mind the sturdy packaging. Fair warning: zippers are not waterproof.

From the right perspective, this package can hold 30 12-ounce cans.

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The Igloo Outdoor Pro Snapdown backpack ($80) keeps our sparkling water, vegetables, luncheon meat, and condiments cool during our rafting trip through Taylor Reservoir, Colorado. Overall, our team appreciated the comfortable and sweat-absorbent mesh back panel, sturdy overhead handles and two reusable water bottle side pockets.

The appearance is as tough as a white water raft and is easy to wipe. We like the thick zip for quick one-handed use and the wide top hatch for simplified access.

The internal MaxCold heat insulation effect is very good. According to our test, the ice can be kept for more than 2 days. However, the design is to stop by for dripping condensation, which can make people uncomfortable.

From this perspective, this package can hold 42 12-ounce cans.

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Choose a cooler backpack based on the storage capacity and the type of back support you need. The larger the group, the more cargo space you need.

Extensive storage capacity exists between backpack coolers. We focused on the compact 14-liter Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler backpack, and the larger option of the 64L OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler. Most refrigerated bags have a capacity of 20 to 29 liters.

To give you an idea, we found that the 29-liter Igloo Pursuit provides enough space for a single-day fishing trip for two people. The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack can provide enough nutrition for a four-person trekking group.

The external dimensions of each bag will give you a clear idea of ​​the available storage space. However, the internal dimensions of each bag will be smaller, depending on the type and stiffness of the insulating material.

Some of our favorite backpack coolers have separate internal compartments or external pockets for dry storage, some of which are non-insulated. For example, you can load a raincoat in the non-cooling part of the Carhartt Cooler Backpack, or load a book in the side pocket of Icemule Boss.

In other words, many backpack coolers do not have any external pockets at all. Some people prefer this streamlined, simple method. Others need at least a mesh side pocket to hold water bottles and pockets to store mobile phones and keys.

Compared with hard coolers, backpack coolers are generally more compact, made of softer, lighter materials, and therefore lighter in weight. They usually have sturdy shoulder straps and easy-to-grip handles, so the weight feels relatively easy to transport. When the capacity, durability, and insulation capacity increase, the weight of the backpack will increase.

Our favorite ultra-thin backpack coolers weigh 454 to 680 grams (1-1.5 lbs): Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler. The weight of the cold storage bag can reach 3,402 grams or 7.5 lbs.

On the more powerful side, our favorites include the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler and Icemule Boss, which weigh between 3,039 and 3,402 grams (6.7-7.5 lbs).

The materials of the backpack include the exterior, insulating materials, lining, shoulder straps and pads, back panels, zippers, buckles and attachment points. The quality of the material affects the water resistance, durability, insulation value, and whether the fabric will produce condensation. The material also determines comfort, breathability or support.

High-quality materials are more expensive, but these products usually last longer and can withstand outdoor factors. So far, Icemule Boss ($350) is made of Polar Layer XT insulation, a proprietary closed-cell foam 3 cm thick with an air valve for enhanced insulation.

The sturdy exterior is waterproof 1,000 denier tarpaulin, a tough material used for crash pads. The Arctic Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35) On the other hand, there are two layers of high-density super foam, plus a lightweight heat-reflective material. The material is not so strong.

The important specifications to pay attention to are whether the waterproof cover zipper, welding seam, and external fabric will produce condensation. These are not non-negotiable, but we don’t like being caught off guard by accidental leaks or puddles.

The cost of the backpack cooler we highlighted is as low as $35 and as high as $350. This is a big gap.

The most expensive cooler (US$300-350) is made of durable, puncture-resistant, waterproof and water-resistant materials, and you can trust it during your whitewater rafting trip. Icemule Boss uses MuleSkin 1,000 denier fabric. OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler adopts TPU coated nylon shell. YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Cooler is made of high-density fabric.

These top-of-the-line coolers have the longest ice retention time, greater capacity, and will not leak through the top closure. The most expensive coolers tend to be stronger and more supportive. Nevertheless, the cost does not necessarily reflect the overall comfort of the backpack, which will be affected by the back panel and shoulder straps.

The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack, which has been reduced in size by $200, has a waterproof zipper, durability and excellent ice retention.

Packed coolers of $100 or less are usually more compact and cannot hold ice or compromise design functionality. For example, the lid of REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) does not have a waterproof zipper.

The fabric of Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35) will produce condensation. And Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack is not ergonomic, so it is not our first choice for long hikes.

In short, backpack coolers are usually not as supportive, ergonomic and comfortable as ordinary day backpacks or backpacks. But we find some are more comfortable and we prefer to use them during daytime hiking, such as Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack (200 USD), Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler (35 USD) and Icemule Boss (350 USD), Just to name a few.

The backpack cooler has a certain range of sturdiness, and the strongest backpack has more heat insulation, thereby increasing the amount of ice retained. On the other hand, softer packaging can feel more malleable and comfortable to wear. In addition, some designs have a rigid backplane, while other designs have padded meshes.

The rigid design has a stable foundation. However, some do not have a padded waist belt and press into the tester's sacroiliac joints, causing discomfort during the long journey.

Shoulder straps also affect overall comfort. Straps that are wider, stiffer, or placed wider can limit the range of motion or feel uncomfortable. REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler is one of the most ergonomic shoulder strap sets, which allows us to perform a full range of sports.

The hip and chest strap increase the stability of the load, so it does not swing. The waistband provides comfort and redistributes the weight of the shoulders evenly.

Our testers have found that with a narrower and longer backpack cooler, the contents are inevitably difficult to reach. In contrast, a wider and shorter cooler with the same volume is easier to enter-but it is not compatible with the human torso. The solution is truly strategic to your packaging method.

Read how do we properly pack backpack coolers? Learn more in the FAQ below.

In our controlled ice retention test, the minimum record time of the Carhartt Cooler Backpack ($65) was close to 25 hours, and it has a large dry cargo space.

Most cold storage bags can store ice cubes for 2.5 to 3 days. These include Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35), Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler ($75) and Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200).

REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) can keep ice cubes for more than 3 days. The most expensive cooler in our guide ($300-350) can keep ice cubes for 4 to 5.5 days. Generally speaking, there is a correlation between higher price tags and stronger ice retention, but this is not always the case.

Our ice retention test is done by controlling variables. Each cooler backpack is placed indoors, in the shade, at a stable 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with the same proportions and types of ice. When you use the cooler outdoors, many factors affect the amount of ice retained by the backpack, including how often the cooler is turned on, direct sunlight, and ambient temperature.

For various conditions, the backpack cooler in this guide provides enough cooling capacity to meet various entertainment needs.

Other features of the backpack include hard grip points, daisy chain, webbing and elastic cord for carrying extra equipment. Some packages also include reflective signs or corkscrews.

Our team has been developing a backpack cooler guide for many years and has objectively tested dozens of coolers in the field, from white water raft trips to fly fishing adventures. In this guide, we studied the most popular, acclaimed, and best-selling backpack coolers that have multiple capacities, ice retention capabilities, and a wide price range.

Our staff tested these backpacks under countless conditions, from hiking in the sunny alpine mountains of Colorado to boardwalk boating in Wisconsin and camping in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming.

We also conducted a controlled internal ice retention test to verify the brand claim. In the experiment, we filled each cooler with 70% fresh frozen ice cubes, and then placed them in a cool and dry indoor space at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

We regularly check and record information about melting rate, leakage and condensation. Each reported time is based on the time it takes for 100% of the ice to be converted to water.

There are many backpack coolers now. According to our tests, the products listed in our guide are excellent choices. Each design prioritizes its unique functions. For example, some are completely streamlined zero pockets, while others are equipped with dry goods points.

The best backpack cooler is suitable for your intended use and needs, including travel length, quantity of goods and price.

Some coolers retain ice better than others, which is reflected in the price tag. In our side-by-side ice retention test, the two backpack coolers with the longest ice retention are OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler and Icemule Boss. Each of them kept ice in a cool indoor environment at 65 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5.5 days.

In daily adventures, the melting speed will fluctuate slightly according to the frequency of opening the cooler, opening time, ambient temperature and direct sunlight. A series of other variables also affect the amount of ice retained, including the type and amount of ice, the extra space in the compartment (which reduces efficiency), and whether the cooler is pre-cooled.

For most backpack coolers, dry ice will burn internal materials. Instead, you should use fresh frozen ice cubes, ice cubes, or reusable ice packs.

In order to obtain the longest lasting ice retention and cooling capacity, the goal is to use a ratio of 2 to 1 ice to content. You can quickly pre-cool the cooler with a bag of ice a few hours before loading, especially when the cooler is stored in a hot place. Or, place the cooler in a cool room the night before use to lower the temperature.

The type of ice is different. Block ice and fresh cube ice in a freezer are denser than crushed or crushed ice in an ice maker. If you are very strategic, you can use a mixture of ice cubes (which melts slower) and ice cubes (which makes the container cooler).

As the ice melts, it is best to keep the ice water, which helps other ice to stay cool. Limit your access to the cooler because opening it will release cold air. When you stop or rest, put your backpack in a cool place or cover it with a towel or jacket to reduce direct sunlight.

Fill the cooler 2/3 (about 66%) with frozen ice cubes or a mixture of reusable ice packs and ice cubes. Pack the remaining food and beverages. These foods and beverages should be pre-frozen or refrigerated.

More specifically, these contents are layered. Place the frozen block and contents at the bottom, and then sprinkle a layer of ice cubes. Next, add pre-frozen food and beverages. At the very top, add more ice cubes.

Fill any extra space with the contents, as the air will accelerate the melting of the ice. If needed, you can also put crumpled paper or small towels inside.

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