For your next trip into the wilderness, we have identified the best backpack coolers for you, and we compiled tips to help you choose the right one.
Not only are they easier to carry than a traditional cooler, cooler backpacks also free your hands to carry other things, and they balance the weight comfortably on your back.
The best backpack cooler will provide excellent ice retention, multiple storage compartments, and comfort while carrying – all with a fresh look. You can find our top choices for the best insulated backpack coolers below.
5 Best Backpack Coolers Reviewed in this Post
- YETI Hopper Backflip 24
- ICE MULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler
- CARHARTT 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack
- TOURIT Lightweight Insulated Backpack Cooler
- COLEMAN Soft Backpack Cooler
The Yeti Hopper Backflip is another example of Yeti’s intelligent engineering combined with exquisite style. This backpack cooler is made with durable fabric that is waterproof and resists puncture, mold, and UV radiation.
Not only is this cooler backpack sturdy, but it also comes with adjustable and ergonomic shoulder straps, in addition to a removable chest strap and waist strap, which provide extra stability and comfort when the pack is loaded to the zipper.
Speaking of which, the zipper is leakproof, and most people find that it is easy to use. Be aware that you might occasionally find condensation along the zipper due to the temperature difference inside and outside the backpack.
This cooler will hold about 20 cans with a 2:1 ice ratio, and it weighs about 7.5 pounds when empty. While there are no additional pockets to store items such as keys or utensils, the backpack is covered with daisy chain attachment loops on the sides, front, and shoulder straps. Also, the Yeti designers incorporated handles on the top and sides for carrying the pack in different ways.
The Yeti backpack cooler is made with closed-cell rubber foam, and it holds ice well for about 1-2 days, depending on the situation. Of course, you shouldn’t expect the same performance from this cooler as you would from Yeti’s hard-shell, roto-molded coolers, since it is both smaller and made differently. Still, this Yeti product would be an excellent choice for anyone seeking a hands-free cooler with great ice-retention and capacity.
The IceMule Pro Inuslated Backpack Cooler is a very popular hands-free cooler that delivers similar quality as the Yeti but at a much lower price. This backpack cooler features a durable exterior and an internal material that is easy to drain and clean. It comes with adjustable shoulder straps, ventilated backpacks, and a sternum strap for greater stability during carry.
Unlike most other backpack coolers, the IceMule is not sewn but welded to ensure waterproofing, and it even floats, which would make it an excellent choice for kayaking, rafting, paddle boarding, or other water sports.
Another unique feature of the IceMule hands free cooler is that it has no zippers. Instead, it uses a roll-top design that clips and thus provides ease of access and prevents leakage. Some users have reported that the top leaks, but this is probably due to overfilling, which would prevent the top from being rolled properly.
This cooler bag is easy to store when not in use and can be fully collapsed. Like the Yeti cooler, it does not contain extra pockets or compartments for additional storage, but has bungee straps on the front that can be used for miscellaneous items.
This backpack cooler weighs approximately 6.76 pounds when empty and can hold about 18 cans plus ice. Once you have filled the cooler, you can add air to the pack for increased insulation using the air valve on the side, and this can also be used to release air when rolling the cooler for storage.
The cooler will retain ice for about 12-30 hours, depending on the circumstances, and while the cooler is generally leakproof, you may find condensation on the bottom when it is left to sit. Overall, this backpack cooler is a hugely popular choice among campers, hikers, beach bums, and paddle boarders for its ice retention, durability, and unique features.
Unlike the Yeti and IceMule coolers, the Carhartt 2-in-1 is designed to provide both a backpack and a cooler. The base of this backpack cooler is a separate storage compartment and will hold about 12 cans and an ice pack, while the upper part of the backpack contains several pockets for carrying food and gear, including one large and one small zipper compartment.
Since it is, afterall, a Carhartt product, the backpack is made of tough, water-repellent material. The shoulder straps are adjustable and padded, with daisy chain loops included for additional storage. There are two mesh pockets on the sides and two small, open pockets on the very front, and a handle on top for single-handed carry.
The base cooler compartment does not contain a hard shell, so you might find that without supporting containers, bottles, or cans, soft food will be at risk of being crushed in the base compartment. Also, by creating a ton of additional, separate storage space, this backpack loses some of the insulation found in similar products.
This backpack cooler weighs about 1.45 pounds when empty, and it will fit around 12 cans in the base compartment, with an extra mesh pocket for storing an ice pack. Carhartt provides a limited warranty against all manufacturer defects for the life of the product.
The Carhartt cooler backpack would be a great option for a hiker or camper, as well as a tradesman or construction worker, due to its many storage compartments, base cooler, and rugged external material.
According to our researchers at Explore New Trails, the TOURIT backpack cooler offers the best value compared to the competition and is our top choice for the best backpack cooler.
This lightweight backpack cooler strikes a near-perfect balance between backpack and cooler, having plenty of space in the cooler compartment while also possessing several additional pockets for food and items that do not need to be kept cold.
In addition to the large, primary storage compartment, there are 2 mesh pockets on the sides for water bottles, 2 large front zipper pockets, 1 zipper pocket on the lid, and 1 mesh pocket on the shoulder strap that would fit an iPhone 8 Plus (conveniently located for those unexpected photo opportunities). TOURIT also incorporated a bottle opener on one of the shoulder straps, just in case you forget to bring yours from home.
The backpack shell is made of 600D Oxford fabric, which is a heavy duty polyester material known for its durability and water resistance. It is insulated with food-grade EPE foam and includes a leak proof liner. The seams have been heat welded to prevent leakage, but we would recommend that you use ice packs rather than ice just in case water happens to get through.
While this backpack cooler does not come with a waist or chest strap, the adjustable shoulder straps are padded, as are the back pads, for your comfort. There is also a small handle on the top for single-handed carry or for hanging the backpack when you’re not wearing it.
The TOURIT lightweight backpack cooler will hold approximately 20 cans, and it weighs about 1.1 pounds when empty. The backpack is advertised to retain ice for 16 hours, though some users have reported slightly less than that. Compared to the competition, this hands-free cooler offers great value and versatility, especially with all of its storage options, and its light weight and affordability make it a competitive choice over the Yeti and IceMule versions.
The Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler offers a mixture of design elements similar to the Carhartt and Tourit products. This cooler contains heat-welded seams and a durable exterior. In front of the primary cooler compartment, there is an additional, large, zippered compartment for food or utensils, and two elastic, mesh pockets on the side. And on the very front is a bungee cord storage area, and this can be tightened or loosened to your needs.
There is a handle on top of the backpack, and it comes with padded, adjustable shoulder straps and a padded waist strap, adding a significant amount of stability and comfort. Some users have reported that the back pack does not fit their shoulders very well, especially for people with a more slender build. How this backpack fits you may just depend on your body type.
The Coleman backpack cooler will hold about 28 cans with ice packs, and we would recommend these over ice as the backpack may leak when the ice melts. It weighs approximately 1.4 pounds when empty, and will retain ice for approximately 4-6 hours.
For those people on a budget, the Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler is one of the most affordable options out there, and it would be a fantastic choice for any day adventurer.
If We Could Buy Only One….
Of the five best backpack coolers we have reviewed here, the TOURIT Lightweight Insulated Backpack Cooler wins our Top Pick and would be our first choice if we could buy only one.
For insulation, price, weight, extra storage compartments, comfort, and looks, the TOURIT backpack cooler strikes a balance that the competition simply fails to achieve.
For these reasons, we recommend the TOURIT Lightweight Backpack Cooler above all the rest.
Buyers’ Guide for the Best Backpack Cooler
Portability & Comfort
One of the greatest advantages of a backpack cooler is that your hands can carry your food and drinks comfortably while also freeing your hands to do or carry other things. The best backpack cooler should be comfortable to wear for long periods of time and under heavy weight, while at the same time balancing the weight of the load properly on your back.
It is also important that the backpack cooler comes with additional “grab-n-go” handles, such as on the top and sides, so that you can move the cooler easily when necessary at the camp or grill site.
When considering which insulated cooler backpack to purchase, the shoulder straps should be one of the first things you look at. The quality, shape, and positioning of the shoulder straps will determine the placement and distribution of the weight within your backpack.
While not essential, a waist strap adds even more support and stability, and the best insulated backpacks will come with both shoulder and waist straps.
Shoulder and waist straps should be:
You may even find that a backpack cooler comes with a sternum strap, but depending on your body type and gender, the sternum strap might cause some discomfort.
The majority of backpacks with insulated compartments will be quite light, weighing around one and two pounds. The Yeti and Ice Mule cooler backpacks land on the heavier end of the spectrum when empty, closer to six or seven pounds, but given their phenomenal ice retention and capacity, this is hardly a flaw.
The capacity that you will need in your backpack cooler largely depends on how you will be using it and the number of people you will be carrying food and drinks for.
For a Saturday afternoon at the beach with a couple of friends, you will probably want the ability to carry a lot of drinks and ice, but any other gear (such as towels and chairs) can be carried by your companions or kept nearby in the car. The Yeti Backflip would be your best bet in this situation.
However, if you plan to use your backpack cooler for work, you will most likely prefer a backpack with an insulated compartment, along with other compartments for your work gear and non-food items. The Carhartt 2-in-1 was made with this purpose in mind. The cooler compartment is smaller compared to the competition, but there is more room for other things.
Storage & Compartments
Regardless of how and where you will be using the backpack cooler, you will want to have the option of carrying things that are not food, such as cell phones, car keys, cameras, sweatshirts, and portable speakers. Some cooler backpacks, such as the Coleman, Tourit, and Carhartt, come with built-in pockets and compartments where items can be stored separately from the food and drinks. It is very important that these compartments cannot get wet from melting ice or from condensation.
On the other hand, some coolers, such as the Ice Mule and Yeti, do not come with additional storage built into the backpack itself. Still, both of these coolers come with options for various attachments: in the case of the Ice Mule, bungee webbing, and for the Yeti, a “Hitchpoint Grid” that works similar to MOLLE webbing on tactical backpacks.
Given that most backpack coolers are soft-shell (meaning they aren’t the hard plastic of a regular cooler), you will find that they do not hold ice for nearly as long as a traditional box cooler.
However, the best soft cooler backpacks will retain ice for at least a few hours and even up to three days. Of course, you will need to find the right balance of ice or ice packs to food and drink, and the ice retention of each backpack will vary in the number of times it is opened, how long it is exposed to direct sunlight, and the initial temperature of the contents.
With that said, the best insulated backpacks will both keep the cold in (so you shouldn’t feel the cold on your back), as well as keep the heat out (ensuring that the inside stays cold). And blocking the transfer of heat from outside the compartment to the inside is critical in minimizing the amount of condensation that develops on the outside of the insulated compartment.
Keep in mind that you may still see some condensation develop along the zipper, but this is probably not leakage.
Durability & Waterproofing
If there’s one thing certain about backpack coolers, it’s that they will be exposed to a number of different environments and conditions, and with the regular temperature extremes inside and outside of the cooler, the materials undergo more stress than your typical backpack.
For these reasons, it’s important to choose a backpack cooler with durable exterior fabric, not less than 600D polyester or nylon, and that is resistant to UV radiation. The inside should be tough as well and easy to clean, and most importantly, it should be impermeable to water.
While I would suggest using freezer packs rather than ice, some backpack coolers have waterproofed the cooler compartments by incorporating multiple layers, each made from a different material.
The zippers should be resistant to corrosion from water and salt. The Ice Mule backpack cooler has an advantage here, since it uses the dry-storage roll-top design. And if you and your friends will be opening and closing the backpack a lot, the zippers will be more likely to wear out.
In contrast to Ice Mule, the Yeti Backflip uses an innovative zipper design that locks in place when closed and prevents leakage. (And, you can purchase oil made just for the Yeti cooler zipper, to help it close….)
Making a Final Decision
In this review of the best cooler backpacks, I have considered: the comfort and design of the backpack and what kinds of storage compartments you should look for (Utility); the durability of the materials, zippers, and seams (Durability & Waterproofing); the ice retention provided by the backpacks (Insulation); and their relative costs.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback about any of these backpack coolers, let me know below. And, I’d love to hear about any other insulated backpack coolers you have tried!