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

Ice Mule Pro Review

This easy-to-carry option is a bit awkward when not fully packed and lacks some insulation.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $100 List | $89.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Relatively inexpensive for the whole package, extremely easy to carry when full
Cons:  Awkward if not fully packed, not as insulative as other coolers
Manufacturer:   IceMule
By Maggie Brandenburg & Andrew Schurr  ⋅  Mar 23, 2016
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 11
  • Insulation Value - 40% 6
  • Durability - 20% 7
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Portability - 20% 9

The Skinny

Getting out to where the adventure or the party is is what a soft cooler is all about. Pack-ability and portability are really what makes a soft cooler stand out. The Ice Mule Pro brings all these features together into one easily transported package. A spacious design with a wide-mouth roll-top opening makes the Ice Mule a breeze to fill with your favorite beverage and ice, and the backpack straps make carrying the load easy and comfortable.

Unlike most other coolers in this category such as the YETI Hopper Two 30, the Engel HD30, or the Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack Soft Cooler, the Mule Pro forgoes the usual bag style handles, and an over-the-shoulder strap for a padded and ventilated backpack setup. This all but eliminates the awkwardness of a long haul. During tests, our reviewers carted the Ice Mule on multi-mile hikes and out to remote climbing areas, and threw it in and out of a truck with ease. Through it, all the roll top stayed securely closed and our beverages wonderfully cold. The simple ease of use in a comfortable and affordable package has earned the Mule Pro a Top Pick Award for carrying long distances.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ice Mule Pro is the day tripper's dream. It couples sturdy construction with fantastic portability and easy to use features. If you are out for the day, or maybe even longer, this is an exceptional accessory for your adventure. The backpack setup, which was unique among our test coolers, allowed testers to embark on journeys that would have defeated other coolers. Just as at home on the trail, in the boat, or at the crag as it is in the park, at the beach or at the game, the Ice Mule is a great accessory. For the occasions that just don't suit a shoulder bag style cooler, and ones in which warm beer just won't do (which are most occasions, really) the Mule Pro is an easy and comfortable solution.

Performance Comparison


Brian Russell enjoys a cold one while out for a day climbing. The Ice Mule made it easy to carry beverages to the crag.
Brian Russell enjoys a cold one while out for a day climbing. The Ice Mule made it easy to carry beverages to the crag.

Insulation Value


The Mule Pro didn't hold ice as long as the seriously impressive Engel HD30 or Homitt 30 Cans, which lasted four full days maintaining ice-cold temperatures.


It did manage to maintain enough ice after 24 hours to keep testers' beers plenty cold and even held on to some ice after 48 hours in our head-to-head test. While not our top pick for insulation value by any means, it's by far the most comfortable cooler we tested to carry for long distances. On long days out exploring the desert, at least these things could be sure: the beers would be cold, and your back wouldn't be sore, or too sweaty, from carrying them.

The Ice Mule in action.
The Ice Mule in action.

Ease of Use


The backpack system provides one of the easiest to use soft coolers in the category.


While full, the Mule Pro was a breeze to carry and the padded shoulder straps and ventilated back panel made longer hikes comfortable and easy. We were initially nervous that carrying what amounted to a heavy rubber bag around would lead to some seriously sweaty backs. But thanks to the back panel design, we were pleasantly surprised. Truth be told, it was not much different than carrying a regular backpack. It handles weight well, providing testers with a full complement of beverages and lunch on long day hikes, and when empty, it rolls up or can be stuffed into a corner for simple storage.

the Ice Mule Pro's backpack straps and back panel.
the Ice Mule Pro's backpack straps and back panel.

Filling the Mule Pro was equally as easy. A wide mouth roll top provided exceptional access and made it easy to get all your ice and whatever else inside the cooler. It comes equipped with a screw vent air valve to allow you to squeeze extra air out to reduce carrying size and help to better secure loads, which is a convenient addition.

The Mule Pro air valve made it easy to keep the pack as low profile as the contents would allow.
The Mule Pro air valve made it easy to keep the pack as low profile as the contents would allow.

To top it off, even when throwing the Mule in and out of a truck with rough handling, if appropriately closed, leakage was not an issue.

Durability


At first glance, testers were a little worried about overall durability issues. The straps and the attachment points were of particular concern and were a potential point of weakness.


However, testers were consistently surprised by just how sturdy the Mule was. Constant hard wear and use didn't seem to faze it. Hard hikes, tossing it around, and even using it as a great backrest didn't bother the Mule.

The Mule Pro's backpack straps held up and were solid.
The Mule Pro's backpack straps held up and were solid.

Bouncing around in the back of a truck in the desert is enough to put anything, let alone a cooler, through its durability paces, but the Mule just kept on trucking and was none the worse for wear. It is a refreshing and easy product to use and outperformed our expectations, living up to its mule namesake.

Portability


The portability of the Mule is what makes it shine. In fact, time and time again the easy portability is what made it a favorite among our testers. When it's full, throw it on your back and go. When empty, it rolls up into a neat and small package.


The only drawback testers were able to find is that when not completely full. The Mule suffered a little in carrying comfort due to a scrunched back panel that pulled the straps to weird angles. This could be remedied by allowing more air to stay in the main body of the cooler rather than releasing it through the valve, but that made smaller, heavier loads a little more unruly.

Best Applications


Having a frosty beer at the top of your summit, in front of a secret, roaring waterfall, or in the back of a narrow slot canyon can make that magical moment that much more magical. The Mule Pro can help you get there! This soft cooler is by far the best cooler we tested for taking on long distance carries. Its backpack style make bringing a nice chilled lunch for halfway through the day that much more enjoyable than any over the shoulder or hand-carried cooler could - let alone cramming all that cheese and strawberries into your hot, sweaty backpack! If you're looking to carry your cooler for a long distance, we think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more fitting option than the Mule Pro.

Value


Price is another area in which the Mule shines. At a non-wallet busting $100, it falls right into a moderate price range. With models like the Editors' Choice, Engel HD30 running at $200, and the Yeti Hopper Two 30 coming in at a whopping $350, the affordability of the Mule Pro, coupled with the easy to use and carry design, is worth the loss in insulation. What you get is an easy and fun to use ice chest for a reasonable price. It's a win all around.


Conclusion


To be a Top Pick Winner, a product needs to excel for a specific application. With exceptional portability in backpack form, the Ice Mule Pro fits the bill. It is just as easily taken on long hikes or out to remote locations as it is heading down to the park. The true beauty is it allows you to keep your hands free but still carry everything you need cooler-wise, even if you plan to hike for over a mile rather than just move from car to picnic table. You won't find yourself needing to constantly switch shoulders or carrying arms due to fatigue, and you will enjoy all the ease a backpack brings. No longer will the long approach trail to the climbing crag, the secret swimming hole, the perfect campsite, or top tier of the stands at the game be a daunting climb with cold beers. When factored in with an amazingly affordable price tag, the Ice Mule Pro is a winning combination of user-friendly design, portability, durability, and insulating power for any of your soft cooler needs.

Through and through the Mule surprised testers and delighted them at the same time. It was so easy to use that it received the most extensive testing of any of the models. Throughout rigorous testing, the Mule didn't disappoint. It was thrown around, worn hard, filled, emptied, overfilled, and emptied again and it continued to perform. At the end of the day if you are looking for a durably utilitarian cooler that will help you get your cold beverages from point A to B, be that the crag, the beach, the campfire, or any other adventure destination, the Mule is your best bet. You may sacrifice a little insulation and have to replenish your ice a little bit more often, but what you lose there is easily made up for by just how easy it is to use. This is why the Mule Pro has earned the distinction as a Top Pick.



Maggie Brandenburg & Andrew Schurr