Hot weather is just around the corner and that means cooler season is here. Instead of lugging your gigantic ice chest around, though, why not throw on a lightweight backpack cooler?
A few years ago, someone at an outdoor company got hit in the head with an apple and decided to prototype a cooler that’s also a backpack (entirely untrue), and the world was never the same (totally true). Here are the best backpack cooler options on the market right now.
Before You Buy
First, there are a couple of questions you need to answer:
- What is the capacity? A cooler’s capacity is how much it can carry, usually soda or beer cans. However, you can never carry this many because that number doesn’t leave room for ice. Some coolers will list the max number of cans you can fit with no ice, others with ice.
- How does it feel to carry? You want a backpack cooler that feels like you’re carrying eiderdown pillows, not metal dumbbells. Full of cans and ice, these backpacks can weigh 25 pounds or more.
- Is it waterproof? Ice melts, drinks spill, coolers fall in salt water. How well does it keep water in and out?
- Finally, the big question: How long does it keep ice? Do you need drinks cold for two hours at the beach or food cold for two days camping?
LifeProof Backpack Cooler
LifeProof has a couple of slick-looking hiking packs as well as a backpack cooler. Twenty-four cans without ice fit into the LifeProof and it can keep ice for two days. The outside is water repellent with a water bottle pocket on each side and a zip pocket on the front. If you need a few more cans, six more fit into these side and front pockets. The top zip is easy to open one-handed and sits open while you’re filling the pack with ice and drinks.
IceMule Urbano Cooler
The Urbano from IceMule has the biggest capacity in this list with over 30 liters of space. That means 30 cans can fit into the main compartment and you can still have the roll-top close and flap lid buckled. If that’s just not enough, the flap doesn’t shut but the rolltop will latch with four more. Even completely loaded, the Urbano is very comfortable on your back. With a sane number of cans and ice, the Urbano keeps that ice for over 48 hours. Waterproof pockets on the front and under the lid can hold phones and wallets while mesh side pockets can hold other small essentials. The IM AirValve out the right side allows access to the air in the PolarPlus insulation; add more air for more insulation and release for smaller storage.
YETI Hopper BackFlip 24
The Hopper BackFlip from YETI takes the brand’s signature “build it to last forever” ethos and applies it to the latest outdoor must-have. The simple design has daisy chains on the front and sides for attaching accessories, a handle on the top and sides for easy carry, and, of course, comfortable backpack straps with sternum and waist belts. Twenty cans fit inside the 24-liter main compartment (30 cans with no ice), which should hold ice for 2 days. The massive waterproof zipper and DryHide shell keep ice, cold, and water in while keeping the elements out. The Backflip also comes in 18- and 30-liter sizes.
Hydro Flask Unbound Series 22L Soft Cooler Pack
Hydro Flask makes some of the best water bottles and growlers so it makes sense that the brand is also into coolers to keep those bottles cold. The Unbound Series 22L Soft Cooler Pack is one of the cleanest designs you’ll see on a cooler anywhere. Welded zip pockets on one side provide enough space for phones and keys. A 24-ounce water bottle or 25-ounce wine bottle fits in the stretch pocket on the other side. Inside, you can fit 21 regular cans or 24 skinnies. The top flips completely opening for easy ice and drink access.
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Backpack Cooler
If you want a cooler backpack but don’t want to break the bank, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze is a good option. The soft back panel is surprisingly comfortable even when hauling 24 cans. It keeps ice for up to two days, the base stands the whole backup easily, and the material on the outside keeps precious drinks safe while being easily wipeable.
OtterBox Trooper 12 Tote Cooler
Sometimes you’ve already got a backpack for your gear and hauling another isn’t going to make sense. The Otterbox Trooper 12 has a comfortable shoulder strap and a flat back that sits comfortably on your hip. The main compartment is 12 quarts, enough for 16 cans, and shuts with a very satisfying one-handed latch. The main compartment is IP66 rated and can be fully submerged in water. The burly base keeps heat out, cold in, and protects from any punctures. A carabiner bottle opener is tucked in the front pocket so you’re never without and a small pouch on the front holds other essentials.
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