We thought hard coolers were the best invention for camping and hiking trips. It keeps the temperature of cold beverages and frozen food – cool!
But admit it. It’s not comfortable carrying around such bulky baggage, especially on longer hikes.
That’s why backpack coolers are here to the rescue.
It does the job excellently, and you can literally bring your favorite refreshments on your back. Take a look at our best picks!
Top 10 Backpack Coolers
There are many cooler packs to choose from in the market, with differences ranging from sizes, colors, designs, and storage space.
The question is, which one should you get? This list will help you choose the best backpack coolers for you!
1. YETI Hopper Soft Sided Backpack Cooler – Best Overall
You don’t have to compromise anything with the YETI cooler pack. The ice retention performance is comparable to a hard cooler but is 100% portable.
And not to mention, the backpack designs are stunning!
About This Backpack Cooler
- The carrying capacity is up to 18 cans of your favorite beverage.
- Alternatively, it can hold 26 pounds of ice or ice packs.
- It has magshield access for magnetic closure to prevent leaks.
- The opening sturdily opens for your convenience but quickly closes with a push.
- It has closed-cell foam insulation for effective ice retention.
- The exterior is a dry-hide shell resistant to punctures and UV rays.
- It has a hitchpoint grid (attachment point) for accessories (Molle bottle opener, Molle Zinger, etc.).
Although it’s in the expensive range, the YETI Hopper backpack cooler is a worthy investment if you frequently go on outdoor adventures.
We love the large cooler compartment with closed cell foam that can store many types of food and drinks, perfect for big groups and families.
The only downside is the bulkiness – but hey, it’s tolerable.
There are no backpack coolers that can retain ice 100% of the time. Any cooler has a melting point if exposed to intense heat. But the YETI Hopper can keep food and drinks cold longer.
Lastly, we appreciate the sturdy exterior. You can put this backpack down even on rough terrains and not worry about scratches.
- Minimal hip and sternum straps but highly durable. It makes carrying the load a lot easier.
- Long ice retention–drinks and ice packs won’t quickly melt (works best with reusable ice packs).
- Built to last and suitable for long-term use.
- Sturdy base and can keep containers or wine bottles upright!
- The resistant exterior is one less worry—no need to consider scratches.
- More expensive than other backpack coolers (~$325) and will cost more with accessories.
- It can be bulky for smaller and petite people.
- No exterior pockets (you’ll have to purchase the SideKick)
2. ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler – Best Value
Here’s another backpack cooler that’s pricey but worthy. The ICEMULE backpack has advanced features that make the outdoors easier, safer, and much more fun.
About This Backpack Cooler
- Features worth paying for: MuleSkin fabric, IM air valve, welded seams, padded straps
- 24 hours (or even more) ice retention
- It can hold up to 24 cans of drinks (water bottles, beer cans, etc.) or 30 liters of load.
- Hands-free and portable with its padded straps, cushioned hip belt, and sternum strap.
- Extra storage space and three (3) more zipper pockets.
- Waterproof and buoyant.
The quality of this heavy-duty backpack cooler is a given. The premium insulation, sturdy straps, and ample storage undeniably give justice to the high price tag.
We’re also amazed by the IM AirValve that allows it to collect air and become buoyant. It’s a handy pack for those who spend much time by the water.
The only con for us is the bulkiness of this cooler pack. It’s closer to a hard cooler with straps and additional pockets than a soft-cooler pack.
People not used to lugging around such hefty weight may find it challenging to move with this cooler pack on their backs.
- Great for water activities (beach, pool, fishing, etc.)
- Holds food and drinks for large groups!
- Easy to access and use with its roll-top closure
- You can bring more gear with you since the cooler is hands-free
- More insulation than other coolers
- Big and bulky; smaller people may find it challenging to carry
- It can be heavy with all of the load inside
3. Coleman 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler – Best Budget Pick
If we’re talking about light-weight and affordable, the Coleman 28 is a budget backpack cooler that does the job well but doesn’t break the bank.
About This Backpack Cooler
- It has a large main compartment with heat-welded seams that prevent leaks.
- It holds up to 28 cans!
- Reasonably sized backpack (12.2 x 6.3 x 19.29 inches)
- Has adjustable padded straps
- It has a front pocket for extra storage space
It looks exactly like a standard backpack, but it’s a cooler compartment that stores all the good stuff!
Not everyone needs a heavy-duty pack that’s expensive and luxurious. In fact, those who travel solo or go on day hikes need a backpack cooler that’s easy to bring.
It may not have the most extended insulation period, but considering the price points and size differences, that’s an understandable drawback.
- Easy to carry but can hold a decent load
- Has mesh side pockets for additional storage
- Not bulky and hassle to carry around
- Very affordable
- Not for large groups
- Insulation time isn’t as long as other backpack coolers (particularly the expensive ones)
4. Coleman SPORTFLEX Soft Cooler
But if you need a bigger pack, Coleman also has excellent soft coolers. It’s still considered a budget backpack cooler at $64 – which is a reasonable price!
About This Backpack Cooler
- Complete package: it has 4-way stretch mesh pockets, expandable active stretch side pockets, cooler bag, soft-sided cooler, insulated lunch bag, and camping cooler
- The straps are padded and adjustable.
- The bottom base is compression-molded, that’s durable and easy to clean.
- Has a bungee cord for storage adjustment.
- Can keep food and drinks cold for up to 34 hours!
- It has an antimicrobial liner to prevent leaks, bacteria, and odor build-up.
- It can hold 30 cans of drinks.
- The top zipper(s) have robust pulls.
This soft cooler pack is a wonderful option for those who enjoy outdoor activities sometimes but can’t justify buying a $300 pack.
The mesh back panel makes it comfortable to carry. But of course, it becomes heavy as you add in more load.
Overall, you wouldn’t expect much from its ice retention, considering that it’s more affordable than other cooler packs at $64. But the insulation is excellent!
- Very versatile cooler backpack with premium insulation
- Flexible dry storage and exterior mesh pockets to store other gear and items like keys, wallets, etc
- It feels light-weight to carry despite holding a heavy load
- The 34-hour ice retention makes it perfect for longer picnics, road trips, or other activities
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Affordable; especially for its quality and size!
- It can be more challenging to carry for long day hikes. The chest strap feels uncomfortable for some
- Leakage cases and complaints are common
5. Igloo Reactor Portable 24-Can Soft-Sided Backpack
Are you looking for something waterproof? This Igloo Reactor pack can endure and enjoy all the water fun with you!
About This Backpack Cooler
- The exterior is durable, waterproof, and abrasion-resistant.
- The insulation and ice retention can store goods and drinks for up to 2 days.
- It has a sturdy base so your water bottle and other items can stand upright.
- It has a leakproof and waterproof zipper(s).
- It can hold up to 24 cans of drinks and water bottle(s).
Igloo is an OG brand regarding coolers – and their pack selections don’t disappoint.
The Igloo Reactor backpack has undeniably good quality and durability from its exterior skin, back panel, straps, etc.
We just wish there were more straps (i.e., hip or chest strap) to secure the pack better for more comfortable movements. We also think outside pockets would help store other valuables.
But those are only minor points. You can nonetheless enjoy this pack for its ice retention and storage capacities!
- A trusted brand for coolers (and now backpacks!)
- Easy to bring and clean
- Has the best waterproof zipper(s) among other packs – sealed and secured
- Not as expensive as other pack options
- Complaints of internal and seam leakages
- A lack of straps can make it harder to carry (but not a big deal for most)
- Lacks exterior pockets for additional storage space (especially for non-food and drinks)
6. Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack
This 2-in-1 pack from Carhartt is what we’d like to call a backpack, but better. It looks regular, but it’s a cooler and lunch bag in one. We love the versatility.
About This Backpack Cooler
- It has two (2) cooler compartments: an insulated base and the main compartment.
- It has outside pockets for storing extra gear, equipment, or water bottle(s).
- The exterior is high-quality polyester that’s durable and water-repellant.
- It holds up to 12 cans and an ice pack to keep the cooler cold for longer.
- The ice retention and insulation period last for up to 24 hours.
You don’t buy this bag expecting it to carry months’ worth of food and drink supplies. It’s a basic pack that stores your water bottle, lunch, and other drinks for a long day.
And that’s what we love about it. You can bring it anywhere casually and practically. It’s not heavy or bulky, but the ice retention is impressive.
If there’s anything we’d like to improve, it’s the zippers. It only has one per compartment, making closing difficult when the bag is more packed.
But as we said, this backpack cooler is best for short trips and lighter loads.
- The 2-in-1 pack is helpful for festivals, camping, beach trips, etc. Less baggage, more fun!
- It’s an easy-to-bring backpack with an accessible size (avoid restrictions and questioning upon entrance!)
- Its versatility makes it perfect for everyday use – not just adventures
- It is reasonably priced for its quality and durability
- Not the biggest bag for large groups or longer trips
- The thick straps can be uncomfortable, especially if the load is heavy
- Only one top zipper – it can be harder to close if full
7. REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler
The life of the party! This REI Co-op pack can store all your essentials, from the necessities to the “just for fun” ones.
But here’s the best part: it’s made with recycled and environmentally friendly materials.
About This Backpack Cooler
- The contoured hip belt and padded shoulder straps are adjustable. It also includes a chest strap to secure the goods on your back.
- Includes dry storage such as external gear pockets and a top pocket for more storage.
- It has front straps with attachment points for hanging bulky gear.
- Waist and hips: 28–46 in. in circumference
- Torsos: 17–19 in. in length
- Uses recycled and bluesign®-approved materials.
- It can hold ice blocks for up to 10 lbs. and 20 cans of drinks.
- Coolness and ice retention for 40 hours.
We have mixed emotions about this pack. First, we love it because it’s one of the few backpack coolers that feel genuinely comfortable.
We find other packs tend to dig onto your shoulders, and it’s painful to bring during uphill trails or hikes. This one doesn’t!
But a downside is that it doesn’t seem to live up to its 40-hour ice retention claim. Sure, it keeps food and drinks cold for a time, but there are many cases of leakage as the ice melts.
To be fair, most backpack coolers only retain ice for a short period. It’s not a fridge, after all. But this REI pack would’ve been perfect if it could retain ice longer without leaks!
- Purchasing backpack coolers like this are also supporting green initiatives
- It stores a lot of items
- The straps ensure security, which is fantastic for hiking trips
- It doesn’t weigh you down even on elevated or uphill terrains
- Reports of leaks
- Not suitable for long trips (days!)
8. Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Coolers
Ever tried the Hydro Flask tumblers? If so, you now have an idea of how their coolers perform. And let’s admit it, the pack design is minimalist but cute.
About This Backpack Cooler
- It keeps food and drinks cold for up to 36 hours.
- It has watertight zippers and welded seams to avoid leakage.
- The outer is a 600D polyester shell that’s lightweight but highly durable.
- This pack has a padded mesh back panel and straps.
- It has a compression-molded base to stand upright.
- BPA and toxin-free.
Hydro Flask is undeniably a known brand among coolers – particularly water bottle tumblers. You can expect similar quality for their backpack coolers.
We have to say, though, that their ice retention isn’t that great. But to be fair, it still keeps things cold. That’s where the leak prevention features came in, which they did excellently.
Most complaints are about the zippers. It’s so sturdy and stiff that it’s hard to control, and Hydro Flask suggests lubricant wipes to soften the pull – which you should buy separately.
- Comfortable and secure to carry hands-free
- It is made with safe materials for your peace of mind
- Expensive, but not ridiculously priced, for a competitive backpack
- Perfect for short-term trips
- The zipper is hard to control
- The ice retention is not for long-haul trips
9. Arctic Zone® Eco Picnic Backpack Cooler
Here’s another pack that promotes sustainability! The Arctic Zone backpack is 100% sourced from recyclable materials, a big plus in our books besides performance.
About This Backpack Cooler
- Made from recycled plastic bottles.
- Wide mouth opening for easy loading and unloading.
- The inner lining has high-density thermal insulation and Therma-Flect® radiant barrier interior.
- It has a large front compartment that stores four melamine plates, four plastic wine glasses, four sets of cutlery, and four cloth serviettes.
- It has two (2) exterior pockets.
- Has padded straps for comfortable carrying.
- Ultra Safe® leak-proof lining with Microban®
If you’re looking for a picnic buddy, this backpack cooler does the job well. We appreciate the separate compartment for plates and utensils, so it doesn’t merge with the food and drinks!
The ice retention isn’t the best, and Arctic Zone has already warned that leaks are possible through the zippers.
It shows that it’s not meant for long trips, and that’s okay. There’s a “best backpack” for every use, and this one’s reserved for quick picnics and activities.
- The lining prevents bacteria and makes the backpack easier to clean and maintain
- It promotes sustainability
- The quality ensures long-term use
- It stores cutlery and plates besides food
- Perfect for picnics!
- The brand already warns about possible leaks
- It can carry up to 24 cans but is not upright
10. TOURIT Insulated Cooler Backpack
Lastly, we have a backpack cooler that doesn’t carry fancy brands or price tags but delivers quality performance.
About This Backpack Cooler
- It’s made with water-repellent oxford, high-density foam, and leak-proof liner materials.
- It’s lightweight but highly durable.
- The insulation can keep food and drinks warm or cool for up to 16 hours.
- The thick inners ensure that it’s leak resistant.
- There is a lot of storage: 1 bottom insulated cooler compartment for lunch, 1 top storage room for dry items, one front zipper pocket for personal valuables, and two side pockets for water bottles.
There are many types of adventurers.
Some require “professional” backpack coolers for more intense and long-term activities. While some just want a bag to keep food and drinks fresh.
The TOURIT is perfect for the latter. It won’t perform like the expensive bags, especially for its price. But don’t be mistaken; this backpack cooler exceeds expectations!
It’s a sturdy and durable cooler with plenty of storage. If you love storage spaces like us, you’ll appreciate what this backpack can offer.
- It’s very affordable, with prices far from the expensive backpack coolers
- The deckers and ample storage spaces are helpful
- It has a bottle opener for beers!
- Easy to carry
- Straightforward and basic backpack cooler, but highly effective
- Not built to last
- For short and quick trips only
Choosing the Best Backpack Cooler: Factors to Consider
It can get overwhelming to have so many backpack coolers to choose from. There are all kinds of shapes, sizes, brands, and designs!
Here are some considerations to help you choose the best one:
#1 Storage and Size
What’s the point of having a backpack cooler if it doesn’t fit your essentials?
There’s nothing worse than struggling to stuff items and having no space by the end of the trip.
Choose coolers with ample storage and size that fits your necessities.
It’s also one thing to fit the items simply, but another to still feel comfortable while carrying a heavier load.
#2 Ease of Use
No matter how pretty the design is, it defeats all purpose if it’s challenging to use. Go for easy-to-use coolers with features like a roll top closure, smooth and silent zippers, etc.
The best backpack also has padded straps and back panel features. It’s crucial not to have straps digging onto your shoulders, especially if you hike.
We’d go for backpack coolers that may not look as cute but make the entire carrying experience comfortable and easy!
We also believe that there are many backpack coolers with genuinely good quality.
But all that is useless if it’s not suitable for the type of activity you’re engaged in.
For instance, an ICEMULE backpack cooler checks all the boxes in terms of storage and size. But if you’re a solo traveler going for a hike, it’s too bulky and difficult to carry.
You may want to use the portable but versatile Carhartt 2-in-1 Backpack for this purpose.
See what we mean? Suitability is crucial when choosing coolers!
#4 Additional Features and Accessories
It also helps to have coolers with added features besides being a backpack. We appreciate every additional pocket, compartment, attachment hook, etc.
While it’s true that its primary usage is to be a backpack, the extras can elevate the experience.
For example, having a pocket to store your phone and valuables is more convenient than bringing an additional bag for these particular items.
Of course, the price is one of the most vital considerations. These backpack coolers have varying ranges – from $30 to $350. The differences are drastic.
Some people are willing to splurge on the best backpack coolers regardless of the price. Again, this brings us back to the “suitability” factor:
- If you frequently go outdoors and need a built-to-last backpack cooler, investing in a high-end one is smarter.
- However, for short trips or occasional picnics, you can purchase high-quality coolers that only cost a fraction.
There’s no “better” or “worse” in terms of pricing.
Although expensive ones probably offer longevity and better warranties, it doesn’t mean that affordable ones are poorly made.
#6 Overall Effectiveness, Quality, and Durability
And lastly (but most importantly), is the backpack doing its job?
How’s the ice retention? Does it melt ice blocks?
Backpack coolers retain ice and keep food and drink cold. This is the primary reason why you purchased the cooler backpack in the first place.
Assess the following:
- Is it able to retain ice for an extended period?
- If the ice melts, does it leak?
- Does it keep food and beverages cold?
- Is it durable and built to last long?
How Can You Make a Backpack Cooler Stay Cold Longer?
There are ways to improve a backpack cooler’s insulation and ice retention period. Here are some tips:
1. Pre-Chill Your Backpack Cooler With Ice
If we pre-heat ovens, we also pre-chill coolers. Place ice in a separate bag and let it sit inside your cooler for as long as possible before storing the goods.
You often whip out the bag from hot cabinets or storage, and the heat can transfer to the linings.
But be careful! Some backpacks don’t allow you to place the ice directly into the bag because the ice can puncture the linings. Put them in bags you don’t use or ice packs.
2. Choose the Right Type of Ice
Ice retention isn’t just reliant on the cooler but also on its original state. You’ve probably done ice experiments in science classes before.
While ice looks the same to us, its various types make a difference in ice retention. These are the ones that can melt slower:
- Block ice from freezers
- Clear ice
- Full cubes
- Ice with less surface area (so heat won’t spread fast)
3. Place Ice or Cold Packs
For backpack coolers that don’t allow the direct placing of ice, we suggest including an ice pack or container separately.
Putting ice or cold packs flat at the bottom can make the cooler cold and improve ice retention. Some brands sell these separately.
But if you don’t want to purchase additionally, you can use DIY durable bags or containers and place them inside with the goods.
Just ensure that the ice won’t puncture the bags and affect the delicate linings of your soft coolers.
4. Retain the Ice Water
Ice will melt even in the best backpack coolers – it’s just science.
Cut your coolers some slack since they’re not refrigerators, after all!
But melted ice doesn’t mean that the bag loses its coolness. Your goods will still be well-insulated and kept cold.
Ice water is a helpful factor in keeping the cold temperature. Keeping it inside is normal; that’s why you need a leak-proof bag so the liquids (which are standard) won’t pour out.
5. Keep Out of Direct Sunlight
Backpack coolers are fantastic, but they’re still susceptible to heat.
Keep it away from direct sunlight as much as possible, and avoid storing them in hot areas.
We understand that it’s the bag’s job to retain ice and keep drinks cool, but a little help from you won’t hurt!
How Do You Properly Pack a Backpack Cooler?
The answer here is layering and stacking – like Tetris! The inside should be jam-packed with no pockets of space since that speeds up the melting.
First Layer: Ice or Cold Packs
Fill 50% to 60% of the bottom part with your ice or cold blocks. Read the instructions carefully and avoid putting ice directly into the bag.
Don’t leave spaces in these parts to prevent them from melting quickly.
Second Layer: Stack the Food and Drinks Properly
Layer your goodies like Tetris. No holes, no spaces. Stack them up nicely.
Additionally, ensure that all food and drinks are cold or pre-chilled. Don’t make the mistake of throwing something warm into the mix.
Because the bag is enclosed with an insulated lining, the heat will spread inside and melt the ice – defeating the purpose.
Third Layer: More Ice
After stacking up the food, finish off your Tetris game with another layer of ice. This is an additional precaution since the topmost part is often exposed to sunlight.
You can fill up the gaps by placing small bags of ice or even with crumpled paper and cardboard.
How Should You Clean and Store a Backpack Cooler?
Gentle cleaning is the answer. Don’t clean with harsh chemicals or abrasive sponges! Often, simple rinsing and wiping are enough to remove dirt and debris.
Let it air dry, and don’t throw it in the dryer or washer. Disinfectant wipes will do the trick if there are more stubborn stains or dirt.
TAKE NOTE: Different manufacturers will have varying instructions on maintaining your cooler backpacks. We suggest reading the manuals and following their directions.
For storage, simply ensure it’s in a safe place that won’t be punctured or destroyed. Before using, let it cool down by placing ice inside or storing it in an air-conditioned room.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still got questions? Maybe this section has some of the answers you’re looking for:
Can You Put Ice in a Backpack Cooler?
Some allow you to put ice directly. However, soft coolers are generally more delicate, and ice tends to puncture the linings. It’s more advisable to use ice bags and packs instead.
Can You Put Dry Ice in a Backpack Cooler?
No. Avoid it. Dry ice contains chemicals that are too harsh for the delicate linings of your backpack cooler. It will possibly burn the insides, too. It’s safer to choose ice cubes or blocks.
Which Backpack Cooler Holds Ice the Longest?
We’ll have to give it to the ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler. Although other brands promise longer claims, the ICEMULE is the one that lived up to its claims.
But we agree, it’s expensive. For affordable options, we can vouch for the Coleman 28 Can Backpack. We wish it were bigger, though.
Are Backpack Coolers Good for the Beach?
Yes! Smaller backpacks with waterproof exteriors prove to be the best beach buddies. The perfect example would be the Carhartt 2-in-1 Cooler Backpack.
How Many Drinks Can Fit in a Backpack Cooler?
It depends on the size of your chosen bag. On average, you can comfortably fit 18 to 24 cans in one bag.
Summary of Top Picks
Don’t get us wrong; we love all the backpacks on this list – that’s why we chose them!
But we also have our top three picks for your reference:
Best Overall: YETI Hopper Soft-Sided Backpack Cooler
The YETI is our best backpack overall because of its quality. It’s a built-to-last backpack cooler that guarantees to give your money’s worth.
We also love the exterior of this bag. It can endure rough (but fun) adventures and protect your items from UV rays.
Best Value: ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler
The ICEMULE Boss is pricey, but it’s an investment. It stands out from other backpacks on the list because of its size and storage.
It’s large enough to fit everyone’s essentials. As we said, it’s closer to a hard cooler that gained some straps.
Best Budget Pick: Coleman 28 Can Backpack
But you’ll be surprised that one of the best backpacks on this list costs a fraction of those above. Despite being affordable, this Coleman backpack easily competes with all of them.
Solo travelers or those who love to travel light will find themselves grabbing this pack every trip!
Elevate your next adventure not only by bringing your favorite goodies with you but also by keeping them fresh as you travel and move around.
Always remember that the best backpack for you is the one that suits your circumstances. It should make things easier, more convenient, and more comfortable.
Use this list to find the best option, and you’re all set for your trip. Good luck!