When you’re camping in the woods — soaking up the scenery and spending time with friends — there’s no better way to celebrate the natural beauty around you than with an ice cold beverage. Unfortunately, transporting these frosty beverages to remote locations can be a bit tricky. If you’re car camping — or in an RV or camper van — bringing along a portable fridge or traditional cooler is likely your best bet.
However, toting a massive cooler around is only feasible if you’re hauling it a few yards down a trail or over to a picnic table. If you want to trek further into the wilderness or take a short day hike, a traditional cooler won’t cut it. Even for a day spent at the lake or riverside, no one wants to be the one stuck dragging a cumbersome ice chest, accumulating an unnecessary amount of strain on their shoulders and neck.
This is exactly why backpack coolers are often the way to go. They’re portable, convenient, and work just as well to chill any beverage of choice. If you’re unfamiliar, we’ve rounded up the best backpack coolers on the market, built to keep your camping food cold and your drinks even colder.
ORCA’s Podster backpack cooler is designed in a simple and convenient 14.25-quart daypack size, making it the perfect choice for day hiking or picnicking. Similar to its big sibling — the 28.5 Realtree Max 5 Pod — the mini-version features comfy padded shoulder straps and a cross-chest T-strap to dial in your fit. With a double TPU exterior and 28 millimeters of thick meta-polymer insulation — combined with a closed cell foam lid — food and drinks stay cold for multiple days with properly packed ice.
The pack is constructed with a high-quality, leakproof zipper and welded like a whitewater raft, making it exceptionally waterproof and durable. To top it off, the Podster wins the fictional “Best Looking Cooler” award with its standout colorways including fuchsia, teal, seafoam, burnt orange, and coral.
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This rectangular pack via Mountain Khakis is over two feet deep and, at roughly 20 quarts, is able to hold up to 30 dry beers (or about half as much when filled with ice). It features a zippered, water-resistant opening at the top with a snug drawstring inside, adding extra insulation to the 840-denier embossed dobby weave.
Its drop-in liner is fully waterproof and easy to clean while the firm, molded bottom section offers stability and structure so it’s not mushy or shapeless. When open, there’s a handy zipper inside for an ice pack or other smaller items, along with a bottle opener lanyard. Perhaps the best part of this pack, however, is that each individual bag features a handle made from one-of-a-kind, recycled climbing rope for style.
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The Solar Bear pack by Polar Bear Coolers is made for very hot, sunny days when you know you’ll be sitting outside for long stretches in the heat. With a robust, 1000-denier nylon outer shell boasting a sun-blocking, UV-Resistant polyurethane coating, the cooler keeps beverages frosty cold and stops ice from melting for over 24 hours — even in 100-plus degree temperatures.
If you plan to walk any sort of distance, the thick, ultra-padded straps provide comfort against your back without chafing your shoulders. The weatherized zippers are constructed with a patent-pending sew design, making it leakproof, sweatproof, and all around badass. As a bonus, the whole thing costs less than $100.
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As its name suggests, Dakine’s Party Pack is made exclusively for one thing: Outdoor parties. Whether this means game day tailgates, Fourth of July barbecues, summertime boat parties, beach bonfires, or weekend camping trips, this pack is made for the job. In addition to being a backpack cooler, it features compartments, straps, and accessories to help carry everything you need for the party on your back — beverages, blankets, sunglasses, music, sunscreen, and more.
The bottom half works as your standard insulated cooler with a zippered opening and a slender, ice pack-sized mesh pocket. Up top is a dry space for extra clothes or accessories alongside a soft, fleece-lined pocket to protect your sunglasses. Outside, the pack features two fully-insulated beer koozies and straps to secure a throw blanket. There’s even a third koozie on the padded shoulder strap to hold whatever you’re sipping on while you walk, as well as a discreet, built-in bottle opener.
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If size is what you’re after, this extra large 35-quart backpack cooler is the pack for the job. RTIC’s Back Pack Cooler holds 30 canned beverages — even when fully packed with ice — and offers nearly three feet of insulated depth. Yet, because of its soft, zipper-free roll-down style, the whole thing packs up when you’re not using it, making it super storable and compact.
The bag’s stellar cooling capacity keeps drinks cold for several days and if that’s not enough, the fully waterproof, welded-seam structure floats. That means if you’re hanging out on a boat or near water, you can further cool your drinks by letting the pack sit in water or drag behind you.
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The IceMule Boss is, without a doubt, one of the best backpack coolers on the planet. Offering a comfortable fit without sacrificing top-grade technical features, the Boss has a wide-mouth, Tri-Fold DriTop closure system and hold more than 60 pounds of weight. What makes the pack most unique, however, is IceMule’s patent-pending IM AirValve which lets you pump air into the cooler, creating a fully airtight insulation. That, combined with the pack’s 3-centimeter closed-cell PolarLayer XT insulating foam, means your beverages truly stay ice-cold for days.
Designed for hiking long distances, the pack also features three oversized external pockets. These are also insulated, so you’re able to store extra beverages while also having the option of bringing dry goods along. The backpack features a super comfortable suspension system and is made of MuleSkin fabric, making it waterproof and capable of floating.
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To keep an eye on:
Slated to launch in March 2018, Hydroflask’s much-anticipated 22L Unbound Series soft cooler backpack keeps meat cold and beers frosty for two full days via the company’s TempShield insulation. The intentionally placed cooling system uses Advanced Thermal Mapping with Ultralon Buoyancy Foam to maintain arctic cold temps where it’s needed most and to shed bulk where it’s not. The result is a lightweight pack that gets the job done without being too big or heavy.
The backpack’s 820D scratch-resistant, press-molded base is contoured and rigid, allowing it to stand upright when you’re not wearing it. Available in black, graphite, storm, and goldenrod, this top-of-the-line pack features dry storage pockets, quick-and-easy access at the top, and welded seams which make it 100 percent waterproof. Be sure to check this out when it launches next spring.
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