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The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024

Whether you’re camping, picnicking at a park, hiking, or whitewater rafting, we’ve narrowed down the best backpack coolers for outdoor adventures.

Backpack coolers are a great accessory for steep hikes to mountain lakes; (photo; Eric Phillips)
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Backpack coolers keep getting cooler. If you’ve never considered one, carrying a backpack cooler is a convenient choice for hands-free, single-person transport of tasty refreshments. That could mean tailgating after a run club meetup, heading to a local softball game with your leashed dog, or riding a cruiser to a park BBQ.

These packs are useful when you have your hands full with kiddos or other gear. Or they can help commuters by bike, bus, or train swoop their groceries for the week.

Some backpack coolers are also great for day hikes and picnics at faraway alpine lakes. Others can be strapped down to a motorcycle, SUP, or raft for multiday and whitewater adventures.

A swell of brands is developing these super-transportable, insulated packs with high-end construction, style, and a range of distinct features. With surprising complexity, backpack coolers offer a range of capacity, ice retention, and special characteristics to help make your outdoor experience more comfortable and better fueled.

For more information about backpack coolers and how we tested them, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Looking for a quick overview of each model’s price and features? Check out our useful comparison chart. Otherwise, scroll through to see all of our recommended buys.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Backpack Coolers guide on November 1, 2023, to include six heavily tested and newly launched products plus educational sections to support readers and imagery from the field.

The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024

Best Overall Backpack Cooler



  • Size 17" x 11" x 24"
  • Capacity 30 L
  • Weight 7.5 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~5.5 days
Product Badge The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Winning cooler backpack for ice retention
  • Three waterproof, insulated exterior cargo pockets
  • Great weight distribution
  • Secure roll-top design keeps water in and out
  • It floats!


  • The tall, narrow cooler column makes nutriments harder to access
  • Waterproof zippers on pockets are hard to open and close
  • Pricier
Best Budget Backpack Cooler

Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler


  • Size 11.81" x 10.24" x 19.75"
  • Capacity 32 L
  • Weight 4.96 lbs.
  • Ice retention test 3.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Great value
  • Ample pockets and storage
  • Titan Ice Wall ice packs included


  • Lacks durability
  • Lacks adjustment for longer hikes
Runner-Up Best Backpack Cooler

RTIC 30 Can Backpack Cooler


  • Size 15” x 10” x 20.25”
  • Capacity 25 L
  • Weight 6 lbs.
  • Ice retention test 3.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Very durable design
  • Waterproof zipper closure
  • Impressive ice retention


  • Heavy
  • Uncomfortable straps and waist belt
  • No outside pockets
Most Stash Pockets

Igloo Pursuit Backpack


  • Size 12.6" x 7.5" x 18.9"
  • Capacity 29 L
  • Weight 2 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Loaded with pockets
  • Clean aesthetic
  • Soft exterior material


  • Doesn’t retain ice super well in direct sunlight
  • Chest strap isn’t the most compatible for bigger chests or busts
  • Complexity of the pockets confused some of our testers
Best Adaptable Backpack-to-Cooler Pack

REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler


  • Size 17" x 9" x 22"
  • Capacity 38 L
  • Weight 3.2 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Helpful cooler tips are listed inside the pack’s lid
  • Two-in-one design allows for non-cooler day pack conversion
  • Retains ice well


  • Pack does not easily stay upright when set down
  • Zipper to cooler compartment is not waterproof
  • Clips and zippers aren’t high end but get the job done
Best Waterproof Zipper

Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack


  • Size 13" x 7.8" x 17.7"
  • Capacity 20 L
  • Weight 3 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Major bonus of waterproof top zipper
  • Pull handles help with closing zipper
  • Excellent ice retention


  • The adjustable chest strap needs a lower setting
  • Excess shoulder straps could use an elastic attachment so they don’t dangle
Most Simple and Streamlined

Icemule Recycled Jaunt


  • Size 10”x9.5”x18”
  • Capacity 20 L
  • Weight 2 lbs.
  • Ice retention test 3 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Simple and sleek design
  • Sustainable design
  • Waterproof closure
  • Zippered front pocket for valuables
  • Impressive ice retention


  • Expensive
  • No back support
Best of the Rest

Yeti Hopper M12 Soft Backpack Cooler


  • Size 17" x 8" x 16"
  • Capacity 34L
  • Weight 4.5 lbs.
  • Ice retention test Not available
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Ice retention of YETI pack coolers is tried and true
  • Magnetic closure is very powerful
  • Very sleek aesthetic
  • Easy to clean


  • Magnet strip and narrow opening of cooler isn't the easiest for grab-n-go
  • Back panel isn't the most padded
  • No side mesh carries for water bottles

Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler


  • Size 13" x 9" x 19"
  • Capacity 28 L
  • Weight 2 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Comfortable to carry fully loaded
  • Stylish
  • Sturdy and stays upright when set down


  • Bottom easily stained by mud
  • It’d be nice to have a bottom strap to help unload ice
  • No storage pockets

Carhartt Cooler Backpack


  • Size 12.6" x 7.5" x 18.9"
  • Capacity 29 L
  • Weight 2 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Loaded with pockets
  • Clean aesthetic
  • Soft exterior material


  • Doesn’t retain ice super well in direct sunlight
  • Chest strap isn’t the most compatible for bigger chests or busts
  • Complexity of the pockets confused some of our testers

Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler


  • Size 15.7" x 10.6" x 5.5"
  • Capacity 20 L
  • Weight 1 lbs. 7 oz
  • Ice retention test 2 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Great top handle for easy carry
  • Easy-to-clean interior
  • Simple, sleek design


  • No waterproof zipper
  • Limited ice retention in direct sunlight
  • No outside zippered pockets.

Titan by Arctic Zone 24 Can Welded Backpack Cooler


  • Size 15.5" x 8.25" x 21.5"
  • Capacity 20L
  • Weight 3.37 lbs.
  • Ice retention test ~1.75 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2024


  • Two compartments for separation of food/drink and different kinds of ice
  • Comfortable back panel
  • Waterproof closures on both compartments


  • Expensive
  • Limited ice retention
  • Limited accessories and pockets
Backpacker coolers come in a range of volumes and styles; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Backpack Cooler Comparison Chart

Scroll right to view all of the columns: Price, Size, Capacity, Weight, Ice Retention Test.

Backpack CoolerPriceSize
(H x W x L)
CapacityWeightIce Retention Test
ICEMULE BOSS$37517″ x 11″ x 24″30 L7.5 lbs.~5.5 days
Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler$7011.81″ x 10.24″ x 19.75″32 L4.96 lbs.~3.5 days
RTIC 30 Can Backpack Cooler$18015” x 10” x 20.25”25 L6 lbs.~3.5 days
Igloo Pursuit Backpack$13012.6″ x 7.5″ x 18.9″29 L2.09 lbs.~2.5 days
Carhartt Cooler Backpack$9012.5″ x 8″ x 17.8″29 L1.5 lbs.~25 hours
Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler$7015.7″ x 10.6″ x 5.5″20 L1.4 lbs. ~2 days
Titan by Arctic Zone 24 Can Welded Backpack Cooler$16515.5″ x 8.25″ x 21.5″20L3.37 lbs.~1.75 days
REI Co-op Cool Trail
Pack Cooler
$10017″ x 9″ x 22″30.5 L3 lbs., 4 oz.~3 days
Hydro Flask Day Escape
Soft Cooler Pack
$20013″ x 7.8″ x 17.7″20 L3 lbs.~2.5 days
Icemule Recycled Jaunt$17010”x9.5”x18”20 L2 lbs.~3 days
Yeti Hopper M12 Soft Backpack Cooler$27517″ x 8″ x 16″34L4.5 lbs.N/A
Stoic Hybrid Backpack
$9913″ x 9″ x 19″28 L2 lbs., 13.8 oz.~2.5 days
Certain designs of backpack coolers are loaded with exterior pockets for carrying all the goods; (photo/Eric Phillips)

How We Tested Backpack Coolers

Our team has developed backpack cooler guides for several years, objectively testing dozens of coolers in the field from whitewater raft trips to fly fishing adventures. For this guide, we examined the most popular, highly acclaimed, and bestselling backpack coolers with diverse capacities, ice retention ability, and a wide price range.

Senior Editor Morgan Tilton led the creation of the backpack coolers guide with the help of a range of outdoor specialists testing backpack coolers in the field, from a professional fly fishing and whitewater raft guide to an adventure photographer and traveling ultra and trail runners.

Gear tester and writer Kylie Collins is an avid outdoorswoman who believes that high-quality gear makes outdoor adventures all the more fun. She has lived in the Elk Mountains of Colorado since 2010 and enjoys trail running, pack rafting, fly fishing, mountain biking, Nordic skiing, and alpine touring. Collins has been putting gear through the wringer for GearJunkie since 2019.

Our crew put these packs to the test in conditions from sunny high-alpine hikes in Colorado to pontoon boating in Wisconsin and camping in Wyoming’s Teton Range.

We also performed a controlled in-house ice retention test to verify brand claims. For the experiment, we filled each cooler 70% with fresh, frozen cubed ice and set them in a shaded, dry indoor space at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

We periodically checked, making notes regarding melt rate, leaks, and condensation. Each reported time is based on when 100% of the ice was converted to water.

A handful of backpack cooler designs focus on optimal cooling and ice retention; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Backpack Cooler

Storage Capacity

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

A wide range of storage capacity exists among backpack coolers. We’ve highlighted the Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler on the more compact end at 20 L, and the 30 L ICEMULE BOSS among the larger options. The majority of cooler packs range from 20 to 29 L.

To give you an idea, we found the 29 L Igloo Pursuit offered more than enough space for a two-person, single-day fishing trip. And the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack fits enough nutriments for a four-person hiking group.

The exterior dimensions of each pack will give you a solid picture of the available storage space. However, the interior dimensions of each pack will be a tad smaller, depending on the type and rigidity of the insulation.

Depending on the trip, a backpack cooler might be a good addition to a sturdier, stationary cooler. For long road trips with the camper trailer, you might opt for a variety of hard and soft coolers (include one you can carry on a hike) for each day’s adventure. If you’re posting up at a campsite for several days, need a cooler on wheels, or are serving a large picnic, check out our Best Coolers guide, too.

Our favorite backpack coolers have sternum straps that are adjustable so you can customize the height and tightness for the user; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Compartments and Pockets

A handful of our favorite backpack coolers have separate interior compartments or exterior pockets for dry storage, a portion of which are non-insulated. Some of our favorite backpack coolers had tons of interior and exterior stash pockets, while other favorites had few or none. While the pockets didn’t make or break a cooler for us, they changed the experience and were helpful in different applications.

For instance, you could pack a rain jacket in the non-cooler section of the Carhartt Cooler Backpack or a book in the side pocket of the ICEMULE BOSS. For water trips, non-waterproof and non-secure exterior pockets were not super helpful. But for solo trips, exterior pockets were a must.

The Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler is full of stash pockets. This pack makes it easy to only bring one bag for a short or solo trip, picnic, or day at the beach.

The Icemule Recycled Jaunt is one of our favorite sleek and streamlined coolers, and the exterior zipper pocket is essential for a cell phone and keys. The Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler has an interior divider pocket, which we appreciate for small bagged items and condiment packets.

That said, a lot of backpack coolers don’t have any exterior pockets at all. Some folks prefer that streamlined, simple approach. Others need at least one mesh side pocket for a water bottle and a pocket to stash a cellphone and keys.

Some pockets are designed to be insulated for ice while others are non-insulated and if you don’t put an extra ice pack in, they can be a nice spot to store a phone out of the sun; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Backpack Straps and Handles

Backpack coolers all have shoulder straps, some have sternum straps and waist belts, but all perform and carry differently. When looking at a backpack cooler, it’s important to think about how you’ll use the pack. Longer hikes might benefit from padded and adjustable straps, whereas strap considerations are less critical for days at the beach or river floats that entail shorter walks. That being said, backpack coolers don’t all come in a range of sizes like more technical backpacks typically do. Straps won’t fit all torso lengths and body shapes the same.

The RTIC 30 Can Backpack Cooler is one of the heaviest coolers we tested. The shoulder straps and waist belt are heavily padded to match the increased weight and heft of the pack, yet we found it challenging to find a comfortable fit. The Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler is much simpler with non-padded straps and no sternum strap or waistbelt, but the small size and lightweight don’t necessarily warrant padded straps for shorter days. The Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler falls in the middle of this range with lightly padded shoulder straps and an adjustable sternum strap, but no waist belt. The straps are comfortable when the cooler is loaded down for your hike to the lake or bike ride.

We appreciate grab handles on coolers that do not sport waterproof zippers. For instance, the Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler can be easily kept upright with the top carry handle, so melted ice does not spill out the top.

We appreciate water bottle holders on the sides of backpacker coolers and large mesh pockets that stretch for a wide variety of items; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Backpack Weight

Backpack coolers are generally more compact and made of softer, lighter materials than hard coolers, so they weigh less. They usually have sturdy shoulder straps plus handles that are easy to grab, so the weight feels relatively easy to transport. A pack’s weight is higher when the capacity, durability, and insulation capability increase.

On of our favorite lighter backpack coolers weighs 635 grams or 1.4 pounds: the Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler. Cooler bags can weigh as much as 3,402 grams or 7.5 pounds.

On the beefier side, our favorites include the ICEMULE BOSS, which is 3,402 grams (7.5 pounds).

Be mindful that the heavier the fare in your pack, the more the load will weigh overall. If you’ve stuffed a 30-liter pack with canned beverages, the end weight will be quite high compared to veggies and dipping sauce. Be sure to test out shorter hikes with a full load in your pack, and to pull on appropriate supportive footwear like hiking boots, when needed.

Hip belts are beneficial for larger volume cooler packs that will be heavier when loaded; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Hip Belts

Not all backpack coolers have an integrated hip belt and not all hip belts are created equal. But a padded, wide hip belt can help make a trip more comfortable and buoy up the cooler’s weight especially if the pack is full of heavy ice and cans.

The ICEMULE BOSS has thick hip pads and a wide strap, plus the belt is adjustable. The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler likewise has a padded, well-articulated hip belt that supports the pack weight. 

Many backpack coolers offer a sternum strap. Though most designs, like the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack, have no weight-bearing hip belt even though the carrying capacity is moderate to high. 

If you struggle with back, shoulder, or neck pain, consider a design with an integrated hip belt. 

Some backpacker coolers include stretchy bungee cords for strapping necessities like beach towels or jackets; (photo/Eric Phillips)


A pack’s materials include the exterior, insulation, interior liner, shoulder straps and pads, back panel, zippers, buckles, and attachment points. The quality of materials influences the waterproofness, durability, insulation value, and whether or not the face fabric produces condensation. The materials also determine comfort, breathability, or support.

Premium materials come at a higher price, but those products also typically last longer and withstand outdoor elements. To this point, the ICEMULE BOSS is made with Polar Layer XT Insulation, a proprietary closed-cell foam that’s 3 cm thick, with an air valve for insulation boosts.

The strong exterior is waterproof 1,000-denier tarpaulin, a tenacious material used for crash pads. Other coolers we’ve tested have been made with layers of high-density superfoam plus a lightweight heat-reflective material around the exterior. But that material isn’t as strong.

Important specs to pay attention to are a waterproof lid zipper, welded seams, and whether the exterior fabric produces condensation. These aren’t nonnegotiable, but we don’t like getting caught off guard by an unexpected spill or puddle.

Backpack coolers are a great tool for carrying supplies over short and moderate distances but typically do not offer enough back support for long distances; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Fit and Comfort

Simply put, backpack coolers are generally not as supportive, ergonomic, and comfortable as regular day packs or backpacking packs. But we found some are more comfortable that we’d enjoy doing day hikes with, like the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack and ICEMULE BOSS.

Backpack coolers have a range of firmness, and the firmest packs have more insulation, which increases ice retention. On the other hand, softer packs can feel more malleable and comfortable to wear. Also, some designs have a stiff back panel and others have padded mesh.

Rigid designs have a stable base. But some lack a padded hip belt and pressed into the sacroiliac joint of testers, causing discomfort on longer treks.

The shoulder straps also influence overall comfort. Wider, stiffer, or broadly placed straps can limit range of motion or feel unpleasant. One of the most ergonomic strap sets is on the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler, which allowed us to have a full range of motion.

Hip and chest straps add stability to the load, so it doesn’t swing around. Hip belts offer comfort and evenly redistribute the weight off the shoulders.

A handful of our favorite coolers don’t offer many pockets but are simple, comfortable, and perform well; (photo/Eric Phillips)


Our testers all found that with narrower, longer backpack coolers, the contents were inevitably harder to reach. In contrast, a wider, shorter cooler with the same volume offers easier access — but that’s not compatible with the human torso. The solution is to be really strategic with how you pack.

Some backpack coolers offer a separate compartment for ice to keep the melt-off separate; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Ice Retention

In our controlled ice retention test, the Carhartt Cooler Backpack kept ice for 25 hours, which has a large dry cargo space, while the ICEMULE BOSS held ice for 133 hours. That’s a large range, but the majority of our favorites preserved ice for a few days.

Most cooler packs preserved ice for 2.5 to 3 days. That includes the Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler and Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack.

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler held ice for more than 3 days. The most expensive coolers in our guide retained their ice for 4 to 5.5 days.

Generally, the higher the price tag, the better the ice retention. However, this is not always the case, as the Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler held ice for 80 hours at the lower price of $70.

Our ice retention test was completed with controlled variables. Each cooler backpack was stationed indoors, shaded, at a steady 65 degrees F, with the same ratio and type of ice. The coolers were monitored and the ice status was recorded until every bit melted. When you use a cooler outside, many factors influence a pack’s ice retention, including the frequency of opening the cooler, direct sunlight, and ambient temperature.

Some backpacker coolers have multiple zippered compartments for separating food items or carrying different dry goods; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Ice Retention Test Results

For a variety of conditions, the backpack coolers in this guide provide enough cooling power to serve a range of recreation needs.

Be sure to add enough ice cubes to your cooler for a solid ratio of food and beverages; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Extra Features

Additional features on packs include hard clip points, daisy chains, webbing straps, and bungee cords for carrying extra gear. Some packs also include reflective logos or a bottle opener.


Our highlighted backpack coolers range from as low as $35 to as high as $359. That’s a big gap with lots of factors at play.

Higher Cost Backpack Coolers

The priciest coolers, $300 and above, retain ice longer, are made from durable materials, and go above and beyond with features. These premium coolers are created with materials that are durable, puncture-proof, waterproof, or water-resistant, so they can be trusted on a whitewater rafting trip, for instance. The ICEMULE BOSS ($350) falls in this category and has MuleSkin 1,000-denier fabric. And the YETI Hopper M12 Backpack Soft Cooler is made with high-density fabric.

These top-tier coolers also have larger capacities and won’t leak through the top closure. The most expensive coolers tend to be more rigid and supportive. However, cost does not necessarily reflect a pack’s overall comfort, which is influenced by the back panel and shoulder straps.

Backpack coolers are absolutely dreamy for hot summer days when you pull out cold beverages and preserved nibbles; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Mid-Range Cost Backpack Coolers

Mid-range coolers are a step below the high-cost cooler backpacks. These designs offer waterproof options, great features, and good ice retention below $300.

In this price range, you’ll find the Igloo Pursuit Backpack ($130), Titan by Arctic Zone 24 Can Welded Backpack Cooler ($165), RTIC 30 Can Backpack Cooler ($180), Icemule Recycled Jaunt ($170), and Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200).

best backpack coolers sitting next to water
We’ve tested dozens of backpack coolers over the years with a wide range of outdoor activities; (photo/Eric Phillips)

$100 or Less Backpack Coolers

Backpack coolers under $100 may not retain ice as well as more expensive counterparts or may be made of less durable materials. They are generally more compact and compromise certain design details like ample pocket options or extra grab handles. For example, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) does not have a waterproof zipper on the lid.

The face fabric of some of these lower-cost pack coolers can create condensation. And some aren’t the most ergonomic or offer the greatest lumbar or back support, so they aren’t our top choice for hiking those longer durations.

However, these are great options for short trips, picnics, and anyone on a budget. In this price range, check out the Carhartt Cooler Backpack ($90), REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100), Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler ($99), Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler ($70), and the Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Backpack Cooler ($70).

woman pulling drink out of backpack cooler
Most backpack coolers are constructed with a zippered top, though some zippers are robust and waterproof while others are not; (photo/Eric Phillips)


Who makes the best backpack cooler?

There are oodles of backpack coolers out there now. Based on our testing, the products listed in our guide are all well-made options. Each design prioritizes its own unique features. For instance, some are completely streamlined with zero pockets while others are loaded with spots for dry cargo.

The best backpack cooler is the one that fits your intended use and needs including the trip length, cargo quantity, and price.

Which backpack coolers retain ice the longest?

Some coolers retain ice better than others, which is reflected in price tags. In our side-by-side ice retention test, the backpack cooler that retained ice the longest was the ICEMULE BOSS. The design held ice for about 5.5 days in a shaded indoor environment at 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

In daily adventures, melt speed slightly fluctuates based on the frequency of opening the cooler, how long it’s open, ambient heat, and direct sunlight. A bunch of other variables can influence ice retention too, including the type and quantity of ice, extra space in the compartment (which decreases effectiveness), and if the cooler was prechilled.

Some backpack coolers come with accessories like bottle openers; (photo/Eric Phillips)
Can you put dry ice in a backpack cooler?

For most backpack coolers, dry ice will burn the interior materials. Instead, you should use freshly frozen cubed ice, ice blocks, or reusable ice packs.

How can you make a backpack cooler stay cold longer?

For the longest-lasting ice retention and cooling capability, aim to use a 2-to-1 ratio of ice to contents. You can quickly prechill your cooler with a sacrificial bag of ice a few hours before loading it up, especially if the cooler is stored in a hot place. Or, bring the cooler inside a cool room to lower the temperature the night before use.

The type of ice makes a difference. Block ice and fresh cubed ice from freezers are denser than chipped ice or crushed ice from ice machines. If you get super strategic, you can use a mix of block ice (which melts slower) and cubed ice (which cools down the container faster).

As the ice melts, it’s ideal to retain the ice water, which helps the other ice stay cold. Limit your access to the cooler, because opening it up releases the cold air. When you stop or take breaks, set the pack cooler in the shade or cover it with a towel or jacket to mitigate direct sunlight.

cans in a backpack cooler with ice
To prevent ice melt, it’s best to strategically open and close a backpack cooler as few times as possible; (photo/Eric Phillips)
How do you properly pack a backpack cooler?

Fill the cooler approximately 66% with a mix of frozen ice blocks or reusable ice packs and cubed ice. Pack the rest with your food and beverages, which should all be prefrozen or prechilled.

More specifically, layer those contents. Put the frozen blocks and contents on the bottommost section and then sprinkle on a layer of cubed ice. Next, add the prechilled food and drinks. At the very top, add more cubed ice.

Fill any extra space with contents, because air speeds up the ice melt. If needed, you could pack crumpled paper or small towels in there too.

Why pick a backpack cooler?

At their simplest, backpack coolers are essentially soft-sided coolers with shoulder straps. If your adventure is further than the car to a picnic table, or you have other items in tow from bags to kids to a dog leash, then the shoulder straps are an awesome option for hands-free carrying.

Even if your trip is short, a backpack cooler will reduce trips back and forth, because your hands are free to do other tasks with the cooler on your back. Also, heavier loads can be easier to carry on one’s back than with a hand strap.

Backpack coolers are so helpful for hands-free travel when you need to carry other goods or need your arms for balance; (photo/Eric Phillips)

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