The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Hydro Flask Unbound 22L Review

A mediocre performance for a high-end price.
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Price:  $275 List | $180.73 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Handy pockets, backpack carry, durable, leakproof zipper
Cons:  Not impressive insulation, tips over easily, very stiff, expensive
Manufacturer:   Hydro Flask
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 20, 2019
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66
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 12
  • Insulation Value - 30% 5
  • Ease of Use - 25% 6
  • Portability - 25% 8
  • Durability - 20% 8

Our Verdict

The Hydro Flask Unbound 22L is a stylish backpack cooler with some helpful features, but relatively unimpressive insulation. It has extra pockets and a chic design that we like, but it tips over quite easily, is very stiff for carrying, and the back padding is a sweat-collection trap. Though it's quite durable, the insulation and the carrying experience don't live up to the competition. The IceMule Pro is a far more comfortable cooler to carry, and won our Top Pick for Long Distance Carrying Award.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $180.73 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$199.99 at Amazon$299.99 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$99.95 at Amazon$117.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Handy pockets, backpack carry, durable, leakproof zipperVery durable construction, excellent insulation, useful handles and features, comfortable shoulder strapExtremely durable, easy to use, great insulationDurable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensiveLid opens fully for easy access, very stable, excellent insulation, comparatively very low cost
Cons Not impressive insulation, tips over easily, very stiff, expensiveZippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very largeVery expensive, awkward to carry when full for longer distancesLearning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pocketsBoxy construction is less comfortable to carry, zipper is very hard to pull
Bottom Line A mediocre performance for a high-end price.If you’re looking for the best soft cooler on the market today, look no further than this outstanding model from Engel.If you're ready to step up your cooler game and you're willing to shell out the money required, this is a good choice.A very different design than most, but by far our favorite to carry over long distances.If you’re on the prowl for a cooler that will keep your drinks cold for days and not clean out your bank account, you’ve found a winner!
Rating Categories Hydro Flask Unbound 22L Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Two 30 IceMule Pro Homitt 30 Can
Insulation Value (30%)
10
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5
10
0
9
10
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8
10
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6
10
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9
Ease Of Use (25%)
10
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6
10
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9
10
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9
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7
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7
Portability (25%)
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8
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6
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9
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6
Durability (20%)
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7
Specs Hydro Flask... Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Two 30 IceMule Pro Homitt 30 Can
Style Backpack Shoulder Bag Shoulder Bag Backpack Shoulder Bag
Capacity 24 cans 48 cans 24 cans 24 cans 40 cans
Measured Weight (lbs) 3.1 lbs 5.9 lbs 5.3 lbs 3 lbs 4 lbs
Exterior Fabric 420D nylon Abrasion-resistant fabric YETI "DRYHIDE" heavy duty rubber Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon 840D TPU
Handle/Strap Design Padded mesh backpack strap Carry handles and shoulder strap Carry strap and shoulder strap Ventilated backpack strap Carry strap and shoulder strap
Backpack Carry? Yes No No Yes No
Other Pockets? Yes, 2 small exterior; one mesh and one zip; 1 large zip pocket on lid Yes, 1 larger exterior zippered (meant to be waterproof but isn't) No No; exterior shock cord panel Yes, 2 small exterior; one mesh, one waterproof zip
Removable Liner? No No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Hydro Flask Unbound 22L is a waterproof backpack cooler with a 420D nylon shell and welded seams. It features thick back padding and stiff, upright design.

Performance Comparison


The three backpack coolers we tested  from left to right: Ice Mule Pro  Igloo Outdoorsman Gizmo  Hydro Flask Unbound.
The three backpack coolers we tested, from left to right: Ice Mule Pro, Igloo Outdoorsman Gizmo, Hydro Flask Unbound.

Insulation Value


The Hydro Flask Unbound has thick insulation and a watertight zipper, like many other models we tested. Unfortunately, this cooler still had an unimpressive insulation performance. The Unbound retained just 1.5 days of FDA-recommended food safe temperatures, and even that was sketchy. The actual internal temperature fluctuated above and below 40º F during those 36 hours before finally crossing that threshold for the last time. For this reason, we wouldn't recommend keeping items that have to be kept cold in this cooler (like raw meats), but it still works for beers and sandwiches and things that taste better on ice. While we aren't impressed by the insulation of this pack, it does have a leakproof zipper, provided you remember to close it fully.

The Hydro Flask did not perform well in our insulation testing  hovering on both sides of 40 degrees Fahrenheit  the FDA safe food temperature.
The Hydro Flask did not perform well in our insulation testing, hovering on both sides of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the FDA safe food temperature.

Ease of Use


The Hydro Flask has three extra pockets that make it fairly nice to use. One on each side of the body (one zippered and one open top) and a large one comprising the inside of the lid, but accessible from the back of the pack. The lid pocket is quite large, though the zipper opening is rather small, making for a tight squeeze to get items in and out. Like many of the watertight zippers we tested, the Hydro Flask main zipper is a bit challenging to use. It's a bit tough to pull and goes around all four corners, adding to the challenge. A bit of zipper lubricant goes a long way, but you'll pay extra for that. Loading this cooler isn't bad once it's broken in enough that the lid stays open on its own. The Unbound's tall, thin design makes it a tipping hazard both during loading and anytime you set it down.

The top pocket is hard to get in and out of  due to this too short zipper.
The top pocket is hard to get in and out of, due to this too short zipper.

Portability


This backpack cooler makes carting your picnic around much more pleasant than a messenger-style cooler. That said, we tested three backpack coolers, and this one isn't our favorite - that goes to the IceMule Pro, our Top Pick for carrying your cold goods long distances. While the Hydro Flask has thickly padded back panel and shoulder straps, the shoulder straps are rather close together for individuals with broader shoulders and the back panel is a sweat trap on hot days. Additionally, this is the most rigid of the backpack coolers, and combined with a fairly short torso length, means you can feel the bottom edge of the cooler bumping uncomfortably on your lower back. We do appreciate the utility of the removable sternum strap though, and will gladly take a loaded down backpack cooler over a single-sided carry any day.

This full back panel quickly became full of sweat.
This full back panel quickly became full of sweat.

Durability


This cooler is built to last. With a 420D nylon shell that's puncture, tear, and abrasion-resistant and welded seams to boot, the Unbound feels solid and sturdy. All seams are well constructed, and even the plastic pieces seem to be good quality. We did have a bit of a funk going on inside this cooler at first from a spilled container of food. But once the lid was broken in and would stay open on its own, the smell dissipated easily. Even the zipper pulls are hardy and withstood all the yanking and tugging we gave them. Hydro Flask also backs this cooler with a solid five-year manufacturer's warranty.

The Hydro Flask Unbound withstood being dragged in the sand and sitting in a wet kayak for hours on end.
The Hydro Flask Unbound withstood being dragged in the sand and sitting in a wet kayak for hours on end.

Best Applications


Not as impressive as the other backpack models we tested, we think the Hydro Flask is still a decent cooler to carry around. It has a more compact shape that might be just what fits in between the seats in your van, and some useful pockets for those who love to stay organized. And we think it looks pretty cool. If those sound like things that are valuable to you, then this might be the cooler for you. For a better carrying experience, we recommend the IceMule Pro, with a more comfortable shape and design for hiking long distances.

Ice packs last longer than ice  take up much less space  and help keep your cooler cleaner.

Value


Retailing for $275, this is one of the most expensive coolers in this review. For that price, we expected more than the unimpressive insulation, not ideal backpack comfort, and awkwardly tippy shape and hard to use pockets we found. Unless you're head over heels for the look of this backpack, we think there are far better deals out there.

Conclusion


With a big name and a big price tag, we were expecting to like this backpack cooler more than we do. It's not a bad cooler - we enjoy the handy side pockets, the durable construction and leakproof zipper, and the useful backpack carry. But for the exceptionally high price, we expected better performance than it gives.

This shape is not our favorite to carry on long hikes.
This shape is not our favorite to carry on long hikes.


Maggie Brandenburg