Best Backpack Coolers in 2021
Coolers have come a long way over the years. You’re not stuck with fragile, Styrofoam coolers from the grocery store anymore. Now, we can hold ice for nearly a week, keep foods hot and beverages cold, and coolers have become more portable. Get ready for the ten best coolers you can wear on your back—whether you’re hitting the beach, you work long days outside, or you’re just always in need of a cold drink, you’ll find the best backpack cooler for you.
The Best Backpack Cooler
Is your primary goal to have an epic weekend? If so, you’ll need to pack some of the good stuff. IceMule Pro Backpack Cooler can hold up to 18 standard 12oz cans, or 20 liters of space otherwise. Insulated dry bag design means you won’t be shaking the water off from your pack, or from the back of your shirt. One concern—which we’ll t ouch on in our buying guide—is comfort. If you’re going to pack heavy, you’ll be putting stress on your shoulders for long hours during a hike. You want to ensure there’s excellent comfort, and IceMule’s padded straps give you comfort when it’s needed most.
- BrandIceMule Coolers
- Weight5 pounds
No extra pockets
Not completely leak proof
The king of outdoors is Coleman—they make just about everything you could ever want for the perfect camping trip or hike. They wasted no time hopping on the backpack cooler scene. Soft Backpack Cooler comes in with slightly lower storage capabilities from our top model on the list, but it’s made of more lightweight material. If you’re packing light, packing ice, and packing up for the weekend, you’d better remember your buddy Coleman.
Easy for travel
- Weight2.46 pounds
You can fit 28 12-oz cans in here
Extremely attractive price point
Exterior front pocket crushes snacks (when pack is at full capacity)
28-can capacity doesn’t include ice
Melted ice leaks out of bottom zipper if you don’t hold it right
Igloo’s been one of those brands that have graced backyard barbeques for decades, and they’ve made a portable way to enjoy ice-cold food and drink on the go. Marine Square Backpack Cooler comes with an extremely comfortable set of straps, so your heavy cargo doesn’t leave marks on your shoulder. Stain-resistant and odor-resistant, this model is the perfect companion to a solo weekend out on the lake with a fishing rod, or a hike in the hills with a few good friends. Either way, it’s what you make out of it. Wouldn’t you want to pop down an Igloo anywhere you go?
Stain-resistant and odor-resistant
Lightweight build (less than 2lbs)
Keeps drinks colder up to 25% longer than leading competitors
- Weight1.25 pounds
Only holds 16 cans (with ice)
Style plus function
Function meets flair—with over five styles/colors to choose from and a 20-can capacity (plus ice), you’re ready to rock and roll with OAGear Backpack Cooler. For the lowest cost on our list, you can go from work to play in a snap. Leave the office and hit the beach with your mates, or hit the train and head out of town on a whim. The choice is yours, but one thing you can’t be caught without is a prime cooler backpack. With adjustable, comfortable straps, external pockets for snacks, and a non-leak liner, what have you got to lose?
Lightweight and evenly-distributed
- Weight1.2 pounds
Flatten the bag and slip it into a suitcase with ease
Comes in colors to match your style
Your ultimate go-bag for any activity
Only one exterior pocket; not a lot of storage for room temp items
Wears down quickly
Do you go heavy duty in every single aspect of your life? If you burn through though your apparel quickly, then you know how crucial it is to have material that’s going to last. That’s especially true for your cooler backpack—it’s going to hold an immense weight while bouncing on your back through the hiking trail. Mojecto High Capacity comes with heavy duty 1680D fabric (tear proof), comes with multiple pockets and zippers to store smaller items/snacks, and fits comfortably on your shoulders.
Padded external pockets for electronics
Sturdy zippers/stitching; you won’t lose any items
- Weight2 pounds
Heavy duty material
Massive storage capabilities
Straps are comfortable, but after a certain weight they hurt
Overpacking means your phone, snacks, and other exterior pocket items get squished
If you’re all about additional store, you’ll find plenty of pockets and ample space in the main compartment of DA Gear’s Royal Cooler. Mesh pockets allow you to store small snacks, while other compartments allow you to store your phone with ease. Go hiking or has a cold drink on the commute home with this no-leak interior liner, or pack up hot food to enjoy throughout the day. It’s all up to how you use it, because this pack is ready for anything.
20-can capacity + ice
Comfortable straps to reduce fatigue
Heat-sealed to store hot foods
- Weight1.55 pounds
Size is best for go-bag, weekender uses – not the best for hiking
External pockets for small electronics/snacks
Attractive price point
Hard bottom doesn’t provide standalone stability
Reports of stitch breaks after one year of continuous use
Igloo’s been around for ages thanks to their fantastic seal and ability to keep your favorite food and drinks cold for days. It’s all in the title—this slender vertical pack is designed to go with you and keep you prepared for anything. Carry your EDC pouch in the external pocket, and utilize the padded compartment to safely store a tablet or small laptop/phone. Straps fit comfortably.
Also available in tote form
Perfect weight distribution; no fatigue or sore back/shoulders
Bottle opener included in backpack strap
- Weight3.4 pounds
The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 is built for one thing only – carrying enough food and drink to sustain you on any adventure. Whether you’re trekking up a mountain, heading to the beach, or heading to a tailgate party, this backpack is the best way to keep your beer and snacks cool. Sure, it’s expensive, but the quality speaks for itself. The inside of the bag is insulated with closed-cell rubber foam. Yeti calls this technology Coldcell Insulation and it works so much better than cheap coolers. The contents of your bag will stay cool for hours, if not days.
The large interior is big enough to hold 20 cans with a 2:1 can to ice ratio. All of those beers are going to be pretty heavy, which is why the large padded straps and waist belt are so important. Designed like a hiking backpack, you can carry drinks for your whole crew without breaking your back. Another important feature is the Hydrolok Zipper, which is, in Yeti’s words: “the toughest, highest-performing waterproof and leakproof cooler zipper in the world”. If you want the best cooler backpack on the market, the Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 is pretty hard to beat.
Inside dimensions – 12.6” x 6.5” x 15”
Holds 20 cans + ice
Padded straps & waist belt
- ModelHopper 24
- Weight7.5 pounds
Amazing quality backpack
Keeps contents cold for a long time
This next cooler backpack is a more affordable option, designed to keep your drinks and snacks cool for around half a day. There’s enough interior space for 30 (330ml) cans and it’s lined with high-density insulation material. However, we wouldn’t recommend carrying a heavy load like that because the straps aren’t designed to take it. The TOURIT Cooler Backpack is more suited to carry a six-pack, some snacks, and a couple of bottles of water.
On the outside of the bag, there are three mesh pockets and three zippered pockets. That means you can keep your valuables and anything else you don’t want to get cold, without taking another backpack. It also has a bottle opener integrated into the strap, so you can always open a cold one when you need to.
Dimensions – 15.8″ x 13.0″ x 7.5″
High-density insulation material
Multiple outside pockets
100% leak proof
Available in four colors
- Weight1.2 pounds
Lots of room
Doesn’t work with ice
Not that strong
The problem with most cooler backpacks is that they look like… coolers. Who wants to head to a beach party with a large cooler strapped to your back. The Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack allows you to be a bit more clandestine. You can rock up with a normal looking backpack, then become everyone’s best friend when you pull out the ice-cold beers.
Despite looking like a normal backpack, it has a pretty innovative design. The backpack splits into two parts, revealing a large main compartment and an insulated base compartment to store your beers. It’s also got a couple of mesh pockets on either side of the backpack.
Dimensions – 2.5” x 17.75” x 8”
2-in-1 cooler backpack
Insulated base compartment
Large main compartment
Two mesh pockets
- Weight1.5 pounds
Looks like a normal backpack
Normal compartment as well as an insulated compartment
Not up to normal Carhartt standards
Backpack Cooler Buying Guide
With so many to choose from, what’s best for your lifestyle? Take these little tidbits into account when selecting the perfect backpack cooler for you. There are numerous uses to these, so think outside the box and imagine how you could apply these to your daily grind.
Q: Can Backpack Coolers Hold Ice?
A: They absolutely can, but you have to be smart about how you do it. If you’re going to pack small, and you jam a bunch of ice in the pack, you’re going to eventually be chilling a puddle of water. They can hold ice, and well, but you have to be sure to drain any excess water at every opportunity. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting ice.
Q: How Long Will a Backpack Cooler Stay Chilled?
A: You’re going to find numerous guides all over the internet with varying results. It relies on variables—how much ice have you packed? Is your backpack exterior a dark color? (Darker colors hold more heat, which warms the interior of your pack a little faster.) Most of its cold retention relies on how you use it. Ensure it’s closed as often as possible, that you withdraw items from it quickly, and that you drain any water accumulated from your ice (otherwise, you’re just chilling the water and wasting the cold).
Here are three tips to ensure you get the longest chill out of your cooler backpack:
- Direst sunlight is going to severely affect your pack. If you’re walking in a sunny area at high noon, consider wearing the pack on your front so the sun isn’t beating down directly on it.
- If you stop and decide to make camp for the night, make sure you store your cooler backpack in a dry, shaded area. If you end up waking up at 8:00 AM and the sun’s been up for a couple of hours, you don’t want to find your backpack cooler to be full of water and warm food/drink.
- The more heat your body is throwing, the faster the exterior of your backpack cooler is going to heat up. Try to make sure you have a layer between you and the cooler.
Q: Can a Backpack Cooler Be Used to Hold Hot Food?
A: The process is a little more involved, but yes, you can. There’s a sufficient guide located here, giving you the full rundown on how to store your food to keep it hot in a cooler. This guide also applies to backpack coolers, but keep in mind, if your backpack cooler says it can keep food chilled for five days, it doesn’t mean the same for your hot food.
What to Look For in a Backpack Cooler
The main function is to keep your food/drink hot or cold, but that doesn’t mean you should suffer with inadequate features. Comfort, capacity, and everything in between goes into making your decision. Let’s talk about the most important aspects of your next cooler backpack and narrow down your criteria.
We’ll get into weight in a minute, which plays a huge part in your comfort. Even if you were to throw a cooler backpack or tactical backpack over your shoulder, and it doesn’t feel particularly heavy, you’re going to be loading it up with a fair amount of food. The more weight, the more pressure on your shoulders, so you need to make sure that the straps are comfortable and padded. Nobody wants to have sore shoulders on a hike.
Believe it or not, this is where you have to input a lot of specific consideration. Are you going for an XL model/ Are your needs minimal? For instance, when empty, the top pick on our list is just over seven pounds. If you have a smaller frame/can’t carry a lot, consider how much that pack is going to weigh when it’s filled with food and drink. The size is going to play into the max weight capacity, which we’re going to get into next.
Max Weight Capacity
Are you going to mule the entire beer or coffee supply up to the top of the peak? Even if you can handle a high weight level, your pack might not be able to. If you’re going to jam it with as many contents as possible, consider the maximum weight per pack.
Also, consider weight distribution. If you’re packing up 20lbs or 30lbs of cargo, you’d want to evenly distribute the weight. That’s common sense. However, your pack might have other plans in mind. In order to accommodate your items, the pockets may be asymmetrical, and that could throw off your weight while you’re walking with it slung over your shoulder.
Who doesn’t need extra space? Whether it’s internal or you have a few pouches on the exterior for water bottles, etc. if you’re out on a hike, it’s important to have more space. If you’re planning to stash a twelve pack until you get to the campsite, or if you’re packing up your entire three-day hike’s worth of food, you’ll want extra pockets in your backpack and pants to store more, and to ensure that certain things don’t crushed by other items in your pack.
You may also wish to check out our guide to the best coolers on the market for the more conventional option.