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IceMule Pro Review

A very different design than most, but by far our favorite to carry over long distances.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $115 List | $113.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Durable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensive
Cons:  Learning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pockets
Manufacturer:   IceMule
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 15, 2019
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 11
  • Insulation Value - 30% 6
  • Ease of Use - 25% 8
  • Portability - 25% 9
  • Durability - 20% 6

Our Verdict

Carrying your cooler far away from your car is no longer a chore with backpack coolers, and we think the IceMule Pro is the best one of the bunch. For three years in a row, this impressive model remains our Top Pick for Long Distance Carrying. Of all the backpack coolers we tested, this one is the most comfortable to carry when fully loaded. It has soft, wide shoulder straps and a ventilated back. Designed to use air as insulation, the IceMule is a much more flexible cooler than most, which helps it stay comfortable on your hike to your secret spot. Though its roll-top design and air filling have a bit of a learning curve, they offer a durable design with a decent capacity - like an insulated dry bag.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
IceMule Pro
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $113.95 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$181.96 at Amazon$249.99 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$86.95 at Amazon$79.95 at REI
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Pros Durable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensiveVery durable construction, excellent insulation, useful handles and features, comfortable shoulder strapExtremely durable, easy to use, great insulation, tons of handles, convenient sizeGood insulation, easy to use, simple design, convenient size, affordableComfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storage
Cons Learning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pocketsZippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very largeVery expensive, no extra pockets, flips upside down easilyFrustrating zipperZipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strap
Bottom Line A very different design than most, but by far our favorite to carry over long distances.If you’re looking for the best soft cooler on the market today, look no further than this outstanding model from Engel.The best performing personal-sized cooler around.Great durability and insulation power at a relatively low price.Though not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one pack.
Rating Categories IceMule Pro Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Flip 12 RTIC SoftPak 20 Cool Trail Split Pack
Insulation Value (30%)
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Specs IceMule Pro Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Flip 12 RTIC SoftPak 20 Cool Trail Split...
Carry Style Backpack Messenger Bag Lunchbox Lunchbox Backpack
Measured Weight (lb) 3.0 lb 5.9 lb 3.6 lb 3.0 lb 2.4 lb
Exterior Fabric Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon Abrasion-resistant fabric 840D double-sided thermoplastic urethane Thick nylon shell Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner
Closure Method Roll-top Zippered top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, dry storage cinch and clip
Handles and Straps Backpack straps, sternum strap Shoulder strap, carry handles Shoulder strap, top handle Shoulder strap, carry handle Backpack straps, carry handle, sternum strap
Additional Storage No; exterior shock cord panel Yes; 1 larger exterior zippered (meant to be waterproof but isn't) No; webbing attachment loops Yes; small exterior Yes; top half of pack, brain pocket, 2 mesh side pockets
Removable Liner? No No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The IceMule Pro is one of several backpack coolers we tested and the only model in this review with a roll-top closure rather than a zipper. It features 1,000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon with a 23L capacity.

Performance Comparison


The IceMule features. 1 000D ripstop fabric  welded seams  and an air valve for added insulation.
The IceMule features. 1,000D ripstop fabric, welded seams, and an air valve for added insulation.

Insulation Value


When it comes to insulation, the IceMule Pro isn't as impressive as some of the best insulators we tested, but it still performed decently. During our intensive insulation testing, the IceMule kept its contents under the FDA-approved 40º F for almost 40 hours, or 1.7 days. Which, if you're planning to head out for a hot day hike or even a single overnight in the desert, is plenty of time to keep your food and beverages on ice.


Compared to the other backpack coolers we tested, the IceMule Pro holds its own. The decently large inside compared to some other models, which does tend to cut down on the amount of time ice lasts. This bag also has a double layer of waterproof fabric sandwiching insulating foam and featuring an air valve to add and release air for additional insulation. IceMule claims that it is waterproof when you roll the top three times before clipping it. We were only able to achieve three full rolls with next to no insulating air in the cooler, and even then, a little water dripped out when we inverted the whole thing.

Three of the backpack coolers in our intensive insulation testing.
Three of the backpack coolers in our intensive insulation testing.

Ease of Use


At first, we found the IceMule to be a bit challenging to use. While the top opens easily and quite wide, the material starts very stiff and is difficult to roll appropriately. The more we used it though, the more the material softened up, and we got used to how it works. As a roll-top bag, it's a bit odd to load and unload when it's open because the roll top makes the cooler so much deeper than it looks when it's closed. But the cooler is wide and has a pretty good sized capacity of 23L, making it fairly straightforward to fit everything we needed along with ice inside.


This tall, roll-top design can't quite compete with the easy zippered, flip-top models we tested. However, it also will never need zipper lubricant for an overly sticky zipper, like many of those models do. Additionally, using air as an insulator means that when done with the IceMule Pro, you can roll it up and put it away - a fairly unique feature among options we tested. It even comes with a handy security strap precisely for that purpose. And while we appreciate the ability of the bungee cord on the front, most of the other options we tested have one or several pockets to store non-chilled items or other handy things like a bottle opener, silverware, or your keys. Having extra pockets like these would certainly make the IceMule even more pleasant to use.

We couldn't quite get the IceMule to be leakproof  but we still enjoy the ease of this roll-top design.
We couldn't quite get the IceMule to be leakproof, but we still enjoy the ease of this roll-top design.

Portability


This aspect is where the IceMule shines. While we do our best to factor in the weight of each cooler only as it relates to its usable capacity, the IceMule is the best of both worlds. Not only does it have a large capacity that can fill with tons of heavy drinks in glass bottles (if you so desire), but it's also one of the most comfortable coolers to carry of any we tested. Even among the numerous backpack models we tested, the IceMule shines brightly.


This drybag-style cooler has the longest torso of all the backpack models we tested. Combined with that air insulation and a more flexible shape, the IceMule Pro is quite rounded and more forgiving to carry up that summit. While the back panel provides a moderate amount of padding, covered in mesh to aid airflow, the shoulder straps are wide and soft and set far enough apart to fit most sizes of shoulders. For people with narrower shoulders, a sternum strap allows you to keep the shoulder straps exactly where you want them. In contrast, several of the other backpack models we tested have straps that are thick and stiff and trap heat against your back. Many also have shorter torsos with more rigid corners, which are far less comfortable against your back during a trek up a steep hill.

Wide straps  a ventilated back panel  a longer torso  and a flexible shape help make the IceMule our Top Pick for Long Distance Carrying.
Wide straps, a ventilated back panel, a longer torso, and a flexible shape help make the IceMule our Top Pick for Long Distance Carrying.

Durability


This pack is built to last. Made of 1,000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon with welded seams, the IceMule is one among the most intense-feeling coolers we tested. Not only does meltwater not soak into the inside lining of this cooler, but no water from the outside will soak in either. Even after sitting in a sizeable puddle at the bottom of a kayak for a full day, the IceMule took on no water.


We had no issues with the durability of the IceMule during our testing, despite all the shenanigans we put it through. However, we do have a few questions about the durability of the plastic clips, as they seem like the least beefed-up part of this bag. We also scoured the internet looking for issues others have had with this model, and a handful reported the buckle on the top failing and a few reported the integrity of the fabric that gets constantly rolled down was starting to fail after years of use. While we didn't personally experience either of these failures, we also couldn't get years' worth of use into just a few short months. In our experience, the IceMule is a solid piece of gear.

Even sitting in a puddle all day  it never took on any water.
Even sitting in a puddle all day, it never took on any water.

Value


Falling on the lower side of average price among coolers we tested, we think the IceMule Pro offers a great value for what you get. If you're not game for a backpack cooler, this one might not be enough to sway you. But if you want to be the hero of your next adventure climbing expedition, we think the price of this cooler is worth it.

Unlike most the other coolers in this review  the IceMule can be rolled up for storage when you're not using it.
Unlike most the other coolers in this review, the IceMule can be rolled up for storage when you're not using it.

Conclusion


The IceMule Pro is an excellent backpack cooler, and remains our Top Pick for Long Distance Carrying for the third year in a row. Its ability to hold a good amount of weight while remaining fairly comfortable to carry is unmatched by the competition. It features durable construction to last you a long time and without any zippers to get stuck, will never require zipper lubricant. Though it lacks additional pockets and we couldn't get it 100% leakproof, we continued to come back to this comfortable and handy cooler for all our long distance picnic destinations.

Just a girl and her dog - and a really useful cooler.
Just a girl and her dog - and a really useful cooler.


Maggie Brandenburg