Best Backpack Cooler. Keeping Food Chilled on Long Hikes

Best Backpack Cooler
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Traditional coolers are too clunky and difficult to carry over long distances. Backpack coolers are a great way to easily keep your picnic or grilling ingredients nicely chilled without restricting how far you walk.

Whether you want to savor ice-cold beverages at the beach on a hot summer’s day or to enjoy a summer BBQ in a local beauty spot, the best backpack cooler will make transporting and keeping your food and beverages chilled nice and easy.

Best Backpack Coolers

Wondering how to pick the best backpack cooler? We’ve done the hard work for you. Check out our top selection of the very best models right here.

Best All-Round Backpack Cooler

YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Sided Cooler Backpack

Yeti Hopper Backflip Cooler

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The Hopper Backflip 24, by premium cooler manufacturers Yeti, is our best alert-roun backpack cooler pick. Thanks to its generous inside dimensions, measuring 12 ⅝” x 6 ½” x 15” – plenty enough space for a day’s worth of drinks and food, or 20 cans with a good amount of ice.

Made from a durable high-density fabric, the Hopper’s DryHide shell is waterproof and resistant to mildew, UV-rays, and punctures. Complete with an FDA-approved, food-grade material liner to keep your food safe for consumption. Yeti’s ColdCell insulation made with closed-cell rubber foam ensures that your food and drinks stay cooler for longer without adding too much bulk or weight.

Ergonomic, comfortable shoulder straps, complete with a removable chest strap and waist belt make the Hopper Backflip easy to carry, while the waterproof HydroLok zipper ensures you stay dry. Good looking, with the ability to stay cooler for longer, this model makes a great choice for taking to your next BBQ at the lake or beach.

However, despite this backpack cooler’s HitchPoint grid attachment points, for the price it could do with an extra pocket for your keys or wallet – the Sidekick attachment bag otherwise bumps the price up by another $50.

Pros – Things we liked
Holds 20 cans with a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio
Closed-cell rubber foam insulation
Waterproof Hydrolok zipper
Wide-mouth opening
HitchPoint grids attachment points
Cons – Things we didn’t like
No extra storage pockets
Best Easy Access Backpack Cooler

Hydro Flask Unbound Cooler Pack

Hydro Flask Unbound Backpack Cooler

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The Unbound Cooler Pack by Hydro Flask is another excellent premium quality backpack cooler.

Thanks to its compression molded base for self-supported standing and True-Access hinged top, it is really easy to get your cooler packed and unpacked even when you’re out exploring. Plus it’s also extra easy to wipe the interior clean after use.

Thanks to its 15L capacity, it can accommodate around 20 cans with ice. The internal liner is BPA-free FDA food-grade to safely store your food and drinks. Thanks to its Smart Insulation System which cuts back on bulk and weight, your picnic can stay cool for up to 48 hours. The base features an extra thick layer of insulation to prevent heat from getting in, while the welded seams and watertight Aquaseal zipper ensure leak-proof transport.

Unlike the Yeti, the Hydro Flask backpack cooler features a handy zippered side pocket for your essentials while you’re on the go. Complete with a durable waterproof shell, the only real issue with this excellent lightweight cooler backpack is that some models have had faulty zippers, although they are covered for replacement under Hydro Flask’s five-year guarantee.

With its long cooling duration, easy access, and comfortable carry handles with a woven sternum strap, this backpack cooler is an excellent choice for picnicking in style.

Pros – Things we liked
15L capacity – around 20 cans
Durable waterproof shell
BPA-free FDA food-grade liner
Smart Insulation for 48 hour cooling
True-Access hinged top
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Some zipper issues
Best Backpack Cooler for Outdoor Adventures

Ice Mule Pro Cooler

IceMule Pro Backpack Cooler

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For cool drinks and food on your next adventure, pick up an Ice Mule Pro Cooler.

Thanks to its unique design, this backpack cooler is leakproof, buoyant, and waterproof, so you can even take it kayaking. Complete with welded seams and a zipperless closure, the Ice Mule gives you up to two days cooling thanks to its PolarLayer Insulation.

Its rugged MuleSkin Exterior is ultra-tough for extra protection against the element, while the IM AirValve not only adds another layer of insulation, it also allows you to fully collapse your Ice Mule flat when empty for easy storage. With its generous 23L capacity, it can accommodate around 23 cans plus ice.

Thanks to its padded air mesh straps complete with an additional sternum strap you can carry it completely hands free – ideal for transporting the rest of your picnic, surfing, or sporting equipment. The only real improvement that could be made to this fantastic rugged backpack cooler would be the addition of a small security pocket. The front bungee cord, however, allows you to tie or clip on extra accessories.

With its accessible roll-top design and innovative IM AirValve, the Ice Mule is a great companion for cool, refreshing beverages on any hot summer outdoor trip.

Pros – Things we liked
23L capacity – 23 cans plus ice
Fully collapsible when not in use
Leakproof and buoyant for kayaking trips
Cools for up to 2 days
Padded air mesh shoulder straps and sternum strap
Cons – Things we didn’t like
No zippered compartment
Best Value Backpack Cooler

Coleman Soft Cooler Bag

Coleman Portable Soft Cooler Bag

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The Soft Cooler Bag by Coleman is our top value pick, ideal if you are looking for a sturdy backpack cooler with a generous 24-can capacity. Thanks to its premium insulation it is able to keep your food and drinks cold for up to 34 hours, plenty of time for a summer BBQ or picnic at the beach.

The backpack design allows you to carry it with ease, thanks to the two padded shoulder straps. Although there is no sternum strap, there are two heavy-duty top handles so you can also carry it by hand or over your arm. Your accessories or light bulky items can be attached to the bungee straps located on the lid.

With three extra pockets in addition to the main insulated compartment, two side mesh ones, and a front zippered one, you’ll have plenty of space for all of your essentials, However, note that the front pocket is very narrow and really only suitable for very thin items such as a smartphone or bank card.

While the T-shaped zippers are easy to grasp, unfortunately, they are very stiff, so you may want to consider treating each zipper head with a lubrication product. Complete with an integrated bottle opener, this durable backpack cooler by Coleman makes a great choice for family days out in summer.

Pros – Things we liked
24-can capacity
Premium insulation stays cool for up to 34 hours
3 pockets plus bungee straps on the lid
Padded straps and top handles
Durable welded construction
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Zippers are difficult to slide
Very narrow front pocket
Best Backpack Cooler with Multiple Pockets

Polar Bear Coolers Original Backpack Soft Side Cooler

Polar Bear Backpack Cooler

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The Original BackpackSoft Side Cooler by Polar Bear Coolers is a hard-wearing, high-quality backpack cooler that is ideal for your summer BBQ day trips down at the beach or by the lake. Not only can it accommodate up to 18 12-ounce cans with a 10lb bag of ice, it can also keep them cool for up to 24 hours.

The central compartment features a microbial food-grade TPU double-coated liner, to ensure that your cooler is safe and easy to clean, preventing bacterial buildup commonly associated with damp coolers. The outer shell is robust, being made from a durable 840-denier luggage grade nylon outer shell. All seams are doubled hemmed and anchor stitched to ensure that your Polar Bear cooler can take whatever you need to carry to your next picnic.

Unlike most other similar backpack coolers on the market, this model features four additional storage pockets for transporting your essentials. Use the zippered pocket for your keys or phone, the two side pockets for bulky items, and the mesh pocket for an extra layer or any small BBQ accessories.

All zippers are heavy-duty, weatherized YKK ones to ensure that you won’t have any problems with sticking or breaking zippers. The only real drawback to this otherwise excellent backpack cooler is that the opening is a little narrow, making it better suited to carrying drinks to your picnic rather than bulky food containers.

Pros – Things we liked
Fits 18 x 12oz cans with a 10lb bag of ice
Four additional storage pockets
Tear-resistant nylon outer shell
1-inch thick high-density foam insulation
Heavy-duty weatherized YKK zippers
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Opening a little narrow
Best Large Capacity Backpack Cooler

TOURIT Leak-Proof Soft Sided Cooler Backpack

Tourit Leak-Proof Backpack Cooler

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With its boxy shape and generous dimensions, the Tourit Soft Sided Cooler Backpack can hold at least 36 cans with ice – ideal for family BBQs at local beauty spots or tailgating at sporting events. Just bear in mind that if you’ll be carrying it fully loaded, it does get very heavy so you won’t want to take it on a long hike when it’s full of drinks.

Thanks to its high-density insulation, this backpack cooler can keep your food and drinks cool for up to three days with its leak-proof liner and airtight zipper. The liner is BPA-free, so you won’t have to worry about it coming into contact with your food.

Another advantage of this spacious backpack cooler is its two vertical side pockets that allow you to pack extra food or BBQing accessories. No need to worry about forgetting your bottle openers as there is one located on the adjustable webbing that connects to the padded shoulder straps. You can also use the bottom and front straps to attach various items, from hiking gear to picnic accessories.

If you need to keep a large amount of food chilled when you’re out grilling or picnicking, the Tourit Leak-Proof Soft Sided Cooler makes a great alternative to the more expensive, well known household names.

Pros – Things we liked
Holds 36 cans with ice
High-density insulation material
2 side pockets
BPA-free leakproof liner
Adjustable webbing straps with bottle opener
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Very heavy when full
Best Multi-Compartment Backpack Cooler

Pelican Dayventure Backpack Soft Cooler

Pelican Dayventure Backpack Soft Cooler

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The Dayventure Backpack Soft Cooler by Pelican stands out from the rows thanks to its dual insulated compartment design.

Rugged yet lightweight, the lower dedicated cooler compartment with zipper holds approximately 5.4 liters, making it a perfect fit for a six pack of cans with ice. The larger 13-liter upper compartment can also be used as a cooler thanks to its insulation and wide roll-top opening or you can use it for transporting dry goods for your picnic.

Made from a highly durable 840-denier nylon outer shell, this puncture-resistant cooler backpack will be just as at home accompanying you for a picnic in the wilderness as to your next grilling venue. The compression-molded base allows it to remain upright and stable when placed on the ground for easy loading and unloading, while the high-density closed cell foam inner walls ensure your drinks and food stay chilled.

Use the exterior pocket for other dry goods or to safely transport your essentials. Thanks to its comfortable, ergonomic padded shoulder straps, the Dayventure is easy to carry even when fully loaded. Plus the rubberized carry handle is really useful for getting it in and out of your vehicle. Unfortunately, the only drawback to this otherwise premium quality product is the stitching that can begin to weaken after heavy use.

Whether you are looking for a backpack cooler that can accommodate up to four wine bottles or want a versatile version to carry both dry and chilled food, the Dayventure by Peclican is most definitely a highly popular choice.

Pros – Things we liked
Dual insulated storage compartments
Exterior dry goods pocket
Ergonomic shoulder straps
Stable compression molded base
Wide roll top opening
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Stitching is not as durable as the rest of the backpack
Best Budget Backpack Cooker

TOURIT Insulated Leakproof Lightweight Cooler Backpack

Tourit Insulated Backpack Cooler

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If you are on a tight budget, the Lightweight Cooler Backpack by Tourit is definitely one to consider.

Thanks to its robust construction and large main cooler compartment, you can use it to carry up to 28 chilled cans. Ideal for picnics, BBQing, or long day trips out as a couple or small family, this 25L backpack will help to keep your lunch and beverages chilled while you walk.

Surprisingly comfortable with its padded, adjustable shoulder straps, if you don’t need the extra capacity or high levels of insulation found in some of the other models we’ve reviewed, this cooler backpack could be your ideal choice. It also has two side mesh pockets for your essentials, plus a front zippered pocket for small items and your picnic knives and forks.

Thanks to its lightweight construction it is easy to carry, even when full. However, a sternum or hip strap would make it fully hands free and easier to carry over long distances.

While the foam insulation and internal liner work well to keep your food and beverages chilled, as this unit can occasionally leak, it is recommended that you use ice packs in the cooler compartment rather than just plain ice.

Pros – Things we liked
Large insulated compartment fits 28 cans
Thick foam insulation
Front zipper pocket with mesh divider
2 side mesh pockets
Adjustable padded shoulder straps
Cons – Things we didn’t like
No hip or sternum straps
Waterproofing could be improved
Best Backpack Cooler for Day Trips

ONIVA Turismo Insulated Backpack Cooler

Picnic Time Insulated Cooler Backpack

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If you like to go on day trips and take a picnic lunch with you, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the Turismo Insulated Backpack Cooler. This highly practical backpack cooler has numerous pockets and compartments designed to keep your meal, drinks, and personal items neatly and securely organized.

While it isn’t exactly a full-on cooler, it works well enough to keep your food and beverages lightly chilled, especially if you use a couple of ice packs. Place your meal and extra drinks in the dual insulated interior compartments. The removable insulated water bottle holder is easy to access on the go without it getting too hot. It also allows you to keep your cool compartments safely closed until you’re ready to eat.

Other advantages of this convenient day trip cooler include a hidden zippered pocket for securely carrying your valuables, a mesh pocket with a reinforced base and drawstring closure, plus a large utility clip. The straps are padded for extra comfort, although you may find that they need rethreading to ensure that they stay in place.

Made with durable 600-denier polyester, this robust little cooler backpack makes a good choice for keeping your lunch lightly chilled while you explore.

Pros – Things we liked
Dual insulated interior compartments
Multi-use mesh pocket
Hidden zippered pocket
Removable insulated water bottle holder
Comfortable padded shoulder straps
Cons – Things we didn’t like
Straps may need rethreading to stay in place
Doesn’t stay chilled very long

Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Backpack Cooler

Struggling to find the best backpack cooler for your next day out? Take a read through our backpack cooler buyer’s guide and find out just what you will need to look out for.

Price

Backpack coolers don’t come cheap, at least not ones that actually work. At the lower end of the price scale, you can pick up small, basic models with limited insulation from around $40-$50. However, these types of backpack coolers are not always much better than placing your lunch in a cool bag with some ice packs inside your regular backpack.

For a backpack cooler with a decent amount of insulation and a good design, you should definitely be looking at spending a minimum of $100, with most of the best models retailing around $200-$300.

Higher-priced backpack coolers benefit from premium materials that are lightweight yet highly durable, as well as special space-saving insulation that won’t weigh you down too much.

Insulation

Insulation is what keeps your food and beverages cold inside your cooler while temperatures remain sky high outside. Not only does it keep the cool inside, it also keeps the heat from coming in.

Obviously, the thicker the insulation, the more effective it will be. Aside from thickness, you should also verify that your backpack cooler is completely insulated throughout. Extra insulation at the base where your backpack is going to come into contact with the hot ground is also a good feature.

Ice Retention

Most manufacturers will give you an indication of how long you can expect ice to last inside your backpack cooler. Often these figures are based on ideal conditions or lower than average summer temperatures.

Most premium backpack coolers should have ice retention estimates of 12-24 hours. Some go as far as to suggest you can easily get a good 48 hours plus, however, remember once you open your cooler warm air will immediately enter.

So, even if your cooler can theoretically retain ice for 48 hours, most of us using one for a picnic or BBQ session in the park will definitely want to open it within a couple of hours.

Cheaper backpack coolers can retain ice for up to 12 hours, but in hot weather, this can reduce down to more like 2-4 hours depending on the conditions and how well your pack is insulated.

Our advice? Consider how long you’ll want to keep your food and beverages chilled for on your average outing, then look for a backpack cooler with an ice retention figure of at least double that duration.

Shoulder Straps

You’ll want to look out for a backpack cooler with comfortable padded shoulder straps. If you are going to be carrying a lot of heavy liquids, you may want to make sure that you choose a model with a sternum strap to help to keep your backpack on your back and free up your hands to carry other items.

Your backpack shoulder straps should also be easily adjustable. When you’re loaded up with a heavy full cooler, you’ll want to adjust your straps nice and short to try to keep the center of gravity more closely aligned with your hips. Some models also come with hips belts to aid with weight transfer to your pelvis.

Zips, Bungee Cord, MOLLE, and Buckles

Zips should be waterproof and fully weather-resistant. They should also be chunky enough to easily grab and open, with large teeth so that sand and soil won’t cause them to clog up.

Zips are often one of the weakest parts of a cooler and if yours breaks, your entire backpack will cease to function. We recommend looking out for YKK zips or patented zip designs that show that the manufacturer has gone to a lot of effort to ensure that their zips won’t let down the finished product.

Bungee cord is a great option, allowing you to adjust the fit of your cooler backpack to accommodate bulkier items. You can also use it to compress your backpack when it is only half full to stop items moving around so much. Lastly, bungee cord is also useful for carrying extra items or wet or dirty accessories that you don’t want to put in with your food.

MOLLE stands for “MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment”. It consists of strips of stitched-on nylon (known as PALS – Pouch Attachment Ladder System) that interweave with the vertical stripes on the back of MOLLE accessories to provide a secure attachment. If your backpack cooler is compatible, you can attach MOLLE accessories directly to it.

Buckles should be easy to open and close, snapping tightly shut. They should also feature adjustable fittings so that you can use them to compress your cooler backpack when it is only half full.

Weight & Size

Your cooler backpack’s capacity should match your general needs when you are out on a day trip or visiting the beach.

If you want to carry a large amount of food or beverages for a family day out grilling, then you will need a high capacity cooler. Otherwise for individuals or couples, a small backpack cooler can often be more appropriate. Backpack coolers with a capacity of around 20 liters seem to be the most popular, balancing capacity with an easy enough to carry weight.

Most backpack coolers are fairly lightweight. However, if you are looking for a highly insulated model, you should expect it to weigh several pounds more. You should also consider how much your backpack cooler is going to weigh when it is fully loaded.

You may come to the conclusion that you would be better off purchasing two or more backpack coolers and sharing the weight between several family members or friends.

Intended Use

Your choice of backpack cooler should reflect your intended usage. Are you looking for a model to take picnicking or to go grilling? Do you want to transport mainly chilled beverages with you to the beach? Consider the items that you will most often be packing into your backpack cooler and decide if its general form and openings are compatible with your needs.

Bonus Features

Some backpack coolers have some additional features that can be extremely useful. Here are some of the most common extras that you can expect to find on some of the best backpack coolers.

Shelf and Compartment Separators

Shelf and compartment separators can be very useful, allowing you to section off part of your main cooler compartment to protect fragile items or to organize your cooler’s interior so that certain items can be more easily accessed.

Pockets

Backpack coolers often come with several pockets in addition to the main cooler compartment. Whether you need an extra place to carry your accessoires or personal items, a backpack with pockets will provide you with convenient extra storage without you having to reach for an extra bag.

Bottle Opener

A bottle opener is a nice addition if you often take bottles out with you instead of cans. An integrated bottle opener can be really handy if you stop off on the way at a store and end up with bottles instead of cans.

Liner

Liners help to keep your cooler chilled for longer, as well as providing a moisture-resistant barrier to ensure that you stay dry when you’re carrying your cooler, even when the ice starts to melt.

As liners can potentially come into contact with your food, most manufacturers supply BPA-free liners. Some also treat their backpack cooler liners with an antimicrobial coating to prevent bacteria from growing in the damp environment inside your cooler.

Final Thoughts

While backpack coolers are a fairly recent phenomenon, they are proving incredibly popular for cool refreshments when you’re out in the great outdoors, as well as for grilling and picnics. If you are struggling to find the best backpack cooler for your needs, be sure to take another look over our top-rated selection.

For the best all-round backpack cooler, you can’t go wrong with the ever-popular Yeti Hopper Backflip 24. With its generous 20-can plus ice capacity, the Backflip 24 benefits from Yeti’s ColdCell insulation complete with a waterproof Hydrolok zipper, and an easy-access wide-mouth opening.

If you are looking for a more versatile backpack cooler, take a second look at the Pelican Dayventure Backpack Soft Cooler with its dual insulated compartments. It also features a highly stable compression-molded base, plus ergonomic padded shoulder straps for easier, more comfortable carrying.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a backpack cooler that can also be used to carry all of your essentials, the Polar Bear Coolers Original Backpack Soft Side Cooler comes with multiple pockets to accommodate your extra accessories. This hard-wearing, highly durable backpack cooler also features a microbial double-coated line to prevent mold and mildew build up for a more hygienic, easy to clean backpack cooler.

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