Best Backpack Coolers 2018 – Reviews And Top Picks

An insulated cooler, or in fact, any cooling bag, is an indispensable item for any type of outdoor adventures. It does not matter whether you are heading out of town or just seeking a quiet place to have a lunch in a park – you need guarantees that your food is safe and your beverages are chilled. While simply comfortable, those containers also provide you with plenty of space for supplies guaranteeing that they won’t spoil for a certain period of time.

Today, a market is full of different portable or semi-portable ice chests – chilling is no longer a problem. But what if your focus is on the comfort of transportation? Hardly any bag or personal ice chest can provide as much comfort as a backpack – capacious and foldable, light-weighted and multi-purpose, hands-free and stylish when we’re speaking of the versatility of models.

Cooling backpacks have two groups of distinctive features that may be of interest to you. In respect of comfort and ease of use, they beat many other competing models in multipurposeness; speaking of portability, however, backpack coolers have no competitors at all. Only a rucksack will allow you to position the weight equally so that you won’t learn the trouble of back and joint pain. You can pack food along with other necessities in the same bag and leave your hands completely free for carrying a fishing rod or a smartphone.

Mobility is definitely not the only thing that matters when purchasing a cooler. Actually, your decision on useful and not-so-useful cooler features requires considering a parcel of factors.

Let’s look at the list of available top-rate backpack coolers with all their pros and cons.

  • YETI Hopper BackFlip 24 Soft Sided Cooler/Backpack
  • Rating:
  • Capacity: 20 cans/25 quarts/23.6 liters
  • Dimensions (inches): W 20.6 x D 14.7 x H 11.3
  • Item weight (lbs): 7.8
  • Ice retention (hours): 24-48
  • Resistances: waterproof mildew-, puncture-, and UV-resistant
  • ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag
  • Rating:
  • Capacity: 30 cans/34.9 quarts/33 liters
  • Dimensions (inches): W 17 x D 9 x H 7
  • Item weight (lbs): 6.76
  • Ice retention (hours): 24
  • Resistances: fully waterproof, no-leak zipper
Name
Capacity
Dimensions (inches)
Item weight (lbs)
Ice retention (hours)
Resistances
Price
Name
Capacity
Dimensions (inches)
Item weight (lbs)
Ice retention (hours)
Resistances
Price
№1
20 cans | 25 quarts | 23.6 liters
W 20.6 x D 14.7 x H 11.3
7.8
24-48
waterproof mildew-, puncture-, and UV-resistantShow More
№2
30 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
W 17 x D 9 x H 7
6.76
24
fully waterproof, no-leak zipper
№3
5 meal containers + 2 bottles + laptop + large compartmentShow More
W 12 x D 12 x H 20
9
8
tear- and abrasion-resistant
№4
24 cans | 30.2 quarts | 28.6 liters
W 10 x D 18 x H 12
1
24
leakproof, no-sweat interior, rip-resistant
№5
18 cans | 25 quarts | 23.6 liters
W 14 x D 7 x H 16
2
24
Heavyweight Leak-Proof Liner
№6
12 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
W 17.7 x D 13 x H 7.5
1.1
16
waterproof, leak-resistant
№7
12+ cans
W 12.8 x D 9.1 x H 12.5
3.35
12
tear-resistant
№8
30 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
W 10.5 x D 11 x H 18.5
2.86
4-8
water-resistant, wear-proof
№9
8 cans | 14.25 quarts | 13.5 liters
W 15 x D 9 x H 15
8.85
24-48
water- and leak-proof
№10
16+ cans
W 11.8 x D 6.8 x H 16.5
2.5
8-12
wear-resistant
№11
10 cans | 18 quarts | 17 liters
W 20 x D 7.3 x H 30
2.4
8-12
water- and wear-resistant

Both aesthetically and performance speaking, Yeti’s leadership on the cooler market has become traditional. They are renowned for enhanced insulation and premium-range prices of their high-end products. Here, this Hopper BackFlip matches Yeti’s usual top-notch level of quality. This Hopper is capacious and nicely insulated. It’s a rugged-yet-stylish backpack cooler designed for organizing small parties or going on an overnight camping trip.

Capacity
20 cans | 25 quarts | 23.6 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 20.6 x D 14.7 x H 11.3
Item weight (lbs)
7.8
Ice retention (hours)
24-48
Resistances
waterproof mildew-, puncture-, and UV-resistant
PROS

Best foam insulation for the money;

Food-safe lining;

Comfortable straps.

Cons

Quite expensive;

Only a minimum of organizational potential.

Thanks to the increased volume, Ice Mule Coolers holds enough ice to provide cooling for more than 24 hours, which is an excellent result for a soft-sided reduced-weight ice bag. It can be used both as a bag and as a rucksack so that you can adjust the volume to various amount of food. Overall, the design of this backpack cooler is focused on carrying comfort, which makes it a high-priority for hiking, picnics, beach, and camping, as well as for fishing.

Capacity
30 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 17 x D 9 x H 7
Item weight (lbs)
6.76
Ice retention (hours)
24
Resistances
fully waterproof, no-leak zipper
PROS

Comfort of carrying;

Full waterproofness;

1000-denier fabric & welded seams;

Good compactness when folded.

Cons

No sealed outside pockets;

Closure system is an acquired taste.

6 Pack Fitness boasts a tried-and-true design that makes it both handy and capacious. The number 500 here stands for 5 organized meal containers and, as opposed to the 300 model, offers a taller and more capacious cooler solution. Highly abundant with internal and external pockets, the Expedition Backpack provides you with a big number of organizational opportunities while accompanying you on the way to/from the office, country house, car, and gym on a daily basis.

Capacity
5 meal containers + 2 bottles + laptop + large compartment
Dimensions (inches)
W 12 x D 12 x H 20
Item weight (lbs)
9
Ice retention (hours)
8
Resistances
tear- and abrasion-resistant
PROS

Well-thought-out design;

Lots of extra pockets and zippered compartments;

Cooling packs and containers included.

Cons

A too-tightly-fit container compartment;

There were complaints about flimsy shoulder straps.

Even though coolers like Yeti and Engel rule the market’s niche of expensive products, other not-so-costly cooling bags like Polar Bear have lots to offer as well. For instance, this Polar Bear soft-sided cooler is almost as capacious as the famed Yeti Hopper Two 30. What’s more, it boasts such sleek features as comfy side-release buckles and TPU double-coated nylon used as a liner. The cooler offers the premium-level cold retention perfect for tailgate parties, campfires, picnics, and just for a quick outing.

Capacity
24 cans | 30.2 quarts | 28.6 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 10 x D 18 x H 12
Item weight (lbs)
1
Ice retention (hours)
24
Resistances
leakproof, no-sweat interior, rip-resistant
PROS

Great insulation and durability for the price;

Moderately priced.

Cons

Not very capacious.

AO Coolers seems to adhere to the cooling bag standards tried and tested by time. They do not perch high on the roster of contemporary cooler backpacks yet offer high quality for affordable rates.

This soft-sided AO bag comes with detachable shoulder straps that allow you to transform it from backpack to tote and back. Its cooling abilities stay within acceptable limits and the overall performance is further optimized by a tough and wear-resistant shell. The AO Backpack Soft Cooler opens its full potential in travels, hiking outings, picnics, sporting events, and other outdoor activities.

Capacity
18 cans | 25 quarts | 23.6 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 14 x D 7 x H 16
Item weight (lbs)
2
Ice retention (hours)
24
Resistances
Heavyweight Leak-Proof Liner
PROS

Pretty much an all-around bag;

Great mobility;

Manufactured from tough materials.

Cons

Not fully protected from leaking;

Price is on the higher side.

Where traditional coolers simply don’t cut it, backpack coolers step in, and TOURIT here is your proof of concept. TOURIT coolers are created with the idea of a perfect backpack cooler in mind, so this is where their great functionality stems from. The TOURIT backpack proves indispensable when you get ready for a hiking day trip or plan to stay at a campsite overnight. And its versatility goes further than simply that – apart from outdoor activities, this is a reliable unisex bag for taking to the office as well.

Capacity
12 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 17.7 x D 13 x H 7.5
Item weight (lbs)
1.1
Ice retention (hours)
16
Resistances
waterproof, leak-resistant
PROS

Three separated areas for dry storage;

High-performance insulation;

Moderately leak-resistant liner;

Stylish and smart look.

Cons

No sternum clips or waist straps;

Zippers are not designed as heavy-duty.

As far as competitive quality is concerned, Igloo goes almost head to head with ORCA and Yeti. Their fine-looking and reliable backpacks have seen a rise in popularity due to a mostly positive user feedback. When compared with a traditional cooler, Igloo Daytripper Backpacks appear to be better in both compactness and comfort of carrying. Those packs have a superb value for the money allowing you to set out on a day hiking trip or go cycling. They are also great for stocking up in one of the city’s shopping malls and then to toting all your supplies back home with ease.

Capacity
12+ cans
Dimensions (inches)
W 12.8 x D 9.1 x H 12.5
Item weight (lbs)
3.35
Ice retention (hours)
12
Resistances
tear-resistant
PROS

Large Capacity;

Adjustable sternum strap;

Preloaded accessories;

Separator for bottles;

High-end make.

Cons

Over-average cost;

Zippers don’t stop water from getting in/out.

According to the company’s credo, RUPUMPACK great where other rucksacks aren’t. We can’t be sure about other products by RUPUMPACK but this sounds about right for their Military Tactical Backpack. It provides the necessary amount of room for cold food & beverage storage, covering travelers’ and commuters’ needs of all hues and proportions. The bag offers average cooling capabilities (up to 8 hours of the retaining performance with prechilled items) and is aimed at people of smaller to medium build to serve as your survival companion in times of fishing, camping, hunting and general outdoor uses.

Capacity
30 cans | 34.9 quarts | 33 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 10.5 x D 11 x H 18.5
Item weight (lbs)
2.86
Ice retention (hours)
4-8
Resistances
water-resistant, wear-proof
PROS

Super-sturdy;

Higher safety with reflectors;

Hydration bladder section.

Cons

Quite small;

Quite short ice life.

Being Yeti’s main rival for many years, ORCA coolers have their own way of winning the heart of an outdoor enthusiast. Among many larger models, the ORCA Podster comes as a surprisingly lightweight and compact cooling bag. Still, it allows you to haul a whole of 59.5 pounds, which is more than enough as for a personal cooler of such mobile dimensions. Its shoulder straps with padding and cross-sternum adaptable T-strap is your guarantee of a comfortable carry during light hikes, short trips as well as camping and hunting outings.

Capacity
8 cans | 14.25 quarts | 13.5 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 15 x D 9 x H 15
Item weight (lbs)
8.85
Ice retention (hours)
24-48
Resistances
water- and leak-proof
PROS

Ultra durable and protected;

Rigid structure;

Drinking cup included.

Cons

Somewhat pricey;

Limited choice of styles.

Originally, the Picnic Time brand Oniva creates highly useful accessories for travelers and people on the move. The Turismo series by Oniva includes this insulated cooling bag featuring many various-shaped insulated compartments for preserving foods and beverages cold. It basically consists of two bags as the user can detach the bottle holder and carry it separately on a shoulder sling. Its non-slip increased-comfort backpack straps do their job perfectly when you go for a picnic, open-air concert, or to just stroll on the beach, as well as for functions of a school backpack, daypack, or road bag if you want it to do so.

Capacity
16+ cans
Dimensions (inches)
W 11.8 x D 6.8 x H 16.5
Item weight (lbs)
2.5
Ice retention (hours)
8-12
Resistances
wear-resistant
PROS

Enough room to accommodate everything needed;

Lots of exterior pockets & 1 duffel;

Nice look with sleek lines.

Cons

Faulty top flap;

No special resistances.

Having left the feature race for others, North Coyote fully focuses on the quality of their cold-keeping products. This Hiking Backpack is designed for optimized comfort in both urban and natural environs. Its highly-mobile foldable design is a mixture of a city daypack and a premium-performance insulated bag capable of preserving foods as hot or cold as you originally put them inside. The North Coyote unisex insulated backpack is a more than a handy solution for outdoor activities, including land and sea travels, hunting, fishing outings, overnight stays or park picnics.

Capacity
10 cans | 18 quarts | 17 liters
Dimensions (inches)
W 20 x D 7.3 x H 30
Item weight (lbs)
2.4
Ice retention (hours)
8-12
Resistances
water- and wear-resistant
PROS

Separated dry and cooling sections;

Well-thought-out extra pockets;

Well-priced.

Cons

There are reports of bad stitching;

Not 100% water-resistant.

Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose a Backpack Coolers

When it comes to quality outdoor entertainments, nothing is as important as sufficient supplies of fresh food and drinks. Portable coolers are always at the top of every camping gear list – and the right product choice, in this case, should cover as many factors as possible. Backpack coolers require even more attention because they by design serve as both freezers and rucksacks – twice as many features to think out before purchase.

First off, backpack ice containers should not be confused with ordinary tote cooler bags. These models are also soft-sided and portable yet usually designed as simple ice bags with only two handles, fewer internal pockets and a lack of hands-free capabilities. Tote coolers bags also have a smaller volume than rucksacks because they do not allow you to even up the weight on your spinal column and shoulders (these models usually hold 9-12 cans, rarely up to 24 cans). Certain cooler bags, however, exist on the margin and have removable shoulder and waist straps, which makes them suitable for hunting and fishing as well as for beach parties. For example, ice chests such as YETI hopper cooler with included shoulder straps can transform from bag into rucksack in a snap so that you can handle it in a manner that is to your liking.

Next, it is necessary to decide what urban/natural conditions you are going to use your purchase in as well as what supplies and how many of them you are going to carry.

What Do I Need a Backpack Cooler For?

While cooling backpacks comprise a pretty universal solution, you should nevertheless establish what exact goals you are planning to achieve before making a final choice. You should opt for one of those rucksack types if you need:

  • Increased volume and additional dry pockets;
  • More comfort and space when backpacking with extra stuff;
  • Free hands (this is especially important when choosing a model for fishing/hunting);
  • More carrying comfort and less strain on the joints;
  • From 24 to 48 hours of reliable chilling;
  • Several sections for different food and glassware containers along with dry pockets for your belongings.

Where Am I Going to Use It?

Today, ice bags come in an assortment wide enough to offer solutions for various groups of outdoor activities. For obvious reasons, backpacks coolers for hunting and hiking are more durable than coolers for beach parties and insulated lunch box models for picnicking. These tactical models also have features designed to provide high ice retention levels even under harsh weather conditions and direct sun rays, including thickened foam cells and water-resistant zippers. Usually, you can easily distinguish them from others thanks to a military design – a camouflage or RealTree-colored cooler is likely to have been designed for more severe conditions.

There are also special models of backpacks with cold storage sections – these products are most popular among bicycle riders and urban citizens. If you don’t plan to carry a three-day supply with you, then the best option is to look for such a model. As a rule, these coolers feature a larger compartment for laptops/tablets (up to 15- 17″), several multi-use pockets, and a small cooling section big enough to carry a lunch for one person.

In addition, the market currently proposes a wide choice of special coolers for drinks (different soft-sided wine insulated coolers with bottle holders and wine openers) and mini cooler bags for short trips with leakproof water-protected compartments for gadgets.

Ease of Use & Durability

The optimal backpack cooler should provide a sufficient amount of packing space, decent durability, and highest ice retention. On the other hand, it should be as light-weighted as possible plus space-saving when folded.

As to durability parameters, when given the chance, you should look for backpack coolers featuring high-density insulation material, thick foam layers, and leak-proof liners. Note, though, that increased durability means a heftier bag, and this stays true for all modern materials, including high-density open cell foam.

The ice retention time depends mostly on the thickness and insulating characteristics of the walls; however, it is also defined by how often you open and close the ice bag to get the food out. Each time you access the backpack you enable the ventilation with warm air outside. This is why you should check the zippers and make sure they are closed tightly and reliably so that the heat exchange with surrounding air will be minimal. Preference should be given to metal zippers instead of cheaper plastics; zipper lubrication also might help a lot.

In what concerns dryness and the resulting comfort of use and quality of food preservation, a successfully chosen model should be both water-proof and leak-proof (if you are interested in using cubed ice). With those two parameters enabled, elements and external water won’t spoil your bag’s contents including dry and cooling pockets as well as melted ice won’t damage the liner from the inside. Most models feature several thick layers of coated nylon around dry pockets, so that your belongings, including such delicate things as road maps, electronics and medications would stay protected from water damage. The lining of a backpack cooler should be reinforced with thick fabric to provide enough resistance to leaks as well as not suffering damage when getting folded.

All things considered, the best choice should be coolers with closed cell rubber foam, anchored double or triple stitching and removable lining inserts with anti-microbial surfaces for easier cleaning and increased safety.

Multi-use Sections and Fast-track Draining

Adjustable compartments with waterproof walls may also include camel hydration packs with protective caps and fast-release tube (military design, 2.5-3 liters of volume, such as RUPUMPACK rucksacks) so that you can drain the reservoir within a minute’s worth of time without applying much pressure. Those hydro packs are usually equipped with additional sleeves holding 1-3 liters of water with increased insulation levels.

The same principle is used in cooling backpack with installed draining systems: soft mouthpieces with protective caps will allow you to keep the ice bag dry and clean regardless of how much ice melts into water within separated compartments.

Price Range and Quality

In this sector of cooling products, the price ranges from $30 to $120 with exception of large/feature-rich extra durable backpacks at a price of $220-$280. You can come by a cooler backpack with a volume of up to 50 cans (such as polyester-polyethylene types) at a price of $40-$50. For something with less room, such as lunch boxes, suitable for short trips and day-to-day commuting, you can get hold of a satisfyingly functioning small backpack cooler for less than $60.

Mind the specificity that costlier coolers provide longer ice retention periods (up to 2 days), are tougher and more water-resistant due to being made of multi-layered nylon and high-density fabric along with weatherized leakproof zippers (like ICEMULE model).

Consider the optimal price only after deciding what kind of adventures you are going to set on. Low-price ice chests will do an excellent job of sustaining a small family picnic, whereas choosing a more expensive and simultaneously more reliable model for a fishing or hunting tour could be just the ticket.

What Features to Look for When Choosing a Backpack Cooler

Mobility and Carrying Comfort

Even in its highly comfortable rucksack-style form, a cooler may still cost you extra effort of moving it around – especially when carrying it generously loaded. Even relatively small ORCA Podster holds up to 50 lbs, so getting through cross-country to your destination could be quite an exercise. Make sure you are OK with carrying its maximal load if you feel like opting for a bigger size.

Padded straps adjustable around your waist and over your chest and shoulders will allow you to distribute the weight and, consequently, not to suffer from rub sores and back or limb strains.

In order to guarantee maximal comfort, look also for a sweating prevention system. This is a rare feature in small soft-sided coolers (12-18 cans volume); however, the breathable system is a must-have in heavier rucksacks. In addition to carrying comfort, breathable systems also have stain- and odor-resistant properties enabled by extra polymer-coating layers.

Material and Ice Retention

All cooling backpacks are soft-sided models with cold-preserving characteristics of no longer than 2 days of reliable cooling. For maintaining satisfying insulation their design involves composite materials that combine light weight and elasticity with thermal isolation properties. External coverings are made of water- and UV-resistant fabric with rubber, multi-layered nylon and foam inserts. Exterior fabric durability can easily reach the high-end level of 1000 denier, meaning it’s practically untearable and can manage some pretty rough uses.

The inner layers concentrate on insulation – for instance, polymeric MaxCold foam cells can be brought to the maximal tightness with rubber and nylon strainers. Leak-proof performance is achieved by extra coating for each individual compartment. This feature makes it possible to carry additional ice packs or add new blocks of ice without caring about condensation or meltwater. In addition, protection of dry pockets is also provided through their location – most models have additional compartments above or beside the axis of pressure so that melted ice will not move in their direction even in case of structural damage.

Size and Holding Capacity

Unlike plain-made ice bags, insulated cooling packs have no problems with the distribution of available volume and put a lot of extra pockets/compartments to use. The increased organizational potential upgrades what originally looks like an insulated bag to a fully-functional means of storage. In terms of storage places, those daypacks often approach the level of survival gear – all the more so with added MOLLE loops, food container sections, thermoses and drinking water bladders.

The height of a standard backpack rarely exceeds 18.5 inches, with an average width of 12 inches. Depending on where and how you intend to wear them, larger models could be less practical for regular use. At the same time, beach/picnic coolers with removable cutting boards and bottle holders start from medium-sized up.

Additional Pockets/Storage

Most backpack lunch boxes have extra pockets to help you carry different necessities varying from bottles of drink and fishing gear to maps, cell phones and laptops that require special protection. The optimal choice would be 1 top packable compartment for various dry necessities, 2 exterior insulated pockets, 1 back water-resistant compartment for your laptop, and 2-3 front pockets with heavy-duty stainless steel zippers to protect them from humidity.

FAQ

  • What is a standard supply of ice in an average-volume backpack cooler?

    The standard proportion of ice to the bag’s contents is about 2:1. It provides maximal ice retention under normal weather conditions. If you have plenty of free space even in a fully-loaded cooler, you can add extra freeze packs (works, primarily, with leak-proof models) to increase the ice retention parameter.

  • How long do ice block last in a portable soft-sided cooling bag?

    Depending on the class of foam insulation and the value of air temperature, a standard ice supply lasts not less than 8 hours. These values can be prolonged by using costlier backpack ice chests with a higher content of MaxCold foam (+25-30%) and thicker walls and linings. When properly used, an insulated cooler can keep ice for 24-48 hours without replenishment.

  • Is it possible to store warm food/beverages in a cooling bag?

    Yes, it is; however, you should store warm and cold supplies in different sections carefully avoiding mixing them. Usually, a larger bottom pocket is used for cold foods, whereas bottle compartments or side pockets are best for storing warm foodstuffs and drinks.

  • How to clean a cooling backpack and keep it ready for use?

    Nylon backpacks can be cleaned in the same way as fabric lunch boxes. Just check the tags to make sure that you can wash them by hand or what cycle you need to set on your washing machine. After washing you need to dry the bag’s insides and provide proper ventilation. Removable linings with anti-microbial properties may be washed with water and soap.

Conclusion

Selecting a flawlessly functional backpack cooler is not the easiest of tasks taking into account all the factors you should consider. Still, the pleasing outcome justifies a few extra minutes of planning. You should make your choice from the position of aims you set – it would hardly be practical to search for a model that can serve both as a lunch box for office work and a cooling bag for fishing. As for maximal productivity, this aspect may also be challenging to decide on because by maximizing the backpack size you reduce your mobility and vice versa. All-in-all, your comfort should remain a top priority with all other features taking second billing.

Users Rating:
5 / 5.0
1 User Voted
Add Your Rating:
By Chris Hayes
about author

My name is Chris and I am a hunter, outdoorsman, survivalist of 36 years old from Bosie, Idaho. Being a participant of Ihea-USA, I like big game hunting most of all, especially hunting white-tailed deer. Except hunting, I’m also keen on fishing and gaining new knowledge how to survive in the wild nature. As a professional hunter, I do not stop improving upon own hunting skills and testing new gear, equipment, hardware and weapons. I write articles to share my experience and knowledge with the readers who motivate me for more. For any additional information contact me at [email protected]