When you head to a sporting event or amusement park and want to carry along ice-cold drinks, but bringing a hard cooler is not stylish or practical, a backpack cooler is a perfect alternative. Combining the lightweight performance of a soft cooler with the portability and convenience of a backpack, it offers the best of two different products.
With so many choices out there, however, it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for among the highest-performing models and brands.
In this guide, show you how to choose the best backpack cooler and highlight the top three products in our Review section.
Top 10 Backpack Coolers Table
A Few Considerations to Keep in Mind While Shopping for Backpack Coolers
The first thing you’ll need to consider when shopping for the best backpack cooler is size. Although there is less variety in size than with normal coolers—backpack sizes generally fall within a relatively well-defined range—some backpack coolers are smaller than others or have a reduced capacity.
The average backpack cooler can fit roughly between 18 and 25 standard soda or beer cans. Because you do need to carry it on your back, the ideal size is also personal and depends on your own height and how comfortable you are carrying additional weight.
Coolers are divided into two main types: hard-shell coolers and soft-shell coolers. Soft-shell coolers are more lightweight and also easier to carry. Backpack coolers are necessarily soft-shell coolers. Although hard-shell coolers can offer higher performance, they are bulky and difficult to transport. In addition, they are also often very obvious and can be aesthetically displeasing.
Of course, of one of the unique advantages of backpack coolers is their portability. Depending on the model, with some backpack coolers, you also can’t even tell it is a cooler! Not only are they easier to carry, but they are also more discrete. These two features make them great for bringing to crowded events, as well as for outdoor activities that require you to have your hands free.
Some of the events and occasions backpack coolers are great for include:
- Sporting events (such as softball or soccer games) and tailgating before and after football games
- Amusement parks and day trips
- Boating, fishing, and other water activities
Top 3 Best Backpack Cooler Reviews
The Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series Backpack is our top pick for a backpack cooler. This soft patented bag is unbeatable for keeping things cool—it can keep ice for a full 24 hours even in serious summer heat (over 100° Fahrenheit). It has a large size capacity and a square shape that is both stylish and discrete, an achievement for a cooler!
Some of the performance features include a leak-proof and food-grade Dura-Temp liner, a heavy-duty YKK zipper, high-density insulation, and a UV 840 TPE-coated nylon outer shell. We found that the inside was very easy to clean and maintain.
We were impressed not only with the insulation capacities, but also the thoughtful details, including a side pocket, side release buckles, a Velcro wrap-around handle, and a combination zipper pull-tab/bottle opener.
If you’re looking for a great all-around backpack cooler that’s both heavy duty and easy to use (and wear!), this model by Polar Bear is a terrific option!
As part of a fully-equipped picnic kit, the backpack cooler that’s built into the VonShef Picnic Backpack is smaller than some of the other options in this list but works as part of a fun and useful set specifically designed for picnics.
The VonShef Picnic Backpack is a complete picnic set for four people. It includes stainless steel cutlery (knives, forks, spoons), dinner plates, wine glasses, cotton napkins, a pair of salt and pepper shakers, a cheese knife, a bottle opener, and a plastic cutting board. A waterproof fleece blanket is also included.
The cooler compartment is perfect for keeping food and drinks fresh. Other features include a carry handle and padded shoulder straps for comfort.
Again, because this is part of a kit, if you want a backpack that’s just for keeping food or drinks fresh, this might not be the best choice. On the other hand, the fully-stocked VonShef Picnic Backpack amazing for fully-equipped outdoor picnics and meals!
The OAGear Backpack Cooler is a great all-around model that is designed to hold up to 20 standard-size cans, in addition to ice. The discrete design makes it look like a normal backpack and hides the fact that it is a cooler!
In addition, it has comfortable padded backpack straps, two mesh side pockets, and a high-performance sealed leak-proof liner. An extra gusseted pocket in front adds spare storage space, which is great for bringing along accessories such as napkins and bottle or beer openers.
If you’re looking for a large, sturdy—and high-capacity—cooler with the convenience and functionality of a backpack, the OAGear Backpack Cooler is a great choice and number three on our list of best backpack coolers.