The 5 best backpack coolers for hikes, picnics, and days at the beach

  • Backpack coolers are a convenient way to keep food and drinks cold when you’re outdoors or hiking.
  • A well-designed backpack cooler retains its temperature and is designed to be comfortable and ease the strain on your back.
  • Our top pick, the Yeti Hopper Backflip 24, is durable, well-insulated, leakproof, and evenly distributes weight across your back.

The cooler is a tried-and-true staple of any camping trip or day spent at the beach. It offers a convenient way to keep drinks and food properly refrigerated, both to prevent bacterial growth and to ensure ice-cold sips hours into your adventures. But no matter its size, hauling a cooler around when it’s full of ice and your beverage-of-choice is no easy task. Instead, consider a backpack cooler, a product designed specifically to solve that problem and make the ice chest more portable.

With a backpack cooler, there’s no awkward dragging of a bulky box across the beach or shuffling along a dirt path as you and a friend try to share the load. These portable ice chests simply strap onto your back and you’re free to lug whatever else you brought along or just enjoy your surroundings.

A backpack cooler might sound gimmicky, but thanks to modern manufacturing, many (if not all) are capable of keeping the entirety of its contents cooled and chilled for two, three, or sometimes four whole days. 

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At the end of this guide, we go into how we tested for the below picks, but since we know you want to spend less time researching these packs and more time enjoying their contents, we’ve sifted through all the backpack coolers to find the best of the bunch. While companies like Yeti or IceMule are who you’d expect to see, brands like Hydro Flask and OtterBox surprised us with their own unique products. A backpack cooler isn’t just an inventive new way to chill beverages — it’s the best way.

Here are the best backpack coolers:

  • Best backpack cooler overall: Yeti Hopper Backflip 24
  • Best backpack cooler for easy access: Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack
  • Best multi-purpose backpack cooler: OtterBox Trooper LT 30
  • Best heavy duty backpack cooler: IceMule Boss
  • Best budget backpack cooler: Barebones Backpack Cooler

Updated on 2/22/2021 by Rachael Schultz: Updated photos, checked the availability of each recommended cooler, updated the prices and links where necessary.

Best overall

The Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 does it all and does it all extremely well with a tough-as-nails DryHide Shell, 100% leak-proof zipper, and insulation that can keep ice cold for several days.

Pros: Tough exterior is puncture-proof and protects against UV rays, HydroLock zipper offers superior waterproofing, ColdCell Insulation keeps drinks cold for days, holds up to 20 cans 

Cons: No shoulder strap for short trips, expensive

Yeti is one of, if not the, leading hard cooler brand, so it is no surprise they make the best backpack cooler. With the Hopper Backflip 24, an impeccable construction quality, ice retention, and durability make it an easy choice as our top pick.

Taller and wider than other Yeti offerings like the Hopper Flip, the Backpack can carry upwards of 20 cans of beer or soda or 25 pounds of ice.

To make hauling the Hopper Backflip’s contents a breeze, Yeti designed it to evenly distribute its weight, no matter if you pack it top-heavy or not. With comfortable, ergonomic shoulder straps and a removable hip belt and chest strap, even longer hikes are made easy when toting along a heavy pack. In other words, pack this to the brim and don’t look back.

But what makes the Hopper Backflip truly stand out rests with three of Yeti’s proprietary technologies: Its DryHide Shell, Hydrolok Zipper, and ColdCell Insulation. The brand’s DryHide Shell is a high-density material that makes the pack resistant to mold, mildew, and UV rays while still remaining waterproof.

Its Hyrdolok Zipper helps avoid any errant spills, keeping liquids where they belong — inside the cooler. Finally, the Hopper Backflip’s ColdCell Insulation promises to keep ice as well, if not better, than any pack on the market. We found it achieved several days of ice retention, no matter how hot it got outside.

Though it sports a premium price tag of $300, for everything Yeti’s Hopper Backflip offers, it’s well-worth the investment. 

Best for easy access

Hydro Flask’s Unbound Series backpack cooler keeps cold for 48 hours, and it has a unique self-standing design and hinged top that’s super easy to access. 

Pros: Weighs just 3 lbs when empty, keeps pack cold for up to 48 hours, hinged top makes it incredibly easy to access, woven sternum strap and carry handles are comfortable for hauling, unsupported self-standing design, watertight zippers are 100% leakproof

Cons: Small capacity

Since it burst on the scene with its innovative insulated water bottles, Hydro Flask has made a name for itself designing and manufacturing high-quality products. As it moves into the market of backpack coolers with the Unbound series, that trademarked quality is met with supreme convenience.

Featuring a molded base that allows it to sit upright on its own, Hydro Flask’s Soft Cooler also boasts what’s called a “True Access hinged top” that easily flips back when unzipped, making it incredibly easy to fish out ice-cold beers.

There’s just one exterior zippered pocket and one water bottle mesh pocket, which makes for a subtle design, though not a lot of storage if you’re looking to carry more than a bottle opener or fork.

I like using Hydro Flask’s Soft Cooler Pack on shorter day trips. Since it weighs just 3 lbs when empty, it won’t weigh you down if those quick trips turn into longer day hikes. Featuring the brand’s innovative cold-retaining technology, the pack was designed to sport more insulation at the base, where cold is usually lost more quickly. It’s then capable of keeping contents cold for up to 48 hours, despite its smaller size.

If you do find yourself on the trail for more than two days, the pack’s construction is watertight and backed by YKK Aquaseal zippers that won’t let even a drop of liquid out (or in). It’s cheaper than Yeti’s Hopper or the IceMule Boss, and it’s much smaller, too, but the Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack is anything but second-rate.

Best multi-purpose

Versatility is the name of the game with OtterBox’s Trooper LT backpack cooler, which features an inventive mounting system, a backpack-to-shoulder strap conversion, and Duraflex tie-downs to conquer any adventure. 

Pros: 30-liter capacity, shoulder or backpack carry options, versatile accessory-mounting system, keeps contents cold for around 3 days, durable construction, capable of being opened with just one hand

Cons: Can feel bulky when on your back, expensive 

Known mostly for its ridiculously durable smartphone cases, OtterBox has diversified its product offerings in recent years by elbowing its way into the cooler market. Though this may seem an odd choice for the brand, its Trooper LT backpack cooler is one of the best we’ve tested, proving to be as versatile as it is tough.

It has an exterior mounting system that’s perfect for attaching a bottle opener or dry box, and the Trooper LT also offers two Duraflex tie-downs for extra attachments. This means not having to decide what to leave behind on your next trip.

With a massive opening, loading and unloading the Trooper LT is easy, and its thermal insulation keeps ice for a whopping three days. No need to worry about a tipped cooler spilling water all over your back seat either, as its leak-proof seal keeps its interior contents secure. Additionally, its 30 liters of interior capacity means you can pack upwards of 24 cans of soda or beer and still have room for ice.

OtterBox also included an easy-open compound latch that you can open with just one hand and its exterior storage pocket is water-resistant, making the Trooper the perfect rafting companion. 

Best heavy-duty

The Cadillac of backpack coolers, the IceMule Boss has supreme ice retention of nearly three days, a large 30L capacity capable of holding 24 cans of beer or soda, and a backpack suspension system some hiking packs would be envious of. 

Pros: Wide-mouth enclosure makes it easy to load and unload, 30-liter capacity holds 24 cans plus ice, ability to take on extra air to boost insulation, suspension system and mesh back pads makes it comfortable to wear (even with up to 60 lbs of weight), features oversized exterior pockets, extremely durable

Cons: Anyone other than serious hikers or campers won’t make use of entire pack

The words “behemoth” and “heavy-duty” only skim the surface of how durable and long-lasting the IceMule Boss is. Manufactured out of MuleSkin 1000-denier fabric, this cooler is designed to take an absolute beating without sacrificing even the slightest in performance.

Because of its bombproof-type construction, the IceMule Boss is best used for serious campers and hikers who intend to spend a few days digging through it while on the trail or deep in the backcountry. Its 30-liter capacity also means it offers enough storage space for at least 24 cans of beer or soda and ice — a capacity not many other backpack coolers on the market can claim.

The Boss achieves the ultimate in ice retention thanks to its closed-cell PolarLayer XT Insulation foam and IceMule’s innovative IM AirValve. In essence, this valve adds extra air into the insulation layer, thus boosting the pack’s overall insulating ability. So, even if it’s touching triple digits outside, the Boss keeps any packed food and drink chilled to perfection. Its wide-mouth enclosure also makes it easy to load and unload whatever you want to bring along.

Of course, its insulation and durability get high marks, but perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Boss is its actual backpack design. Featuring the kind of suspension system you might find on an actual backpacking pack, it’s able to pack up to 60 pounds of contents with ease.

Its air-mesh back pads, cushioned hipbelt, and comfortable sternum strap also help keep you cool on hot days and allow you to stay comfortable on longer treks.

Best on a budget

The Barebones Backpack Cooler holds less than others on our list, but at $80, enough room to pack a picnic, and decent cold-retention, this budget pick works great for shorter excursions.

Pros: Small design makes it perfect for day hikes, features comfortable soft straps, manufactured with water-resistant fabric, removable liner allows for easy cleaning, and $80 price tag is hard to beat

Cons: Not meant for anything other than a day hike for one or two people

With every other pick in our guide costing a minimum of $275, it’s clear well-insulated, well-designed backpack coolers aren’t exactly cheap. However, the Barebones Backpack Cooler costs less than $100 and still provides a high level of quality and insulation.

Featuring an interior capacity of 17.5 liters, the Barebones can hold roughly 20 cans of beer or soda. It’s not the largest pack on our list, but its smaller size is perfect for a short day hike or a couple’s trip to the beach.

With a top-access zippered compartment, the pack’s wide-mouth opening makes it easy to load and unload a day’s worth of food and drink. The pack’s square base allows it to stand freely without falling over, which is great for picnic time. Barebones also designed its water-resistant shell to feature an antimicrobial silver foil lining and its removable liner is easy to clean between trips.

No matter how many cans of your favorite chilled beverage you pack along, the pack’s soft straps allow it to stay comfortable while on your back and its leather handle is perfect for unloading from the car or transporting it over short distances.

At $80, you’d have a hard time finding as quality a backpack cooler for as cheap of a price. The Barebones Backpack Cooler isn’t just a budget-friendly model, it’s a reliable summertime companion for anyone.

How we tested

Though using a backpack cooler is a simple enough task, finding the best of what’s available meant putting our review models through a variety of tests. To do this, we lugged these back-worn ice chests on weekend camping trips, afternoons spent lounging on the beach, and even on multi-mile hikes to see not just how well they kept our food and beverages cold, but if we actually enjoyed using them.

While testing, we looked at four specific categories: Comfort, performance, design, and value. Here’s how each category factored in: 

  • Comfort: There are plenty of variables that go into making a worthy backpack cooler but if the thing isn’t comfortable while you tote a load of ice, drinks, and food, then it’s no better than its non-backpack kin. Testing this meant loading each model up as full as we could and seeing how much strain it put on us while mobile. Plus one for the brands that included a hip strap to help evenly distribute the load.
  • Performance: If a cooler has a hard time keeping ice for much longer than a few hours, then you’ll run into more problems than having to swill some warm beer — if you’re in the backcountry or even far from the nearest store, it could mean having to throw out spoiled food. Thankfully, this is where many of today’s coolers excel, with most providing multiple days worth of kept ice. 
  • Design: When judging the design of each backpack cooler, we wanted to see not just how it fit or how it looked, but how easy it is to load and unload contents, or if you’re able to manage getting into it while it’s on someone else’s back. You don’t want to be fumbling with zippers or needing three arms just to access your food and drink.
  • Value: Value is the sum of a backpack cooler’s parts. How well do the three previous categories play into making its sticker price worth the investment? Coolers aren’t exactly cheap but the best should provide you with use for several years. 

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