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a bunch of backpack coolers lined up on the beach

Backpack coolers are great for transporting beverages and food to the beach. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia


The Inertia

When you think of backpack coolers, what comes to mind? For us, it’s endless beach days, camping trips, boating adventures, and good times with family and friends. Backpack coolers provide all the functions of a normal cooler but are much more portable for those harder-to-reach adventures. We love them for short hikes, picnics, and bringing food and drinks to the beach.

Like so many things, backpack coolers aren’t created equally and come in a range of shapes, sizes, and prices. Our favorites were comfortable to carry, fully waterproof, easy to clean, and had great ice retention. We tested more than a dozen backpack coolers from the top brands to bring you the best of the best.

If you’re curious about how these coolers stack up, check out our Comparison Table below. 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 2024

Best Overall Backpack Cooler: YETI Hopper M20 2.0
Runner-Up Backpack Cooler: IceMule Boss Backpack Cooler
Best Budget Backpack Cooler: Maelstrom Backpack Cooler
Best Value Backpack Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler
Best Lightweight Backpack Cooler: Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L
Most Durable Backpack Cooler: RTIC Backpack Cooler


Best Overall Backpack Cooler

YETI Hopper M20 2.0 ($325)

yeti backpack coolers

Weight: 5 lbs 9.6 oz
Capacity: 36 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: Days (unspecified)

Pros: Magnets instead of zippers, super durable
Cons: Pricey

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.

A common pain point on backpack coolers is the zipper (because they have to insulate and prevent leaks, they are often hard to zip/unzip). YETI sought to remove this problem by eschewing a zip in favor of a magnetized seal and 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 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 a plethora of attachment points for securing gear, so you can stay hands-free if you wish. The M20 will keep your drinks cold for days – and 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. The Hopper was our top pick of all the backpack coolers we tested due to its durability, capacity, comfortable straps, and slim profile.

Read our full review of the Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler here.

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Runner-Up Backpack Cooler

ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler ($300)

ice mule backpack coolerss

Weight: 6 lbs 9.6 oz
Capacity: 24 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: 24+ hours

Pros: Floats, external pockets, lots of attachment points
Cons: Pricey, bulky

Holy moly. The IceMule Boss Backpack Cooler is like the Holy Grail of backpack coolers. It’s got everything you could possibly want in a backpack cooler and then some.

For starters, the Boss is fully waterproof. It features a roll-top, dry-bag style closure and two waterproof, zippered side pockets. The side pockets are generously large, so you can fit a good amount in them and avoid storing dry items in the main compartment.

Additionally, it floats, thanks to a valve you can blow air into. The floating feature comes in handy during aquatic adventures.

In addition to the external pockets, the Boss has tons of external attachment points. It sports elastic webbing in the front — useful for attaching blankets, towels, or coats. It also has 16 loops on the sides for clipping on extra goodies.

The only downside of the Boss Cooler is that it’s big and bulky. It felt like an oversized soft cooler with straps and wasn’t the most comfortable cooler to carry. If you’re looking to cut down on size and weight, this cooler isn’t for you. But, if your goal is to transport a lot of stuff in the most comfortable way possible, the Boss fits the bill nicely. It was a close call between the Boss and YETI, but the Boss finished just behind the YETI Hopper M20 because it is larger than the Hopper, less comfortable to carry, and holds less.

Read our full review of the ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler here.

Editor’s Note: The ICEMULE Boss is currently sold out on the ICEMULE website; however, it can be found on Amazon and Cabela’s. We’ll update the links if this cooler comes back in stock on the ICEMULE website.

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Best Budget Backpack Cooler

Maelstrom Backpack Cooler ($40)

our pick for best budget cooler was the maelstrom backpack cooler

Weight: 15 oz
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. It even includes a few extra features without breaking the bank.

Insulation is fairly minimal (the low weight compared to other options on this list is 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. Even better, the front pocket has room for dishes and cutlery for the perfect beach or hike date.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Best Value Backpack Cooler

REI Cool Trail Pack Cooler ($100)

rei co-op cooler backpack

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

REI has a well-dialed option with its Cool Trail Pack Cooler. The cooler is designed for life on the go and includes padded shoulder straps, a padded waist strap, and a sternum strap for maximum comfort. The straps should fit just fine for most people, but it might be a little large for smaller adults and children.

The interior is roomy and holds 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 if you 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 well-made and is a great deal for the price.

Read our full review of the REI Cool Trail Pack Cooler here.

CHECK PRICE ON REI

Best Lightweight Backpack Cooler

Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L ($200)

hydro flask backpack cooler

Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
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 also know a thing or two about coolers. The Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L Soft Cooler is plenty spacious (it 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 its thinner construction sacrifices some durability.  — although the 600 D polyester shell is still plenty durable.

Although the cooler is designed to store drinks, we really appreciate that it has a water bottle holder on the exterior (as bottles take up a lot more space than cans!). The compression-molded base allows the cooler to stand independently, 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.

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Most Durable Backpack Cooler

RTIC Backpack Cooler ($180)

Rtic backpack cooler

Weight: 5 lbs 6 oz
Capacity: 36 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: Days (not specified)

Pros: Floats, plentiful storage
Cons: Heavy, zipper is a little hard to operate

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is a hefty cooler with perks to spare. For a backpack, it’s definitely on the large size, but it can hold 30 cans with ice, which is more than any of the other options on our list. It’s durable and feels almost like a cross between a hard and a soft cooler.

One of the neatest features of the RTIC Backpack Cooler is that it floats. It’s perfect for lake days, beach days, boat days, and everything involving water. It also features a super durable zipper that does a fine job keeping drinks cold and preventing leaks, but it takes a little work to get open.

This backpack is the heaviest of all the options 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 elastic webbing on the front for securing extras, which we appreciated.

Read our full review of the RTIC Backpack Cooler here.

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Best of the Rest

Igloo Trailmate 24-Can Cooler ($150)

igloo hiking backpack

Weight: 3 lbs 15 oz
Capacity: 24 cans
Cold Time: N/A

Pros: Lid is easy to open, built-in bottle opener
Cons: No water bottle pockets

Igloo debuted their first cooler in 1947 and their coolers have gotten better and better with each passing year. The Igloo Trailmate 24-Can Cooler is a testament to Igloo’s years of experience.

The Trailmate Cooler has a wide opening on the top. Unlike many coolers, the zipper is easy to open and close and there’s a pull tab on top to further assist with opening. The zippers have cords to make them easy to pull and they’re water resistant, meaning they trap in liquids so you don’t have to worry about making a mess. The main compartment can hold up to 24 cans and the cooler has a front zippered compartment for small items.

The Trailmate cooler is designed for comfortable transport. The shoulder straps and back panel are padded and the straps are fully adjustable. The straps have a built-in bottle opener, which is a handy feature. The Trailmate also has top welding straps and two quick-grab side handles, so there are lots of carrying options. We did miss a water bottle pocket or two on the side of this cooler.

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REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler ($85)

rei co-op split pack cooler backpacks

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. On other days, you simply want a backpack. And still other days, 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 compartment 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

Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler ($200)

cotopaxi backpack coolers

Weight: 4 oz
Capacity: 12 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: N/A

Pros: Fun colors, external pocket
Cons: No padding on straps, no external water bottle holders

When you look at the Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler, it’s hard not to fall in love. The bright, popping colors are so fun and cheery, you can’t help but be in a good mood when you’re traveling with it. Each Hielo cooler is one of a kind and is made in the Philippines by an employee who has creative control over the colors, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into someone with the exact same pack as you.

The wide, zippered opening makes it easy to get things in and out, and there’s a smaller zippered compartment on top for storing extra goodies. The pack includes backpack straps and a sternum strap, but none of it’s padded. Most of the time, that’s not an issue, but with heavier loads, some padding would be nice. The Hielo cooler has lots of external straps, so you can easily hook on water bottles and other essentials.

There are handles on the sides — helpful for carrying! But no water bottle pockets on the sides, and we feel like that’s a missed opportunity. The insulation performs well but is probably best suited for day use or one-night trips.

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ISLE Gateway Cooler Backpack ($125)

ISLE backpack cooler

Weight: 2 lbs 8 oz
Capacity: 24 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: N/A
Pros: Lightweight and easy to compress, padded back panel
Cons: Only keeps things cold for hours as opposed to days, no waist strap

ISLE offers a wide range of surfboards and stand-up paddle boards, so the brand knows a thing or two about spending time outside. The ISLE Gateway Cooler Backpack was built for all kinds of adventures.

The Gateway Cooler sports a simple roll-top style entry, similar to a dry bag, making it easy to load and unload. To ensure that the cooler is leakproof, roll the top a couple of times and buckle it up. There are no zippers or magnets to prevent spillage.

The Gateway has minimal insulation, so it’s best suited for a day trip, but it does okay keeping things cold for beach days or picnics. It’s a very soft and malleable cooler, making it easy to squeeze under the bungee straps on a paddle board, which we really enjoyed.

It also has G-Hook webbing straps that are nice for attaching extra gear. The straps are also compatible with the ISLE-LINK connect system, so if you have an ISLE board it fits seamlessly.

The padding on the back of the Gateway Cooler is comfortable, and the straps have light, breathable padding as well. The pack also features a sternum strap for a more secure fit but no waist strap. On the front of the pack is a small, zippered compartment, which came in handy for storing keys and wallets.

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Best Packable Backpack Cooler

ICEMULE Classic Medium Collapsible Backpack Cooler 15 L ($85)

icemule backpack cooler

Weight:1 lb 12 oz
Capacity: 16 cans (without ice)
Cold Time: 24 hours

Pros: Packs down small, easy to open/close
Cons: Not comfortable to carry over long distances, no extras/pockets

Calling the ICEMULE Collapsible Backpack Cooler a “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 IceMule Check Price on Amazon


Best Cooler/Hydration Pack Combo

CamelBak ChillBak Pack 30 ($325)

CamelBack backpack cooler

Weight: 4 lbs 9 oz
Capacity: 24 drinks (without ice)
Cold Time: 72 hours

Pros: 6 L reservoir, waist belt
Cons: Pricey

CamelBak makes coolers? We were surprised too. But it does, 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 afterward).

The roll-top design makes it easy to access drinks, and the hose with a spigot accessible from the exterior of the pack allows for quick and easy water/drink refills from the 6L bladder. 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 ChillBak includes an extra 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.

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Best Ice Free Backpack Cooler

Kanga Insulated Cooler Backpack ($125)

kanga cooler backpacks

Weight: N/A
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 at room temperature.

The Kanga is specifically designed to fit over a cold case of beers or seltzers, which is pretty sweet. 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 ensures 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

ICEMULE Pro Cooler ($145)

icemule backpack coolers

Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz
Capacity: 24 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: 24 hours

Pros: Floats, padded shoulder and waist strap, external bungee
Cons: No external water bottle holder

The ICEMULE Pro Cooler looks like a standard backpack cooler, but it’s actually kind of unique. At 33 L, it can hold 24 cans with ice, which translates to a lot of weight on your back. Luckily, the Pro Cooler was designed for serious trekking. It has super comfy padded shoulder straps and a padded waist belt, which greatly helps with a heavy load.

The Pro Cooler features a drybag-style roll-top opening. This design makes it easy to take things in and out and is entirely waterproof as well. One of the coolest features of the cooler? It floats. In most cases, this is unnecessary, but if you’re like us and spend a lot of time on the water, it’s an awesome perk.

This cooler is on the big side, but it has an air valve that allows you to deflate it and roll it up small for storage. On the front of the cooler is a bungee strap, which we found worked great for attaching towels and blankets. Unfortunately, the Pro Cooler doesn’t have any external water bottle holders, so you have to store them inside the cooler. The Pro keeps things cold for up to 24 hours, making it perfect for day outings or one-night camping trips.

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Backpack Coolers Comparison Table

Backpack Cooler Price Weight Capacity Cold Time
YETI Hopper M20 2.0 $325 5 lbs 9.6 oz 36 cans (no ice) Days (unspecified)
ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler $300 6 lbs 9.6 oz 24 cans (with ice) 24+ hours
Maelstrom Backpack Cooler $40 15 oz 35 cans (no ice) 7 hours (without ice)
REI Cool Trail Pack Cooler $100 3 lbs 4 oz 20 cans (with ice) 40 hours
Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L $200 2 lbs 10 oz 36 cans (no ice) 36 hours
RTIC Backpack Cooler $190 5 lbs 6 oz 36 cans (with ice) Days (unspecified)
Igloo Trailmate 24-Can Cooler $150 3 lbs 14 oz 24 cans N/A
REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler $80 2 lbs 8 oz 12 cans (with ice) 40 hours
Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler $200 N/A 12 cans (with ice) N/A
ISLE Gateway Cooler Backpack $125 2 lbs 8 oz 24 cans (with ice) N/A
ICEMULE Classic Collapsible Backpack Cooler 15 L $85 1 lb 12 oz 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
ICEMULE Pro Cooler $145 3 lbs 8 oz 24 cans (with ice) 24 hours

friends sitting on the beach cheering their drinks

There’s nothing better than drinks on the beach with friends. Photo: Jess Jeong//The Inertia

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 in 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. If you are always on the go and your 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. Then we got our hands on the backpack coolers that our 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 that didn’t make the cut, before selecting our top picks for a head-to-head test.

Real-World Testing

For the practical part of this 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 temperature of the remaining beverages, and whether there had been any leaks due to ice-melt. Our findings are above, but 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.

Editor’s Note: We first ran this review in the summer of 2023. We’ve since updated it multiple times by adding new coolers and additional information to our Buyer’s Guide. We most recently updated this guide in June of 2024, adding the Igloo Trailmate 24-Can Cooler and some more information to our Buyer’s Guide. We also removed a Stoic backpack cooler that was no longer able to be found in stock.


Backpack Coolers Buyer’s Guide

What Are Backpack Coolers?

As the name suggests, a backpack cooler is a cooler that has a backpack-style design. A backpack cooler is essentially a soft cooler with backpack straps. Some backpack coolers have simple shoulder straps, while others have padded straps, waist belts, and sternum straps (these can be helpful when carrying a particularly heavy load).

Backpack coolers are a great option if you have kids, dogs, or lots to carry (like a surfboard) and wish to keep your hands free and your drinks cold. They’ve quickly become our go-to option for beach days and park picnics.

a Cotopaxi backpack cooler sitting on the grass near the water

A backpack cooler is essentially a soft cooler with straps. Exhibit A: the Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia

Straps

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 going to want adjustable, padded shoulder straps.

A chest or sternum strap can also help ensure 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, making it much easier to transport.

Storage Space

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 significant other, then a small cooler like the Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler or the REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack 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 like the YETI Hopper M20 2.0 or the Hydro Flask Day Escape 20L, which can both hold up to 36 cans. Take into account that most of the coolers we reviewed list the number of cans they can hold without ice. When you add ice, that number will decrease – something to keep in mind.

women walking down a dirt path with a surfboard in one arm and a backpack cooler in the other

The CamelBak ChillBak Pack allows you to walk and drink at the same time. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia

Cold Time/Ice Retention

Depending on the design of the cooler and the level of insulation it has, different coolers will keep drinks cold for different lengths 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. For some use cases, you may even want to consider a more classic style of cooler. Be sure to 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).

Back Support

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 you more comfortable (and less sweaty).

Best Overall Backpack Cooler
Best Overall Backpack Cooler

The YETI Hopper M20 2.0 backpack cooler utilizes a magnetized closure to ensure your drinks stay cold longer and are easy to access. Comfortable and well-made, the M20 is a winner.

Price: $325

Check Price on REI

Closure Systems for Backpack Coolers

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 burly 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 backpack cooler a few times to make sure you’re okay with how it works. It can also be helpful to use a lubricant on your zipper when it gets extra difficult to open.

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. 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, and consider that sand, dirt, and other grit may affect your backpack cooler’s closure system.

woman grabbing a drink out of a backpack cooler on the beach

The ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler is a heavy-duty backpack cooler. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia

What Else Should I Look For in Backpack Coolers?

Extra Storage

Whenever you’re going where you’re 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. The IceMule Boss Backpack Cooler has lots of external pockets and attachment points and the REI Cool Trail Pack Cooler has external pockets and water bottle holders.

External Straps

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.

a man wearing a backpack cooler at the beach

The Igloo Trailmate 24-Can Cooler has lots of storage space in a lightweight package. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia

Storing When Not in Use

Coolers are bulky. There’s not really a way around it. When purchasing a cooler, consider its size and if you have ample space to store it. Luckily, backpack coolers are smaller than hard coolers. But they’re still not tiny. The only cooler on our list that rolled up into a small package for storage was the ICEMULE Classic Collapsible Backpack Cooler 15L.

Weight

Drinks and ice are heavy, so the lighter the cooler that’s housing them, the better. Luckily, most backpack coolers are made of lightweight materials, making them easier to lug around on your back. One of the lighter backpack coolers we tested was the Cotopaxi Hielo Cooler, and the ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler was the heaviest at 6.6 lbs.

an assortment of drinks sitting on ice in an open backpack cooler

Ice cubes, block ice, or artificial ice are all fantastic options to keep your beverages cold. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

How to Chill Your Backpack Cooler

For pretty much every cooler out there, adding ice will give you the best results. The most common option is emptying your freezer of all its ice or purchasing a party pack from the local gas station or supermarket. If you’re looking to keep your items cold longer, 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 or the Hydro Flask Unbound Series Ice Pack. It’s a little more expensive upfront, but it’ll pay for itself in the long run. Plus, with their flexibility, we’ve found artificial ice fits in backpack coolers easier than a tightly packed, rigid cooler.

How to Care For Backpack Coolers

Durability requires a dual effort. A well-made backpack cooler must be well-cared for to last a long time.

After each use, rinse your cooler. For a bit of grime, washing with 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.

Also, we know it’s tempting to pack your cooler to the brim, but doing so could damage it prematurely — excess packing may damage the foam insulation. Stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines to maximize the life of your cooler.

RTIC Backpack Cooler sitting on the beach with islands in the background

The RTIC Backpack Cooler was the most durable cooler on our list. Photo: Rebecca Parsons//The Inertia

How to Keep Your Backpack Coolers Cold (For As Long As Possible)

For most of us, there is one goal when using a cooler: keep your items cold for as long as possible. While throwing everything in and adding some ice works, a few easy steps will ensure your items stay cold longer.

We recommend adding 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). Air pockets are harder to cool, so a full backpack cooler is often the easiest to keep cold.

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 much as possible.

Return to Top Picks | Return to Comparison Table

Editor’s Note: If you’re hauling a backpack filled with frosty beverages, make sure your footwear is on point. Peep our Best Hiking Boots and Best Water Shoes guides. When you get where you’re going, pull up a seat with the Best Beach Chairs. If you prefer a traditional cooler, check out The Best Beach Coolers of 2024. Or if you’re looking for a cooler sans straps, we’ve got The Best Soft Coolers of 2024. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

we chose the best beach coolers for 2023 for all sizes and shapes to suit your needs.
The Best Beach Coolers of 2024
We tested the best hard and soft-shell cooler designs of 2023 to find our top picks for beach days, ice retention, travel, and more. Read more…

Best Soft Coolers
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024
Soft coolers are lightweight, durable, and packable. We tested the best of the best at the beach and on camping trips, then figured out how they all compare. Read more…

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