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RTIC Backpack Cooler sitting on rocks at the beach

The RTIC Backpack Cooler. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

The Inertia

One of my favorite ways to spend a day off is to post up at the beach for the entire day. I pack a surfboard and a lunch and shoot off a text to my friends, letting them know where I’ll be. For years I brown bagged it and would munch on a PB & J while sipping on warm water. Then, about five years ago, I bought my first cooler, and I haven’t looked back. While testing numerous coolers for our Best Backpack Coolers and Best Soft Coolers buyer’s guides, I discovered the RTIC Backpack Cooler. It’s a rugged cooler that reminds me of similar YETI products but at a much more affordable price point.

I spent the past couple of months packing up my RTIC Backpack Cooler for marathon beach days. Read on to learn how it went.

Pros Cons
Floats Not comfortable to carry as a backpack
Rugged and durable Heavy
Easy access top opening Zippers are difficult to work

First Impressions of the RTIC Backpack Cooler

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is built like a beast. While technically a soft-shell cooler, the material is on the harder, more rugged side. It’s well-made and durable, and I felt confident it would withstand my rough handling.

The RTIC Backpack Cooler also has backpack straps, a sternum strap, and a carrying handle — a mix of carrying options that I appreciated. I hoisted it on my back to get an initial fit and found it didn’t rest comfortably against my back. With some adjustments, I was sure it would be fine. The design was straightforward, and the inside compartment was spacious enough for 20 cans. I got the cooler packed up and set out for the beach for a real test.

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girl wearing an RTIC backpack cooler at the beach

The RTIC Backpack Cooler has padded shoulder straps and a carry handle for easy transport. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

RTIC Backpack Cooler Notable Features

The RTIC Backpack Cooler

Weight: 8 lbs
Size: 12” x 7” x 10”
Capacity: 20 cans (with ice)
Cold Time: Days (not specified)

The RTIC Backpack Cooler Floats

My favorite feature of the RTIC Backpack Cooler is that it floats. As someone who spends a lot of time in and on the water, the floating feature is a game changer. I’m a big-time standup paddler, and it’s fun to strap a cooler filled with drinks and snacks onto the board for those times when I paddle with friends.

While the SUP straps get the job done most of the time, I’ve had things fall off a time or two. A cooler filled with drinks and ice is going to sink like a stone. But in the case of the RTIC Backpack Cooler, this is a non-issue because should the cooler slip into the sea, it’ll simply bob around next to you. The cooler is 100% waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about water getting in or anything leaking out. Incredible.

the backside of an RTIC Backpack Cooler on rocks at the beach

The backpack straps on the RTIC Backpack Cooler. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Premium Insulation

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is built with an unspecified premium insulation. On RTIC’s website, it states that the cooler keeps items cold for days. I used this cooler for a few casual beach days, and everything stayed cold, and the ice stayed icy, but I was curious how long things would actually stay frozen.

Time for a more formal test. I packed up the cooler with ten cans as well as my lunch for the day and filled it about halfway with ice that I dispersed throughout. From there, I set out for the beach.

After a run and some beach time, I unzipped the cooler to grab my lunch and a couple of seltzers, and everything was nice and cold. After lunch, I loaded the cooler back into the trunk of my car, where it sat in the hot Hawaiian sun for the remainder of the day.

When I got home that night, I unloaded the cooler and left it overnight in my garage. The following day, around lunchtime, I opened the cooler once again. The ice was all melted and watery, but my seltzers were still cold, and my leftover carrots were still cool. I’d say the RTIC Backpack Cooler keeps things truly cold for roughly 24 hours.

cans in the cooler compartment of the RTIC Backpack Cooler

The ice situation after approximately 32 hours. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Simple Yet Effective Design

The RTIC Backpack Cooler’s design is simple yet effective. The zipper-top opening makes it easy to access everything, and the cooler easily fits 20 cans and a bag of ice. There is also a 30 can option if you need more space. Both models are tall enough to house a bottle of wine. Additionally, the cooler has elastic webbing on the front, which is perfect for attaching towels or jackets. There are also a couple of attachment points for clipping extra gear.

women pulling a can out of a cooler

The RTIC Backpack Cooler keeps beverages cold for over 24 hours. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Drawbacks of the RTIC Backpack Cooler 

My initial hesitations about the comfort of the pack proved to be correct. This cooler is essentially a rectangle with straps. And it’s heavy. There is a thin back panel and thin padding on the straps, but the fit is just off. It feels kind of bulky and uncomfortable to wear. There is a sternum strap, but it sits at about neck height (I’m 5’7” for reference), so it wasn’t helpful.

I tried adjusting the straps a bunch, and that helped a little, but I never found a truly comfortable fit. Maybe if you’re taller, the fit would be better, but it wasn’t great for me. It’s not terrible and it’s fine for short walks, but I wouldn’t want to carry this cooler for a lengthy trek. I think this pack could be greatly improved if RTIC added a waist belt, and I am hopeful that the brand will do so in the future.

the zipper on the RTIC Backpack Cooler

The zippers are well-made and durable but can be difficult to open, even with the hefty zipper pull seen here. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Although the zippers are durable and waterproof, they are kind of hard to work. It’s nothing crazy, but you must give them a good pull to get them to open — I could see children struggling with them. RTIC does include a lubricant with the cooler, which is helpful when the zippers get extra difficult.

Final Thoughts

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is a burly backpack cooler designed to withstand rough and tough adventures while keeping its contents cold. Perfect for camping or beach days, the cooler has backpack straps, a sternum strap, and a carrying strap for easy transport. Unfortunately, it isn’t super comfortable to wear as a backpack and is probably best limited to short trips to and from the car.  But it makes up for that failure with its waterproof and flotation capabilities.

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Editor’s Note: A cooler is an essential piece of beach gear. Check out more of our cooler reviews: The ICEMULE Boss Backpack Cooler, the Brumate MagPack Soft Cooler, and Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler are great starting points! For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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