The best backpack coolers feature an efficient, simple design. These coolers often use insulating lining instead of thick walls. The lining is designed to insulate the cold compartment. While these insulating walls of the coolers are said to be more efficient, the thinner lining can also help to maintain cooler temperatures inside the insulation compartment for a very long time. However, since there are so many models on the market to choose from, finding the right backpack cooler for your next hiking or camping trip isn’t as easy as it sounds. Additionally, many models simply don’t have what it takes to keep food cool for as long as campers and hikers need it to. Because of this, I decided to create a buyer’s guide that includes all the features to look for to ensure you end up with a model that will keep your food cool and fresh all day. I’ve also included six of the leading models Each of which earned top marks for durability, insulation, and overall quality. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that includes the most important features, and how each cooler rated.
Backpack Cooler Comparison Chart
SEEHONOR Insulated Cooler Backpack
This massive cooler backpack has a thirty-liter capacity and a spacious interior that will allow you to hold all the snacks, meals, and beverages you need. It also comes equipped with a thick leakproof PEVA liner on every side, so it can keep your food cold for several hours. Aside from the cooling compartment, it also has a dry storage area, making this bag very versatile. Because the bag is made out of heavy-duty nylon, the pack is essentially tear and abrasion-proof.
- Made out of rugged nylon
- PEVA liner
- High capacity
- Highly adjustable straps
- Mesh side pockets rip easily
This durable pack has it all, including both dry and cold storage compartments. It’s also loaded with pockets including a couple of large front pockets, two side mesh pockets, and a mesh divider that will allow you to store and organize utensils and other gear. The heavily padded shoulder straps are highly adjustable and designed to promote user comfort as they evenly distribute weight across the shoulders and upper back.
MIER Insulated Soft Cooler Backpack
This leakproof insulated cooler features a thick PEVA liner that’s designed to keep your food and beverages cold for hours. The main compartment is very deep and can hold up to twenty-four cans. The multiple pocket design will keep all of your gear and supplies easily accessible and organized. The pack features one large mesh pocket inside the lid, one large front zippered pocket, two side mesh pockets, and one small exterior zippered pocket. The shoulder straps are heavily padded and adjustable. The strap’s thicker than average padding allows for improved support and user comfort.
- Thick PEVA liner
- Adjustable straps
- Several pockets
- Rugged design
- Zippers on pockets get stuck easily
This large, rugged backpack has a twenty-five-liter capacity, comes equipped with a thick PEVA liner, for ultimate protection against leaks and is designed with user comfort in mind. The pocket loaded design allows users to easily store and organize their gear, keeping the food and supplies easily accessible. This model is perfect for long hikes, camping adventures, and allows for both cold and dry storage.
TOURIT Cooler Backpack
This model is designed to keep food cold for up to sixteen hours. It’s made out of heavy-duty insulation with a multi-pocket design that includes two large front zippered pockets, two side mesh pockets, one zippered pocket on the lid, and one mesh pocket. The insulation liner is made out of PEVA material and will prevent the ice in the wet storage compartment from leaking. The pack is durable, yet lightweight, weighing in at just a little over a pound.
- PEVA liner
- Loaded with pockets
- Lightweight design
- Liner begins to tear after few months of use
This pocket loaded cooler backpack offers a high capacity, several storage options, and a durable design. The pack is able to keep food cold for several hours and features the type of rugged design that’s needed for those long hikes or camping trips in the backcountry.
FORICH Cooler Backpack
This backpack cooler features a thirty liter capacity and comes with an upgraded insulation liner that’s made out of PEVA. The multiple pocket design includes two large pockets dedicated to dry storage and two large mesh side pockets. On the strap, you’ll also find a small mesh pocket that’s designed to store personal items such as a phone. The shoulder straps are highly adjustable and feature an ergonomic design that promotes user comfort, while working to reduce back pain and discomfort.
- High capacity
- Includes several dry storage pockets
- Adjustable straps
- PEVA liner
- Will leak if loose ice is used
This model is lightweight, comes equipped with shoulder straps that are heavily padded and highly adjustable, and includes large side pockets that you can use to securely store beverages and other personal items. This pack is a steal for the price and includes the type of cold and dry storage that most hikers and campers are looking for.
Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler
This cooler backpack has a twenty-eight liter capacity and includes heat-welded seams that are designed to prevent leaks, so you can use both cold packs and loose ice, without the fear of the cold storage compartment leaking once the ice begins to melt. The shoulder straps are adjustable and padded, with a design that will improve user comfort by preventing the straps from digging into the wearer’s shoulders. The pack also features extra storage in the form of a single large front pocket.
- Adjustable, padded straps
- Twenty-eight liter capacity
- Heat-welded seams
- Low price
- One color option available
- Limited dry storage
This model doesn’t come loaded with dry storage pockets, which can be a deal breaker for the buyer in search of a model that offers plenty of storage space for personal items. However, it does have a high cold storage capacity and heat-welded seams, offering the type of leak proof design that’s essential for all day use.
Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack
This backpack features an insulated base compartment and a twelve-liter main compartment. This low cold storage space will make this model a better choice for short day hikes. On the front of the pack you’ll find a zippered pocket, complete with a key fob. There’s also mesh side pockets that can be used to store water bottles or personal items. This cooler offers more storage space for dry goods and personal gear than cold food and beverages, making it a good choice for a day hike, trip to the beach, or long car ride. However, if you’re looking for a model you can use for your next backcountry hiking or camping adventure, this bag isn’t it.
- Adjustable straps
- Plenty of dry storage space
- Not much cold storage available
- Two color options
This pack is rugged, comes equipped with shoulder straps that are highly adjustable, and features a large dry storage compartment for all your gear and nonperishable food. The base of the bag is designed for cold storage and offers a limited amount of space, making it a poor choice for long camping and hiking trips. Overall, the pack offers a rugged design, but it’s not a good fit for the serious camper or hiker.
Backpack Cooler Buyer’s Guide
Like most types of portable coolers, a backpack cooler doesn’t have an external power source so even a top-rated model will only be able to keep the insulation compartment nice and cold for as long as the cold freeze packs or ice remain frozen. However, unlike other types of cooler models, these backpack style coolers are highly portable and can be used in a variety of situations. These coolers look just like a standard backpack, yet they have a dry storage compartment and a cold storage compartment. This will allow you to take along temperature sensitive foods in one compartment and store your gadgets, clothing, and other items in the dry compartment.
Of course, the entire purpose of using one of these coolers is to keep your drinks and food at an appropriate temperature. However, in order for that to happen the cooler must come equipped with adequate features. Whether you’re more focused on usage or comfort, below I’ll go over some of the important features you’ll want to look for in order to find a cooler that has what it takes to keep your food icy cold and tasting fresh. But first, I’ll go over some of the most important benefits these coolers offer and what the drawbacks are of choosing this type of cooler for your next hiking or camping trip.
Benefits of Backpack Coolers
- Taking along a backpack cooler on your next outdoor adventure can make transporting your gear and food a breeze. Because the weight of the pack will be evenly distributed across your back and shoulders you don’t have to worry about carrying around a heavy cooler that can quickly become uncomfortable in your arms.
- Unlike other types of coolers, a backpack cooler is very versatile. They come equipped with large insulated compartments and a minimum of one dry storage compartment. So, not only will using one of these packs allow you to carry both unrefrigerated and refrigerated food items, but you’ll also be able to bring along plenty of camping gear and supplies.
- These coolers are also very low maintenance. The insulated compartment will feature a leak proof design that is made out of materials that are fungal and bacterial resistant. The exterior layer of the insulated compartment is made out of nylon which is easy to wash using a damp rag & mild dish detergent.
- Unlike a standard cooler which can be difficult to store and transport because of its bulky design, most models of backpack coolers are collapsible or foldable, so you’ll be able to easily find storage space for it.
- Most models of standard coolers can be very uncomfortable to carry because they have handles that are made out of a thick plastic. Instead of thick plastic handles, these coolers will come with padded handles and straps so they’re more comfortable to carry.
- Most models are available in a wide range of colors and designs. While a regular cooler can be ugly and bulky, a backpack cooler will look exactly like a regular backpack, so you can choose colors and designs you find aesthetically pleasing.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Backpack Coolers?
Yes. Unlike a large traditional cooler, with a backpack cooler you’ll have limited storage capacity. Even though you will find some models out there that have an average storage capacity, for the most part, these packs cannot carry nearly as much food and beverages as a standard cooler. Basically, don’t plan on using a backpack cooler as your only cooler for a longer camping or hiking trip. Since these packs are designed to be highly portable, most manufacturers will limit their storage capacity so they can remain comfortable to carry all day long.
Unlike an electric cooler, you will have to worry about maintaining a cold temperature inside the cold compartment. A backpack cooler will rely on its insulating properties in order to keep the compartment cool throughout the day. You’ll need to put some freezer packs or ice inside the compartment at the beginning of the day, then lock down the insulation compartment. This helps to maintain the temperature at a cooler level as long as the ice doesn’t melt and the freezer packs remain cold. Depending on the temperature outside and the quality of the insulation lining these packs can keep food cold for as long as 10 to 12 hours.
Other Important Features
A backpack cooler can be the perfect solution for the long distance hiker, or the camper who moves from campsite to campsite every few days. Obviously, these packs aren’t meant to function like a hard-sided cooler and keep all of your food cold for a long one or two month trip, however, they can store the essentials and are a great choice for anyone looking for a lightweight solution for their next outdoor adventure.
As you can see, there are more advantages than disadvantages to using this type of cooler, especially when it comes to its portable design and overall convenience. However, before you purchase the first model you come across, you need to learn about the most important features to look for, so you don’t end up with a model that isn’t able to store all of your supplies, or a cooler that fails to keep your food cold for more than a few hours.
If you’re looking for a cooler for your next hiking trip, the last thing you want is a backpack that’s uncomfortable to wear. Even if the pack isn’t heavy, if it comes equipped with thin straps that aren’t very adjustable then you’ll find yourself weighed down with a heavy pack complete with straps that dig into your shoulders. Because of this, it’s important to find straps that are not only adjustable but heavily padded as well.
When it comes to a backpack cooler, the size will be very important. These coolers come in sizes ranging from small to extra extra-large. While you can fit plenty of food and beverages in extra-large models, you may not be able to carry it for very long if it’s filled to capacity
If you have a small frame then you won’t be able to carry a larger backpack. However, if the pack you choose is too small then you won’t be able to fill it with all the products you need to.
When you’re shopping for a backpack, you’ll also want to consider the pack’s maximum capacity. How many bottles of water do you intend to carry with you over the course of several miles? Before you buy, it’s a good idea to check a pack’s maximum weight capacity. Consider how much food or drinks that you’re planning on taking with you on your next trip. Do you plan on taking 10 to 12 pounds of cargo or is a pack with a 30 pound weight limit a more suitable option? Look for a pack that features an ergonomic design that can support the weight you need it to without causing discomfort.
If you’re looking for a model to use to carry your clothing and other camping and hiking gear, then make sure you choose a model that’s loaded with pockets so you can keep your supplies organized and accessible.
Insulation is the most important factor that you’ll want to consider before you buy. To start, you’ll want to ensure that the insulation is thick enough to keep the contents of the cooler cool for the entire day. Next, you need to ensure that the cooler that you buy is also leak proof. The problem with low priced cooler backpacks is that they tend to leak the moment the ice begins to melt. This can mean your legs and back will be the first to find out when your ice needs to be replaced.
Because of this, it’s important to find a model that features a leak-proof design. While these models tend to be a little pricier, they’ll keep you nice and dry and your food will remain cold for hours.
Most packs have an interior that’s made out of polyurethane, which is the exact type of material you’ll need to look for. This is because most models that are made out of polyurethane are durable and easy to clean.
A cooling box usually features rigid walls complete with a vacuum layer inside, but this design wouldn’t be very practical for a backpack cooler so a compromise in design had to be made. Some backpack coolers will feature a flexible design that’s very similar to a standard backpack. However, you will also come across smaller packs that have rigid cold compartments. This style of pack can be very limiting in terms of how much dry gear you can fit inside.
How the pack distributes weight will have a major impact on the user’s comfort, especially if they plan on carrying a heavier load. The weight of bottles and cans can quickly add up and will feel much heavier to the wearer after an hour or two. Discomfort can be minimized by ensuring you choose a pack that’s highly adjustable and designed to distribute weight evenly.
Do you want a pack that comes with D rings, a bottle opener, or other types of extra features such as carabiner clips? You can expect to pay more for these types of extra features, but they can definitely add more functionality to the bag, making it easier for you to keep all of your gear organized and accessible.
When you use this type of cooler, the food and beverages you store in it will not get any colder than what they already were before you placed them in the cooler, which is why it makes sense to give the food and beverages a cold starting point so that the contents of the pack will be held at the proper temperature for as long as possible. You can do this in a few ways. First, place the pack itself somewhere that’s cold, so when you use it, the contents will not be placed in a warm bag. You can also fill the bag with ice packs that will immediately begin to bring the temperature of the pack down. If you want to bring along several bottles of water, I recommend freezing some of them, which will help to keep the contents of the pack cooler. As the water slowly melts, you can enjoy freezing cold water at the end of your hike.
Cleaning and Maintenance
The cooler portion of the pack will be made out of material that’s water-resistant, such as polyurethane. This material is easy to wipe down and clean after each use. It’s also important to eliminate any odors by allowing the pack to air out after a trip. If there are any spills or dried on food you can use a mild dish detergent and a warm wet rag to scrub out the interior. The backpack should be wiped out after every trip and allowed to air dry for a few hours before storing.
Buyers can choose between ice or cold packs to keep their food cold. The big problem here is if you end up with a low-quality pack that leaks and you use loose ice then it can begin to drip, soaking the dry storage compartment and you. Additionally, if you place ice directly inside the cold compartment you’ll have to deal with more cleanup once it has melted, after which point it will also get the food wet. Investing in some ice packs is a better idea. These are self-contained solid blocks of ice that are housed in a plastic casing, so the water is unable to spill out into the pack.
Look for a model that is covered by a thirty to ninety-day warranty. This will allow you to try the pack out and return it if it has a defective design that negatively impacts how it performs, such as leaks or poor insulation. Higher priced packs will often come with some type of warranty against defects, while lower priced models may not.
These packs can be pricey, especially if you’re looking for a model that features several compartments or one that offers a higher storage capacity. On average, you can find packs that range from $30 up to $100. These pricier models are a great investment and often offer better insulating materials, more storage compartments for your gear, and a larger cold storage compartment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Backpack Coolers Hold Ice?
Yes. While you can use ice in this type of cooler, you need to be smart about how you use it. If you’re using ice in a smaller pack then you can stick a bunch of ice inside, but you’ll eventually end up with a cold puddle of water. If you’re using loose ice instead of cold packs, you must make sure you drain out any excess water along the way, as the ice begins to melt.
How Long Will a Backpack Cooler Stay Chilled?
If you search online for this information, you’ll find several sites that offer different answers to this question. However, how long a pack can keep your food and beverages cold will depend on a variety of factors such as the color of the exterior, the type of insulating material used inside the cooler, and even what you use to keep your food cold such as loose ice, dry ice, or ice packs. Most pack’s cold retention will rely on how you use it. Make sure you open the pack as little as possible and when you do remove items, do so quickly.
Are Hard or Soft Coolers Better?
A hard-sided cooler is a better choice for extended and more rugged use. This is because a soft-sided cooler is designed for people to throw the bag over their shoulders, making them more portable and lighter. But these packs can be very limited in terms of storage space, especially when compared to a large hard-sided cooler. So, if you’re planning on camping for a few weeks in the summer, you will be better off relying on a hard-sided cooler. However, if you’re hiking, then a soft-sided cooler is a better, lighter option and one that won’t weigh you down or slow you down.
Is Bagged Ice Safe to Eat?
The FDA recognizes ice as a food, so safe display, handling, and storage practices apply. If you‘re purchasing a bag of ice at a local store make sure there are no tears or holes in the bag. A hole can expose the contents to dirt, debris, and bacteria.
Can Dry Ice Explode in a Cooler?
No, but it can cause injuries if used incorrectly. A freezing cold burn is similar to a heat burn and can be just as painful. If you’re using dry ice in your backpack cooler, make sure you wrap it up properly in some type of material such as newspaper. This will protect your skin from it and will also keep the contents of the pack colder for longer. You can keep dry ice in an unvented cooler that’s airtight, however, in some cases it may expand.
How Long will Dry Ice Last in a Cooler?
Dry ice that’s stored in a cooler can last eighteen to twenty-four hours. The shelf life for this type of ice will usually depend on the size of the brick and how the ice is stored. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which is the same gas that plants use for photosynthesis and the same type of gas we exhale.
The best backpack cooler is a great alternative to having to haul a traditional cooler along with you on your next hiking or camping trip. With a pack, you can simply toss it over your shoulder and head out. Whether you want this type of cooler to take with you to the park or beach, or for a longer hiking adventure, the models I’ve recommended here will work to keep your food at the right temperature, so you can enjoy a cold drink throughout the day, when temperatures are rising. Using the right pack can make your trip more enjoyable, giving you access to cold food and drinks that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Choosing the right model for your trip will depend on how much food you want to bring along, how many people you’re feeding, the length of your trip, and whether you need a pack for a long hiking trip or a smaller model for day use.
To keep yourself comfortable during your camping trip, revisit our buyer’s guide for the best air mattress for camping here.