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Hauling around a cooler full of drinks and snacks can wreak havoc on your shoulders, unless everything is packed up sufficiently in a portable backpack cooler. With padded straps, huge insulated compartments and exterior pockets for extra gadgets, backpack coolers are an easy choice when heading to the beach, on the trail or working outside. Here are the best backpack coolers to buy in 2017 that will keep your food cold and your shoulders comfortable.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Polar Bear Coolers Solar Bear Series Soft Cooler
Even though this is a soft-sided cooler, it is made from extremely durable and strong material, both inside and out. The Polar Bear Coolers Solar Bear Series soft cooler backpack uses a sturdy nylon exterior that is UV-resistant and a double-coated nylon for the interior. The insulation is made from high-density open cell foam to keep your goods frozen for at least 24 hours. The square-shaped backpack has adjustable shoulder straps, as well as a grab handle on the top of the bag. There is also an exterior mesh pocket on the front of the bag to carry extra goodies, such as snacks and drinks.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Igloo Marine Ultra Square Coolers
The Igloo Marine Ultra Square Cooler is the best choice when it comes to keeping your gear clean. The exterior is made from anti-mildew and UV protective durable material, while the inside liner is leak-resistant, and stain- and odor-resistant, too. To keep your food and drinks cold, Igloo uses MaxCold technology with extra foam. Plus, the zippers, clips and other hardware on the pack are non-corrosive to withstand any tough marine conditions. The backpack has two exterior side pockets for water bottles, plus a zippered front pocket and another front mesh pocket.
Best Price: OAGear Backpack Cooler
The OAGear Backpack Cooler has enough space to hold 20 cans of soda, plus even more room for ice. Load it up for a day at the beach or a tailgating session before a game and all your goodies will stay cold. Along with the large insulated interior space, the pack has two outside mesh side pockets, one front zipper pocket and a bungee on the front for extra storage. It also has adjustable padded backpack straps and a carry handle on top. The backpack is 12.25 x 16.5 x 7.75 inches. Colors include gray, black, blue and camouflage.
Best Lightweight: TOURIT Cooler Backpack
For a lightweight option, use the TOURIT Cooler Backpack, which weighs just 1.1 pounds and can fit 28 cans. The leak- and water-resistant backpack has a large insulated main compartment (25 liters) and a smaller front zippered pocket for extra gear. On the outside of the pack are two mesh pockets and a front bungee for extra storage. The insulated compartment provides 16 hours of cold. Colors include black, blue, light gray and red. The backpack is 18 x 13 x 7.5 inches
Best for Hiking: TOURIT Insulated Cooler Backpack
If you are going on a long day hike, opt for the Insulated Cooler Backpack from TOURIT. This 25-liter dual pack doubles as a backpacking bag, as well as an insulated cooler. The leak-resistant insulated section sits at the bottom of the bag and can keep snacks and drinks cool (below 15 degrees Celsius) for up to 16 hours. On top of the cooler portion, you’ll find a storage compartment ideal for dry items, as well as a water-resistant 15-inch laptop compartment. On the exterior, there is also a small front zipper pocket and two side mesh pockets perfect for water bottles and umbrellas. The backpack is made from leak-proof, tear-resistant material and has padded, adjustable shoulder straps as well as a mesh strap pocket large enough to accommodate an iPhone 8 Plus.
Best for Long Distances: IceMule Coolers Pro Cooler
With the 40-liter, XXL Pro Cooler from IceMule Coolers, you’ll get a durable, tough backpack cooler that is extremely easy to load up and carry for long periods of time. The wide-mouth, roll top backpack provides up to 24 hours of insulation to keep your food and drinks cold. Both the inner and outer layers are heavy duty, as are the reinforced adjustable backpack straps. The pack also includes a sternum strap for added support and a ventilated back to keep you cool, even on long haul day trips. Plus, to make the pack even easier to roll up once packed, there is an extra air valve to help remove extra air from the insulated portion.
Best for Hunting: Igloo RealTree 16 Qt. Backpack Cooler
This pack's camouflage exterior and orange zipper pulls will have you and your hunting friends blending into the woods from sunrise to sunset. The insulated backpack features MaxCold cooling technology, two exterior side mesh pockets, a deep front exterior pocket, an integrated grab handle on the top and adjustable padded straps. It can hold 32 cans in the main insulated storage space. The pack measures 17 x 12 x 10 inches.
Best for a Picnic: ONIVA Picnic Time Turismo Insulated Backpack
The ONIVA Picnic Time Turismo Insulated Backpack has all the amenities you need for a perfect picnic: one large rectangular insulated interior space, a smaller insulated top pocket, a removable insulated water bottle holder with straps and a zippered front pocket with multiple storage spaces for tiny objects, such as utensils and cameras. There is also no-slip shoulder straps, plus a grab handle on the top of the bag. With a flap and zipper closure over the two main insulated compartments, the bag is sleek and streamlined. Colors include olive green, black and brown. The backpack is 19 x 5 inches.
Products We Tested
How We Tested
Our reviewers spent 18 hours testing one of the most popular backpack coolers on the market. To get the most complete results, our testers loaded it up with their food and drinks of choice, left it in the hot sunlight for hours, and opened it back up to eat, drink, and assess its effectiveness. We asked our reviewers to consider this backpack cooler’s most important features — from its design to its performance — and we’ve outlined them here so that you too, know what to look for when shopping.
What to Look for in a Backpack Cooler
Extras The world of backpack coolers is a surprisingly sophisticated one — these days, there are plenty of advances in design and fabric technology that add to what seems like a fairly basic purchase. Look for the extras that are right for you, whether it’s multiple storage spaces for cutlery or anti-mildew fabric.
Value If you need this cooler for a single hunting trip each season, you can likely get away with a quality but cost-effective option. However, if you’re looking for a cooler you can take on those twice-monthly camping trips, you may want to splurge on one that’s especially comfortable, durable, and tailored to your needs.
Activity There are all-purpose coolers that definitely do the job, but you’ll also find ones built specifically for certain activities — like overnight hikes into the woods, picnics, and hunting. Think about how you’ll use this cooler and look for models that cater to your pursuits.
Test Results: Polar Bear Coolers Solar Bear Series Soft Cooler (Best Overall)
What We Like
What We Don't Like
Difficult to clean
One of our reviewers, who took this cooler on a light hike to the beach, was immediately impressed with how effective it was at chilling her food and drinks over time. “I was at the beach for a full six hours with the cooler out in the sun the entire time,” she explained, “and all of my drinks were still very cold. My food was also colder than any other time I've gone to the beach with a different cooler bag.” Other highlights were this cooler’s comfortable straps and sturdy build. Unfortunately, though, our testers thought it was a little bulky overall and that its thick interior insulating material was difficult to clean.