Backpack coolers are ideal for summer travels. You stock up on six-packs, cans of wine and some snacks and then load it with ice to carry on your standup paddle board, the back of your jeep or on your shoulders as you walk into that private little lake you stumbled upon last year. Straps on coolers are not a new thing, but comfortable, padded ones with extra bands to secure the pack to your waist are relatively new.
While we likely wouldn’t want to hike Mt. Baker or Mt. Washington with any of these cooler backpacks, we wouldn’t mind kayaking to a small island and setting up camp for the night with all our preferred beverages. They’re easier to carry than hard-sided coolers and allow you some creature comforts (half and half! cheese! yogurt! eggs! butter!) without the noose that car-camping provides.
Factors to Consider in a Backpack Cooler
Storage capacity in backpack coolers ranges from five liters all the way to 30 — and the capacity you choose ultimately depends on how many people you're packing for. If you've got a group of six heading out for a beach day, you'll want around 20-30 liters to pack multiple drinks, snack options and ice for you and your friends. If you're packing lunch for your kid's soccer game, you probably don't need more than 10 liters (unless you want some extra goodies in there for yourself). Think through how many people will be in your group, and plan from there.
As with any outdoor products worth their salt, the best backpack coolers don't just keep things cold — they also come with functional and thoughtful features like extra pockets, daisy chain webbing to strap on corresponding accessories, and dedicated water bottle pockets. Many backpack coolers also feature padded shoulder straps for comfortable carrying, internal organization or custom ice packs that are built to nest into the cooler with ease.
Easy to carry, easy to pack: backpack coolers sound functional, but are they durable? Today's soft-sided beverage haulers are as close to indestructible as things can get. Many are made with durable polyester shell fabrics and feature anti-microbial liners to keep things from getting funky. Welded seams are the industry standard: they keep water out and help the backpack float in case it falls out of the boat during a rough ride. Many backpack coolers come with mesh pockets for easy packing and cleaning, and some even feature UV-protective coatings to help withstand fading and fabric breakdown.
Seemingly in the last year, every brand that we know and love for adventure coolers now has a backpack cooler, too. Here are a few of our favorites right now.
Yeti is well-known for its rotomolded, hard-sided coolers built to withstand anything, and its M20 backpack cooler is just as hardy. Its standout feature is its magnetic, roll-top closure, which seals in cold for superior ice retention. Also notable is the brand's daisy chain Hitchpoint Grid allows the attachment of Yeti accessories like the bottle sling or dry gear case, and the high-density outer fabric that withstands punctures, as well as UV rays.
RTIC's wallet-friendly alternative to Yeti's tough-as-nails backpack cooler is capable, comfortable and rich with features. The Backpack Cooler can hold 30 cans and a bag of ice, and keep them cold for multiple days (if you're mindful about opening and closing). The zipper top opening makes it easy to access food and drink inside, and the welded seams make the pack 100-percent waterproof, as well as buoyant in water. (It floats!)
At 22 liters, the Day Escape is slightly smaller than both the Yeti and the Otterbox coolers but is the sleekest of the three. The woven loops on the front of the cooler easily attach the Dry Storage accessory, which can hold and protect small essentials. In a pinch, this one also works as a regular backpack. It can even serve as a carry-on if your hiking adventure extends past an airplane ride.
The heavy-duty IceMule Coolers Boss also made our list for Best Coolers, but if you’re looking for something slightly smaller and more comfortable to carry in addition to a board or on a boat, this 15-liter Classic Medium is for you. The roll-top and single strap make this cross-body bag extremely portable. If you’re spending the day picnicking at the park or the beach, this bag will carry all the snacks and booze you need.
Coleman's backpack cooler is ideal for your kid's soccer games, day trips to the beach or something to stash everyone's snacks in on a road trip. At less than fifty bucks, it's a fraction of the price of its competitors, but that does come with a sacrifice in performance. However, if you're going on a casual trip and just need to keep some snacks and drinks cold, this is a great addition to any adventure.
Two distinct compartments on this Dayventure Cooler provide more versatility than any other backpack on this list. The 13-liter bag has a bottom section ideal for carrying six-packs, and then the rolltop works as more cold storage — or a place to stuff a change of clothes, pots and pans or a towel for an easy overnight. We like the breathable straps and back panels that keep this cooler airy while you carry.
This Built NY rolltop backpack is very similar to the Large Welded Cooler we recognized in our Best Coolers of 2019, just with more straps and a way to carry on your back. The large front pocket offers storage for extra cords, batteries, wallets and phones, while the molle straps above feature a bottle opener, which is always, always handy.
When we tested out this padded, adjustable cooler bucket bag, we were pleasantly surprised by how cold everything stayed. It’s likely the smallest of the bunch, but also the best looking. Black camo is our pick: fill it with 12 cans or a couple of wine bottles, plus cans, and you’re good to go into the wild.