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5 Best Backpack Coolers for 2024

Somebody once told me they like to hike so they can eat sandwiches in pretty places, and no one needs to twist my arm into a summit beer. While part of spending time outdoors means stepping away from creature comforts, carbonated beverages are objectively worse when they’re lukewarm. Lugging a bulky traditional cooler is often out of the question for certain outdoor adventures — even if it’s one of our six favorites. If you’re like me, you might like using a backpack cooler on your outdoor adventures

There’s nothing worse than a cooler that doesn’t keep things cold or a backpack that digs into your shoulders. And with backpack coolers, those are just two of the ways a piece of gear can fall flat. If you like using your gear rather than replacing it, read on to learn more about the best backpack cooler to add to your outdoor kit.

How We Chose the Best Backpack Coolers

While trying to decide on the best cooler backpack, we considered many factors: price, size, durability, comfort, and first-hand knowledge from people who have used them in real life. We want to find the best backpack cooler, too.

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Our Picks for the Best Backpack Coolers


Best Overall: RTIC Backpack Cooler

Tan colored RTIC Backpack Cooler

Pros:

  • Rugged construction
  • Retains ice well
  • Waterproof

Cons:

  • Lackluster straps and waist belt
  • Lacking exterior storage compartments
  • Bulky

Photo Credit: Amazon

About the RTIC Backpack Cooler

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is a sturdy soft-sided cooler backpack available in both 24- and 36-can capacities (for a typical price of $159.99 and $179.99, respectively). Both sizes fit wine bottles, and the 36-can version includes a waist belt to help you spread the weight of packing a weekend’s worth of snacks. If you need a go-anywhere, do-anything backpack cooler, the RTIC Backpack Cooler is an excellent option. 

Why We Like It

The thick outer material means it will stand up to scuffs and scrapes from the trail to the truck bed and back again. It holds up to aquatic adventures thanks to its waterproof zipper and the fact that it floats. Tie it down to the back of your ATV or your paddle board. Take a spill on a rock on the trail with peace of mind. On top of its durability, reviewers and users praise its ice retention, and we love it for the same reason — what’s the point of a cooler that doesn’t keep things cold? The RTIC Backpack Cooler also comes has multiple handles so you can haul it how you choose or strap it down to whatever you need to instead of throwing it on your back. 

If you need a cooler that can take a beating without fussing about it, the RTIC Backpack Cooler is an incredible option. Know that the durability and rugged construction you’re after comes with some extra size and weight associated, and one of the biggest (and only) complaints we can find about this cooler is that the straps, especially in the 36-can size, aren’t the most comfortable. Do you know what’s comfortable, though? A cooler that keeps your stuff cold and stands up to what you put it through, and that’s the RTIC Backpack Cooler in spades.


Best Upgrade: ICEMULE BOSS

Tan colored ICEMULE BOSS

Pros:

  • Incredible ice retention
  • Completely waterproof, including the exterior pockets
  • Comfortable straps (despite its size)

Cons:

  • A big, fat price tag
  • Stubborn zippers
  • Unwieldy

Photo Credit: Amazon

About the ICEMULE BOSS

ICEMULE touts the BOSS as “the best backpack cooler ever made,” a lofty claim that seems to back up at every turn. This 24-can cooler is completely waterproof and floats, like the RTIC, but the BOSS features a roll-top design and exterior pockets. The ICEMULE BOSS regularly costs $374.95, which makes it an investment, but after hearing what we have to say about it, you might be as convinced as we are. 

Why We Like It

There’s no question about that price — it’s a lot. The only downside is that the ICEMULE BOSS is worth every cent. If the RTIC Backpack Cooler is the best go-to, the ICEMULE BOSS improves upon it in a couple of key areas. First, the BOSS’s straps are leaps and bounds more comfortable, which matters when it’s actually on your back (you know, where a backpack goes). Second, the BOSS has exterior pockets, which are also waterproof — one reviewer noted that during a long float on the river, the phones in the exterior pockets stayed dry, and most importantly, the drinks stayed cold. 

The BOSS has all kinds of clips, bungees, and straps on it, so you can easily attach anything else you might need (one reviewer attached waterproof speakers for a “portable party”). Like the RTIC, it floats and is completely waterproof, so you can be completely comfortable throwing whatever you want at this backpack cooler. Multiple hands-on reviewers noted that the zippers could be tough to operate — to me, that means I can trust them to keep the water out and my phone, snacks, or other trail goodies safe and dry. On top of all this, one reviewer managed to keep ice in their ICEMULE BOSS for well over a hundred outs in their test, so you know it’ll keep your food and drinks fresh. If you can stomach the price, the ICEMULE BOSS will serve you well in your outdoor adventures for years to come.


Best Value: Arctic Zone Titan Guide Series Cooler

Blue Arctic Zone Titan Guide Series Cooler

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Tons of storage
  • Includes reusable ice packs

Cons:

  • Less durable than other options
  • Uncomfortable to carry
  • Not waterproof

Photo Credit: Amazon

About the Arctic Zone Titan Guide Series Cooler

Now that you’ve got that mouthful of a name out of the way, let’s talk about our budget pick. The Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler is advertised to keep ice for up to two days, includes three insulated compartments, and comes with two removable, proprietary “Ice Walls” (reusable ice packs) to help keep your cold stuff cold. This backpack cooler only costs $69.99 normally.

Why We Like It

You get everything you’re being sold with this backpack cooler and not much else, but given the price, that’s alright. If you’re a weekend warrior who just needs to keep your goods cold for a short jaunt, the Titan by Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 Can Ice Wall Backpack Cooler will help you do that without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for the same build quality (read: durability) as other more expensive options on our list, you’ll find yourself disappointed — and doubly so if you need a waterproof option — but the included “Ice Walls” are a nice touch.

All things considered: sure, the straps might not be the most comfortable (one reviewer described it as “a lot like your middle school book bag”), and some might find the chest strap poorly placed, but for a budget-minded outdoor adventurer who doesn’t need a waterproof option, this backpack cooler just might do the trick.


Best Barebones: ICEMULE Jaunt

Multicolored ICEMULE Jaunt

Pros:

  • No-nonsense, packable design
  • Waterproof closure
  • Multiple sizes and patterns

Cons:

  • A lack of features
  • High price (especially considering the lack of features)
  • Water resistant, not waterproof

Photo Credit: Academy Sports + Outdoors

About the ICEMULE Jaunt 

The ICEMULE Jaunt is available in a nine-liter, 15-liter, and, if you prefer a recycled material, there’s the 20-liter R-Jaunt. The nine- and 15-liter options come in a variety of eye-catching colors and patterns, while the R-Jaunt is available in only two. Regardless of their size, the Jaunt and R-Jaunt backpack coolers are made the same: a roll-top, two straps, an air valve to help with storage and rolling the top, and an external zipper pocket. 

Why We Like It

Sometimes, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. Sometimes, carrying less means having more fun. If you don’t need your backpack cooler to withstand a hurricane and just need it to keep your favorite beverages cold on a beach day, then the ICEMULE Jaunt offers everything you need in multiple sizes and in fun colors. The Jaunt is simple, lightweight (read: comfortable to wear), and easy to carry. It’s water- and sand-resistant but not waterproof like other options on our list, but it does come in the most colors.

It’s by no means the cheapest backpack cooler available (the smallest Jaunt is still more expensive than our budget pick, which holds three times as many cans), but the ICEMULE Jaunt will still serve you well if you just need something to keep your refreshments properly refreshing while you get from the car to your destination.


Best Double-Duty: REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler

REI co-op cool trail pack cooler

Pros:

  • Versatile
  • Functional design 
  • Solid ice retention

Cons:

  • Mediocre clips and zippers
  • The cooler compartment zipper isn’t waterproof

Photo Credit: REI

About the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler

The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler is a standard backpack until you insert the included cooler compartment, so you’re essentially getting two pieces of outdoor gear in one. It’ll set you back typically for $99.95, but per REI, you’ll be able to keep 20 cans and 10 pounds of ice cold for 40 hours. It’s made from a bluesign-approved recycled material, has useful external gear pockets, and straps to lash bulky items to the front of the pack. The included waist belt helps distribute the load more evenly. 

Why We Like It

If you need a backpack first and a backpack cooler second, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler is perfect. The removable cooler liner adds a level of versatility that no other backpack cooler on this list can match, so if you’re short on space but big on adventure, this pack is hard to pass up. The external pockets have zippered pouches and mesh water bottle pouches, and the top pouch makes it easy to keep valuables at hand. If you need a bag to take to school and then on an adventure the next day, the REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Cooler fits that niche.


Factors to Consider When Choosing a Backpack Cooler

Durability and Ruggedness

What adventures do you have in store for your backpack cooler? If it’s going to be your trusty companion through muddy trails and crashing waves, you’ll want something more rugged and waterproof. 

Size

The ICEMULE Jaunt is great for one or two folks to take to the beach for a day but will fall flat on a three-day camping trip with a family of four where you might need the ICEMULE BOSS. You want to make sure everyone on your adventures stays hydrated, refreshed, and fed, don’t you? Make you get the best backpack cooler for the size of your group and the length of your adventures. 

Price

Let’s face it — you need to fill the cooler with something, and both drinks and food cost money. A fancy cooler you can’t afford to fill and go out and do things with is about as useful as a fancy wallet with no money in it.


Are Backpack Coolers Worth It?

If you find yourself tired of lugging around a traditional cooler but need some kind of refrigeration in your outdoor setup, a backpack cooler is definitely worth it. While you might not be able to use any of our 6 genius cooler hacks on your backpack cooler, going hands-free while keeping your snacks fresh is hard to pass up! 

What Cooler Holds Ice the Longest?

Ice retention depends on multiple factors and will vary from test to test. In our research, most reviewers noted the ICEMULE BOSS holds ice the longest. 

Why Did YETI Discontinue the Backpack Cooler?

YETI discontinued the sales of their Hopper M20 Soft Backpack Coolers, Hopper M30 Soft Coolers, and SideKick Dry Gear Cases after filing with the SEC. According to the report, the magnetic closures were failing and releasing the magnets. Don’t let that keep you from finding the best backpack cooler for your outdoor needs, though! 

Is the RTIC Backpack Cooler Better Than the Ice Mule?

The RTIC Backpack Cooler is an excellent backpack cooler. However, if money were no object, I would choose the ICEMULE Boss because it has more external storage and more comfortable straps. 

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