Coolers have enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade. That renaissance started in 2006, with Texas-based Yeti. Since then—and thanks to Yeti’s runaway success—multiple companies started creating similarly rugged and reliable ice chests. Fast-forward to 2018, and we’re on the cusp of a second cooler renaissance: some of the best backpack coolers you could imagine.
It’s about time. These days, savvy adventurers expect coolers to be not only well insulated and durable, but also light, packable, and portable. No more hauling around a cumbersome plastic behemoth as it bangs into your knees. Just sling one of these over your shoulder(s), and you can take your case of party beers anywhere.
So: What’s the best backpack cooler for you?
To test out the best backpack coolers in this new generation, I gathered up the five of the newest models:
- The Boss by IceMule
- Podster by ORCA
- Hopper Backflip 24 by Yeti
- Trooper LT 30 by OtterBox
- Unbound 22L Pack by Hydro Flask
Each has cooler has its strengths and weaknesses. My job was to test them.
Beyond Insulation: Testing the Best Backpack Coolers
The new generation of backpack coolers all perform well. Which one you decide to buy will be based on your preferences and lifestyle.
My tests were built around four (partly subjective, partly scientific) criteria: durability, portability, utility, and ice retention.
- Durability considers the quality of materials and robustness of construction
- Portability accounts for features like comfort and ease of use of the shoulder-strap suspension, along with the cooler’s weight-to-volume ratio.
- Utility accounts for features like pockets, tie-down straps, and overall general usability.
To test ice retention, I conducted two tests. I’ve included it below the specific cooler reviews.
Here’s our detailed breakdown based on four categories—insulation (according to our tests), durability, portability, and utility—measured on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the best.