Orca Backpack Cooler Review
Last Updated by Brandon F. on July 16, 2020
We had the chance to check out Orca’s new backpack coolers recently. These unique-looking coolers are referred to as the Orca Pod and Orca Podster. Both follow a pretty similar design approach, with the Orca Pod being the larger of the two. We have had great experiences testing out the Orca Cooler so we were excited to give these products a go.
These are “backpack coolers” but probably don’t look like any backpack you are used to seeing. This shape, while somewhat funky, helps to maximize ice life. And the tubular shape also allows for a strong and resilient shell that can handle anything that you can throw at it.
We will break down both the Pod and Podster below. But first, here are a few of our favorite Orca Pod and Podster models.
- 1 Orca Backpack Cooler Review
- 1.1 Orca Backpack Cooler Lineup
- 1.2 Orca Backpack Cooler Features
- 1.3 Orca Backpack Cooler Ice Life
- 1.4 Orca Backpack Cooler Aesthetics
- 1.5 Orca Backpack Cooler Cost
- 1.6 Orca Backpack Cooler vs. Yeti
- 1.7 Orca Backpack Cooler Review
Orca Backpack Cooler Lineup
The Orca Pod is the “big brother” of the backpack cooler family. It comes with an impressive 28.5 quarts of storage volume. This makes it quite large for a cooler backpack. At this size, you can expect to be able to store nearly 60 pounds of items in the back of it without issue. This can translate to around 15 pounds of ice and 24 12-oz cans. In other words, it can haul a lot! For those looking for a soft-sided cooler solution for an above-average weekend camping trip, this may be just what the doctor ordered.
The Orca Podster is the smaller “brother”. It comes in a very similar shape and size as the Orca Pod and also enjoys most of its same features. But its storage capacity is dropped down around 14 quarts. This is quite a bit smaller than the Pod but it does result in a much more portable and lightweight backpack. In terms of storage capacity, this translates to around 7.5 pounds of ice along with 12 12-oz cans. This is still plenty large for an individual or even a couple of people but it may struggle to have enough room for a group larger than that.
Soft coolers will almost always be smaller than your typical hard-sided cooler. This is even more often true when discussing cooler backpacks. But Orca has offered an extremely large backpack cooler that manages to break out of the norm while still being relatively mobile. When full, the full-sized Pod can be quite heavy so moving around won’t be as easy as with more backpacks, but the added storage space is certainly welcome.
Orca Backpack Cooler Features
The Orca Pod and Orca Podster utilize some pretty clever tricks to help them enjoy great toughness and ice life. The most significant factor that achieves this can be attributed to the extremely thick metapolymer closed-cell foam that you will find on the lid, base, and back. This works in conjunction with the EVA reinforced shell that provides structure and abrasion resistance.
The result of this is one of the thickest and most impressive shells of any soft-sided cooler we have come across. Yes, it does add weight and bulkiness, but in terms of ice retention, it plays a huge role in making the Orca Cooler Backpack one of the best.
Going along with this, you will find a waterproof German TIZIP Master Seal Zipper. This robust zipper helps to protect your items from outside moisture while also helping with insulation. Let’s face it: cold air escaping through the zipper is one of the biggest hurdles for soft-sided coolers. Orca has attempted to remedy that issue here.
The zipper isn’t the only tough thing. You will also find that the outer material consists of SPEC-OPS 840 Denier double and the inner layer is SPEC-OPS 210 Denier double. This material is extremely resilient to cuts, tears, and is also BPA-free/anti-microbial.
That’s a lot of big words but what it means is simple: you can throw an Orca Pod into the extremes of Mother Nature and it will protect your food from outside elements as well as any sort of nasty bacteria from growing on it.
Another common issue with many soft-sided coolers lies in how the various panels are attached. It doesn’t matter if you use the toughest material in the world if the connections that hold them together are weak. Orca has tackled this issue by using ultrasonic RF welding to connect the pieces. This threadless manufacturing approach is the same that is used in watercraft applications so you know that it can handle water with ease.
For convenience, the lid is comprised of a flip-top that quickly gives you access to stored items inside. It more resembles a traditional hard-sided cooler than a soft-sided backpack!
In addition to this, you will find molle webbing surrounding the outside of the cooler. These hooks make a great place to hang or anchor items that you can’t or don’t want to store inside the cooler. This can include things such as flashlights, keys, tools, etc. The loops can also be used to slide in shotgun shells or fishing equipment.
And for carrying, there is an adjustable shoulder strap in addition to a rubber overhead carrying handle. This feature is one of the few that remind you that the Orca Pod is technically a “backpack”.
The only feature noticeably missing is any sort of external pocket. Due to the firm shape of this backpack cooler, having an external pocket simply would not work. It would almost be the equivalent of having an external pocket on a hard-sided cooler! But for those of you who absolutely must have an external pocket for storing other items, it is worth mentioning.
Orca Backpack Cooler Ice Life
If a premium soft-sided cooler hopes to compete in today’s market, having long ice life is extremely important. This is why you are seeing more and more manufacturers implement ice retention features such as insulated walls, air-tight zippers, and more.
Orca has taken what it has learned in its hard-sided coolers and applied it to its Pod and Podsters. These cooler backpacks could almost be considered a soft/hard cooler hybrid due to their extremely thick and rigid wall and lid-like access point.
But how does all of this translate into specific ice life?
To test this, we filled up our cooler backpacks with various amounts of ice. Specifically, this amounted to around ¼ full, 1/3 full, and ½ full. Next, we left the cooler backpacks outside in the sun. Finally, we occasionally opened them. This emulates real-life applications much better than simply filling them up with ice, leaving them indoors, and never opening them.
The results we found can be seen in the chart below:
As you can see, more ice = longer ice life. Also, the Orca Pod out-performed the Orca Podster in every configuration. Neither one of those is a big surprise to us.
What did surprise us is just how well these models performed compared to most other backpack coolers out there. These coolers will keep up with the very best soft-sided coolers in the industry when it comes to ice retention.
In optimal settings, you can expect nearly 3 days’ worth of ice retention with the Orca Pod. Its litter brother is no slouch, either. It can handle ice for a full 2 days without issue.
This makes both of these models great for a weekend excursion out on the lake or hiking.
The key to this success lies in the thick insulated walls and waterproof zipper.
Orca Backpack Cooler Aesthetics
Both the Pod and the Podster are certainly unique looking products. Despite being called “cooler backpacks”, the only thing that resembles a backpack is the shoulder straps.
The overall shape more closely resembles a hard-sided cooler hybrid to us. The thick, rigid walls don’t have the flexibility or texture of a traditional backpack.
Whether or not someone considers this look “attractive” is up to personal preference. We do feel that these models are quite bulky and will stick out while wearing on your backpack. Expect to get lots of looks and questions if you plan on taking this out in public.
For color choices, Orca has released a few different colors over the years but, at any given time, the options are limited. And the Orca Podster tends to have more color choices than the Orca Pod. A few of the current designs are shown in the image above.
Orca Backpack Cooler Cost
From a price standpoint, the Orca Pod and Orca Podster are well into the premium price tier. They will be some of the more expensive soft-sided coolers that you will come across.
But their impressive performance cannot be denied. If you are after an extremely durable backpack that can handle ice life as long (if not longer) than any other soft-sided cooler on the market, then the Pod should be on your shortlist. Also, they are quite large (particularly the Pod) and will have more storage space than many other soft-sided coolers out there.
But be expected to pay handsomely for it.
Orca Backpack Cooler vs. Yeti
Yeti’s soft-sided cooler, the Hopper, has been one of the most popular products sold by the outdoor company for quite some time now. The ice retention features and simple durability of the Hopper Series is a big reason why.
But how does the Orca Pod compare to the Yeti Hopper Backpack?
The Orca Pod, believe it or not, can keep up (if not slightly exceed) the ice life of a similarly-sized Yeti Hopper. Also, the build quality and available features are eerily similar. You will find that both models come in almost the same shape and design approach. And as for asking price, they are neck to neck.
Where the Yeti does pull ahead is in the selection of sizes and colors. The Hopper is available in 6 different sizes compared to Orca’s two. And there are more accessories and customization options currently out on the Hopper Series.
As for which is better, it boils down to price. Both perform so closely to each other that we recommend going with whichever is more affordable. But no matter which model you go with, you will enjoy a long-lasting soft-sided cooler that excels at ice retention.
Orca Backpack Cooler Review
Pros: Incredible ice life, Extremely tough
Cons: Quite bulky, Zipper can be stubborn, Expensive
Features: Denier fabric, Metapolymer insulated walls, TIZIP Master Seal Zipper, Ultrasonic RF Welding, Flip-top, Molle webbing
The Orca Backpack Cooler lineup consists of two models: the Pod and the Podster. The Pod comes in as the larger of the two, offering up nearly 30 quarts of storage volume. While the more mobile Podster checks in with approximately 14 quarts. Both sizes are plenty large for a personal cooler and can even be used for small group settings as well. Orca has implemented a variety of features to help maximize ice life and toughness and we can see the pains of their labor pay off in the results. However, you will have to pay a premium price to enjoy them.
Insulation Ability –
We are extremely impressed with the ice life found in the Orca Backpack Coolers. This is especially true on the Pod. Both models offer thick metapolymer insulation that is protected on both sides by thick denier fabric. These parts are used in conjunction with the thick waterproof zipper to form a great seal. Also, the round-like design of the pod helps to maximize ice life but emulating the shape of a traditional hard-sided cooler. The results are some of the best ice retention for any soft cooler in the industry. In optimal conditions with the Orca Pod, you can expect upwards of 3 days of ice life. While the smaller Orca Podster should have no problem keeping ice for a weekend.
Mobility and Durability –
When it comes to toughness, these models lead the pack. The denier fabric discussed above not only helps to protect the insulation but it is also very resilient to scratching and tearing. Traditional fabric-based soft coolers are notorious for tearing over time since they will oftentimes brush up against abrasive surfaces (rocks, trees, etc.). That isn’t an issue here. Also, the various panels are attached via Ultrasonic RF Welding as opposed to stitching. This process takes more time and is more expensive but the results speak for themselves.
As for mobility, these cooler backpacks are a bit on the bulky/heavy side. This is simply the price you pay to enjoy the durable components that they are comprised of. But the smaller Orca Podster does seem to find a happy medium between size and durability.
There have been some issues with the zipper. It is designed to be waterproof and extremely tough but to properly function, it needs to be zipped up properly. This requires aligning the lid and body parallel and slowly zipping it up. If you fail to properly align the two sides or try to zip up too fast, it can potentially damage the zipper and/or not make it function properly.
As for features, there aren’t a whole lot. This is a very straightforward cooler backpack that is designed for one thing: maximum ice retention. You won’t find any sort of external pocket. There are some external Molle webbings you can hand things from, however. And we like the comfortable shoulder strap.
Visual Appeal –
Despite being called “backpack coolers”, these models don’t resemble what most people consider a backpack. The storage shell is large, stiff, and round, and doesn’t carry over any of the qualities of a traditional backpack cooler. Furthermore, the sheer size of the Pod makes it stand out while on your back. It is certainly something that will turn some heads and spark some discussion when you are wearing it out!
And for color choices, they are quite lacking. There have been a few different colors to pick from over the years but at any particular time, it seems that Orca likes to focus on one or two colors at the most.
But we will admit that the tough exposed denier fabric does give off an intimidating look.
Quality construction and extra-long ice life do come at a cost. You will find that Orca Backpack Coolers are quite expensive. That being said, you do get a lot of storage space for what you pay for. And the build quality is so good that, with proper care, these models should last you for many years.
Overall Rating –
The Orca Pod and Orca Podster have a lot of really good things going for them. Their ice retention rate is simply fantastic and the build quality is superb. These truly are some of the most rugged soft-sided coolers that we have come across. But they are quite heavy/bulky and are also somewhat lacking in available features. Plus, they will put a strain on your wallet. But still, for someone who is primarily concerned with keeping their items cool for long periods, this is a product to check out.