The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack emphasizes a truly backpack-style carrying experience. When you plan to bring a full cooler of delicious refreshments over a long distance, we've never used a more comfortable option. A padded waist belt redistributes weight off of your shoulders to pack on those miles, while external pockets help you bring along picnic accouterments. However, this model doesn't pack the most impressive insulation for keeping food fresh and it's not completely leakproof. If you don't need it filled to the brim, its boxy shape isn't our favorite and we find it awkward to use without the waistbelt clipped. But for long distances and heavy loads, this is the most comfortable option we've tried.Editor's Note: This review was revised on April 21, 2022 with info on the updated version of the REI Cool Trail Pack.
REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Review
Cons: Not watertight, unimpressive insulation, zipper catches on bag
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack
$99.95 at REI
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|Pros||Superb support for heavy loads, external storage options, doubles as a backpack, useful size and shape||Durable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensive||Watertight fabric and zipper, good insulation value, great size to capacity ratio, convenient top handle, great value||Simple and easy to use, decent insulation, folds flat for storage, duffel handles||Comfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storage|
|Cons||Not watertight, unimpressive insulation, zipper catches on bag||Learning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pockets||No external storage options, plastic D rings twist, doesn't come with zipper lubricant||Shoulder strap a little short, zipper and exterior fabric are not waterproof, less durable materials||Zipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strap|
|Bottom Line||For carrying a jam-packed cooler full of heavy refreshments, there's no more comfortable option for taking weight off your shoulders than this||This backpack-style cooler is our favorite model to carry over longer distances||A watertight cooler that's convenient to use, with above-average insulation for a below-average price||A solid performer that's simple to use, easy to carry, and costs less than most||Though not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one pack|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||IceMule Pro||Igloo Reactor Porta...||AO Coolers 24 Pack...||REI Co-op Cool Trai...|
|Insulation Value (30%)|
|Ease of Use (25%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||IceMule Pro||Igloo Reactor Porta...||AO Coolers 24 Pack...||REI Co-op Cool Trai...|
|Measured Capacity (qt)||22 qt||25 qt||26.5 qt||24 qt||13 qt|
|Measured Capacity (cans with no ice)||32 cans||39 cans||30 cans||39 cans||16 cans|
|Carry Style||Backpack||Backpack||Messenger Bag||Duffel Bag||Backpack|
|Internal Maximum Height (in)||19"||17" fully closed
|9.5"||11" fully closed
|Fits Standard Wine Bottle Standing Upright?||Yes||Yes||No - will fit on side||Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain||Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain|
|Shelf Life of Food (Measured Hours Below 40ºF)||9 hr||52 hr||51 hr||55 hr||32 hr|
|Days of Cold Beverages (Measured Hours Below 50ºF)||59 hr||55 hr||54 hr||63 hr||37 hr|
|Measured Weight (lb)||3.3 lb||3.0 lb||3.1 lb||2.7 lb||2.4 lb|
|Exterior Fabric||Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner||Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon||Unspecified water resistant polyester exterior, nylon interior||1000 x 1300D heavy duty polyester with vinyl coating||Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner|
|Closure Method||Zippered top, drawstring bag, clip straps||Roll-top||Zippered flip top, watertight zip||Zippered top||Zippered flip top, dry storage cinch and clip|
|Handles and Straps||Backpack straps, sternum strap, hip belt||Backpack straps, sternum strap||Shoulder strap, end handles, top handle||Shoulder strap, duffel handles||Backpack straps, top handle, sternum strap|
|Additional Storage||Yes; 2 medium zippered side pockets each with additional slip pocket, zippered pocket on top flap||No; exterior shock cord panel||No||Yes; 1 very large zippered exterior pocket||Yes; top half of pack, brain pocket, 2 mesh side pockets|
|Removable Liner?||Yes; cooler comes out of backpack||No||No||No||No|
Our Analysis and Test Results
REI released an updated version of the Cool Trail Pack since our test cycle ended. The new version (shown above on the right) is very similar but has a slightly lower gear capacity (30.5 liters vs. 38 liters with the previous pack). Despite this, both coolers claim to hold 20 cans and 10 lbs of ice. The new fabric is ripstop nylon and has some bluesign approved materials.
The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack is a backpack-style cooler with a removable cooler component, two padded shoulder straps, a padded waist belt, an accompanying sternum strap, load lifters, and a top loop. It also features numerous external zippered pockets, slip pockets, and a zippered compartment in the brain.
While there are many things we like about the REI Trail Pack, its insulation value isn't where it impresses us. It only managed 9 hours below the food-safe threshold of 40° F during our intensive testing. To its credit, it hovered right around 40° for a long time, but when it comes to food safety, we're not sure "almost" is good enough. However, if you're more in the market for carrying out cold beverages when you and your buddies hit the trail, the Trail Pack maintained refreshing sub 50° F temps for 59 hours — well over 2 days. This isn't too shabby for a cooler that's not waterproof (the zipper is just a regular zipper).
Ease of Use
If a backpacker-focused soft cooler is what you're after, the Trail Pack is a pretty easy to use and easy to love model. It's relatively straightforward, with regular zippers and no waterproof ones that are difficult to use. The interior cooler section is a separate piece that can be pulled completely out — to pre-chill or clean it, or skip it altogether and use the backpack as a non-cooler backpack. It has two zippered side pockets that each have an additional stretchy mesh pocket that can easily fit a standard 1L Nalgene bottle. All the zips, clips, buckles, and drawstrings work very well, though the cooler zipper can get stuck on the fabric of the backpack itself. Aside from that semi-present detail, its only real downfall is that it's almost a bit awkward to not use all the straps — including the waistbelt. Even if you don't want to clip it for short distances, it's thickly padded and we found ourselves needing to pull it out from behind our hips every time to keep it comfortable.
If you're a fan of the chillest of chilled drinks to have at the top of a summit or next to a distant waterfall, there's no better backpack cooler we've tested to get you there in comfort. Empty, the Trail Pack weighs just 3.3 pounds; lightweight for its capacity. It features fully padded shoulder straps and a waistbelt that conform easily to your body, just like your favorite backpack. These are a huge step up from the thinner, more rigid shoulder straps and webbing-only hip belts (or non-existent hip belts!) of so many competitors we've tested. While all these straps can be overkill for short walks and quick jaunts, when the trail is long and hot, the Trail Pack is the cooler we reach for to take along.
Up against far thicker and much more water-resistant coolers, the Trail Pack's recycled ripstop exterior isn't all that impressive. It does have a thicker patch helping add resistance to the bottom of the pack, but it still feels more like a backpack than a heavy-duty cooler, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We read a lot of online complaints about the zipper leaking, which makes sense, as it's not a waterproof zipper. We also have some small worries about the cooler zipper catching so often on the bag exterior, though it didn't present any problems (other than annoyance) during our testing.
For ice-cold beers while hiking with friends, this moderately-priced and ultra-comfortable backpack cooler is a pretty good bargain. If you don't need to go that far and want better insulation control, there are other backpack coolers we've tested that we like better for shorter distances.
The REI Trail Pack is a very comfortable choice to carry fully stocked for long distances. It doesn't have very impressive insulation and isn't made of the most durable materials, but it excels at turning a super heavy load into a manageable pack when you need a long-distance cooler companion.
— Maggie Nichols
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