Gear

Cool Running: REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler Review

by Mac Misseldine

REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler review

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Whether you’re planning a quick jaunt to the lake or an all-day ascent to mountaintop vistas, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler has your back.

Cold drinks make any outdoor adventure better, but a hard cooler is out of the question when hiking is involved.

Thankfully, the days rolling a plastic cooler behind you on the trail are over. With a backpack cooler, you can carry cold drinks and chilled food to any destination without breaking a sweat.

What We Dig

Cooler compartment easily fits a 12-pack

Keeps drinks cold up to 40 hours

Upper gear compartment is perfect for day hikes

Excellent value

What We Don’t

The cooler compartment may leak

Extreme heat may melt ice in 24-30 hours

The exterior is not waterproof

The Specs

Materials: Recycled nylon ripstop outer, polyester lining

Weight: 2 lb. 2 oz.

Dimensions: 22″ x 15″ x 18″

Cooler capacity: 12 cans + 6 lb. of ice

Total capacity: 29 liters

The Verdict

There are an abundance of backpack coolers to choose from, including big-name brands like YETI that dominate the hard-cooler market. But if you’re looking for a quality backpack cooler at an unbeatable price, it’s tough to top the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler.

In this article, we’ll run through everything you need to know about this popular backpack cooler and take a look at customer reviews to see how well the pack performs in the field.

After we deliver our verdict (spoiler alert — it’s a keeper), we’ll also cover a few alternatives so you can see how the Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler stacks up against the competition.

The Nitty Gritty

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is a 2-in-1 backpack with a storage compartment for your gear on top, and an insulated cooler for drinks and food on the bottom. That means it’ll carry fewer cans of your favorite brew up the mountain, but it’s a lot easier to pack extra gear than a dedicated backpack cooler.

In terms of capacity, the insulated cooler compartment can hold up to 12 cans and six pounds of ice for almost two days (40 hours to be exact). Stick the removable insert in the freezer for maximum insulation, or remove it entirely for day hikes that don’t require cold beverages.

Up top, the gear compartment provides ample space to carry the 10 essentials — navigation materials, a headlamp with spare batteries, sun protection, a first aid kit, a knife, fire-starting materials, emergency shelter, extra food, extra water, and extra clothes.

The backpack features external pockets to house additional supplies, and front lash straps that you can use to attach a camp blanket or collapsible chair.

Altogether, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler offers 29 liters of storage space, measuring 22 inches x 15 inches x 8 inches. It’s fairly light with a base weight that’s just over two pounds, and the padded shoulder straps offer adjustable comfort while you’re on the trail.

The backpack also meets TSA restrictions for carry-on luggage, so you can pack it on the plane with you. Minus the Heineken, of course.

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is constructed with a Bluesign-approved recycled ripstop nylon exterior and polyester liner. The ripstop material can withstand wear and tear on the trail, though there’s no DWR coating to protect against the rain.

Consumer Reviews

There aren’t as many customer reviews out there since the Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is exclusively available at REI, but there are more than enough reviews to see that you’re looking at a quality product with an excellent value. Here are some of the positive comments from reviewers on the REI website: 

“I bought this hoping to fit some fish on my return trip from AK,” says user Wolf_Larsen. “I was able to fit roughly 30 lbs of salmon fillets, frozen and vacuum packed. All of my fish was frozen solid when I hit Reno, 16 hours later!”

“Very nice pack with comfortable shoulder straps,” reports user AerialA. “Plenty of room in the top for anything you would need for a day hike. Pockets on the sides are spacious, they can fit 2 nalgenes each.”

“I got this to use as a beach bag,” says James. “I was able to put a 12er of drinks in the cooler and ice as advertised. On the top I had room for plenty of snacks, Bluetooth speaker, sunscreen, hat, and towel. My cans stayed cold all day.”

“Right off, we loved the convenience and comfort this pack provides over much higher-priced, over-the-shoulder soft side coolers,” comments Banks. “Good weight distribution and the straps are all easy to adjust. With just an Igloo brand freezer pack in the bottom, our refrigerated snacks stayed cool for hours in the heat and humidity. We are quite confident this pack will keep things cold over the long haul with a more substantial cooling system [and] ice.”

As for negative comments, the common theme appears to be issues with melted ice leaking — both from the bottom of the backpack, and into the upper gear compartment. Not all customers reported this issue, and in fact many commented that leaking was not an issue at all.

A few reviewers also commented that the ice in their backpack didn’t last the full 40 hours that REI promises, though that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s safe to say that this cooler can easily keep your drinks cold for 24-30 hours, but beyond that it depends on the heat and humidity outside.

Takeaways

REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts on a budget, delivering the best overall value in the backpack cooler market. True to REI’s reputation, the backpack is durable, reliable, and affordable.

This backpack cooler is an especially good choice for hikers who want to carry their gear and cold drinks in the same backpack. The alternative would be to bring two backpacks, one for drinks and one for gear, so it’s nice that the Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler cuts down on unnecessary bulk by combining these into a single backpack.

Outside of the hiking community, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is also a wonderful choice for routine outings like kids’ sporting events, picnics, and trips to the beach or lake.

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Best Alternatives

While we absolutely recommend the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler, the reviews on REI’s website indicate that leaking may occasionally be an issue. Depending on heat and humidity, you may also find your ice melts in 24 to 30 hours rather than the promised 40 hours. 

That’s a fair trade for the phenomenal price point, but if you’re looking for a watertight backpack cooler that keeps your drinks cold for more than 30 hours, you may want to consider upgrading to a waterproof backpack cooler. 

Upgrade Pick: IceMuel Pro Cooler

IceMuel Pro Cooler

For outdoor enthusiasts and soccer moms who won’t stand for occasional leaking, the IceMuel Pro Cooler is your best bet. In exchange for sacrificing the gear compartment, you’ll get a fully waterproof, zipper-less backpack cooler with welded seams that won’t leak a drop.

The IceMuel Pro Cooler can hold up to 18 cans with ice, and the 1,000-denier ripstop fabric is 2.5x stronger than the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler. It’ll keep your drinks cold for a minimum of 24 hours, and it floats in water, making it an excellent choice for boating and kayaking.

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The Best of the Best: YETI Hopper BackFlip 24

YETI Hopper BackFlip 24 Cooler

YETI is the #1 brand for coolers, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hopper BackFlip 24 is the most popular backpack cooler on the market.

The fan-favorite cooler features a DryHide™ waterproof shell and leakproof HydroLock™ zipper, so you’ll never have to worry about leaking water. The ColdCell™ insulation can sustain ice for days, so you can expect this bad boy to keep your drinks colder far longer than the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler or IceMuel Pro Cooler.

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