Gear

Chill Out: 7 Best Backpack Coolers for Hauling Tasty Beverages

by Carissa Stanz

best backpack coolers
Photo: Santino Castellanos

A cooler you can strap on your back? Genius.

Anyone who’s ever tried to wheel — who are we kidding, drag — a bulky cooler down a muddy trail will agree: Backpack coolers are where it’s at. With the annoyance out of the equation, you can comfortably haul around snacks and drinks (ahem, beer) to your outdoor setting of choice, hands-free.

Portable and convenient, the chilling power of backpack coolers is on par with your favorite hard-shell coolers. Given their vastly superior maneuverability, it’s no surprise everyone is taking notice. With companies like Yeti and Hydro Flask getting into the game, it looks like this is more than a fad or trend — it’s a revolution.

Next time adventure calls, leave your old, clunky box cooler at home. It’s time to invest in progress with one of these revolutionary backpack coolers.

Polar Bear Cooler

 

The best cooler is a cold cooler, and the Polar Bear Cooler claims 24-hour ice retention in 100+ degree temperatures. Thanks to the one-inch-thick 10-gauge high-intensity foam insulation inside the nylon pack, your drinks will stay ice-cold all day.

Equally impressive is the cooler’s interior liner with antimicrobial FDA-food-grade, TPU-double-coated nylon, which just so happens to be bullet-proof. We don’t recommend you use it for target practice, but it’ll certainly keep your perishables safe.

Rugged inside and out, this backpack cooler is made to withstand a few bumps and snags along the trail with a 1000-denier luggage-grade nylon exterior. The zipper is rust-proof, so you can haul this one to the river without any worries.

The cooler holds up to 18 cans and 7-pounds of ice. There are even a few exterior pockets to stash a can or two when you find the trail getting technical.

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YETI Hopper Backflip 24

When YETI announced the Hopper, the outdoor community lost it. The Texas-based company renowned for their hard-shell coolers was going soft. Yet like all things YETI, it wasn’t long before they had us sold.

Where competing coolers offer 24 hours of ice retention, the Hopper Backflip 24 can hold ice for days. The soft-sided backpack cooler features ColdCell Insulation, a closed-cell rubber foam with superior insulation properties.

The DryHide Shell exterior is waterproof, mildew resistant, and remarkably durable. Scratches and tears are no match for its shell. It comes with a Hitchpoint grid to secure extra gear, and an ergonomic harness for a comfortable carry.

YETI Hopper Backflip 24
Photo: Santino Castellanos

The Hopper Backflip 24 can hold up to 20 beer cans for you and your buddies when using a 2:1 ice ratio. When you’re not chilling drinks, try using the Hopper Backflip 24 to store your dry goods. Thanks to the heavy-duty leakproof zipper, the water-tight compartment keeps everything dry and secure.

Hiking, surfing, SUPing, you name it — if it’s remotely outdoor-related, this cooler was made for it.

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Barebones Rambler Cooler

Barebones offers a sophisticated outdoor product line that inspires us to take a walk down to the creek. With their Rambler Cooler, you can ramble along the water in style with a minimalist backpack cooler disguised as a classic canvas pack.

The 17.5-liter backpack cooler keeps 12 cans ice-cold inside the removable liner. Whether you or a buddy decide to carry it, you can toss it on your back and size it accordingly with the adjustable straps. When you reach your destination, there’s even a built-in bottle opener to help you pop open a cold one.

The Rambler Cooler is antimicrobial, water-resistant, and comes with rust-resistant hardware. Best suited for a picnic in the park or a trip to the pool, this backpack cooler is ideal for the leisurely-minded traveler.

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Hydro Flask Unbound Soft Cooler Pack

Coming onto the scene in 2009, Hydro Flask was the first to launch an all-insulated water bottle line. Now, they’ve branched out into making backpack coolers.

Hydro Flask’s Unbound Soft Cooler Pack is a testament to their innovative technology and dedication to overcoming lukewarm beverages. It keeps drinks chilled and food unspoiled for up to 48-hours — more than enough for a weekend trip to the backcountry.

To keep things at the proper temperature, Hydro Flask uses Advanced Thermal Mapping insulation throughout the whole backpack. Taking it a step further, they installed an Aquaseal® zipper and welded seams to ensure your goods are locked in and nothing seeps out.

The waterproof backpack has an FDA-food-grade and BPA-free liner, mesh back panel, extra carrying strap, hinged top, and a dry storage pocket. It has the capacity to cart around 22-liters, with a side pocket capable of stowing a 24-ounce Hydro Flask bottle or 25-ounce wine bottle.

The Unbound Soft Cooler Pack is backed by a five-year warranty. Like all things Hydro Flask, it’s available in several attractive colors: Brick, Goldenrod, Lagoon, Mist, and Black.

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IceMule Pro

After winding up with soggy food and a soaked back, IceMule founder James Collie decided the world needed a transportable cooler you could easily tote around on an outdoor trek. Testing prototype after prototype, he came up with a revolutionary portable cooler: the IceMule.

The fairly-priced IceMule Pro features a unique design that’s instantly recognizable. Rather than using the box shape and zippered top common among other backpack coolers, the IceMule Pro sports a cylindrical shape with a buckle-closure roll-top for easy access. The bag is fully collapsible, making it the most packable cooler when not in use.

The IceMule Pro comes equipped with five-point specialized IceMule insulation technology: a TriFold DriTop System, a thick MuleSkinEV interior and exterior, PolarLayer Insulation for a 24-hour chill, an IM AirValve for air removal, and the ComfortCarryIMPT System for extra comfort while in use. Available in multiple colors, you can choose between a 23-, 33-, and 43-liter cooler.

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REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler

Attractive in both style and price, the REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler does more than just chill your drinks and snacks. With a pack on the top and a cooler on the bottom, it’s a hybrid solution offering the best of both worlds.

Working our way down, there’s a buckle and drawstring closure compartment large enough to hold any essentials necessary for a day hike. There’s a leak-proof insert to keep your dry gear safe, though there’s really no need to worry about melted ice dribbling onto your dry gear with the storage compartment positioned on top.

The cooler itself is detachable and the insert removable, making setup and cleanup a breeze. Fill it with six pounds of ice and you’ll still have enough room to carry around a 12-pack. The two compartments can hold a combined 29-liters, and the whole thing weighs just over two pounds.

With two lash straps on front, you can secure your favorite outdoor blanket and head to an alpine lake to party the afternoon away with your buddies.

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Coleman C003 Soft Backpack Cooler

While we love Hydro Flask and YETI as much as the next guy, not everyone can afford to throw down a stack of cash on a backpack cooler. When price is a factor, consider the Coleman C003 Soft Backpack Cooler.

Coleman produces some of the most affordable camping equipment around. Founded in 1900, they’ve operated as one of the most recognizable and reliable value brands for decades.

The Coleman C003 fits your budget and your back comfortably. While some of the other packs on the list are a bit more rigid, the C003 hugs your back like a typical backpack. It has extra padding on the back and hip-belt, a much-appreciated feature on longer hikes.

The cooler can hold up to a whopping 28-cans in the BPA- and phthalate-free, heat-welded main compartment. There’s an additional zippered front pocket, dual side pockets, and exterior bungee cord for extra storage.

From snacks to drinks and gear, this pack holds it all. Considering you get all that at a remarkable price puts this backpack cooler in the #1 spot as the best budget buy.

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For more outdoor gear, check out our favorite hiking boots under $100, the best 3-person backpacking tents and the top backpacking cookware sets.

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