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.
IceMule Pro Review
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Maggie Brandenburg