Get long-lasting cold with this stylish soft cooler backpack
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TripSavvy / Justin Park
Water-tight seams and zippers
Limited dry storage
The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler is a serious cooler that carries like a backpack for a price that’s cheaper than other high-performing options.
We purchased the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Hydro Flask, as you might be able to guess from the name, is best known for their large metal water bottles. The Bend, Oregon-based company has also branched out into totes, and packs and the Day Escape is one of their latest flagship offerings. To see if the product delivered on its promise of 36-hour chilling, we tested the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler during a Rocky Mountain spring. We assessed its performance over several weeks, evaluating factors such as cold retention, weather resistance, style, and versatility.
Read on for all the details.
In keeping with their water vessel lines, the two blue colorways for the Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler are bright and the design is outdoorsy and techy at the same time. The rigid bag-like shape makes it distinctly a soft cooler even though it is worn like a backpack. The cooler will look at home on a kayak or a trail more than on a subway or a city street, though there’s no reason this couldn’t be your companion for an afternoon in a city park.
Perhaps a little disappointing is that there are only two color options and both are shades of blue. While we found the Breeze colorway we tested attractive, I’d eventually like to see more color options like they have for their other products.
The cooler design is fairly simple. Thick, rigid 600D polyester makes up the bulk of the shape which is akin to an opened bag of chips standing up straight. The version we tested is the 20L Day Escape, though there are also 18- and 26-liter versions that are shaped more like totes.
We didn’t have any issues with punctures or abrasion during our testing, despite using it in high desert environments with lots of sharp rock and cacti.
The bag weighs 3 pounds and that’s largely due to the serious insulation employed. The only part of the bag that isn’t insulated is the silicone rubber top and the company says that they focused the insulation on the bottom since that’s where soft coolers often lose most of their heat.
The TRU Zip zipper feels extremely robust and is watertight, keeping liquids inside and not allowing condensation to seep out. While it takes a bit of effort to get the zipper moving, it feels solid when closed to a tactile and satisfying seal. In addition, all the seams are welded for secure water tightness.
One drawback of this simple design is that there’s no built-in dry storage outside of a medium-sized mesh pocket on the outside. Hydro Flask sells an add-on dry storage pouch that color-coordinates with the Day Escape cooler, but that runs you an extra $50 just to have an additional pocket.
Most soft coolers can’t compete with larger hard coolers that have thicker walls of insulation and the Day Escape is no exception. Hydro Flask claims 36 hours of performance and our testing bore that out. While we had cold nights during the Rocky Mountain spring in Colorado, which no doubt helped, we were able to keep drinks cold across two warm, sunny days along the river.
The thickness and density of the foam employed are palpable to the touch and seem comparable to other coolers we’ve tested from Yeti and RTIC. The manufacturer specifications state a 36-can capacity, but our real-world testing found that 20 cans with ice was a more realistic ratio to achieve the claimed 36-hour performance.
Despite being a cooler first and a backpack second, the strap system is in keeping with modern backpack design trends and materials. Notably, there’s a chest strap which is essential for keeping the bag tight to your body. This is especially important when you load the cooler up with heavy ice and liquids, which can really pull on your shoulders when a proper chest strap isn’t employed.
I would have also liked to see a waist buckle strap to really lock the backpack down when it's loaded up, but it isn’t essential considering most use cases won’t have you lugging the pack for miles upon miles.
The straps are minimally and densely padded and feel like they’ll stay supportive for a long time, unlike other padded straps that have a light foam padding. There are also lots of handles and all of them are reinforced in a way that makes you feel like you can grab them confidently, even when the cooler is loaded to the brim.
Considering the exterior fabric is similar to a heavy-duty rain slicker, there are zero concerns about water getting in. And thanks to the welded seams and silicone zipper there’s no worry about liquids escaping, either.
While we had cold nights during our testing in Colorado, which no doubt helped, we were able to keep drinks cold across two days.
The pack also feels extremely rugged and well-made. During our testing, we didn’t have any issues with punctures or abrasion, despite using it in high desert environments with lots of sharp rock and cacti.
On top of the build quality, there’s a five-year warranty against manufacturer defects to set your mind at ease if you’re concerned about the lifespan of a soft cooler like this.
A soft cooler that retails for $200 seems expensive, but it’s at least $100 cheaper than similar products from Yeti. If you value long-lasting performance, it’s definitely worth the money. However, if you just need something to hold your ice and beers for a few hours of fishing by your vehicle, you might not need to spend this much.
I have tested both of these cooler backpacks and the Hydro Flask is a much more serious cooler than the Carhartt, which is primarily a backpack that happens to have a cooler compartment. The insulation is thinner and the performance is not as good as the Hydro Flask. The reason you might consider the Carhartt is if you only need a small cooler space with a decent amount of dry storage.
The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack is a well-made, good-looking soft cooler that delivers cold retention when you need it on the go for a price that’s lower than better-known brands in the space.
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