Best Backpack Cooler
When people think of coolers they usually don’t picture a backpack, but there has been a huge demand for more mobile cooling solutions over the last few years. This is where backpack coolers come in and where we can also list what the best backpack coolers are. While these products typically don’t have the storage size or ice life of a conventional large plastic cooler, they still serve a unique purpose for those who need to be more mobile and don’t need to take advantage of a huge amount of insulation area. That isn’t to say that ice life isn’t important with these: many people rely on backpack coolers for long hike trips or camping excursions so the cooling ability needs to be as good as possible. Before we jump into more details about backpack coolers, we have listed out some of our top choices below.
Our Top Rated Backpack Coolers
|OAGear Cooler Sports Pack||Picnic Time Turismo||Picnic at Ascot Cooler Backpack|
|Price by Volume (Amazon)||$||$$$||$$$|
|Ice Life||24-36 hours||6-8 hours||4-5 hours|
|Our Full Review||Link||Link||Link|
Is it a Backpack or a Cooler?
There is sometimes some confusion in regards to backpack coolers. Is it a cooler? Is it a backpack? And the answer is yes! There are unique features that make it stand out from a typical school backpack but at the same time, it still shares a lot of the common traits of a backpack that you won’t find in most traditional coolers. Obviously, the layout is the largest common trait, with the utilization of shoulder straps resembling what you are used to seeing in a backpack. They are also typically on the small and light side, being made of fabric and rubber instead of hard plastic that is standard in most hard-lined coolers. The most noticeable difference is likely in the shell of the backpack which will be thicker and typically lined with a waterproof liner.
Cooling Ability of Backpack Coolers
While cooling ability is obviously important in any cooler, backpack coolers also tend to have other unique challenges. Since the person using it is generally on foot and potentially in active environments, being able to carry all essential items in the backpack is important. This would include not only chilled items but also items that don’t need to stay cold such as spare clothes, a flashlight, medical aid, trail maps, sunscreen, and a variety of other things. Because of this, it is oftentimes important for a cooler backpack to have ample non-chilled storage space.
However, since we are on the subject of ice life, you can expect most backpack coolers to have ice life that ranges from a few hours up to a maximum of around a day. So if you plan on being out longer than 24 hours you need to either consider another cooler option such as a traditional hard plastic cooler or plan to refill you backpack cooler with additional ice or ice packs if applicable.
Accessories on Backpack Coolers
There are other accessories that are common on backpack coolers that come in quite handy. Easy-access compartments, double zippers, padded straps, waterproof base, and many others come to mind. The key is to try to make these products an all-in-one solution since the target audience using them will be on foot and often doing activities that involve needing to use their hands and be quite mobile. Some of the higher-end backpack coolers can even come pre-packaged with various supplies and picnic gear that one might typically need such as plates, silverware, etc.
Also, build quality is very important as backpacks are generally being moved around a lot more than a typical cooler, so using quality materials and construction are quite important. You will notice a significant increase in both build quality as well as materials used as you climb up the price ladder. A budget backpack cooler might be prone to tearing after a short period of time while the higher end offerings should hold up to quite a bit of abuse and even be somewhat waterproof.
Mobility is Top Priority
As mentioned above, the main selling point behind backpack coolers is their mobility. They allow you to carry them without burdening your arms or hands which allow you to use them for other things. If you plan on simply laying your cooler down and accessing items in a traditional sense then you might be better off going with a traditional cooler since its cooling performance and ice life will typically be better. However, if you are someone who is always on a go and can accept the somewhat limited storage space of a backpack cooler then purchasing one might be right for you.
So considering all of this, what is the best backpack cooler? We have listed our top picks below. We feel that if you are in the market for a mobile cooling answer that any of these are worth looking into. They have their own individual pros and cons which we have outlined in both the summaries below as well as the larger, full review that you can access through the provided links.
OAGear Cooler Sports Pack
This product combines the best of a traditional cooler in above average ice life while still being very mobile as backpacks typically are. There are some build quality issues that are holding it back from having an even higher rating, but even after considering these the combination of cooling ability, style, and price makes this product a decent buy.
Pros: Plenty of color schemes, very mobile, multiple storage areas, great price
Cons: Weak shoulder straps, only one size
Picnic Time Turismo
We do like the nice array of features that this backpack cooler has and the ice life is acceptable. However, it doesn’t come without some issues as well. There are some questions on the build quality and we feel it might struggle to stay together if put in challenging environments. It is also on the somewhat expensive side (although it does look the part).
Pros: Multiple insulated areas for categorization and increased space, very mobile, professional-looking
Cons: Not waterproof, low-quality water bottle, velcro is weak
Picnic at Ascot Cooler Backpack
This is a pretty average showing, with nothing really standing out but nothing being an epic failure as well. Cooling ability is average at best and the straps are notoriously weak. There is quite a bit of carrying space considering the size, however.
Pros: Extremely mobile, plenty of pockets for storage, nice design
Cons: Struggles some with keeping items cool, weak straps
Picnic Time Zuma Insulated Cooler Backpack
Another average backpack that should be serviceable if you are in the market for one. There are a few clever design details that we like but we also feel that including them hurt both the cooling performance as well as the cooling volume some.
Pros: Decent insulation ability, easy top access, plenty of storage areas
Cons: Limited in insulated storage volume, somewhat flimsy, very plain looking