It’s a relatively new idea, but when you think about it, a backpack for skiing or hiking that also features a cooler to keep your refreshments cool it seems like it should be an obvious one. It means you might not have to find a cafe or coffee hut each time you want a snack on the slopes, and packing your own food can be an excellent way to save money skiing. Picking the right backpack is the next step, so what should you look for in a combined backpack and cooler?
When looking at a combined cooler and backpack, it is important to think about how you use it, and what that means. If want to carry a phone, book, or other gadgets around in the backpack, then ensuring that it has safe, meaning leakproof materials and separate compartments, is very important. If you are hiking and want to take extra clothes and so on, having a separate compartment big enough to fit it all is an essential feature as well.
However, there are some things that every cooler backpack should have no matter what you are using it for. The added weight of the insulation mean that robust construction is important. Stitching and joins should be reinforced, and materials should be strong and leakproof. Just as important is the shoulder straps, they need to be capable of carrying the extra weight, but also well-padded to avoid over-stressing your shoulders when carrying the bag fully loaded. This is particularly important for cooler bags, as the likelihood of carrying a lot of liquids, whether water bottles or soda cans, can add significant weight to carry. The whole harness system should be well designed and robust enough to cope with that kind of load, while having the padding and design to reduce stress on your body making it easier to carry the heavier pack.
And of course, the entire concept of having a cooler in your backpack means that the cooler itself should perform, and keep things cold. While Rubbermaid did a great piece on how to keep things colder in a cooler, we are big fans of starting with a cooler that flat-out works. Everything we noted below is one that we can stand behind.
With that in mind, there are a number of packs that really stand out, receiving great reviews and demonstrating all the design features we note here. With packs designed for various activities, we looked for the best and found these packs from makers who we trust.
North Coyote Insulated Backpack
A great pack that does not break the bank.
This is a pack that is built for hiking and skiing, and has a wealth of features that are designed to ensure it is not just a cooler with hiking features added on, rather it is a genuine hiking backpack that also has a cooler. That is an important difference, and means it has the comfortable harness system, strong construction and large capacity for clothing and other hiking essentials you need, while also including a completely separate cooler compartment to keep snacks and drinks cool when it’s time for a rest. The cooler has a semi-solid encasement, meaning that you can keep things in it that might not get crushed if you trip to happen to put the pack in the wrong spot.
With 25L of storage for all the hiking gear, and a further 17L of cooler storage, separated from the rest of the bag in its own securely zipped, leakproof compartment at the base, this is a bag that has the best of both worlds. With strong, heavy duty 600D polyester construction, this is a bag that will do it all, a true hiking backpack that is also a great cooler.
The Ultimate Rager
If a day at the beach or down at the park is more your style, The Ultimate Rager offers a somewhat unique take on the combination of backpack and cooler. This is a backpack for the gadget lover, it features two main compartments, one for all your gear and a dedicated and entirely separate cooler compartment below featuring leakproof materials and secure zip fastening. The smart, urban design features padded shoulder straps for comfortable carrying and strong material all around.
The unique feature is found in the third compartment though, here you find the rechargeable Bluetooth 2.1 speaker system, providing up to 4 hours of music directly from your phone. With two full range speakers and an 8-watt subwoofer, the Bluetooth speakers connect to any Bluetooth phone, whether you have an iPad, iPhone or android device, they all work.
Yes, a backpack with a cooler and a speaker, you read that right!
All compartments are shock resistant to protect your tablet or other gear, and with a cooler compartment big enough to fit a six-pack in, it’s the perfect bag for a day at the beach.
TOURIT Insulated Cooler Backpack
The Tourit backpack takes another approach, and is perhaps the best of the all-in-one style backpack cooler options available. Made from extremely hard wearing, ventilated material outside to prevent sweaty-back problems when carrying, with thick, leak resistant insulated inner to keep everything cool. The nylon liner makes cleaning the inside of the bag easy, keeping it fresh and hygienic when on a picnic or any other use.
With a capacity of 25L, this bag does not use a separate cooling compartment, instead the whole bag is the cooler, with external pockets big enough to carry picnic plates or other essentials if you need. While this can seem restrictive, the bag is multi-use, and can be used as a normal bag when required, but when you need that cooling performance, its ability to keep food and drink cool for up to 11 hours will take some beating. If you don’t need the flexibility of multi-compartment bags, this high performance cooler is the perfect cooler rucksack.
An outstanding bag for taking on a hike, a picnic, taking kids to a zoo, whatever. The functionality is excellent. We find ourselves even using this bag when we don’t need to cool anything!
Backpack Cooler FAQs
Can you carry ice in the cooler of a backpack cooler?
Yes. It won’t keep terribly long, but you can pack ice for a few hours. Some coolers are design with a special compartment to keep the ice pack in its place.
How do you wash a backpack with a cooler?
You don’t machine wash. You will want to take a rag and warm, soapy water to wash out the compartments and seams. Then let it air dry. It definitely helps to clean it right after use. If you can let it dry in the sun, that does a great job of eliminating any odors that might accumulate from food….. but we know that it isn’t always feasible to dry things in the sun (especially if you are skiing).
Does this type of backpack cooler keep hot food warm in addition to cold?
Yes. Because the compartment is insulated, you can keep warm food warm and cold food cold. You just can’t do both at the same time. Keeping warm food warm assumes that it is warm when you put it in the bag. It isn’t a standalone oven…..
How long does something stay cool in a bag like this?
Probably 4 to 8 hours, depending on how cold it was when you put it in, and how warm the conditions are. While it is a huge step forward from an uninsulated backpack, you don’t get the same cooling duration that you would with a hardshell cooler.
What should I look for in a backpack cooler?
You obviously need to make sure that the size of the cooler compartment will work for your needs. Most are design to approximately carry a 12-pack (of something) or the equivalent amount of food. Beyond that, be sure that the zipper is strong and that the fabric and seams are tough. The most likely points of failure are the zippers and seams. Finally, if you have an opportunity to try the backpack on, but sure it is comfortable and has enough adjustability for your needs. You don’t need to spend a ton on a backpack — avoid brands that just charge you extra for their name.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.