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Maelstrom Backpack 35 Review

This soft cooler is equipped with thoughtful storage options and comfortable straps, all while keeping your wallet happy
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Maelstrom Backpack 35 Review
Credit: Abriah Wofford
Price:  $40 List
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Manufacturer:   Maelstrom
By Genaveve Bradshaw and Rebecca Glades  ⋅  Sep 22, 2023

#17 of 19
  • Insulation - 30% 4.3
  • Convenience - 25% 6.6
  • Portability - 25% 5.9
  • Packability - 10% 9.4
  • Durability - 10% 4.0

Our Verdict

With pockets-galore and many great features, the Maelstrom Backpack 35 earns its a spot as one of our top budget soft coolers. This wallet-friendly soft cooler is a convenient option for casual goers with plenty to pack. Though it's not the most durable option in our lineup, it performs on par with other backpack styles in this selection. Its insulation performance makes this a great option for a picnic at the park on a sunny day — plus it folds up nicely for easy storage.
Plenty of storage options
Comfortable to carry
Lacks durability
Average insulation performance
Not waterproof

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Bottom Line A budget-friendly soft cooler that has plenty of storage, comfy straps, and decent insulation performanceThis budget-friendly cooler lacks a zipped top, yet keeps its contents fresh among the restThis soft cooler has the lowest price tag of the soft coolers we've tested. While it isn't going to give you everything you need, it'll get the job done for quick and easy tripsAn eco-friendly option that is ideal for conscious adventurersA handy model that won't stop meltwater leakage but is a useful and comfortable solution for infrequent and casual use
Rating Categories Maelstrom Backpack 35 Arctic Zone Titan D... Lifewit Large Insul... CleverMade Pacifica... REI Co-op Pack-Away 24
Insulation (30%)
Convenience (25%)
Portability (25%)
Packability (10%)
Durability (10%)
Specs Maelstrom Backpack 35 Arctic Zone Titan D... Lifewit Large Insul... CleverMade Pacifica... REI Co-op Pack-Away 24
Measured Capacity in Cans 36 cans 30 cans 24 cans 38 cans 44 cans
Measured Capacity 20.0 L 19.4 L 13.2 L 18.5 L 27.6 L
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 1.8 2.1 1.6 1.9 2.2
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.0 2.3 1.8 2.1 2.3
Carry Style Pack Lunchbox Lunchbox Lunchbox Pack
Can a standard sized wine bottle fit? Yes Yes Yes, but can only fit small bottles horizontally Yes, but only horizontally Yes
Measured Dimensions L x W x H 13.3" x 8.3" x 18.4" 15.1" x 11.3" x 12.1" 10" x 6.7" x 8.3" 16" x 9.8" x 13" 24" x 9" 18"
Measured Weight 2.4 lbs 3.6 lbs 0.8 Ibs 1.7 Ibs 1.5 lbs
Closure Method Zipper Zipperless Zipper Zipper Zipper
Available in Different Sizes? No Yes Yes Yes No
Exterior Fabric High-density insulation material Polyester Ripstop Oxford fabric with PU coating Recycled polyester Recycled polyester shell and abrasion-resistant recycled nylon bottom
Additional Storage Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removable Liner? No Yes No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Maelstrom Backpack 35 looks and functions much like a traditional day bag. However, its main compartment is an insulated cooler. Its exterior is jam-packed with many pockets, pouches, and clipping points. Meanwhile, the lightweight backpack functionality keeps it convenient to throw on for the day ahead.

Performance Comparison

Functioning much like a traditional backpack, the Maelstrom 35 is well-equipped for a picnic, beach day, or keeping your perishables cool on the way home from the grocery store.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


When testing insulation performance, we packed each cooler in the lineup halfway with ice. Nuzzled within the ice was a mason jar holding a small device that logs the temperature inside of each cooler. We let the coolers sit for 10 days in a temperature-controlled room, not touching them once. We noted the exact time it took for each cooler to reach two specific temperatures, 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Maelstrom falls just about average among backpack-style coolers.

The Maelstrom 35 lasted roughly 43 hours under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the FDA-recommended food-safe temperature. Of course, we tested for the ideal beer-drinking temperature too, which is up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The backpack lasted slightly longer at 48 hours within this threshold. For a day trip, this cooler will be more than enough to keep your perishables cold. It's worth noting that darker colors will absorb more heat, though this backpack is available in multiple colors. If you're trying to maximize the cooler's power, consider choosing one of the lighter-colored options. Likewise, prechilling the entire cooler can add to its cool temperature longevity, though we didn't bother with this as most people don't typically pre-chill their coolers in the refrigerator.

maelstrom backpack 35 - the maelstrom landed just about average among other backpack-style...
The Maelstrom landed just about average among other backpack-style coolers, as shown in this chart of insulation results.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw


The Maelstrom Backpack is a fairly simple option in our lineup. It opens by a zip-lid top that exposes its easy-access main compartment. The lid stays open during the entire loading and unloading process, so there's no need to worry about it closing on your hand mid-grab. The bag itself has minimal structure, making it easy to store when not in use. Though, this also means it can be a bit flimsy during the initial loading phase.

When it comes to cleaning, the Maelstrom isn't the most straightforward. The interior fabric has bunched-up areas that are difficult to wipe down and dry. The exterior also gets somewhat soggy when exposed to the wet cleaning rag. All in all, the easy access design and small footprint make this a decently convenient option out of our soft cooler lineup.

maelstrom backpack 35 - the zip-top lid of the maelstrom flips open for easy access to all...
The zip-top lid of the Maelstrom flips open for easy access to all the backpacks contents.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


Being a backpack-style cooler, the Maelstrom is an easy option for short or long-distance outings. The shoulder straps are padded and fully adjustable. Along with this are a lightly padded back panel, carry handle, and chest strap. The carry handle, located between the shoulder straps, is a nice touch as it makes lifting easier. Though it's not the most comfortable lifting handle, it's still better than not including it at all. It also doubles as a point to hang the bag from, for example, keeping it off the locker room floor at public pools.

The back padding of the bag has alternating panels of mesh in commonly sweaty places like the lower back and shoulders. The entire back panel is soft, lightly cushioned, and susceptible to clumping. When packed full, we had no trouble with the padding. However, when lightly packed, the back tends to bunch up. Considering how easy it is to throw on this bag, along with the many packing options it's equipped with, we find these minor inconveniences to be worth overlooking. Overall, it's fairly comfortable to wear around, and it has the added benefit that your hands can stay free.

The Maelstrom is easy to throw on and get moving to the next destination.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


The Maelstrom Backpack 35 is equipped to carry much more than a few perishable items. Within this 20 L pack, 36 cans plus ice comfortably fit. Roughly three cans deep, an upright wine bottle can also be carried to your picnic, as well as many other odd-shaped foods and goodies. The cooler is soft and wide enough that it's easy to rummage around and get any lingering can from the bottom. Plus, its lid has an interior mesh pocket for smaller items that are best separated from direct ice.

The exterior of the pack boasts many excellent storage options. The lid has a small, low-profile zipped pocket that would be a great place to store a phone while walking. The front of the bag has a large zipped pocket that could easily hold utensils and small plates. Outside of this pocket is a bungee cord for a light layer or towel. Each side of the cooler also features large mesh water bottle pockets, though these are big enough to hold onto a small book or jacket.

maelstrom backpack 35 - the main pocket of the maelstrom backpack is the insulated cooler...
The main pocket of the Maelstrom Backpack is the insulated cooler, capable of carrying various perishables and goodies.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Five small gear loops are sewn into the exterior of the backpack. Here, you could clip on keys or a travel mug. Among the most unique features we've seen is the Maelstrom's hidden zipper pocket. This pocket is located along the lower mesh portion of the back panel. This is a stealthy way to keep your wallet, keys, or phone out of sight. And, just in case you forgot your bottle opener, the backpack includes one attached to the shoulder strap.

maelstrom backpack 35 - within the back panel of the maelstrom is a hidden zipper pocket.
Within the back panel of the Maelstrom is a hidden zipper pocket.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


To test the longevity of these soft coolers, we thoroughly inspect the market for what real-life users had to say. Additionally, we look for any signs of damage throughout our lengthy testing. Throughout this process, we read many complaints about the cooler leaking. Within our own tests, we found this to be true. The main zipper is not watertight and susceptible to damage. When upright, we had no troubles with leaks. Though, we wouldn't want this to rest on its side for very long.

The second major portion of our durability tests was creating a soak test to test the soft coolers' water resistance. We filled large tubs with water and let each model soak for hours. When we returned, we inspected the inside for any water that made its way in, and we looked at the outside for dampness. As far as the Maelstrom goes, the exterior was completely soaked after its long bath. Meanwhile, the inside was only slightly damp. Some beads of water managed to creep their way in, but this isn't too terrible for the length of time it was left underwater. That's why we think this cooler is best for smaller trips from the grocery store or to the park.

maelstrom backpack 35 - the maelstrom has plenty of storage options, including mesh side...
The Maelstrom has plenty of storage options, including mesh side pouches, a bungee cord, and variously sized zip pockets.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Should You Buy the Maelstrom Backpack 35?

The Maelstrom Backpack is a highly functional bag with many great features to love. Primarily, it has enough pockets to hold onto whatever the day brings. Though it's not the most durable option out there, it's available at an accessible price point. For casual users with versatile plans, you can't go wrong with this backpack-style soft cooler.

maelstrom backpack 35 - the maelstrom has plenty of great features, including a bottle...
The Maelstrom has plenty of great features, including a bottle opener on the shoulder strap.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

What Other Soft Coolers Should You Consider?

One of the best-performing models in our lineup is the AO Cooler. Simple and straightforward, its insulated compartment keeps its contents cool longer than most.

maelstrom backpack 35 - with its many storage options and overall convenience, the maelstrom...
With its many storage options and overall convenience, the Maelstrom is a great option to take on your next picnic.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Genaveve Bradshaw and Rebecca Glades