Imagine hiking all day in direct sunlight, 85 degrees out, you just smashed a 2500 foot elevation change before lunch and your feeling fresh. You reach into your bag and triumphantly pull out….
A warm bottle of water or beer. Gross.
Lugging a cooler around is difficult, cumbersome, and who’s going to take a cooler on a hike? For sure not me.
Finding the best backpack cooler is the jam, the best of both worlds. Now instead of lugging around a cooler all day or warm beers in your pack, you can carry them in an insulated backpack that will keep ’em on ice.
What is a backpack cooler?
The ideal backpack cooler is going to be lightweight, comfortable, and will retain ice all day, preferably 24 hours.
When shopping for anything, looking for the best deal without sacrificing quality is the ultimate goal. There are different styles of backpacks that are intended for different uses. Some styles are better for day hikes, some are better in water, and others are half-cooler and half-backpack.
Different backpack coolers are designed for different purposes, therefore the specs will vary widely based on the model you choose.
Backpack cooler features
A backpack cooler serves three main purposes. It should be well-insulated, large enough to meet your needs, and comfortable.
The main reason you buy a cooler is to keep things cold and ice retention is where the magic happens. This is the amount of time that the backpack cooler will retain ice before it completely melts. Ice retention rates can vary from 6 hours to 24 hours. Heat rises and cold air sinks, so keep this in mind when loading your backpack. You get the most out of your crushed or block ice by packing first and then setting the supplies on top of the ice.
Constant opening of the pack lets heat in and gives the cold air a chance to escape. Limit the number of times you open the pack throughout the day. Place things you might need quick access to on top of the ice so you can get it out quickly.
The capacity of the cooler you choose will depend on what you plan on using it for and they are often measured in cans. Backpack coolers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Everything from a small cooler just large enough for your lunch to a pack that holds a case of beer and more. Another thing to consider about capacity is the pockets on the outside of the pack that gives you extra storage. Most of the packs have mesh pockets for extra bottles, and a zipper pocket for personal belongings.
If cooling is the first concern, comfort is a close second. The last thing you need is to figure out that a pack sucks 12 hours into a 3-day scramble, it will hurt and you’ll be miserable. Carrying around drinks and snacks all day long can become uncomfortable quickly. Consider the shoulder straps and padding, especially if you plan on taking an overnight hike.
The 5 best backpack coolers
Here are our picks of the best backpack coolers to keep your consumables (beer) cold all summer long.
IceMule Coolers Pro Cooler
- THE WORLD’S COLDEST HANDS-FREE COOLER – engineered to be the most portable, high-performance soft cooler around and is available in a variety of sizes to ensure that whatever the occasion, your drinks and refreshments stay ice cold all day long
- KEEP YOUR HANDS HANDY – the ICEMULE Pro is a backpack style cooler that comfortably straps to your back, leaving hands and arms free. ICEMULE backpack coolers feature double padded and ventilated straps for effortless hands-free carrying
- A SUPER SPACE-SAVER – forget bulky ice boxes, an ICEMULE backpack cooler rolls and stores easily when not in use. The soft sided cooler is fully collapsible, perfect for travelling to your destination. Serves as a great beach cooler or hiking backpack
- WATERPROOF AND FAST, EASY ACCESS – the ICEMULE closure system is designed without zippers and welded seams, meaning no leaky zippers and easy access to load and unload the cooler. ICEMULE coolers even float, so it’s perfect for kayaking and watersport trips
The manufacturer states that the IceMule Pro Cooler will fit 18 cans. In reality you can fit 24 cans plus ice in this pack comfortably. Be careful overloading it, putting too much pressure on the straps can cause them to snap.
At first glance this pack looked too big, it weighs in at 17 x 14 x 11. Once it got rolled up and into the carrying case it doesn’t take up too much room.
People have reported ice lasting up to 48 hours when using this backpack cooler in the sun. It is waterproof floats, and has a valve that you blow into that gives the pack buoyancy. The top has a 3 layer seal for closing it when you want to toss it in the river next to you.
It’s a durable bag that is built for the trail, beach, and boats. It’s on the high-end price wise for a reason. Overall this is a great bag for the value, it isn’t a Yeti but for the price, it’s a better option.
- Ice retention: 24 hours
- Capacity: 24 cans
- Color: Grey or green
- Weight: 5 pounds
Polar Bear Cooler
- Polar Bear Coolers Bundle Includes:
- 1 x Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Solar Bear Series Backpack Size 18 Pack (SILVER)
- While Solar Bear houses all the same high performance insulation as our Nylon Soft Coolers, the exterior shell has an innovative UV-Protectant PU coating (the same coating can be found on our Eclipse coolers). This coating keeps the exterior of the cooler from getting hot in the sun. If you are expecting prolonged sun exposure, the Solar Bear is your cooler!
- 1 x Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers Slim Ice 4-Pack
In the world of backpack coolers, you are only as good as your insulation and this cooler has one-inch thick insulation. The ice has lasted as long as 4 days in this backpack..
At 18 x 12 x 7, you have plenty of space for cold beverages, ice, and snacks. It rests comfortable on your back as long as you don’t overload it. It is both sweat proof and leak proof, and with one-inch insulation, I wouldn’t expect anything less. Per the manufacturer the ice retention rate is 24 hours, however, some of the ratings argue that the ice can last for 3-4 days.
It has a wide opening, larger than other styles making getting things in and out a breeze. Some of the coolers have a smaller opening on the top and it can be a hassle to get all the way to the bottom.
- Ice retention: 24 hours
- Capacity: 18 cans
- Color: Silver
- Weight: 5 pounds
Picnic Time Zuma Backpack Cooler
- Insulated cooler backpack made of durable polyester for hiking, picnics, and outings
- Divided into 2 sections: mesh section for clothing; insulated section for food and drink
- Insulated section is heat-sealed with water-resistant lining to guard against leaks
- Large zipper pocket keeps personal effects close at hand
The Picnic Time Zuma Cooler is a similar size backpack as the others, however, half of it is a cooler and the other half is a backpack. You end up sacrificing cooler space for the convenience of having an actual backpack. It holds 6 cans with a little room to spare for some small ice blocks, which isn’t much when compared to the others.
This backpack is meant as a multi-use pack, it’s awesome if you pack your lunch to work daily. It has plenty of room for your lunch on the bottom and other personal effects on top. If a cooler/backpack combo is what you are looking for than Picnic Time Zuma Backpack will fit the bill. At 19 x 11 x 17 it’s a similar size as the others, while this one is only half a cooler.
The backpack has mesh pockets on the side that are great for storing drinks or other stuff you don’t want to carry and has a zipper pocket in front. This pack is a great day pack for picnic, boating, a day hike, a day at the zoo, a day at the lake…
- Ice retention: 10 hours
- Capacity: 6 cans
- Color: Black
- Weight: 2.5 pounds
Coleman C003 Soft Backpack Cooler
- INSULATION: Main compartment keeps contents cold and prevents leaks with heat-welded seams
- CAPACITY: Holds up to 28 cans
- EASY TO CARRY: Backpack design with adjustable padded straps for maximum comfort
- EXTRA STORAGE: Large front pocket for quick access to napkins and accessories
With a heat welded cooler you can throw all the ice you want and not have to worry about it leaking out of the bottom. When the ice begins to melt water will begin to leak out of the zipper if you tip the pack over too far, just keep an eye on it or use sealed ice. Easy peasy.
The manufacturer says that the capacity is 28 cans, but according to some reviews that number is misleading and 12-16 cans is the actual number. The shoulder and waist are reinforced with extra padding, making carrying heavy loads easier on your shoulders and back. There’s two zippered pockets on the sides and one in front. The one in front will get cold if you fill the Coleman C003 with ice, so be careful with anything like a cell phone in the front pocket.
This backpack is awesome for a one-day outing, is has decent insulation, and awesome support. The extra padding on the shoulder straps and the waist clip displace the weight of the pack making carrying it a breeze.
- Ice retention: 10 hours
- Capacity: 28 cans
- Color: Brown
- Weight: 2.5 pounds
Tourit Backpack Cooler
- LARGE LUNCH COOLER BACKPACK: Deep main storage compartment is large enough to provide roomy capacity for your meals, snacks, beers or other drinks, can hold at least 28 cans. The capacity of backpack cooler is about 25L
- LEAKPROOF INSULATED COOLER: High-Density insulation material and the leak-proof liner inside of the insulated backpacks work together to make sure anti-leaking and keep food hot/ cold for hours
- MULTIPLE POCKETS: 1 main roomy storage compartment, 2 side mesh pockets, 1 large front zipper pocket with mesh divider to keep dry items organized. Dimension: 17.7" x 13.0" x 7.5" (L x W x H)
- LIGHTWEIGHT and COMFORTABLE: Weight: 1.1 pounds / 500g. Adjustable, padded shoulder straps and thickly padded sections on the back of the soft cooler backpack to ensure you feel ultimate comfort and portability
The Tourit insulated cooler has a large deep main storage section that has room for 28 beers, plenty of snacks, or anything else that you need when your in the middle of the woods.
The cooler area of the backpack is built to be leak proof and made with insulated material that should keep your feet warm and not leak at the same time.The ice retention is reported to be 16 hours, while people have said that it actually holds ice longer than that.
The insulated bad on the inside of the backpack works as a cooler in the summer, and it can act as a backpack in the winter.
- Ice retention: 16 hours
- Capacity: 28 cans
- Color: Grey
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
What did we learn?
Choosing the best backpack cooler that’s right for you isn’t a difficult task. You need to take into consideration a few different factors like size, comfort, and ice retention. As well as price, consider any extra pockets that you may need, the duration you will be using the pack, and how long it will keep your ice cold.
The best backpack cooler is a great addition to your outdoor gear arsenal, they will change your camping, hiking, and backpacking trips for the better. Enjoying an ice cold beer at the end of a long day is hard to beat.