We Tested & Reviewed the 6 Best Backpack Coolers to Keep Your Drinks Cool On the Go

man with YETI backpack cooler
Courtesy of YETI

If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SPY.com may receive an affiliate commission.

There are few things better than sitting down with friends to enjoy a cool, crisp, and tasty beverage. Whether it’s a beer, soda or seltzer, joining in a communal sharing of cold ones is the best way to spend the days, especially during a backyard bonfire.

But as you’re moving from one locale to another, it’s important to ensure your drinks stay cool when you’re on the go, which is where one of the best coolers comes into play. But sometimes, a full cooler isn’t the easiest to transport, and that’s where the best backpack coolers save the day.

Backpack coolers are pretty straightforward; instead of hauling around a cooler, you sling it on your back. Backpack coolers are typically reinforced with extra padding in the back and shoulders to support the heavy weight of cans, bottles and whatever else you may be carrying. It’s also designed to protect water from getting in or leaking out onto you while you move around. Oh, and yeah, they’re meant to keep those cans ice cold.

Nowadays, there are many backpack coolers from reputable brands you might want to consider for yourself. That said, you must find out which backpack cooler is the most reliable. There are so many questions you need to ask yourself before purchasing. Which backpack cooler can keep your drinks cold for an extended period? Which leakproof backpack coolers are leakproof? Which backpack coolers are easy to pack? Brands can say so much, but putting them to the test can say much more.

So, we did. We put today’s top cooler backpacks through extensive testing to discover what the world’s best backpack coolers truly are. Find all the information we gathered now and see which cooler backpack you need in your arsenal this season.

ICEMULE Classic Medium 15L Backpack Cooler & YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

  

The Best Backpack Coolers at a Glance

1. Best Overall: YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler — $325.00 at YETI and Amazon

2. Runner Up: ICEMULE Classic Medium 15L Backpack Cooler — $59.95 on Amazon

3. Most Straightforward: Coleman 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler — $34.82 at Amazon

4. Best Hybrid: Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack$45.59 at Amazon

5. Most Surprising: Igloo Retro Backpack Cooler — $44.99 at Igloo and Amazon

6. Most Affordable: OAGear Backpack 20 Can Cooler — $22.95 at Amazon

  

What Are Backpack Coolers?

Essentially, backpack coolers are small coolers folks can carry on their back for easier transport. Coolers with wheels are incredibly accessible, but sometimes, you simply don’t need a unit as large and bulky to lug around. Instead, backpack coolers come into play by offering an easy option you can throw on your back and forget about until you reach your destination.

Backpack coolers should be insulated to the max, the same way your average cooler would be, as well as leakproof. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a hike with brews on their back when they feel a dribble of ice-cold water stream down their back.

Lastly, backpack coolers should be comfortable on your back and easy to pack. They shouldn’t weigh you down too much when you’re carrying them because comfort is key to the best backpacks. In addition, you shouldn’t have to deal with a wobbly, hard-to-control backpack when trying to fill it with ice. Nobody likes ice all over the floor, and that’s a fact.

  

1. YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler

BEST OVERALL

Best For: Folks looking for the best backpack cooler and who aren’t too afraid to spend a little more for quality.

Why We Chose It: Even for a soft cooler, it’s easy to fill and stands upright on its own. It kept ice solid for around 32 hours, the longest we’ve experienced.

  • Leakproof: Yes
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 32 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Effortless

Full Review: Putting the YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler To the Test

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

YETI reigns supreme when it comes to anything in the world of coolers. When putting the YETI Hopper M20 to the test, we knew this was the backpack cooler to beat. It has a sturdy design and stands upright on its own for easy filling. It’s also waterproof inside and out.

When we broke out the temperature gun and pitted the Hopper M20 against the other backpack cooler we tested, the Hopper M20 was the clear winner when it came to keeping the ice from melting — by hours. Because of YETI’s reputation, we even tested this in direct sunlight, bringing it out to the lake, and it still kept ice solid longer than the others.

Each Hopper M20 is complete with an innovative snap-shut closure that’s totally zip-free and pretty addicting to play with. The YETI Hopper M20 might be the most expensive option on here by a landslide, but we mean it when we say it’s the best backpack cooler. There is one flaw aside from the price that we did experience, though. Although the straps and the fit was comfortable, this backpack cooler is heavy — even without ice. Although it can fit a ton of ice and beverages, we suggest filling it a little less than you might want to unless you’re walking a short distance or you might experience some back problems.

Pros:

  • Ice stays cold for more than a day
  • Great design
  • Leakproof
  • Visually beautiful
  • Lots of color options

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • Heavy
  

2. ICEMULE Classic Medium 15L Backpack Cooler

RUNNER UP

Best For: Those needing a one-strap backpack cooler that keeps beverages cold for hours and hours.

Why We Chose It: It could keep ice solid for around 24 hours, the longest we’ve experienced.

  • Leakproof: Yes
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 24 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Not the easiest, but not the hardest

ICEMULE Classic Medium 15L Backpack Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

After testing, we found that the ICEMULE Classic Medium 15L Backpack Cooler is one of the toughest, most reliable and best-performing backpack coolers you can purchase. Full send. This option is completely built for the outdoors, allowing users to take it wherever needed. At first, we were confused about the design because it didn’t use a straightforward closing option. No zippers, no snap-shuts. Instead, the bag’s top must be rolled down, folded toward the side and clipped shut. This is something that does take a little more time but surprisingly does keep the cold in much longer than we anticipated.

This backpack cooler will easily keep your beverages cold for around 24 hours, according to our temperature tests. It’s waterproof inside and out, and we saw no leaking or dewy exteriors throughout our testing process. Structurally, this backpack cooler is so durable that it feels like a rip would occur only after some serious force. Despite this durability, this bag is super soft and can fold down within itself for easy storage and packability.

The one-strap takes some getting used to, given how accustomed we are to using two straps. This is more like a cooler messenger bag than a cooler backpack, but it still works great. The one flaw is that the top of the backpack is a little on the flimsy side because of the roll top. So, if you’re like us, filling the backpack with ice bags you purchase at the liquor store, you might have difficulty filling without the top of the bag getting a little floppy. We suggest you fill it against a wall to help keep the top upright and open.

Pros:

  • Ice stays cold for around a day
  • Leakproof
  • Lots of color options
  • Folds onto itself for storage

Cons:

  • Somewhat hard to pour ice into due to flimsy top
  • The one-strap design is a little odd
  

3. Coleman 28-Can Soft Backpack Cooler

MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD

Best For: Those looking for a classic-looking backpack with a traditional feel.

Why We Chose It: It’s comfortable, affordable and does the job it’s supposed to.

  • Leakproof: Mostly
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 20 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Easy

Coleman 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

Coleman has been around for as long as we can remember. Well before the days of YETI and fancy wheeled coolers and cooler backpacks. So, for an old-school pick, we have to tell you about Coleman’s 28 Can Backpack Soft Cooler. This classic hiking backpack lookalike is everything you need for a day out fishing, hiking or at the beach. It has one main compartment insulated with a front dry compartment for keeping items like your phone, keys or wallet. Coming in at just under $35, this is also one of the most affordable options on the list.

During testing, we noticed that ice in this bag can stay cold for a loooong time. When on, it has a very familiar feel — almost as if you’re headed back to school again. It has a way of standing straight up on its own without falling over, making this a really easy option to fill with ice.

The only downside is that online, Coleman claims that the bag can fit up to 28 cans. This isn’t true unless you aren’t putting a single cube of ice inside. Instead, in addition to ice, you might fit about 10 to 12 in total. Also, this bag does get a little wet on the outside, meaning the inside isn’t as insulated as we initially thought. Nothing will soak your car in transport, but certainly something to note. If you prefer a square design which can fit more cans, Walmart has a square-shaped version of this bag for $50.

Pros:

  • Ice stays cold for long time
  • Traditional look
  • Traditional feel
  • Easy to fill

Cons:

  • Doesn’t fit as many cans as stated
  • Gets a little wet on the outside

Read More: Best Cooler With Wheels

  

4. Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack

BEST HYBRID

Best For: Minimal beverage packers who prioritize their dry goods on a day out.

Why We Chose It: It’s the ultimate hybrid option we’ve come across.

  • Leakproof: Yes
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 6-8 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Easy

Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack Tyler Schoeber | SPY

Once we opened the package and found the Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack sitting inside, we’re not going to lie — we weren’t too excited. With a large top section for dry goods and a bottom smaller, insulated section to keep cold beverages, our first thought was, “This is barely a cooler backpack, why are we even bothering to test it?” But, after testing, we decided you should never judge a book by its cover.

Because it’s Carhartt, we should have known this backpack would be durable. When Carhartt says leakproof, they mean it. No liquid is coming out of the bottom of this bag, no matter how hard you try. If you’re the type who only wants to bring a few beverages to the beach, you’ve found an excellent two-in-one option that will save your arms from carrying too many bags. We recently took this backpack to the beach and were thankful for how effortless it made the day. A bottle of wine and a couple of White Claws sitting all chill at the bottom with a book, sunscreen, two towels and a speaker dryer than the Sahara at the top. It’s the perfect amount of space needed for a quick picnic with minimal needs.

The only flaw, because, of course, there has to be one, is that ice doesn’t stay as cold as it does in other cooler backpacks. Here, you’ll only see ice keep its consistency for around 8 hours in our experience. This isn’t bad given the volume, but remember that this might not be the best backpack cooler to bring for adventures where you plan on keeping items cold from sun up until sundown.

Pros:

  • Excellent hybrid option
  • Leakproof
  • Great materials
  • Traditional look
  • Traditional feel
  • Easy to fill

Cons:

  • Small cooling capacity
  • Ice melts rather quickly
  

5. Igloo Retro Backpack Cooler

MOST SURPRISING

Best For: Vintage/retro style lovers who don’t mind a material that feels cheaper but works quite nicely.

Why We Chose It: It’s a fun-looking option and keeps ice cold for some time.

  • Leakproof: Mostly
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 12-14 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Easy

Igloo Retro Backpack Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

Unlike the Carhartt, we were pretty excited to open the Igloo Retro Backpack cooler because of that eclectic, retro look that always tends to put a smile on our faces. But, once we picked it up, our smiles vanished. This backpack cooler feels like it was made in a preschool classroom. It’s extremely light, feels like an old puffer jacket, and looks like it had little insulation. It wasn’t until we put it to the test that we were pleasantly surprised.

Every time we checked in on this backpack cooler, it kept the coldest interior of all its companions at an average temperature of around 28°F. We snuck two beverages in during the test, and both stayed ice-cold throughout the experience. This shocked us due to how lightweight the bag felt empty, so it was a pleasant surprise knowing that ice continued to stay below freezing and lasted a minimum of half a day.

You won’t be able to fit too many beverages here, but anything you do fit will arrive in style. It stands up by itself for an easy fill no matter where you are with minimal spillage. The bag does tend to get slightly damp when water stays inside for too long, so just be sure to dump the contents after your day out.

Pros:

  • Eclectic look
  • Keeps ice colder than most
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Cheap-feeling
  • Leaks a little
  

6. OAGear Backpack 20 Can Cooler

MOST AFFORDABLE

Best For: Folks unwilling to spend hundreds on a backpack cooler and don’t mind it’s not completely leakproof.

Why We Chose It: It’s an affordable option that keeps ice cold.

  • Leakproof: No
  • Solid Ice Time: Around 8-10 hours
  • Ease of Filling: Not the easiest, but not the hardest

OAGear Backpack 20 Can Cooler Tyler Schoeber | SPY

After testing the OAGear Backpack, we’ve learned that this pack is a great value for what you’re getting. This tiny pack provides a larger punch than you might imagine, with room for around 16 cans in total accompanying ice. The brand tells us that you can fit about 20, but after testing, we think that might be pushing it. It has one zipped front pocket that’s excellent for holding smaller items like your keys and wallet, with two mesh pockets on either side for snacks, water bottles or whatever else you need to carry. On top of all that, there’s a bungee on the front you can hook a hat onto or store a towel in.

The insulated interior space does a pretty stellar job of keeping ice cold for extended periods but will end up leaking if it’s sitting in the sun all day, despite the brand’s claim that the liner is leakproof. But, for only $23, that’s something we can live with.

Ice will stay chill and whole for 8 to 10 hours in total in our experience and potentially even lower on extra hot, sunny days. Nonetheless, this is an affordable option to consider.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to carry
  • Lots of space for dry items
  • Keeps ice cold

Cons:

  • Not leakproof
    

What to Consider When Buying the Best Backpack Coolers

The most important thing to consider before purchasing a backpack cooler is how you’ll be using the cooler and if a backpack cooler is needed. For example, if the majority of the time you’re picking up an ice-cold beverage from the cooler in your backyard, you’ll probably do much better with a regular standing cooler. Maybe a cooler with wheels, if anything. But, if you find yourself out and about reaching for a chilly brew, a backpack cooler might be the best option for you.

Backpack coolers are meant to be taken on the go, not for sitting by your pool. These are the coolers you take on hikes, to the beach, on picnics, to sporting events and more. As mentioned earlier, you also want to ensure you’re snagging a backpack cooler that keeps your drinks cold for long, doesn’t leak, is comfortable to wear and effortlessly fills.

  

How We Test Backpack Coolers

To test backpack coolers, we took the time to fill each to the brim with ice and a drink or two to let them stand still in our homes for as long as the ice stays solid. To add to the process, we used a temperature gun to ensure that the interior of each backpack cooler was staying at or close to freezing. We checked on them every few hours to note how the process was going. This time, we checked the backpack coolers after 1 hour, 3 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 30 hours and finally, 36 hours. This led us to discover which coolers can actually keep ice cold for long and which didn’t hold up as well.In addition, we tested backpack coolers according to the following criteria to check which backpacks were actually worth your purchase.

  • Time for Ice to Melt: We said it already, but we’ll repeat it. The point of having a cooler is to have ice stay ice for a long period of time to keep your drinks cold.
  • Comfort: When wearing a backpack cooler, it’s important that your back and shoulders both continue to stay pain-free.
  • Leakage: This was to see whether or not by any means the backpack coolers would leak during the testing process.
  • Ease of Filling: We did not even consider this until we began testing. Some coolers are way harder to fill than others due to the materials used to create the backpack. If that were the case, ice would spill all over the floor when trying to fill.
  • Structure: This goes hand-in-hand with ease of filling, but here’s where we checked out how the backpack cooler was made. Is it built to last? Is it durable? Sturdy? The list goes on.

We’ve tested 9 backpack coolers in total over the past few months. For this article, we chose only the six we believe are worth buying.

Click here to read more about how we test and review products.

  

Why Trust SPY When Shopping for Coolers

Here at SPY, we’re constantly testing products in a number of different spaces. Whether it’s grooming products such as bald head shavers, clothing like the best men’s t-shirts or even high-quality bed frames for snoozing, it’s something we’ve become obsessed with. Why? Because we’re just like you. We’re sick and tired of being told one thing through a product’s detailed description on their website and experiencing the exact opposite. We’re testing these products to determine whether they are worth purchasing before pulling your credit card out. We simply don’t want you buying a product that doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to.

Test after test, we’re here to give it straight. Don’t waste your money when you don’t have to; simply check above and pick up something SPY-tested and approved to ensure you’ll love it just as much as we do.

  

About the Author: Tyler Schoeber

Tyler Schoeber is SPY’s E-Commerce & Special Projects Editor. In addition to testing backpack coolers, he’s tested just about everything else you could possibly imagine at this point. Underwear, men’s razors, beard oils — the list goes on and on. He also focuses on our social media pages and even shoots a number of photo projects for SPY. Before joining SPY, Tyler covered stories relating to grooming, men’s fashion, travel gear and more at travel sites such as Jetsetter and Smarter Travel.

  

Updates: This article was last updated on July 26, 2022, at which time we added in-depth reviews based on an extensive testing process. One thing to note: we kept the YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler as our “Best Overall” pick before and after testing. This is the best backpack cooler you can purchase in 2022, and it’s something we’re 100% sure of.

  

The Best Coolers for Every Type of Summer Fun