Coolers aren't just for hot summer days. Besides, is there ever a season where a hike isn't improved by a cool drink or a picnic? Traditional camping coolers are great for road trips or beach vacations and you can even buy the best floating coolers for when you hit the water. But on the trail, you need a cooler you can carry. We've put together this list of the best backpack coolers to take with you on the trail, to will keep your drinks and snacks cold for 24 hours and beyond.
Yeti Hopper BackFlip 24
Yeti is a brand synonymous with making some of the best coolers in the world. The Hopper BackFlip uses closed cell rubber insulation, cutting down on unnecessary bulk. You can fit up to 20 cans in this cooler, along with all the ice you will need to keep them chilled. Yeti's Hydrolok zipper is the same system used on its waterproof dry bags, keeping the ice in and the elements out. When you're the one carrying the cooler, you're most likely hauling food and drinks for the whole crew. The Hopper BackFlip evenly distributes weight across the waistband and padded shoulder straps giving you more reason to go further.
Tourit Leak-proof Cooler Backpack
The Tourit Cooler will keep your food and drinks chilled for up to three days, without adding more ice. When you're away for a weekend, you can't always just nip to the shop. With the huge storage capacity of up to 36 cans and the ice to keep them cool, you won't need to restock often. The leakproof zipper and rugged design prevent any surprise leakages on your trek and the padded, adjustable shoulder mean that everyone can carry their snacks comfortably, all day.
Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler (20 Liters)
The simple design of the Hyrdo Flask Day Escape looks more like a dry bag backpack than a cooler. The padded back panel and shoulder straps make this comfortable to carry along the trail. A simple, watertight zipper system gives you access to the 20-liter capacity cooler, space for 36 cans without ice. This is one of the cleanest-looking backpack coolers around, but it's more than just good-looking. This cooler keeps your beverages and snacks cool for 36 hours, so it's ideal for overnight and weekend trips.
IceMule Pro Cooler
The IceMule Pro Cooler could be your perfect companion for your next trip to the lake. You can fit up to 24 cans plus ice inside this cooler, and thick PolarLayer foam insulation keeps your beverages cold for up to 24 hours. Waterproof material and the roll-top closure -- reminiscent of a traditional dry bag -- make this cooler fully watertight. If the beach isn't enough and you want to take your trip onto the water, the good news is that the IceMule Pro Cooler floats.
Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack
If you're hitting the trail alone or with a smaller crew, you might not need to carry loads of cans with you. The Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulator Cooler Backpack has cooler space for 12 cans and an ice pack and will keep your items cool for over 24 hours. The top half of the backpack is, well, it's just a normal backpack. It's made from rain repellent material, so you can carry your men's hiking jacket, snacks, and any other gear you need, all while keeping your beers chilled.
Coleman Chiller Backpack Cooler
The Coleman Chiller Backpack Cooler gives you affordable comfort if you're headed out on the trail with the family or want to take a few beers to a game. This backpack fits up to 28 cans and will stay cool for at least 12 hours, and with two compartments, you can separate your drinks and snacks. Padded shoulder straps and waist belts keep the weight distributed for comfortable carrying.
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Backpack Cooler
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze offers high-performing insulation and two-day ice retention, without breaking the bank. The large insulated pocket can carry up to 24 cans, keeping the other pockets free for various food products and everything else you want to carry with you on the trail. The soft foam back system is surprisingly comfortable, even when you're carrying a full load of refreshments.
Tourit Lightweight Cooler Backpack
You might not always want to look as though you're carrying a backpack full of beers or snacks. The Tourit Cooler Backpack has a classy look to it that belies the fact you might be hauling up to 30 beers with you. The large insulated pocket stays chilled for 16 hours, so your beers will be just as ready to drink at the end of the day as they were when you loaded them in the morning. This backpack is equally at home on the trail as it would be on the beach or at a music festival.
OtterBox Trooper Cooler
OK, so it's not a backpack, but the Otterbox Trooper Cooler is one of the best portable coolers on the market. If you're already loaded up with backpacks, you can throw on the shoulder strap and sit this cooler on your hip for short hauls into camp or down to the beach. The main compartment is 20 quarts, enough space for 28 cans without ice, and is rated to keep ice for three days plus. The rugged base and watertight seal make this the perfect companion for a fully loaded long weekend of camping.
Here are our top 5 questions to ask yourself when you're buying a backpack cooler.
What is the capacity? Stated capacities aren't always entirely trustworthy. There's a lot to be said for stating that a cooler fits 30 cans of beer, but do they fit without stuffing them? Is there space for ice? Will your beer cans be bulging into your back? The stated liters are often accurate, but perhaps leave a beer or two in the fridge at home for your return.
What other storage spaces does it offer? Does the entire bag comprise the cooler compartment? Additional pockets, or backpacks with different compartments, can make it easier to carry snacks and equipment. They might limit how much cooler space you have though.
Will you be able to carry it? A pack of 24 beers isn't light. Add to that a bag of ice and a few snacks and you've got a bag weighing around 25 pounds or more. If you're planning to carry your backpack cooler a long way, ergonomic shoulder pads and a padded waistband will help to distribute the weight evenly and save you a load of discomfort.
Is it waterproof? Ice melts over time. If your cooler isn't waterproof, you're going to get cold water dripping down your back and your legs. Waterproof coolers don't just keep the water in, they stop the elements from getting to your snacks.
How long does it keep ice? Insulation makes or breaks a cooler. It also has the biggest impact on the price tag. Do you need a cooler that will keep a few drinks chilled for a day on the beach or a pack that will keep food fresh for a long weekend of camping?
Here are our top five tips to maximize the effectiveness of your cooler on the trail
Add insulation: If you're not using the full space inside your cooler, you can thicken the walls with polystyrene or something similar to improve the insulation. Even a layer of cooking foil will make a difference.
Throw the cooler in the freezer: Cool your cooler. Starting with a chilled cooler means there is one less thing for your ice to chill.
Use large ice blocks: Large ice blocks, with less surface area, melt more slowly than smaller ice blocks. This works with cool packs as well as loose ice. If you're going camping for a weekend, consider freezing food or non-alcoholic liquids that you don't need until later on the trip. These can act as large ice blocks without taking up extra space.
Drain melted water: Any water sloshing around your cooler will make your ice melt more quickly. Draining water out of your cooler doesn't just keep things cool, it stops you from carrying unnecessary extra weight.
Find shade: When you stop for a break or reach camp, find some shade to store your cooler in. Direct sunlight heats the outside of the cooler and even the most insulated coolers are more effective in the shade.
The short answer is yes! Ice blocks or cubes are fine for coolers but remember to double-check how waterproof your cooler is before committing to loose ice. Large cool blocks are often the most efficient cooling method, but they might not fit as neatly around your drinks and snacks as loose ice. Remember to drain out meltwater regularly to keep your ice for longer.
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