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.
Hydro Flask Unbound 22L Review
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
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Hydro Flask Unbound 22L
|Price||$180.73 at REI|
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|$180.57 at Amazon||$299.99 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Handy pockets, backpack carry, durable, leakproof zipper||Very durable construction, excellent insulation, useful handles and features, comfortable shoulder strap||Extremely durable, easy to use, great insulation||Durable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensive||Lid opens fully for easy access, very stable, excellent insulation, comparatively very low cost|
|Cons||Not impressive insulation, tips over easily, very stiff, expensive||Zippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very large||Very expensive, awkward to carry when full for longer distances||Learning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pockets||Boxy 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%)|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|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|
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
— Maggie Brandenburg