There are so many instances in which it’s a pain to carry a traditional cooler.
But a backpack cooler makes everything from picnics to boating much easier and hassle-free.
Plus with new fabric technology, today’s backpack coolers pack tremendous ice retention, sometimes for several days.
But not every model is suitable for every situation. We’ll go over many of them to find the best backpack cooler for you, but here are our favorites..
Best Backpack Coolers:
- Best Overall Backpack Cooler: ICEMULE Urbano 30L
- Best Budget Backpack Cooler: Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack
- Best Value Backpack Cooler: ICEMULE Pro L
Best Dual-Compartment Backpack Coolers:
- Best Classic Backpack Style Backpack Cooler: Carhartt Insulated 24-Can 2 Compartment Cooler Backpack
- Best Dual-Purpose Premium Backpack Cooler: Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler
- Best Dual-Purpose Value Backpack Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler
Best Backpack Cooler – Our Top Picks
ICEMULE Urbano 30L
Weight: 4 lbs | Capacity (L): 30 | Capacity (cans): 20 + ice | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 14.5 x 8.5 x 18 inches | Materials: ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon
The ICEMULE Urbano definitely stands out from the crowd with its design.
It’s rugged and waterproof, but it looks so stylish, no one would ever suspect that it’s a cooler and not a regular backpack!
With a capacity of 30L, it’s one of the largest models on the list. It’s big enough to fit 18-20 cans of soda plus ice without a problem.
And when it comes to ice retention, it can keep your food and drinks at icy temperatures for more than 24 hours.
Thanks to the welded seams and zipper-less closure, this is a 100% waterproof backpack cooler.
But what’s even cooler is that the IM AirValve allows air to be added to the insulation layer, which makes the cooler buoyant. So, it’s great for water activities like kayaking.
Coming out on top with its sleek design and additional storage pockets, we love the ICEMULE Urbano.
- Stylish and sleek as hell
- 30L capacity – holds up 20 cans of soda, plus ice
- 24-hours of ice retention
- Completely waterproof and buoyant for water activities due to IM AirValve
- Comfortable padded shoulder straps and hidden interior pockets
- Waist belts are recommended when carrying a full cooler
Best for: any/all outdoor activities that require a backpack cooler
ICEMULE Pro Large
Weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz. | Capacity (L): 23 | Capacity (cans): 18 + ice | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 17 x 14 x 11 inches | Materials: 1,000-denier ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon
The ICEMULE Pro Large really gives you the best bang for your buck for a soft cooler.
At this price range, it’s very difficult to find other coolers that have all the features this one does.
This model in particular comes in several sizes, but the large one offers the best value.
It has a capacity of 23L, which can fit around 18 cans and ice, though we’ve found that it can hold much more than its capacity says it can.
This backpack cooler is specially designed for water activities. It has welded seams and a zipper-less closure for true waterproofing.
It also floats on water like most ICEMULE models, so in case it falls into the water, you don’t have to worry about your food and drinks sinking to the bottom.
What’s also great about this design is that it’s collapsible.
Once you finish all your food and drinks, you can roll the cooler up and pack it for the next trip.
Read our full ICEMULE Pro review here.
- Fully waterproof and great for kayaking or other outdoor activities
- Can safely use the cooler around water without worrying it will sink
- Collapsible design allows you to roll it up and pack it away when not in use
- Comes in several different colors, so you can match it with the rest of your gear
- Not the best straps for a backpack cooler
Best for: enjoying water activities
Weight: 5 lbs | Capacity (L): 30 | Capacity (cans): 24 + ice | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 24 x 17 x 11 inches | Materials: 3cm closed-cell PolarLayer XT Insulation, MuleSkin 1000-denier fabric
If you’re willing to invest a bit more, this premium model by ICEMULE is worth every penny.
First, this model has a capacity of a whopping 30L, which is big enough for storing 24 cans plus ice for cooling.
For insulation, it uses 3cm closed-cell PolarLayer XT Insulation foam, which keeps your food and drinks cool for several days!
Even if the cooler is packed with food and drink, it’s pretty comfortable to wear.
This is thanks to the backpack suspension system, which includes padded straps, air mesh, a sternum strap, and a cushioned hip belt.
Finally, it also has three oversized pockets with zippers. They’re waterproof and insulated, so they can keep your stuff safe and cold if needed.
- 30L capacity, meaning it can store up to 24 soda cans and ice
- Thick insulation keeps your drinks and food cool for several days
- Features three large pockets and industrial clip points, so you can store your essentials
- Backpack suspension system makes the cooler very comfortable to wear regardless of its weight
- Quite expensive for a backpack cooler
Best for: longer trips
Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack
Weight: 1.9 lbs | Capacity (L): 18 | Capacity (cans): 30 | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 11.42 x 8.46 x 17.52 inches | Materials: plastic
Coleman always impresses with its affordable but high-quality products. This cooler backpack is no different.
The exterior is made of waxed canvas and covered with mesh, which allows it to repel water.
As for the interior, it features an antimicrobial liner that prevents odor, mildew, and mold from forming.
Furthermore, the heat-welded seams prevent leaks.
This backpack cooler can fit up to 30 cans inside, but when you calculate in the ice, the numbers drop to roughly 23 cans, which is still amazing.
When packed with ice, the cooler can keep your food and drink icy for up to 34 hours.
What’s also great about this backpack cooler is that it also features stretch pockets in the front and at the sides.
You can use them to store essentials, like your phone, snacks, or water bottles.
- Holds the temperature for up to 34 hours
- Features three stretchy pockets for storing essential items
- Affordable for its quality
- Features an antimicrobial liner that keeps away odor, mildew, and mold
- Tough to clean when dirty
Best for: campers and day trippers on a budget
Igloo Pursuit Backpack
Weight: 2.09 lbs | Capacity (L): undisclosed | Capacity (cans): 24 | Ice Retention (hrs): 12+ | Dimensions: 48 x 19.1 x 32 centimetres | Materials: polyester
This might not be the biggest backpack cooler on the list, but this model by Igloo makes great use of its storage space.
With a capacity of 24L, this cooler can fit about 12 cans of soda. Also, thanks to its elongated design, you can pack your wine bottles upright!
If you need to pack other essentials, the cooler also features 2, tall, mesh side pockets and a large insulated front pocket with a zipper.
I do like the fact that the cooler features both adjustable padded shoulder straps and quick-grab handles.
That way, you can carry it however it suits you. I also like that you get a built-in bottle opener, which is always handy to have.
- Features side mesh pockets and an insulated front pocket for storing essentials
- Heat-sealed, insulated liner is waterproof and easy to clean
- Features both shoulder straps and carry handles
- Double-zipper lid opens wide, allowing easy access to the main compartment
- Chest strap isn’t very comfortable for people with larger chests
Best for: two people on a one-day hike
Carhartt Insulated 24-Can 2 Compartment Cooler Backpack
Weight: 1.5 lbs | Capacity (L): undisclosed | Capacity (cans): 12 | Ice Retention (hrs): 8+ | Dimensions: 12.5 x 8 x 17.75 inches | Materials: 600 denier fabric with Rain Defender water repellent
At first glance, this model by Carhartt looks just like a regular backpack.
But once unzipped, it’s clear that this is an insulated cooler.
This cooler can fit up to 12 cans without ice and 12 with ice which will remain cold for around eight hours.
Of course, you can lower the amount of food and drink and add ice to make them last longer.
At the front, the backpack cooler also features a zippered pocket, inside of which you have two mesh pockets and a key fob.
There are also two small pockets at the front and two mesh pockets for storing a water bottle or any other essentials on the sides.
- Looks like a regular backpack, so it’s perfect for a variety of situations
- Retains temperature for up to eight hours (even without ice)
- Features tons of pockets for storing all your other essentials
- Affordable compared to most picks on this list
- Straps aren’t padded, so uncomfortable when the backpack is too heavy
Best for: picnics and short hikes
YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler (currently on voluntary recall)
Weight: 5.6 lbs | Capacity (L): 18 lbs | Capacity (cans): 36 | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 18.1″W x 9.9″D x 18.1″H | Materials: 840-denier double-sided thermoplastic urethane
YETI really mastered the technology behind their coolers, and this model definitely shows that – especially when it comes to durability.
This backpack cooler is also quite big. If filled with just cans, it can fit up to 36 of them!
Of course, you’ll probably fill a good portion of the cooler with ice for cold retention.
In that case, you can rest assured your food and drinks will be cool even after 30 hours.
Now, even though it’s bulky, this cooler is rather comfortable to carry, thanks to thickly padded shoulder straps.
The model also has a carry handle and two side handles, so you can carry it in whatever way it’s most convenient for you.
Note: The YETI Hopper M20 has been voluntarily recalled in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Once the item is modified to meet safety standards, we assume it’ll be back on the market.
- Can retain icy temperatures longer than a whole day
- Features shoulder straps and handles
- Uses magnets to ensure leak-resistant closure
- Outer material is very durable and resistant to puncture and mildew
- Rather expensive
Best for: use on warm, sunny days
Cotopaxi Hielo 24L Cooler backpack
Weight: 4oz | Capacity (L): 24 lbs | Capacity (cans): 12, 12oz cans | Ice Retention (hrs): 12+ | Dimensions: 4 x 4 x 2 inches | Materials: Polyester, Nylon
When it comes to cooler backpacks, I don’t think it gets any more stylish than this.
This model by Cotopaxi has that retro vibe with colorful fabrics and a classic backpack shape.
And here’s the cool part – no two of these are the same.
Employees in Cotopaxi have full creative control over the product, so the colors are always different!
Plus, many of the materials are repurposed, so it’s better for the environment.
Aside from the beautiful design, this backpack cooler is really well-made as well.
It has a bucket-style opening, which allows you to easily reach for whatever you need from it, even if it’s at the bottom.
With a capacity of 24L, you can store around 12 cans along with ice.
- Every product has different colors, so you’ll get a unique backpack
- Eco-friendly since it’s made of repurposed material
- Features a side and top pocket for storing essential items
- Bucket-style opening makes it easy to reach whatever you need from the full backpack
- Not the best ice retention compared to other picks on the list
Best for: campers looking for a stylish but functional backpack cooler
Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler
Weight: 9.3 lbs | Capacity (L): 18 lbs | Capacity (cans): 6 | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 12.10 x 7.10 x 21.70 in | Materials:
Pelican is known for their durable and high-quality products. Now, this model is designed with versatility in mind.
The bottom compartment can fit up to 6 cans and features a leak-resistant zipper, so nothing will come through.
The top part has a wide roll-top opening and has lighter insulation compared to the bottom part.
But while designed for dry storage, this section can also work as a cooler compartment.
Even though it’s pretty big, this backpack cooler has a lightweight design and padded shoulder straps, so carrying it around is not an issue.
The compression-molded base also allows it to stand on its own when you place the backpack on the ground.
The whole construction is quite durable.
The outer shell is puncture-resistant and will stand up to wear and tear from outdoor use.
- Features two compartments, both of which have insulation for ice retention
- Wide roll top opening allows you to easily reach stuff at the bottom of the compartment
- Compression-molded base allows the backpack to stand upright
- Outer shell is both water and puncture resistant, so it’s quite durable
- Outer shell tends to form condensation on really hot days
Best for: keeping food separated from drinks
REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler
Weight: 3lbs | Capacity (L): 38 lbs | Capacity (cans): 20 | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 22 x 17 x 9 inches | Materials: Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner
REI Co-op is yet another brand that makes reliable products, and this backpack cooler is one of them.
Now, the capacity of this backpack cooler is quite impressive: 38L.
This model can hold 10lbs of ice and 20 cans, and it will keep them cold for up to 40 hours.
And thanks to the padded, contoured hip belt and shoulder straps, carrying such weight on your back won’t be tough.
But if you don’t need a cooler at the moment and just need a backpack, this model will work in that case as well.
Simply remove the leak-proof cooler insert, and you can use it as a regular hiking pack.
Aside from the main compartment, it also has external gear pockets, a top pocket, and front lash straps for carrying all your essentials.
- Keeps your food cool for up to 40 hours
- Inner layer can be removed to use the cooler as a regular backpack
- Features plenty of pockets and lash straps for storing your gear
- Made with recycled materials and is bluesign®-approved
- Not entirely leak-proof
Best for: versatile use
Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack
Weight: 2.63 lbs | Capacity (L): 20 lbs | Capacity (cans): 36 | Ice Retention (hrs): 36+ | Dimensions: 7.8 x 12.99 x 17.72 inches | Materials: Durable 600D polyester shell is lightweight and waterproof
This model by Hydro Flask may be small compared to other picks on the list, but it has quite an impressive ice retention ability.
When packed with ice, it can keep your stuff cool for up to 36 hours.
The design is another thing that catches your eye. Made of 600D polyester, the outer shell is durable and waterproof.
And thanks to a watertight zipper and welded seams, no single drop will pass through the material.
Plus, the side mesh pockets allow you to store a water bottle and other essentials.
What’s also great about this product is the compression molded base, so the backpack can stand on its own.
- Keeps food and drinks cool for up to 36 hours
- Polyester outer fabric is waterproof and durable
- Padded, mesh back panel and shoulder straps make carrying easy
- Zipper is less-than-ideal
Best for: solo hiking in hot weather
Pelican Dayventure Sling Cooler
Weight: 7.9 lbs | Capacity (L): 8.5 lbs | Capacity (cans): 12 | Ice Retention (hrs): 24+ | Dimensions: 18.30 x 7.50 x 7.50 in | Materials:
Most backpack coolers are designed in such a way that they can’t fit in a regular wine bottle.
But if you’re going on a camping date with your partner, then you definitely need this model by Pelican.
The interior compartment has a capacity of 8.5L, which is enough for four wine bottles or 12 cans of soda.
Thanks to the leak-resistant zipper with a waterproof seal, this cooler will keep your drinks cold all day long.
The cooler comes with a padded shoulder strap and rubberized carry handle, so you can carry it around in the most comfortable way for you.
Like other Pelican models, it features a compression molded base for stability when you’re not wearing it.
- Can fit 4 wine bottles or up to 12 cans
- Features a zippered outer pocket for storing essentials
- Leak-resistant zipper allows you to lay it horizontally without spilling
- Features both a shoulder strap and a carry handle
- Only suitable for carrying a small number of drinks
Best for: transporting drinks to picnics and camping dates
Backpack Cooler Buying Guide
Most backpack coolers look alike at first sight. But there are a few features to keep an eye on, as they can make a whole world of difference.
Size & Capacity
Given they’re carried on the back, backpack coolers don’t have such a wide range of sizes compared to regular coolers.
As you can see from the list, most backpack coolers have a capacity between 20L and 30L.
And in most cases, that’s an ideal size for carrying food and drinks on your back.
And for a 1-day trip for a couple, these are generally more than enough.
Sure, there are models like the ICEMULE Pro XX-Large 40L, which has a whopping capacity of 40L, but unless you’re in a larger group, you won’t need that much.
You also don’t want to go with a size that’s too big, as you are going to have to carry anything that you put in, which will add up quickly and weigh you down.
Frankly, anything larger than 30L is going to be too heavy for normal humans to carry.
That’s why we especially enjoy the ICEMULE Urbano since it has enough size at 30L to pack a full days worth of supplies, but also a sleek design as well.
Material & Durability
When choosing a backpack cooler, it’s important to pay attention to the material.
Most of them are made of similar materials, but you need to pay attention to the details.
For instance, a cooler might be made of a very durable material, but if the seams aren’t welded, it will leak.
You should also pay attention to the backside and the straps.
Most manufacturers like YETI and ICEMULE will make their backpack coolers waterproof, leakproof, and they’ll float in the event they go overboard.
Since you’ll be carrying the cooler on your back, it’s important that it’s comfortable and doesn’t make you sweat like wild.
That’s why a good cooler should have mesh pads on the back and padded straps for optimal comfort.
More: The 6 Best Cooler Brands
Insulation Quality, Ice Retention, & Cooling Duration
Backpack coolers are soft coolers, which means there’s some kind of foam involved for insulation.
There are two types of foam: open-cell and closed-cell.
Open-cell foam features cells that aren’t completely encapsulated.
This makes the foam flexible and lightweight, but it is not as great at insulating.
Closed-cell foam, on the other hand, features completely encapsulated cells.
As a result, the material is much denser and heavier, but it will provide better insulation.
Weight & Portability
Since they’re designed to be carried on the back, most backpack coolers are relatively light.
However, since they’ll be loaded with food and drinks, the overall weight on your back will be way more than the weight of the coolers themselves.
But we’re ready for that. What’s important is that the straps and handles on those coolers are comfortable enough to make carrying easier.
Otherwise, it kills the purpose of having a backpack cooler.
There’s a pretty good chance you’ll use ice in your backpack cooler.
And in that case, one thing you don’t want is the melted ice leaking and making a mess.
That’s why you need to make sure that the backpack is completely waterproof, so nothing can penetrate the material.
Keep in mind that, even if you’re using ice packs, they’ll also cause a bit of water to form inside the cooler (from condensation) as they start warming up.
So even in that case, it’s important that the cooler is fully leak-proof.
Zippers & Hardware Quality
Hardware is one of those things that we often forget about, yet they’re just as important as any other part of the cooler.
A backpack cooler with a high-quality outer shell will mean nothing if it uses a bad-quality zipper that snags and breaks with use.
The same goes for buckles and stabilizers. If they break, you might as well not use the cooler at all.
How Long Can A Backpack Cooler Keep My Food & Drinks Cold?
Depends on the quality, as well as the food-to-ice ratio.
But most backpack coolers on our list last between 12 and 24 hours when used adequately.
What Factors Should I Consider When Buying A Backpack Cooler?
Size and weight are always important factors, as you’ll be carrying it on your back.
Of course, insulation and zipper quality are just as important. They determine how long your backpack cooler will stay cool.
How Much Weight Can A Backpack Cooler Comfortably Carry?
It depends on the model, but most of them can carry up to 30 lbs.
Still, keep in mind that you shouldn’t carry more than ten percent of your weight on your back.
Are Backpack Coolers Waterproof Or Water-Resistant?
While some backpack coolers are completely waterproof, the majority of them are water-resistant.
While that’s decent enough, you need to make sure to keep the cooler upright or it can leak through the openings.
Even if it’s waterproof, it’s best not to completely submerge a backpack cooler in the water.
Instead, you can dab the outside and inside with water and soap, then rinse and wipe everything with a dry towel.
To Sum Things Up
There are many great backpack coolers on the market, and the one that comes out on top is the ICEMULE Urbano 30L.
This cooler has great capacity, is completely waterproof, and even floats on water!
Not only is it great for water activities, but you can use it for practically any trip because of its sleek and urban design.
I’ve even considered using it as a regular backpack!
But if Urbano isn’t your top choice, there are plenty here on this list that will suit your needs!