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The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

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

best backpack coolers sitting next to water(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:

The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023


Best Overall Backpack Cooler

ICEMULE BOSS

Specs

  • Size 17" x 11" x 24"
  • Capacity 30 L
  • Weight 3,402 g (7.5 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~5.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

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
Best Budget Backpack Cooler

Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack

Specs

  • Size 10" x 7" x 12"
  • Capacity 14 L
  • Weight 454 g (1 lb.)
  • Ice retention test ~2 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

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
Most Stash Pockets

Igloo Pursuit Backpack

Specs

  • Size 12.6" x 7.5" x 18.9"
  • Capacity 29 L
  • Weight 907 g (2 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

Pros

  • Loaded with pockets
  • Clean aesthetic
  • Soft exterior material

Cons

  • 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
Most Dry Cargo Space

Carhartt Cooler Backpack

Specs

  • Size 12.6" x 7.5" x 18.9"
  • Capacity 29 L
  • Weight 907 g (2 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

Pros

  • Loaded with pockets
  • Clean aesthetic
  • Soft exterior material

Cons

  • 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

Specs

  • Size 17" x 9" x 22"
  • Capacity 38 L
  • Weight 1,446 g (3.2 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

Pros

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

Cons

  • 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

Specs

  • Size 13" x 7.8" x 17.7"
  • Capacity 20 L
  • Weight 1,360 g (3 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

Pros

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

Cons

  • The adjustable chest strap needs a lower setting
  • Excess shoulder straps could use an elastic attachment so they don’t dangle
Best of the Rest

Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler

Specs

  • Size 13" x 9" x 19"
  • Capacity 28 L
  • Weight 907 g (2 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

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

Igloo Outdoor Pro Snapdown Backpack

Specs

  • Size 13" x 7" x 17.5"
  • Capacity 26 L
  • Weight 989 g (2.18 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2+ days
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

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
  • We wish the top zipper were waterproof

Magellan Outdoors Leakproof 24-Can Backpack Cooler

Specs

  • Size 11" x 14.5" x 18.5"
  • Capacity  48 L
  • Weight  Unavailable
  • Ice retention test Unavailable
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023

Pros

  • Padded back panel
  • Includes bottle opener
  • Loaded cooler can float

Cons

  • No waist belt

Backpack Cooler Comparison Chart

Backpack CoolerPriceSize
(H x W x L)
CapacityWeightIce Retention Test
ICEMULE BOSS$35017  x 11 x 24 in.30 L7.5 lbs.~5.5 days
Coleman Sportflex Soft
Cooler Backpack
$6510″ x 7″ x 12″14 L1 lb.~2 days
Igloo Pursuit Backpack$160 12.6 x 7.5 x 18.9 in.29 L2.09 lbs.~2.5 days
Carhartt Cooler Backpack$6512.5″ x 8″ x 17.8″29 L1.5 lbs.~25 hours
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
Stoic Hybrid Backpack
Cooler
$9913″ x 9″ x 19″28 L2 lbs., 13.8 oz.~2.5 days
Igloo Outdoor Pro
Snapdown Backpack
$14013″ x 7″ x 17.5″26 L2.18 lbs.~2+ days
Magellan Outdoors Leakproof
24-Can Backpack Cooler
$10011″ x 14.5″ x 18.5″48 LUnavailableUnavailable
woman wearing YETI backpack cooler
Backpack coolers offer a range of back support from firm to soft, though many back panels are not well aerated; (Photo/Eric Phillips)

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 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.

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 30L 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 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.

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.

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)

Compartments & Pockets

A handful of our favorite backpack coolers have separate interior compartments or exterior pockets for dry storage, a portion of which are noninsulated. 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 increase.

Our favorite slimmer backpack cooler weighs 454 g (1 pound): the Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack. Cooler bags can weigh as much as 3,402 g or 7.5 pounds.

On the beefier side, our favorites include the ICEMULE BOSS, which is 3,402 g (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.

woman holding YETI backpack cooler along water
Backpack coolers can be designed with external features such as side and top handles or daisy chain loops for clipping possessions; (Photo/Eric Phillips)

Materials

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 with an unexpected spill or puddle.

Price

Our highlighted backpack coolers cost as low as $35 and as high as $359. That’s a big gap.

Higher Cost Backpack Coolers

The priciest coolers ($300-359) 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. And the YETI Hopper M20 Backpack 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. However, 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 $130 Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack, which boasts a waterproof zipper, durability, and excellent ice retention. The Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler also sits in this price bucket.

$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 some coolers can create 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 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 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.

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.

Ice Retention

During our controlled ice retention test, the lowest recorded time was close to 25 hours for the Carhartt Cooler Backpack, 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, 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, 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.

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)

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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