Five New Soft Cooler Backpacks

The perfect piece of gear for hauling dinner and drinks into hike-in campsites and destination lunch spots

While most of the mainstream attention on coolers in recent years has focused on the beefy, bear-proof options, many brands have quietly been innovating with and investing in wearable, soft sided coolers too. These backpack coolers are less flashy, but way more functional for folks looking to camp aways away from the parking lot or simply haul some coldies to the local swimming hole. Ranging in size and price, the following four options represent our top picks for summer 2018.

Hydro Flask Unbound Soft Cooler Pack, 22 Liters

We're big fans of Hydro Flasks insulated offering here at TF HQ—so much so we hauled a ridiculous number of them across Oregon while bikepacking the Outback Trail last spring. So needless to say we’re psyched on the new Unbound Soft Cooler Pack ($275). The flip top design makes for easy access, while advanced thermal mapping insulation prevents conductive temperate loss. As usual, the minimalist, fully taped style is a pleasure to look at. Plus it’s up to four pounds lighter than the rest.

YETI Hopper BackFlip Cooler, 24 Liters

YETI is the biggest name in the cooler game for a reason—though they’ve taken a hit with recent PR issues. Nonetheless, the Hopper BackFlip Cooler ($300) is handsome, functional, and designed for the long haul. It can accommodate up to 20 cans, features leakproof zippers, and can accommodate a number of YETI add-ons.

OtterBox Trooper LT Cooler, 28 Liters

The most uniquely designed cooler on the list comes from Colorado’s OtterBox, a relative newcomer to the cooler market, yet one that often outperforms the rest, even YETI . The Trooper LT Cooler ($300) features a rigid leakproof seal and latch system capable of keeping contents frozen for up to 3+ days, plus a built in bottle opener and storage options. If that doesn’t win you over, the lifetime warranty just might.

IceMule Pro Cooler, 33 Liters

With a design based on the classic rolltop dry bag, the IceMule Pro Cooler ($120) is the largest and second least expensive of the lot. While it certainly won’t keep items frozen as long as the competitors, it’s half the weight of the OtterBox, and packs down small when empty. Consider this the best option for mellow day trips to the beach, park, or hilltop hike.

United By Blue x Barebones Cooler Backpack, 21 Liters

Taking a more casual approach to the hands-free cooler design, United By Blue has teamed with fellow B Corp business Barebones to create a retro-styled option capable of keeping drinks cold for up to 48 hours. With the UBB x Barebones Cooler Backpack ($98) you’ll find less technical bells and whistles, and instead a very reasonable price tag, a removable liner for easy cleaning, and a shell made of 100% recycled polyester. Nice.

images courtesy REI

Related Reading:
Six Days on the Dolores River
Six Weekend Hiking and Camping Essentials