Do you really need the best backpack cooler? If you're anything like us, you're probably going to spend the summer walking around the countryside, picnicking and drinking the odd bottle here and there, however we hate it when we get to a perfect picnic location only to find out that the wine it to hot, the food it hot and cheese melted. There is nothing worse that this, however this is where a cooler backpack comes into it's own as it offers the chance to keep all our drink and food, cool but at the same time, in a light insulated backpack cooler that is easily portable.
Before you walk out an buy any insulated cooler backpack, there are a few things that you need to know that will help you buy the best backpack cooler for your money and stop it being so uncomfortable that it's virtually impossible to wear on your back. The key points that you need to think about are below;
This is important, but rather than it being weight distribution in terms of the backpack, it really does depend on what you put in it and where you're putting the weight. Ideally the weight needs to go at the top of the backpack meaning that it sits firmly on your shoulders and not lounging around at the base of your spine. What's important is that the pack-back allows you to do this as many pack-back's will only allow you to put weight into set areas.
Remember, we're looking for a backpack cooler that we can fill up with a couple of bottles of wine sling on our pack and pop out for lunch, not fill up with a years supply of food and drinks. That all said, you need to make sure that the pack-back is large enough to do this, but at the same time not too large that it's going to be swinging around on your back. If you want a rough guide, look for something around 18-Inch H x 12-Inch W x 7-Inch L.
This really comes down to two point's with the first being that you should buy a model that comes with two padded straps, one for your waist and one for your shoulders and a padded back liner meaning that you're not feeling a bottle stuck in your back the whole time.
Insulation really matters if you're trying to keep something cool such as ice for a long period of time and generally when it comes with back-pack coolers really means the thickness of the insulation and the seal at the top. Whilst each and every product we tested, had a, different type of insulation we really felt that it made very difference to the end result being for how long they kept the bad cool, however what did effect the coolness was the closure system or whether they used a "roll top", a metal zipper or a waterproof zipper.
This is a bit harder to test especially if you have a couple of well made products that have been designed and built to last. That said, firstly you have both review websites and review forums where users will test these types of bags over time. Secondly we also do our own tests and for the majority of products, tend to only recommend products that you we have actually used.
Brands Names is a difficult decision that we struggle with everyday when we making these recommendations. On the one hand we would say buy a Brand name such as Pola or Yetti given that you know that you're buying a quality product that has been designed to last, but on the otherhand, you're also paying for the brand. Your decision, however we not buy cheap, don't buy a cheap cooler thinking that it will work great because it's not going to and usually you end up buying a new cooler after a few times of being annoyed of getting cold water running down your back because your back-pack is leaking.
These are not something that we have ever really focused on given that generally soft coolers are pretty minimalistic and therefore don't have much room for anything else. If you want to lookout for extra pockets then great but generally the best back-pack coolers are pretty basic.
Top Two Models
Choosing the best is actually a very difficult thing to and thus we have a first equal review where we would recommend that you buy one of either the Ice Mule Pro or the Polar Bear Cooler depending on whether your more comfortable with a durable sip or the role down design as apart from this key difference, there is very little else that is difference between the two back pack coolers
Ice Mule Pro Review
The Ice Mule Pro is a fantastic back pack cooler that we have used and really like in the past. The soft cooler comes in three different models (the 20L, 30L, 40L) with the 30L size being our favourite. Apart from being a fantastic value for money product, the soft cooler comes with a simple and robust design allow it to stay cool for up to 24 hours even in the desert here temperatures are easily in triple figures. Carry the cooler is very easy given that it comes with a padded strap for easy weight across the shoulders and a ventilated back meaning that it handles weight well allowing you to really take both food and drinks on a long days hike and know that they have remained cold.
Two points, the roll-top closure is splash-resistant and defiantly not waterproof. It has not been designed as a dry bag an therefore if you submerse it, it will fill with water. The second point is that whilst the straps are comfortable you do need to wear a shirt underneath as the coarse mesh lining the harness is uncomfortable on bare shoulders.
Polar Bear Backpack Cooler
If you don't need a back-pack designed cooler and are more looking for a day bag then get yourself a Yetti Hopper 30L which is fantastic waterproof, well designed back-pack, however it does cost over $300, meaning that our favorite is the Polar Bear 24 Hour Cooler which basically does the same job as the Yetti, but at less than half the price. The Polar Bear back pack cooler comes in range of different sizes and shapes and more importantly colours meaning that you can use it for almost anything from a bright colored cooler for the beach, to a green shaded color if your out hunting and need it to blend in.
The Polar Bear is made from a nylon out shell and a patent pending, closed cell foam design that keeps things cooler for longer whilst at the same time almost making it totally waterproof inside and out. I say almost, because whilst Polar Bear do make a 100% waterproof design that comes with a waterproof zip, it does add nearly $150 to the price tag making it slightly expensive, whereas this model is waterproof, but will leak through the zip if you fill it with water and turn it upside down.
The liner is both PVC-Free and FDA approved for consumer safe perishable storage and consumption and given that it comes with a crack free technology means that you can literally freeze the whole bag know that the liner will not crack when it starts to defrost. The liner foam is made from a 1.5 inch thick closed foam cell base, a skid resistant rubber saddle and a 1inch thick foam body that completes coverage from top to bottom.
Performance is fantastic and can easily keep your food and drinks cooler for a day trip or longer if needed. Test's have been done with the Extreme Chill version that might be the top of the range version that cost's around $200, however with a 20lb bag of ice that had been left in 90 degree heat outside over a three day period, just under a quarter of the ice was left at the end of the three days.
Not our's, but there is a great video review below.