best backpack coolers
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

The Best Backpack Coolers of 2021

Whether you’re car camping, biking to a nearby park, fishing, hiking, or whitewater rafting, we’ve narrowed down the best backpack coolers for outdoor adventures.

Backpack coolers keep getting cooler. A swell of brands is developing these super-transportable, insulated packs with high-end construction, style, and a range of distinct features.

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 meet-up, heading to a local softball game with your leashed dog, or riding a cruiser to a park BBQ.

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.

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, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Otherwise, scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Backpack Coolers of 2021

Best Overall: Icemule Boss

icemule boss backpack cooler

Winning our ice retention test, the Icemule Boss ($350) also stands out as one of the biggest pack coolers but distributes weight well. The pack has comfortable double-padded mesh shoulder straps and hip pads plus an adjustable hip belt and sternum strap.

When we loaded the pack with a 10-pound bag of ice for testing on a half-day hike in Colorado, it was easy to forget the pack was on at all. And this design offered a bit better airflow than others.

This design’s exterior MuleSkin 1,000-denier fabric withstands rough conditions. The shoulder straps are on the wider side but not as motion-limiting as the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler straps.

That said, the straps are less ergonomic than the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler. We also celebrate the three spacious exterior pockets with waterproof zippers — we just wish they were smoother to open and close.

Thanks to the polar layer XT insulation, 133 hours passed before this cooler’s ice completely melted during our test, taking first place across all the cooler packs. To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 24 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 17″ x 11″ x 24″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 30 L
  • Weight: 3,402 g (7.5 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~5.5 days
Pros:
  • 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!
Cons:
  • The tall, narrow cooler column makes nutriments harder to access
  • Waterproof zippers on pockets are hard to open and close
  • Pricier

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Close Runner-Up — Best Ice Retention: OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler

otterbox trooper lt 30 cooler

At first, we thought the top latch of the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler ($300) was an annoyance. Once we learned the system, this cooler rose to the top, especially because the premium insulation kept our ice frozen the longest. This workhorse pack has one of the broadest openings, which is super convenient for grabbing provisions.

We enjoyed this cooler pack for park barbecues, road trips, picking up farm goods, and hikes around Southwest Colorado. One of our favorite features was the water-resistant front pocket that fits a phone, wallet, and keys. There’s another super-wide pocket, though it’s thin. The heavy-duty, abrasion-resistant base helps the cooler stay upright.

The firm back panel felt fine for shorter hikes. But we’d like to see the brand soften the pack’s bottommost edge, which is rigid against the sacroiliac joints: We bruised after bolting from a mountain lion sighting on the trail.

Also, the 2-inch-wide shoulder straps push into our shoulders, limiting range of motion. This pack might not be the best option if you need to reach down for a dog or toddler.

More than 5 days passed before this cooler’s ice completely melted during our test, an extremely close second place behind the Icemule Boss. To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 50 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 17″ x 11″ x 21″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 64 L
  • Weight: 3,039 g (6.7 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~5+ days
Pros:
  • Reigns in ice retention
  • Two exterior pockets
  • Leakproof latch
  • Burly grab handle
  • Tough, TPU-reinforced nylon exterior
Cons:
  • The cooler’s latch isn’t totally intuitive, but it’s learnable
  • One of the heaviest coolers in our guide
  • Limited range of arm motion when tightened down
  • More expensive choice
  • Back panel isn’t very breathable

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at OtterBox

Best Budget: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler

arctic zone titan deep freeze rolltop backpack cooler

At only $35, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler is a great economic choice that’s surprisingly comfortable to wear and simple to use. We pulled this pack on for Colorado day hikes, and it did a great job at keeping our goods chilled. Plus, the 10 pounds of ice we trekked with didn’t feel noticeably heavy.

Mostly, we enjoyed hiking with this tidy pack. The straps and mesh back panel are padded, comfortable, malleable, and sweat-absorbing. The isn’t as stiff as other packs here, which works if you’re carrying less weight. And we liked the two large and small exterior front pockets.

The insulation, integrated interior heat barrier, and thick base helped the ice survive for 70 hours, according to our test. That’s fair ice retention in our book. For an idea on the size, this pack could fit 20 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 20″ x 8.5″ x 23″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 64 L (with top unrolled)
  • Weight: 680 g (1.5 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~3 days
Pros:
  • Lightweight
  • Rolltop design keeps water in and out
  • Low price
  • Collapsible and easy to store
  • Spacious front pocket that’s easy to access
Cons:
  • Ice melts a bit faster than claimed
  • The exterior can experience drippy condensation

Check Price at Arctic Zone

Most Stash Pockets: Igloo Pursuit Backpack

igloo pursuit backpack

We took the durable Igloo Pursuit Backpack ($100) fly fishing on Colorado’s East River, under the blazing sun. If you need to stash miscellaneous items other than perishables, this pack has an oasis of pockets for you. The options include:

  • 2 tall mesh water bottle holders
  • Large insulated front pocket (for an iPad or tablet) with side zipper entry
  • Interior pocket inside lid with a zip closure
  • Spacious zippered pocket inside lid to organize utensils or other items
  • Exterior zippered pocket on top of the lid

The pack fit two boxed lunches in Tupperware, beer cans, and sparkling water plus room to spare. We were comfortable while transporting the pack, which has ample cushion and breathable mesh along the back panel and shoulder straps. We also liked the soft, buttery feel of the interior liner.

This cooler is able to hold ice for 64 hours, based on our test. Nope, the top zipper isn’t waterproof. To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 24 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 12.6″ x 7.5″ x 18.9″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 29 L
  • Weight: 907 g (2 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~2.5 days
Pros:
  • Loaded with pockets
  • Clean aesthetic
Cons:
  • Doesn’t retain ice super well in direct sunlight
  • Chest strap isn’t the most compatible for bigger chests or busts
  • Complexity of pockets confused some of our testers

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Igloo Coolers

Most Dry Cargo Space: Carhartt Cooler Backpack

carhartt cooler backpack

If you need to primarily carry apparel or gear plus a bit of cooler space, check out the Carhartt Cooler Backpack ($65). We used this simple day pack on a two-person day hike in Crested Butte, Colorado, bringing along a load of seltzer water and Red Bull.

The shoulder straps aren’t super robust but for toting a moderate load for a few hours, the pack provides fair support. The 1,200-denier heavy-duty polyester material is tough and treated with a durable water-repellant coating to protect against a drizzle. A stout handle at the top of the bag is comfortable to grab.

We like that you can organize your stuff in several spots. Inside the dry compartment, there are two mesh pockets with elastic closures. There’s also a large exterior front pocket with a zipper closure, which has two interior mesh pockets.

According to our test, this cooler is able to retain ice for nearly 25 hours. To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 12.5″ x 8″ x 17.8″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 29 L (entire backpack)
  • Weight: 680 g (1.5 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~25 hours
Pros:
  • Net pocket inside cooler compartment keeps ice pack out of the way
  • Plenty of pockets for organizing items
  • Very lightweight
  • Majority of space is for apparel and other dry gear
Cons:
  • Ice easily drips through the zipper of cooler compartment: Use ice packs
  • The back panel felt short for our 6-foot tall tester
  • Back panel isn’t really breathable
  • Side mesh water bottle pockets are pretty shallow
  • Two tiny front pockets are too small and lack zipper for security

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Carhartt

Best Adaptable Backpack-to-Cooler Pack: REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler

rei co-op cool trail pack cooler

The unique REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) is an adaptable backpack cooler with a removable cooler insert, so you can drop the liner for a traditional day pack. Essentially, you’re getting two pack styles in one piece of gear for only $100, which is a good deal if you’re not looking for a specialized item.

We most appreciated the padded back panel and padded, contoured hipbelt, which elevated the load off our back. After loading the pack with canned beverages for boating on the lake, we could still carry the bag with ease.

One caveat: The material doesn’t wick sweat super well, but it is slightly suspended for some airflow. The handle isn’t fancy but is easy to grab — holding it, we carried the pack a full mile.

These trusty pockets are well-built and utilitarian. For our 32-ounce Nalgene water bottles and sunscreen, we used the two mesh water bottle holders, which are sandwiched on the face of side zippered pockets.

The design is more eco-friendly than other packs we tested, as the exterior is made with recycled ripstop nylon.

According to our test, this cooler is able to retain ice for nearly 77 hours, well above the claimed rate. To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 20 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 17″ x 9″ x 22″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 38 L
  • Weight: 1,446 g (3.2 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~3 days
Pros:
  • Helpful cooler ‘cooling’ tips are listed inside the pack’s lid
  • Two-in-one design allows for non-cooler day pack conversion
  • Economic price
  • Retains ice well
Cons:
  • Pack does not stay upright when set down
  • Zipper to cooler compartment is not waterproof
  • Clips and zippers aren’t high-end but get the job done

Check Price at REI

Best Waterproof Top Closure: YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Cooler

yeti hopper backflip 24 soft cooler

The YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Cooler ($300) is one of the most robust coolers we tested. We used this pack for half-day hikes in the Colorado Rockies and loaded it with a 10-pound ice bag for the test.

First, YETI gets a huge high-five for a burly, leakproof HydroLok zipper that’s also quick, comfortable, and easy to operate. Other waterproof zippers like those on the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack and Icemule Boss take strength to move. Second, the high-density fabric is waterproof, resistant to mildew, and didn’t build up condensation.

The pack comes with removable chest and waist straps, which are great for distributing weight. The back panel is on the firmer side but is also pretty comfortable.

But, the pack’s bottom-most edge is hard and sits right on top of our sacroiliac joints — not a pleasant feeling as trail miles add up. This could be fixed by adding a bit of cushion or extending the panel all the way to the pack’s floor.

According to our test, this cooler’s closed-cell rubber foam insulation is able to retain ice for approximately 95 hours. For size comparison, this pack could fit 20 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 14″ x 8.5″ x 19″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 37 L
  • Weight: 2,404 g (5.3 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~4 days
Pros:
  • Wide opening for easy access
  • Four strong, ergonomic handles that are easy to grab
  • Excellent ice retention
Cons:
  • The excess shoulder and hip belt straps flop around and lack a way to be stowed
  • No water bottle carry or exterior pockets
  • Back panel isn’t breathable
  • Pricey

Check Price at REICheck Price at YETI

Best of the Rest

Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack

hydro flask day escape soft cooler pack

The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200) rewarded us on a double-date hike in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. Our quad packed all the tasty fare from champagne and dark chocolate to strawberries, lunchmeat, and bread.

The cooler’s malleable walls feel rather thin, so we were surprised by the overall comfortable, ergonomic support as we trekked. We were happy to wear this pack for longer hikes and extended periods.

Despite its light weight and flexibility, the pack is structurally sound with durable handles and 600-denier polyester waterproof material. The chest strap stabilizes the shoulder straps; otherwise, they annoyingly slide around. We also dig the stretch mesh side pocket, which easily fits a 1L bottle or utensils.

This cooler is able to hold ice for nearly 60 hours, based on our test, which is above what the brand advertises. We loved that the top zipper is waterproof — it’s also silent. The downside is a watertight zipper takes two hands and more time to open and close than a traditional zipper.

To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 36 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 13″ x 7.8″ x 17.7″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 20 L
  • Weight: 1,360 g (3 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~2.5 days
Pros:
  • Major bonus of waterproof top zipper
  • Excellent ice retention
  • Thick bottom helps cooler stand upright
  • 5-year warranty
Cons:
  • Solid investment
  • The adjustable chest strap needs a lower setting
  • Excess shoulder straps could use an elastic attachment so they don’t dangle
  • Pack stability when sitting on the ground isn’t the best

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler

stoic hybrid backpack cooler

The Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler ($75) complemented our four-person fly fishing crew on the Gunnison River in Southwest Colorado. The pack chilled beer, cheese, salami, sandwiches, and sparkling water while we casted.

We give a thumbs up for how comfortable the pack was to carry: the size-to-capacity is spot on. It has a padded, breathable, yet supportive back panel. We also liked the durable exterior, a mix of 600-denier polyester and flexible plastic. Plus, the design is hip, and you can currently snag the cooler for less than $100.

The interior insulation can retain ice for nearly 62 hours. Note: The lid’s zipper isn’t waterproof.

To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 24 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 13″ x 9″ x 19″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 28 L
  • Weight: 907 g (2 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~2.5 days
Pros:
  • Comfortable to carry fully loaded
  • Stylish
  • Sturdy and stays upright when set down
Cons:
  • Bottom easily stained by mud
  • It’d be nice to have a bottom strap to help unload ice
  • No storage pockets

Check Price at Backcountry

Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack

coleman sportflex soft cooler backpack

For dog walks, hikes, and picnics in Taylor Canyon, Colorado, we filled up the Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack ($60) with carbonated water, cheese, sausage, and veggies. This pack has a refreshing number of pockets — including a side carry for a 20-ounce water bottle and a large mesh front pocket. There’s also a roomy zippered side pocket with another interior mesh hammock.

What else stood out was how lightweight this pack is and how easy it is to access goods thanks to width and rigidity. The tradeoff: When empty, this cooler occupies the same amount of space in your backseat versus collapsing down. It’s also less comfortable to hike with compared to other options, so it’s a better choice for shorter distances.

We liked the soft mesh back panel. And the insulation surpassed the brand’s claims, holding ice for 2 days in our test. But, the boxiness and rigidity docked ergonomics for us, so make sure you don’t mind a firm pack. Fair warning: The zip closure isn’t waterproof.

To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 30 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 10″ x 7″ x 12″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 14 L
  • Weight: 454 g (1 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~2 days
Pros:
  • Variety of useful pockets
  • Ice retention worked better than claimed
  • Chest strap helps secure pack in place
  • Lightweight
  • Padded straps are comfortable
Cons:
  • Not the most durable exterior
  • Fabric and bottom dirties quickly and isn’t easy to clean
  • Shoulder straps can press into arms when hiking

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

Igloo Outdoor Pro Snapdown Backpack

Igloo outdoor pro snapdown backpack

The Igloo Outdoor Pro Snapdown Backpack ($80) kept our bubbly water, veggies, lunch meat, and condiments cool on a packrafting trip across Colorado’s Taylor Reservoir. Overall, our team gives a nod to the pack’s comfortable and sweat-absorbing mesh back panel, sturdy overhead carry handles, and two side pockets for reusable water bottles.

The exterior feels tenacious, like a whitewater raft, and wipes down easily. We loved the chunky zipper for fast one-handed use and a wide top hatch for streamlined access.

The interior’s MaxCold insulation works well and, according to our tests, can retain ice for more than 2 days. But, the design was docked points for the drippy condensation, which gets uncomfortable.

To put the size in perspective, this pack could fit 42 12-ounce cans.

Specs:
  • Size: 13″ x 7″ x 17.5″ (L x W x H)
  • Capacity: 26 L
  • Weight: 989 g (2.18 lb.)
  • Ice retention test: ~2+ days
Pros:
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Sternum strap adds stability
  • Exterior zipper pocket for keys or wallet
  • Very comfortable to carry
  • Ripstop polyester exterior is coated for water repellency
Cons:
  • Exterior produces condensation
  • Tall shape requires strategic packing
  • Pack doesn’t allow airflow against back when worn
  • We wish the top zipper was waterproof

Check Price at Igloo Coolers

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 14L Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack on the compact end, and the 64L OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler among the larger options. The majority of cooler packs range from 20 to 29 L.

To give you an idea, we found that the 29L Igloo Pursuit offered more than enough space for a two-person single-day fishing trip. And the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack fit 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. But, the interior dimensions of each pack will be a tad smaller, depending on the type and rigidity of the insulation.

best backpack cooler
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

Compartments & 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. 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.

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 pocket to stash a cellphone and keys.

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 increases.

Our favorite slimmer backpack coolers weigh 454 to 680 g (1-1.5 pounds): the Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler. Cooler bags can weigh as much as 3,402 g or 7.5 pounds.

On the beefier side, our favorites include the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler and Icemule Boss, which are 3,039 to 3,402 g (6.7-7.5 pounds).

best backpack coolers - weight
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

Materials

The 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 ($350) 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. The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35), on the other hand, has two layers of high-density superfoam plus a lightweight heat reflective material around the exterior. The material isn’t as strong.

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

Price

Our highlighted backpack coolers cost as low as $35 and as high as $350. That’s a big gap.

Higher Cost Backpack Coolers

The priciest coolers ($300-350) are created with durable, puncture-proof, waterproof, and water-resistant materials that can be trusted on a whitewater rafting trip. The Icemule Boss has MuleSkin 1,000-denier fabric. The OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler has a TPU-coated nylon exterior. And the YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Cooler is made with high-density fabric.

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

Mid-Range Cost Backpack Coolers

A step down in size is the $200 Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack, which boasts a waterproof zipper, durability, and excellent ice retention.

$100 or Less Backpack Coolers

Pack coolers that are $100 or less are generally more compact, don’t preserve ice as well, or compromise a design feature. For example, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) does not have a waterproof zipper on the lid.

The face fabric of the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35) produces condensation. And the Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack wasn’t as ergonomic, so it wasn’t our top choice for hiking for longer durations.

Fit & Comfort

Simply put, backpack coolers are generally not as supportive, ergonomic, and comfortable as regular day packs or backpacking packs. But we found that some are more comfortable that we’d enjoy doing day hikes with, like the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200), Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35), and Icemule Boss ($350), to name a few.

Backpack coolers have a range of firmness, and the firmest packs have more insulation, which increases the 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 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.

best backpack coolers - yeti
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

Shape

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.

Read our How Do You Properly Pack a Backpack Cooler? in the FAQ below to learn more.

Ice Retention

During our controlled ice retention test, the lowest recorded time was close to 25 hours for the Carhartt Cooler Backpack ($65), which has a large dry cargo space.

Most cooler packs preserved ice for 2.5 to 3 days. That includes the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Rolltop Backpack Cooler ($35), Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler ($75), and Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack ($200).

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100) held ice for more than 3 days. The most expensive coolers in our guide ($300-350) retained their ice for 4 to 5.5 days. Generally, there’s a correlation between a higher price tag and stronger ice retention, but not always.

Our ice retention test was completed with controlled variables. Each cooler backpack was stationed indoors, shaded, in steady 65 degrees F, with the same ratio and type of ice. 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.

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.

best backpack coolers - ice retention
(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.

Why You Should Trust Us

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.

Our crew put these packs to the test in a myriad of 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 ~65 degrees F.

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.

FAQ

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 two backpack coolers that retained ice the longest were the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler and Icemule Boss. They each held ice for ~5.5 days, in a shaded indoor environment at 65 degrees F.

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.

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 Colder, 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 alleviate direct sunlight.

How Do You Properly Pack a Backpack Cooler?

Fill the cooler 2/3 (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.


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