Best Backpack Coolers on the Market
Are you heading out the door and having trouble picking up the cooler? It's time to look at backpack coolers and the convenience they provide slung on your back.
Need a hand carrying the camping gear? No need to worry about your food and drinks. The cooler is safely stowing those items and you're carrying them on your back.
There are several backpack and side carry coolers available on the market. No matter if you're heading out camping or to the beach these backpack coolers are your ideal companion.
The softshell style has less durability and ice retention than the larger counterparts of the traditional hard-shell cooler. But their convenience and style make up the difference.
In this review, let the team at Shaggy Outdoors provide you with the top choices on the market. Our aim is for you to get a good overview of this style cooler and find the best choice for your outing.
We've provided helpful tips on the best way to get good ice retention and a few options for freezable ice packs versus traditional ice. Get a final look at our choices in the comparison table at the end.
Our intent is for you to get the best option for your money and style! Good luck, and we will see you on the trail.
Shaggy Outdoors Top Backpack Cooler Picks
Why Use a Cooler Backpack?
Cooler Backpacks are a luxury for those looking to free up their hands to carry other items.
How many times have used a non-insulated backpack and your drinks and food got warm?
Grab a backpack cooler and keep those drinks cold.
Benefit 1 - Free up your hands
That's right, the best way to get your cold drinks to the beach and carry your chair too, is with a backpack cooler.
Benefit 2 - Design & Material Makes for Keeping Drinks Cold Longer
Nylon outer design mater with water resistant inner liner keeps drinks cold.
Benefit 3 - Floatable and Waterproof
Take your backpack on your next rafting or paddleboard trip. Supremely designed bags will stay closed and float if they go overboard.
Benefit 4 - Lighter Weight than Roto-molded Hard Coolers
Get all your can and a few sandwiches in the bag and still carry with ease. Those hard sided coolers are good for campsites, but these backpack coolers are great for fishing and days at the pool.
What are Insulated Cooler Backpacks?
Insulated backpack coolers have been on the market for several years now but they are more akin to the soft-sided cooler. Their niche is the backpack style, to provide you the use of a cooler, without using those bulky box-style coolers that take up one or two arms to carry.
The backpack coolers are typically soft-shell designed with padded straps and additional pocket storage.
Most coolers are insulated with a foam-type material to keep beverages and food cold.
Deciding on which model to purchase can be tricky. Start by determining the price you are willing to spend and then look for the best models in your price range.
Choosing The Right Backpack Cooler
When choosing the right backpack for your next adventure, consider the distance of your trip or length of time you will be out. That, along with the amount of food or drink you plan on bringing will determine the size and the type of cooler.
The longer the trip the bigger the bag. Look at the ICEMULE line of coolers for those backpack coolers that can accommodate a family event.
If your adventure is a day at the beach there are several good choices to consider. For those that aren't planning on using a cooler backpack often, check out some of the options for less than $100.
Backpack Cooler Utility
The best use of these backpacks is for any of the following events that require you to keep your beverages or food cold:
- Beach Trips
- Family Outings at Local Parks
- Day Hikes
- Disneyland or similar Family Destinations
- Kids Sporting Events
- Concerts in the Park
- or any other event for less than 24 hours and you need to keep your drinks or food cold
If you're looking for a larger capacity cooler with excellent ice retention check out our review of the Best Hard Shell Coolers.
Most Durable Backpack Cooler
Durability is important when you are looking to purchase a quality cooler backpack. Finding a cooler that will have good ice retention while being durable at the beach or on a backpacking trip is important.
There are several lines of coolers that are very durable. We like the RTIC Backpack Cooler.
Best Backpack Cooler for Ice Retention
Durability and Ice Retention are two of the most important factors in choosing the right cooler.
Yeti is a top-of-the-line cooler manufacturer that has dominated the cooler space for 10 years. The Yeti Hopper M20 offers a soft-sided cooler with Magshield Access. This magnet-style system is leakproof and will keep the top open when you need to fill the cooler.
Best of all is the ice retention system. If you pre-cool your cooler prior to putting drinks in and if you pre-cool the drinks you could see 24 hours of ice retention. That gives you all the ice necessary for those day hiking trips or trips to the beach.
Best Backpack Cooler for The Lake
Durability, Ice Retention, Comfort, and Waterproofing are why the ICEMULE Pro coolers are the best. When you head to the lake to do some paddleboarding, rafting, or just planning to float down a river, the ICEMULE is your go-to cooler.
These coolers are a welded design with no seams or zippers. The top is a roll-down design and the padded shoulder straps are rugged and versatile. Don't worry about the cooler when you tip over, the cooer is waterproof and buoyant with their patented IM Airvalve design feature.
The collapsible design will make this cooler one of the best for storage. Overall, this cooler is a 5-Star and can be used for all occasions.
Compare 9 of the Best Backpack Cooler Brands
Backpack Cooler Capacities (Size)
Coolers come in a variety of sizes quoted. Since there is no universal sizing chart, the coolers will be marketed with either liters, quarts, or gallons.
What you probably want to know is, how many "cans" will fit in the cooler?
The problem with the "can" measurement is manufacturers want you to know how many cans can be packed in. What they don't always mention is how much, if any, ice can go inside with those "cans".
Given that just about every cooler reviewed has some negative mention of space, you should consider there will be less room in the cooler than noted in the description. Make sure you understand fully that the space may be less than you desire.
In the ICEMULE line of coolers, there tend to be good reviews on overall storage and cooler space. Their design is a bag style with welded connections and no seams. However, without the proper initial set-up, these bags can have limited capacity.
To get the best use of a bag-style cooler, start with filling the cooler full of water before use. Make the bag stretch out and allow the foam to expand. Once you complete this initial step, you should see a better interior size and capacity.
Getting the Best ICE Retention for My Cooler
When you are working with the best quality coolers, in general, you need to get the best ice retention possible. There are several ways to get great retention and here are three that we suggest.
- Pre-Cool the Cooler - ice down your cooler for up to 24 hours before use. The foam and outer coating of the cooler once cooled down, will give you the best possible retention if you ice down the cooler.
- Pre-Cool the Contents - when you're adding beer or soda cans to your cooler make sure they are cooled down prior to loading the cooler up. Warm or room-temperature beverages will warm up the ice and shorten your ice retention timeframe.
- Limit Opening / Closing Cooler - the more often you or your kids or friends open and close the cooler the faster the ice will melt. Air temperature above the temp of the ice and beverages will shorten the life of your ice.
The best quality coolers like Yeti and Camelbak will give you an "ice retention" period. Typically for backpack coolers, it's roughly 24 hours. For hard shell coolers, it may be 4-5 days. Either way, for testing purposes, these coolers are pre-cooled and in controlled climate conditions. Keep this information in mind when you choose a lesser-quality cooler.
Some sources reference the proper ratio of ice to food as 2:1. For one beverage you should have twice that amount of ice to keep it cold. Keep this in mind when you are filling your cooler next time for that day hike or long camping trip. Your best results will come with proper preparation of your cooler.
Ice - What Type to Use?
There are several choices for ice when using your backpack cooler. The type that will fit into every nook and cranny of your bag will be crushed ice.
Crushed ice is the cheapest and quickest type of cooling source. You can pick up ice at any convenience store or gas station on your way to your destination.
The negative of crushed ice is that it warms fast and melts. On a warm day that ice will melt in hours even with proper cooling down of your cooler. Sometimes the less expensive or cheaper coolers will start to have moisture exiting the container walls.
Ice Packs come in all shapes and sizes. Many brands have their designs that should work best within their brand of cooler.
When using ice packs you don't have to deal with water and slushy ice in the cooler. It won't get your food wet and can be frozen again for multi-day use. The price of ICE Packs will vary depending on the brand and type.
Choose ice packs that work best with your cooler and situation.
ICE Pack Options for Your Cooler
Final Thoughts on Backpack Coolers
Every cooler has its use. In my garage, I have seven different coolers consisting of both hard-shell and soft-shell coolers. The recent addition of the backpack cooler has come in handy on short hikes and for traveling. I especially like the ICEMULE because of its easy storage when traveling.
Figuring out your need will help start your decision-making process. The cost for backpack coolers ranges from as low as $30 to over $400. And each design has its pros and cons.
Ultimately the backpack cooler is most opportune when you need more hands. The ability to put your cooler on your back gives you the opportunity to carry more gear.
Keep the overall weight of the cooler when filled in mind. Don't overdo your load. Especially when hiking for long distances. The extra weight could cause harm to your adventure.
We hope this information was helpful and useful in making your decision on a backpack cooler. We invite you to check out some of our other blogs and reviews.
Pros and Cons of Backpack Coolers