Backpacking

ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler Review: One Cool Bag

Ice Mule feature

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Load up the ICEMULE Pro and chill out wherever the journey takes you.

The ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler is everything that’s in its name. This portable cold bag traveled with me to the Hawaiian Islands where it served well as my personal beach buddy and day hiking pack. In it, I hauled fresh fruit, cold drinks, and frozen mochi ice cream on multiple hikes and bike rides across the islands.

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Ice Mule lunch
Snacktime in Kona.

The Good

  • Comfortable to carry, even when fully loaded
  • Available in a variety of size and color options
  • Completely waterproof
  • Robust construction from durable materials

The ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler is exceptionally well made from noticeably high-quality materials. The padding on the shoulder straps and back panel is pleasantly soft, and the exterior fabric will hold up well against the rigors of the outdoors. I tested the “Large” 23L pack (which is actually the smallest size) and it proved to be the perfect size for my wife and me. I’d rather haul this over a box cooler any day.

The Not-Quite-As-Good

  • The more it is insulated, the fewer snacks and drinks can fit inside
  • No hip belt leads to a sweaty back and tired shoulders on long treks

The adjustable air insulation is a neat trick, but it only takes a few puffs to blow everything out of proportion. A hipbelt option would be nice for those of us intending to carry the backpack more than a mile or two down the trail.

Field Testing

The ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler is a versatile pack that can be used for a day at the beach, a boating trip, fishing excursion, you name it. For me, it was my go-to for day hikes and bike rides as I explored the lush trails and coastlines for several weeks on O’ahu and the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Arthur Ice Mule
On the trail with the ICEMULE Pro Large 23L Insulated Backpack Cooler.

Insulation: Did it Stay Cold?

Ice Mule air insulation
The IM AirValve—use this to adjust the air insulation one breath at a time.

The short answer is that yes, all of my snacks and drinks remained cold throughout my journeys. Even over the course of a full afternoon in the Hawaiian sun, the ICEMULE’s contents were kept cold.

The caveat, though, is that the more you insulate the ICEMULE Pro through its IM AirValve, the less packing space you end up with on the inside. The walls of the cooler blow up like a balloon, which you can see in the leftmost pic in the gallery below.

I quickly learned that it doesn’t take much to add in the necessary insulation for an afternoon at the beach. A short breath or two was plenty. ICEMULE says that a person could fit 18 drink cans plus ice inside this 23L pack, but that’d have to be with it mostly deflated.

Though much of the ice I packed would melt after an afternoon in the sun, it never melted completely and my food was never warm. Be prepared for the bottom to puddle, though – don’t bring the cardboard holder for your six-pack and make sure whatever you pack inside the ICEMULE is waterproof.

Ample Padding

For walks along the beach and short hikes, the ICEMULE Pro Backpack Cooler was as comfortable as could be. The shoulder straps are remarkably wide and well-padded. They’re about four fingers wide and as thick as my pinky. No matter how heavy I packed the bag, my shoulders didn’t complain.

Ice Mule ventilation
Padding for days.

The same could be said of the back panel. It wasn’t only comfortable for a backpack – it felt good, period. It didn’t cause any sore spots and felt at times like getting a hug from a fluffy teddy bear. The air insulation further added to the comfort. But after about two or three miles of hiking, or a couple of hours on a bike around town, I would begin to feel the weight.

It’s times like those that a hipbelt would have been welcome to spread out the weight distribution. Not only would a hipbelt have taken the weight off of my shoulders, but it would have improved ventilation on my back. While the back ventilation is adequate for short trips, it doesn’t hold up to miles of movement in a tropical paradise. I was pretty sweaty after all-day hikes.

Waterproof and Tough As Can Be

Ice Mule Pro on trail
Hiking to Ka’ena Point.

Nothing got into the pack that I didn’t want in, and nothing got out, either. Despite the eventuality of melted ice, the ICEMULE never spring a leak.

And while I didn’t beat the heck out of the bag, it certainly brushed up against a fair amount of trees and was not-so-gently placed on some volcanic beach rocks from time to time. The exterior MuleSkinET fabric is supremely tough, and the bottom of the pack has an even tougher material in areas where it’s likely to come in contact with rough surfaces.

Likewise, all of the straps, buckles, and stitching all appear to be strong and made of high-quality materials. I can’t yet attest to the long-term durability of the ICEMULE Pro, but it’s held up like a champ thus far.

Ice Mule beach
There’s nothing like cracking open a cold drink after hiking several miles to a viewpoint like this.

Packability

When the ICEMULE Pro arrived, my first concern was its size. This was a big, burly bag when it was fresh out of its retail packaging. I had already planned to take it to Hawaii with me, but when I first laid eyes on it in person, I thought I was going to regret trying to pack it for the trip.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. I only took a carry-on bag and a laptop bag on the plane, and so the ICEMULE Pro had to fit inside with everything else. Thankfully, it wasn’t an issue.

Ice Mule packed tightly
This is my carry-on luggage, and the ICEMULE Pro fit without an issue.

Key Takeaways

Ice Mule Green Sands Beach
Next time I visit Hawaii, you know I’ll be taking the ICEMULE Pro with me again.

Variety of size and color options: The Large 23L was ideal for my trip, but the larger sizes may be better for those of you who are planning to bring the party out for your entire crew. Hunters and fishers will love the camo option.

Incredibly sturdy construction: Every aspect of this pack is tight and strong.

Versatility: There are so many ways to use this cooler bag, especially in outdoor sports and recreation. From hiking to packrafting or even an afternoon at the community pool, you’ll want to take this pack.

Returns and Warranties

All ICEMULE coolers have a 90-day no-questions-asked warranty. Refunds may be given on unused items within 30 days of purchase.

Other Options

RTIC offers a backpack cooler that’s sturdier and more rigid than the sack-like ICEMULE Pro. Some may find its boxy shape to be a benefit, while others will find it a drawback. There’s only one size available.

REI Co-op has a couple of cooler backpack options, most notably the Cool Trail Pack Cooler. This daypack features a cooler bag insert and has a hip belt (score!) It may not insulate as well as the ICEMULE Pro, but it may be more comfortable to carry on long hikes.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, the ICEMULE Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler is a fantastic choice for light hikes and casual day trips to the beach or park. I can absolutely see it as a cooler bag that I’d want to take with me fishing and kayaking as well, though I haven’t had the chance to test it in those scenarios yet (but I will!)

I was impressed by its comfort, packability, and insulation capabilities. My one real gripe is that I wish there was an option to add a hip belt. Aside from that single shortcoming, the ICEMULE Pro is extremely versatile and a welcome addition to my gear closet.

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Editor’s Note: ICEMULE supplied our writer with the IceMule Pro for testing purposes, as is common practice with gear reviews. However, our writer’s opinions are entirely his own; our writers don’t profit off sales. We strive for honesty and transparency at all times. 


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