When you think of a cooler what comes to mind? For us, it’s endless beach days, camping trips, boating adventures, and good times with family and friends. Coolers do bring the party after all.
For folks who live an adventurous lifestyle, a backpack cooler is the move. They provide all the functions of a normal cooler but are much more portable for those harder to reach good times. Like so many things, backpack coolers aren’t all created equally and come in a range of shapes, sizes, and prices. We took the liberty of testing the best backpack coolers from the top brands on the market to bring you the best of the best.
If you’re curious as to how these coolers compare to one another, check out our Comparison Table below. Or, if you want to know what to look for in a solid backpack cooler, take a look at our Buyer’s Guide. If traditional coolers are more your jam, check out our guides to The Best Beach Coolers and The Best Soft Coolers.
The Best Backpack Coolers of 2023
Best Overall Backpack Cooler: YETI Hopper M20 2.0
Best Value Backpack Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler
Best Lightweight Backpack Cooler: Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L
Most Rugged Backpack Cooler: RTIC Backpack Cooler
Best Split-Pack Backpack Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler
Best Budget Backpack Cooler: Maelstrom Backpack Cooler
Best Overall Backpack Cooler
Weight: 5.6 lbs.
Capacity: 36 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: Days (unspecified)
Pros: Magnets instead of zippers, super durable
It’s no secret that YETI coolers don’t come cheap. But it’s also a well known fact that YETI makes some of the best coolers in the game. The YETI Hopper M20 2.0 Soft Backpack Cooler is no exception.
One of the downsides of most coolers is the challenge of the zipper. YETI sought to remove this problem by creating a magnetized seal, along with a couple of buckles for added security. If you had a prior version of one of YETI’s backpack coolers then you know that the magnet was kind of terrifying. YETI has toned it down a bit with the M20, offering a reliable seal without the risk of your fingers getting chopped off (that may be a bit dramatic but those magnets were strong).
The M20 is comfortable to carry and has lotsof attachment points for securing gear, so you can stay hands free if you wish. The M20 will keep your drinks cold for days – if you prefer something reusable instead of ice the YETI Thin Ice is an awesome option. While the price is a bit steep, YETI makes coolers you can rely on and the M20 is a great backpack option. Read the full review here.
Best Value Backpack Cooler
Weight: 3 lbs. 4 oz.
Capacity: 20 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: 40 hours
Pros: Chest, waist, and sternum straps, lots of pockets, removable interior
Cons: Straps are on the big side, not as durable as some other brands
When it comes to backpack coolers, REI has it dialed in with the Cool Trail Pack Cooler. The cooler is designed for a life on the go and includes padded shoulder straps, a padded waist strap, and a sternum strap for maximum comfort. For most people, the straps should fit just fine, but it might be a little large for smaller adults and children.
The interior space is roomy and is capable of holding 20 cans or 10 pounds of ice. The interior compartment is fully removable, which makes cleaning the cooler a breeze. It also allows the cooler to double as a day pack for hiking should you chose to leave the interior waterproof lining behind.
The Cool Trail Pack is designed for maximum storage and includes a zippered top pocket for stashing gear, two zippered side pockets, and two exterior water bottle holders. You can also easily attach a towel or blanket to the front straps to keep your hands free. While the material isn’t quite as durable as some of the other coolers on our list, it’s still incredibly well made and is a great deal for the price. Read the full review here.CHECK PRICE ON REI
Best Lightweight Backpack Cooler
Weight: 2.63 lbs.
Capacity: 36 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: 36 hours
Pros: Water bottle holder on the exterior, padded straps
Cons: A little thinner/less durable than some other options
Hydro Flask may be famous for making water bottles, but they know a thing or two about coolers as well. The Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L Soft Cooler is plenty spacious (can hold 36 cans without ice) and features a padded mesh back panel, padded backpack straps, and a sternum strap for easy transport. It’s lightweight and packable, but sacrifices a little bit of durability due to its thinner construction–although the 600 D polyester shell is still plenty durable.
Although the cooler is designed to store drinks, we really appreciate that is has a water bootle holder on the exterior as bottles take up a lot more space. The compression molded base allows the cooler to stand on its own, making it easy to get drinks in and out. There are also laser cut loops on the front that allow you to attach Hydro Flask Dry Storage accessories (helpful if you have the accessories, not so much if you don’t). At 20L, we found this to be the perfect backpack cooler size.
Most Durable Backpack Cooler
Weight: 8 lbs.
Capacity: 30 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: Days (not specified)
Pros: Floats, can store a lot
Cons: Heavy, zipper is a little hard to operate
The RTIC Backpack Cooler is a hefty cooler with lots of perks. For a backpack, it’s definitely on the large size, but it’s able to hold 30 cans with ice, which is more than any of the other options on our list. It’s also incredibly durable and feels almost like a cross between a hard and a soft cooler.
One of the coolest features of the RTIC Backpack Cooler is that it floats. It’s perfect for lake days, beach days, boat days, and all things involving water. It also features a super durable zipper that does its due diligence keeping drinks cold and preventing leaks, but takes a little work to get open.
This backpack is the heaviest of all the ones we tested, but it has padded backpack straps, a waist strap, handles, and a removable shoulder strap to aid in transport. Additionally, this cooler features bungee ties on the front for securing extras, which we appreciated.
Best Hybrid/Split-Pack Backpack Cooler
Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Capacity: 12 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: 40 hours
Pros: Made from recycled materials, wet/dry compartments
Cons: Doesn’t hold as many cans as other options
Some days, you need a cooler. Other days, you simply want a backpack. And still other times, you want both. For those days, the REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler is an excellent best of both worlds option.
As the name suggests, the Split Pack offers two separate compartments: a cooler style one for ice and beverages and a dry compartment for gear or snacks. The Split Pack also has external pockets for storing water bottles and gear. Additionally, the pack comes with front lash straps for attaching bulkier items. With padded, adjustable shoulder straps that are plenty comfortable for the weight, it’s a great option if you plan to hike with drinks and other essentials.CHECK PRICE ON REI
Best Budget Backpack Cooler
Capacity: 35 cans (32 L)
Pros: Large capacity, low price, doesn’t leak
Cons: Minimal insulation and cheaper construction
Search Amazon for “backpack cooler” and a plethora of low-priced, keyword-heavy options will pop up with a variety of small differences from one to the next. The Maelstrom Backpack Cooler is one such option, and it checks all the boxes for a good day at the beach, with a few key extra features, and without breaking the bank.
Insulation is fairly minimal (the low weight compared to other options on this list is a bit telling), but the bag will keep drinks cold for a solid afternoon, claiming 7 hours without ice, and plenty more with. We were big fans of the additional pockets, with plenty of other storage options like a top pocket and exterior webbing, and the front pocket having plenty of room for dishes and cutlery for the perfect beach or hike date.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best of the Rest
Best Packable Backpack Cooler
Weight: 1.75 lbs.
Capacity: 16 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: 24 hours
Pros: Affordable, easy to open/close
Cons: Not comfortable to carry over long distances, no extras
Calling the ICEMULE Collapsible Backpack Cooler is a bit of a stretch. It’s more of a sling, but it does sling over your back, so we decided to include it in the lineup. It’s a super basic design–the bag opens at the top and closes with a roll top similar to a dry bag.
The Collapsible Backpack Cooler keeps drinks cold for 24 hours and is super easy to open and close (which can’t be said for all coolers). If you’re traveling long distances, it’s not as comfortable as a true backpack cooler but for shorter treks it gets the job done. While many coolers are bulky to store, this one is lightweight and rolls up small, so you can easily tuck it away in a cupboard. The ICEMULE Collapsible Cooler doesn’t come with any extras, but it’s affordable and gets the job done.Check Price on Amazon
Cooler/Hydration Pack Combo
Weight: 4 lbs. 9 oz.
Capacity: 24 drinks (without ice)
Cold Time: 72 hours
Pros: 6 L reservoir, waist belt
CamelBak makes coolers? We were surprised too. But they do, and they’re awesome. The ChillBak Pack 30 has it all. In addition to a large cooler space capable of holding up to 24 drinks, the ChillBack includes a 6L hydration bladder, so you can sip while you walk.
At first, we thought this seemed unnecessary but after testing, we found it awesome. You can fill it with water to keep yourself hydrated or if you want to go nuts, fill it with something tastier (just make sure you clean it out well afterwards).
The roll top design makes it easy to access drinks and the hose with spigot accessible from the exterior of the pack allows for quick and easy refills. The padded back panel and shoulder straps are super comfortable, and the waist belt adds additional support for longer walks. In addition to the drinks area, the CoolBak includes an additional storage area in the rolltop area for small essentials. This pack is pricey and a little heavier than some of the other options on our list, but it’s an incredible backpack cooler.
Best Ice Free Backpack Cooler
Capacity: 24 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: 7 hours without ice, all day with ice
Pros: Can be used without ice
Cons: Doesn’t keep drinks cold for as long if you opt for no ice
The Kanga Insulated Cooler Backpack is one of the more unique backpack coolers on our list. It’s advertised as an “iceless” cooler and can keep beverages cold for up to 7 hours with no ice. How? We’re not exactly sure but it must be due to the heavy-duty insulation. Side note: your drinks must be cold when you put them in the cooler, otherwise they will simply remain room temperature.
The Kanga is specifically designed to fit over a cold case of beers or seltzers, which is pretty cool. Or, if you prefer, you can have drinks loose inside with ice. If you add ice to your cooler, drinks will stay cold all day. Kanga utilizes a combination of a zipper and a magnet for a secure closure and the durable design ensure no leaks. With comfortable shoulder straps and three extra pockets for goodies, the Kanga is a stylish cooler ready for anything.Check Price on Amazon
Weight: 2 lbs. 13.8 oz.
Capacity: 24 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: N/A
Pros: Affordable, included bottle opener
Cons: Not as comfortable as some other options
From a looks standpoint, we were all big fans of the Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler. It comes in fun colorways and kind of looks like an oversized lunchbox.
Available in three different colors, the Hybrid Cooler has everything you could want in a cooler backpack. Made from 600D polyester complete with a compression-molded bottom, this cooler is plenty durable. Some complained about issues with leaking, but we had none and found that it was reliably waterproof. There are straps on the exterior for attaching additional gear and Stoic even included a bottle opener should you forget one.
The backpack straps were padded and comfortable, but not as padded as some of the other options on our list, so this backpack was a little less comfortable during transit. Although the cold time wasn’t listed on the product’s website, we stored drinks and ice in it overnight and still had plenty of ice left in the morning. At $100, this backpack cooler feels like a steal.
|Backpack Cooler||Price||Weight||Capactity||Cold Time|
|YETI Hopper M20 2.0||$325||5.6 lbs.||36 cans (no ice)||Days (unspecified)|
|REI Cool Trail Pack Cooler||$100||3 lbs. 4 oz.||20 cans (with ice)||40 hours|
|Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L||$200||2.63 lbs.||36 cans (no ice)||36 hours|
|RTIC Backpack Cooler||$190||8 lbs.||30 cans (with ice)||Days (unspecified)|
|REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler||$80||2 lbs. 8 oz.||12 cans (with ice)||40 hours|
|Maelstrom Backpack Cooler||$40||.95 lbs||35 cans (no ice)||7 hours (without ice)|
|ICEMULE Classic Collapsible Backpack Cooler 15 L||$85||1.75 lbs.||16 cans (no ice)||24 hours|
|CamelBak ChillBak Pack 30||$325||4 lbs. 9 oz.||24 cans (no ice)||72 hours|
|Kanga Insulated Cooler Backpack||$125||N/A||24 cans (no ice)||7 hours without ice, all day with ice|
|Stoic Hybrid Backpack Cooler||$100||2 lbs. 13.8 oz.||24 cans (no ice)||N/A|
How We Tested the Best Backpack Coolers
Testing backpack coolers is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. That’s a joke, but we did take our job here quite seriously. Our lead tester lives on Oahu, Hawaii where it is hot year round and drinks don’t stay cool long. Coolers are an essential item when it comes to beach days, backyard barbecues, and picnic hikes. As someone who is always on the go and whose adventures usually require lots of toys (and minimal free hands) a backpack-style cooler is a game changer.
For this review, we took a survey of the top cooler brands in the industry, and got our hands on the backpack coolers which our own knowledge, expert opinions, and online reviews determined to be worthy products. To test these coolers, we spent ample time with each item on this list, as well as other options which didn’t make the cut, before selecting our top picks for a head-to-head test.
For that part of the process, our lead tester Rebecca Parsons rounded up a crew, bought a bunch of drinks and ice, and hit the beach. The team spent the day surfing, relaxing, and enjoying the cold drinks. At the end of the day, we hauled the coolers home, took note of their ice-retention, and left them sitting overnight. The next day, we took a peek in the coolers to examine the amount of ice left, the coldness of the remaining beverages, and if there had been any leaks during that time. Our findings are above, but suffice to say all of the coolers on this list passed with flying colors, and it’s impressive how far cooler technology has come in the past ten years.
Backpack Cooler Buyer’s Guide
Without straps, it wouldn’t be a backpack cooler, it would just be a cooler. Some straps are comfortable and help support the weight of the cooler, while others don’t. If it’s a small cooler, minimalist straps should do the trick, but if it’s a bigger, heavier one, you’re definitely going to want adjustable, padded shoulder straps. A chest or sternum strap can also be helpful for a more secure fit. Finally, a waist strap can be a game changer if you’re hauling a heavy cooler. Similar to the style of a backpacking backpack, the waist strap takes some of the weight off your shoulders and puts it on your hips, which makes it much easier to transport.
Backpack coolers come in all different sizes, so the amount of storage space you’ll want in a cooler really comes down to personal preference. If you just plan on using your backpack cooler for you and your S.O., then a small cooler should do the trick. But if you plan on using your cooler for beach parties with friends, then you’ll want to look for something that can hold more beverages. Take into account that for most of the coolers we listed the amount of cans they can hold without ice. When you add ice, that number will decrease – something to keep in mind.
Depending on the design of the cooler and the level of insulation it has, different coolers will keep drinks cold for different amounts of time. These days, most will keep drinks cold for at least 24 hours. But some of the coolers on our list, like the CamelBack Chill Pack will keep drinks cold for 72 hours. Most of the time, coolers keeping drinks cold for days is excessive, but if you plan on camping, then it’s essential (and you may even want to consider a more classic style of cooler. Be sure and consider how you plan on using your backpack cooler and read up on the cold time before purchasing (we included those numbers for each of the coolers on our list).
If you plan on wearing your backpack coolers for any distance, back support makes a world of difference. A hard cooler full of cans digging into your back isn’t the most comfortable thing to hike with. We prefer cooler backpacks that have padded, breathable pack panels to help make things more comfortable (and less sweaty).
Typically, most coolers utilize a zipper to seal things up. But, in order to ensure that things don’t leak and that everything stays cold, the zippers can sometimes be more built out and a bit difficult to open and close. If you’re purchasing in the store, it’s a good idea to open and close the pack a few times to make sure you’re okay with how it works. Some of the coolers on our list, like the M20 Soft Backpack Cooler and the Kanga Insulated Cooler Backpack utilize magnets for closure, which is a cool alternative. And most, whether exclusively or in tandem with another closure system, use buckles. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to a closure system, just make sure that it’s one you’re comfortable with.
What Else Should I Look For in A Backpack Cooler?
Whenever you’re going where your going with your backpack cooler and your drinks, you’ll probably have more with you than just ice and beverages. Coolers that have water bottle holders on the outside were a huge plus in our book because then we didn’t have to waste space inside the cooler to store them. Also, an extra pocket or two for stashing essentials like keys, wallet, sunscreen, and whatnot is a nice feature.
External bungees, D rings, and attachment straps are a great bonus feature in a backpack cooler. They allow you to hook on additional items to help keep your hands free. They’re not essential, but we definitely appreciate them.
Coolers are bulky. There’s not really a way around it. When purchasing a cooler, consider the size of it and if you have ample space to store it. Luckily, backpack coolers are smaller than hard coolers, so it’s not as big of an issue but they’re still not small. The only cooler on our list that rolled up small for storage was the ICEMULE Classic Collapsible Backpack Cooler 15L.
Ice Ice Baby
For pretty much every cooler out there, you will have best results if you add ice. The most common option is draining your freezer of all of its ice or purchasing a party pack from the local gas station or supermarket. If you’re looking to keep your items cold longer, then block ice is a good bet. Block ice takes longer to melt, so it’s a great choice for camping trips.
Another awesome option is artificial ice. Think reusable ice cubes or cooler packs like the YETI Thin Ice. It’s a little more expensive upfront, but it’ll pay for itself in the long run and is an easy option.
How to Care For Your Backpack Cooler
Durability is a dual effort. In order for a backpack cooler to last a long time, it needs to be well made. But, you also need to take good care of it. In order to ensure your coolers lasts as long as possible, be sure and take good care of them.
After each use, wash your cooler. Usually good old fashioned soap and water will do the trick, but sometimes a bit of baking soda is needed for more serious spills and stains (avoid using harsh chemicals). Regularly cleaning your cooler will help prevent the buildup of mold and mildew.
After you’ve cleaned your cooler, be sure to dry it out completely. Use a towel or let it air dry in a shady space. Once your cooler is dry and clean, store it in a cool, dry place.
P.S. We know it’s tempting to pack your cooler to the brim, but doing so could damage it prematurely. Stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines to maximize the life of your cooler.
How to Keep Your Items Cold (For As Long As Possible)
For most of us, there is one main goal when using a cooler: keep your items cold for as long as possible. While throwing everything in and adding some ice works, there are some steps that will help ensure your items stay cold longer.
We recommend adding in items that are already cold – store your food and drinks in the fridge before placing them in the cooler for best results. Add your cold items to the bottom of the cooler and place your ice on top. Fill the cooler all the way up with ice (doing so will help keep things cold longer and prevent the ice from melting).
Once your ice starts to melt, don’t drain it. It’s tempting, we know, but if you keep that water in there it will work wonders in keeping everything nice and cold. This may seem obvious, but store your cooler out of the sun and keep the lid closed as often as possible.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.