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 away from the parking lot, or simply carry some coldies to the local swimming hole. Ranging in size and price, the following options represent our top picks for any adventure.
Best Overall: Hydro Flask Unbound Soft Cooler Pack, 20 Liters
We're big fans of Hydro Flask's insulated offerings here at FM HQ—so much so we hauled a ridiculous number of them across Oregon while bikepacking the Outback Trail. The Day Escape Soft Cooler Pack is just another reason to love the brand. With 20 liters of waterproof storage, it’ll haul 36 of your favorite 12-ounce canned beverages and keep their contents cold for up to 36 hours thanks to Hydroflask’s Smart Insulation, which reinforces areas more susceptible to losing precious chill. We also like its flexible side pocket, which is sized perfectly for carrying one of the brand’s 32-ounce vacuum bottles for easy access to a cool sip of water between can crushes.
Price: $200 SHOP NOW
Best for Trail Cred: YETI Hopper BackFlip Cooler, 24 Liters
YETI is the biggest name in the cooler game for a reason, but it mainly has to do with its rugged hard-sided ice chests. Nonetheless, the Hopper BackFlip Cooler is just as adept at keeping contents cold and is handsome, functional, and designed to last years. It can hold up to 20 cans, features leakproof zippers, and can accommodate a number of YETI's add-ons.
Price: $300 SHOP NOW
Best Features: OtterBox Trooper LT Cooler, 28 Liters
The most uniquely designed cooler on the list comes from Colorado’s OtterBox, which is now as reputable for its coolers and gear as it is for its phone cases. The Trooper LT Cooler features a rigid leakproof seal and latch system capable of keeping contents frozen for three-plus days, and has a built-in bottle opener and waterproof exterior pockets. If that doesn’t win you over, the lifetime warranty just might.
Price: $300 SHOP NOW
Best for Short Trips: IceMule Pro Cooler, 33 Liters
With a design based on the classic rolltop dry bag, the IceMule Pro Cooler is the largest and second least expensive of our recommended 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, when a day's worth of cold is perfectly adequate.
Price: $115 SHOP NOW
Best Removeable Cooler: REI Co-Op Cool Trail Split Pack Cooler, 29 Liters
A smart design from outdoor retailer REI, the Cool Trail Split Pack cooler lives up to its name by stacking a dry storage compartment atop a cooler insert-equipped lower that’s accessed by a zipper spanning the width of the pack, opening up like a hamburger bun. The leakproof cooler insert is easily removable when not needed and can even be used in other bags you already own, which provides additional versatile appeal here. Two pairs of buckling lash straps are permanently attached and useful for packing bulky items like a camp chair or blanket should you max out the cargo space of the main compartment, in addition to its side and top storage pockets.
Price: $80 SHOP NOW
Best Colors: RTIC Backpack Cooler, 25 Liters
This waterproof cooler backpack from RTIC includes a full bag of ice in its stated 30 can capacity rating. Should you decide to put it to the test, all of that weight is easily managed by a pair of wide shoulder straps that include a sternum strap and supportive hip belt. Once at your hydration destination, it’ll stand itself up on any mostly-even surface. Welded seams and a waterproof zipper keep water from getting in or out while adding the bonus feature of buoyancy for a day out on rivers, streams, and oceans. Several color options are available, but you know the camo is our first pick.
Price: $170 SHOP NOW
Best for Dry/Wet Organization: Pelican Dayventure Backpack Cooler, 18 Liters
Pelican does not mess around with the rugged protective products it puts out, and its cooler products are no exception. The Dayventure Backpack Cooler is divided in two, with a lower compartment that's insulated with high-density closed foam, accessible by a waterproof zipper, and has enough space for a six pack. (It could even be a good spot for your camera or electronics on a day when severe weather poses a threat.) The top portion of the bag offers a decent amount of weather protection for dry goods in a main compartment that’s accessed by a dry sack style closure and a flap lid secured with an adjustable strap. Pelican also offers the Dayventure Sling Cooler should you just need a container for cooling.
Price: $150 SHOP NOW
Best Budget Cooler Packpack: Coleman Sportflex Soft Cooler Backpack, 28 Liters
One of the best value cooler bags around comes from Coleman, the brand whose lanterns and camp stoves are the standard by which all others are measured. The Sportflex’s 30-can capacity is easily accessed by a zippered, flip-top lid and a combination of a mesh outer pocket, zip side pocket, and shock cord net provide storage any snacks or accessories that might come in handy for a day of sipping in the sunshine. It might lack some of the heavier duty materials or fancy waterproof zippers found on other bags, but it’s perfectly serviceable all the same.
Price: $60 SHOP NOW
Best for Wine: Corksicle Backpack Wine Cooler Bag, 29 Liters
Beverage product brand Corksicle made their initial splash with their namesake product, the Corksicle Air in-bottle wine chiller. But should you need to portage more than one bottle of natty wine to a scenic location, the brand's fashionable Eola Bucket Cooler Bag is sure to be of some help in getting your Pét-Nat on the go. The tapered shape of the insulated bag is optimized to carry twelve 12-ounce cans or two full size 750-milliliter wine bottles with eight cans. Take whichever combination suits your glou glou needs best and leave the Bota bag at home.