Whether you’re going on an extended hike, tailgating, or spending a day at the beach, there are few things better than having an ample supply of cold drinks and snacks to keep you fueled.
However, the inconvenience of lugging a cooler with you can quickly become a strain. A great solution to this is a backpack cooler. These ingenious devices combine the ergonomics of a backpack with the functionality of a traditional cooler. While they’re universally a welcome innovation, some models certainly rise above the rest.
Last update on 2020-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- 1 Key Factors to Look For When Shopping For The Best Backpack Cooler
- 2 Best Backpack Cooler Reviews
- 3 TOURIT 30 Can Lightweight Cooler Backpack
- 4 Coleman C003 Soft Back-pack Cooler
- 5 TOURIT 28 Can Insulated Backpack
- 6 Igloo Switch Marine Backpack
- 7 Kaggru 20-Can Insulated Backpack Cooler
- 8 Conclusion
Key Factors to Look For When Shopping For The Best Backpack Cooler
Capacity and Use of Space
When choosing a backpack cooler over a traditional carried or rolled model, you are likely to have to make some compromises regarding the amount of cooler space you have available.
However, you should not be forced to pay too large a penalty simply for comfort and convenience. Thus, the best backpack coolers are the ones that have plenty of capacity for any supplies you might need.
The units of measurements vary, but typically a model will be listed with either a certain “can capacity” (the number of 12oz cans it can hold), or the number of liters it can contain. The best models will have a capacity of at least 25 cans or 25 liters.
But sheer volume isn’t the only factor to consider. It’s also crucial to look at how various models utilize space and promote easy access organization. The most usable models featured a wide opening at the top and a multitude of pockets and cubbies. Some out my favorite units even had enough space for a small set of plates – a great option for picnics.
A cooler is of little use once its contents are warm. Most coolers will have a listed time for which they will keep items cold. The specifics of how they arrive at these numbers is questionable and seems to have little to do with real-world use. Generally speaking, two factors will contribute to how long a cooler will keep items cold: the thickness of the outer walls, and the seal of the zipper.
To have a fairer comparison of the claimed insulating time for each cooler, we did a quick test on each model. We took a standard 6-packs of soda at fridge temperature, 41 degrees. Then we placed a chilled 6-pack in each cooler and placed them all in the back of my truck on a relatively warm day.
We checked the temperature of the drinks each half-hour until the temperature rose above 60 degrees, which we considered to be the upper limit of a refreshing drinkable temperature. The results for each model are below, and you might be surprised how much they differ from the manufacturer’s claims.
Another important aspect of a cooler is how waterproof the closing mechanism is. This is more important in a backpack cooler than in a traditional cooler for a few reasons. First, backpack coolers are flexible, meaning they are less able to stand up in the back of a car or at a campsite. Thus, if they leak when tipped over, this is a significant drawback.
Further, they are worn on your back. Having icy water drip down your clothing is not most people’s idea of a fun adventure.
To test this, we put half a gallon of water in each cooler and turned the cooler upside down. We did not measure the specific amount that leaked, because, in our opinion, this was a pass/fail test. While most models did very well, others faired noticeably worse. Again, the results are below.
Any backpack is bound to face a fair amount of abuse, and cooler models are no exception. The most durable models were those that featured a canvas-like material, rather than a plastic one.
Further, it is important to pay special attention to the seems and hardware. The best backpack coolers featured double-stitching on the seems. This not only makes the pack more durable but it also enhances the insulation value of the container.
Another important feature regarding durability is the zipper and hardware. When it comes to zippers, the rule is simple: bigger is better. Larger zippers hold numerous advantages. First, they are less delicate, and thus less likely to jam. Further, they are much easier to open and close. Finally, larger zippers tend to provide a better seal, leading to less temperature loss.
Drinks, snacks, and ice are inherently heavy. A fully-laden cooler can easily weigh over twenty-five pounds. It is important to remember that the entire purpose of backpack coolers is to alleviate the strain and hassle of lugging a traditional cooler with you. Thus, if the pack isn’t comfortable, the point quickly becomes moot.
There are a few key features to look for when trying to find the most comfortable pack. First, the padding featured in the straps is extremely important. The most comfortable models proved to be those that had heavily padded straps, with our personal preference being for the “memory gel” type of filling.
The adjustability of the straps is also crucial. When carrying a heavy load on your back, the weight must be properly distributed. This means that, depending on the height of the user, the straps may need to adjust a significant amount. This is especially important if you intend to share this pack with multiple people. There is little downside to having additional flexibility, so in this instance, more adjustability is certainly the way to go.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a cooler backpack, let’s look at some specific models.
Best Backpack Cooler Reviews
The TOURIT Cooler backpack is an excellent place to start, as it is a model that comes exceptionally close to perfection. One of the highlights of the TOURIT is the shape itself. The body of this model is particularly square, which makes it very easy to load. Further, the opening is quite large, which makes it especially simple to access your items on the go.
Another positive of this model is that they certainly did not skimp on pockets. In addition to the main cooled compartment, the TOURIT also has an extremely large pouch on the front. This space was large enough to hold a few plates and cutlery, making this an excellent companion for a quick picnic. They also included the ubiquitous but helpful water-bottle pockets on each side, which are easily reached if you need some hydration while wearing the pack.
Attention to detail is a strong point of this unit. The seems are extremely well constructed, and all of the hardware was of exceptional quality. It features a lot of very practical touches, such as the sewn-in bottle opener.
Testing showed this to be a very capable insulated backpack cooler. TOURIT claims that it will keep items cold for 16 hours. Our testing came up slightly short, at 13.5 hours to reach the threshold temperature. However, our test did not include any ice or cooler packs, so we are sure that this time could be extended to their suggested amount if needed.
Filling this pack with water was another success. Despite vigorous shaking and flexing, we were unable to get this pack to leak a single drop. The double-stitched seams paid off.
Overall, this is a superb cooler at a great price. The only drawback was that at times we wished the straps featured more significant padding. However, for shorter durations, there is little to complain about.
- Very well made
- Great value
- Extremely waterproof
- Lots of pockets
- Straps are not well padded
- Didn’t insulate quite as long as claimed
Coleman has an outstanding reputation when it comes to camping supplies and equipment, so we had high hopes when we first started reviewing the C003. We found our experience with the Coleman C003 to be a series of highs and lows, which overall left us slightly disappointed that Coleman hadn’t quite lived up to its name.
Let’s start with the advantages. This Coleman is an exceptionally well-made item. The hardware was sturdy, the stitching was class-leading, and the overall fit and finish of the pack were superb. Further, the performance lived up to the name. In our testing, the drinks stayed at a drinkable temperature for 14.5 hours. And while there were a few water droplets in the leak test, it is not a stretch to say it passed.
The issue with this pack is the form factor itself. Rather than the squared-off shape of many cooler packs, this Coleman has the slender profile of a traditional student’s book bag. The similarities even extend to the zipper, which oddly extends down the entire side of the opening. It is as if they took the patterns for a normal backpack and simply made it out of insulating material. This shape made the back difficult to load, and even more difficult to retrieve items from.
If we were judging these backpacks purely on quality, we would not hesitate to recommend the Coleman C003. However, in terms of function, this one is difficult to promote unless your goal is to keep books cold.
- Very high quality
- Great performance
- Form factor
- Additional storage is limited
In terms of form factor, TOURIT’s 28 can model is a very unique approach. Rather than opening like a clamshell from the top, this pack opens from the front. At first, we were concerned that this may limit capacity but were pleasantly surprised. Because so much of the face of this backpack can open, it is one of the easiest to load and use coolers tested. It is certainly a novel form factor, but it is one that makes sense.
There is more to like about the rest of the TOURIT. Beyond the insulated compartment, there is a myriad of pouches and cubbies to stash the ancillaries always needed while camping. They also included a bungee netting on the front, which proved very useful for storing a blanket.
The performance of the TOURIT was respectable. It managed to maintain the temperature of the drinks for 11.5 hours in testing. This is somewhat less than the larger 30-can TOURIT. However, this delta is not surprising given that the larger opening is likely to insulate less effectively. Leak testing was again good, but not perfect. With enough jostling we were able to get the pack to leak a few drops of water, but nothing that would cause great concern.
If you are not concerned with the absolute pinnacle of cooling performance, this is a fantastic option. It is well made, extremely pleasant to use, and well-thought-out. While lacking the capacity of the 30-can TOURIT, it makes up for it in usability.
- Innovate design
- Very easy to pack
- Lots of pouches and pockets
- Slightly diminished performance
- Not the largest capacity
The Igloo Switch is an outlier in this comparison, as it is a cooler first and a backpack second. This approach has some advantages, but it will not fit everyone’s use.
The first thing you will notice about the Igloo Switch is its appearance. It’s a box and a little more. Aesthetically, you will look like you are carrying a dorm fridge on your back. While not the prettiest backpack to ever roam the land, the square profile does lend itself to space efficiency. If sheer capacity is your goal, this is a fantastic option.
Further, the performance of this pack was the best we saw. It managed to keep drinks cold for 16 hours, besting second place by at least 3 cycles of the hour hand. Further, no amount of rough-housing resulted in leaking. You could probably throw this cooler off a cliff and your sandwiches would arrive at the bottom safely.
The primary issue here is ergonomics. The Igloo Switch is meant to be carried as a beach-bag, and the backpack straps are a clear afterthought. Thus, carrying this cooler on your back for any more than a short period will likely result in discomfort. If you need to carry it from your car to the beach, this is a fine option. But for hiking or any extended use, the comfort of the Igloo lets it down.
- Large capacity
- Great performance well made
- Not the prettiest model
When reviewing any product, there is a strong temptation to recommend the item with the most superlatives. The sharpest, the brightest, the coldest… must be the best, no? The Kaggru does not fall into this trap, as it is clear that Kaggru set out to design a middle-ground cooler that fits most needs fairly well. While this was a noble pursuit, the execution was less admirable.
The Kaggru is the smallest cooler in this comparison, at only a 20 can capacity. For many purposes, this would be perfectly sufficient. However, the quality and usability of this cooler are simply not in the same league as the other offerings. In testing, the Kaggru only managed to keep the drinks cold for 5 hours. This is not surprising given the extremely thin materials. Further, significant leaking occurred during the water test.
The Kaggru is a smart looking backpack, and the straps were very comfortable. It is also the least expensive model in this comparison. Unfortunately, that is about the extent of positives we could ascertain. As a backpack, it is probably a fine choice. But as a backpack with cooler compartment, look elsewhere.
- Price appearance
- Small capacity
- Does not insulate well
For such a narrow category of products, there is a shocking amount of variety among backpack coolers. Within these five models, we have run the gamut from near-perfection to barely passable.
Through this, there was one model that combined good performance with fantastic ergonomics and usability to make the best backpack cooler: the TOURIT 28 Can Insulated Backpack.
While it lacked the overall capacity of its larger stablemate, the innovative design and increased ergonomics of this particular model make it the best cooler backpack of this roundup.
- LARGE LUNCH COOLER BACKPACK: Deep main storage compartment is large enough to provide roomy capacity for your meals, snacks, beers or other drinks, can hold at least 28 cans. The capacity of backpack cooler is about 25L
- LEAKPROOF INSULATED COOLER: High-Density insulation material and the leak-proof liner inside of the insulated backpacks work together to make sure anti-leaking and keep food hot/ cold for hours
- MULTIPLE POCKETS: 1 main roomy storage compartment, 2 side mesh pockets, 1 large front zipper pocket with mesh divider to keep dry items organized. Dimension: 17.7" x 13.0" x 7.5" (L x W x H)
- LIGHTWEIGHT and COMFORTABLE: Weight: 1.1 pounds / 500g. Adjustable, padded shoulder straps and thickly padded sections on the back of the soft cooler backpack to ensure you feel ultimate comfort and portability
- DURABLE and WATER RESISTANT: Made of tear resistant and water repellent fabric, lightweight backpack with cooler for lunches, work, picnics, road/ beach trips, hiking, camping, fishing, a perfect gift for men and women
Last update on 2020-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API