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.
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.
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.
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.