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REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack Review

For carrying a jam-packed cooler full of heavy refreshments, there's no more comfortable option for taking weight off your shoulders than this
REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $100 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Superb support for heavy loads, external storage options, doubles as a backpack, useful size and shape
Cons:  Not watertight, unimpressive insulation, zipper catches on bag
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 10, 2021
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 15
  • Insulation Value - 30% 5
  • Ease of Use - 25% 6
  • Portability - 25% 9
  • Durability - 20% 5

Our Verdict

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.

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Pros Superb support for heavy loads, external storage options, doubles as a backpack, useful size and shapeDurable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensiveWatertight fabric and zipper, good insulation value, great size to capacity ratio, convenient top handle, great valueSimple and easy to use, decent insulation, folds flat for storage, duffel handlesComfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storage
Cons Not watertight, unimpressive insulation, zipper catches on bagLearning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pocketsNo external storage options, plastic D rings twist, doesn't come with zipper lubricantShoulder strap a little short, zipper and exterior fabric are not waterproof, less durable materialsZipper 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 thisThis backpack-style cooler is our favorite model to carry over longer distancesA watertight cooler that's convenient to use, with above-average insulation for a below-average priceA solid performer that's simple to use, easy to carry, and costs less than mostThough 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%)
5.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
4.0
Ease Of Use (25%)
6.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
Portability (25%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
9.0
Durability (20%)
5.0
6.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
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
23" max
9.5" 11" fully closed
12.5" max
11" flex
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

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.

Performance Comparison


The Trail pack is a full backpack cooler, with all the padding...
The Trail pack is a full backpack cooler, with all the padding, adjustability, and comfort you'd expect from your favorite backpack—including a weight-bearing hip belt, two load lifters, and a sternum strap.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Insulation Value


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).

The performance of backpack models in our insulation testing.
The performance of backpack models in our insulation testing.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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.

Impressively, the mesh side pockets have no problem holding a...
Impressively, the mesh side pockets have no problem holding a standard 1L Nalgene for the long hikes this cooler was made for.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Portability


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.

Though they may be overkill for lighter loads, when filled to the...
Though they may be overkill for lighter loads, when filled to the brim with delicious refreshments, we love the comfortable, weight-bearing waist belt of the REI Trail Pack.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


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.

We love that the entire cooler is removable from this backpack...
We love that the entire cooler is removable from this backpack, giving it a dual function. Though, we wish the cooler zippers wouldn't catch so easily on the backpack material.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

Visit far-away places without sacrificing heavy (but delicious)...
Visit far-away places without sacrificing heavy (but delicious) refreshments when you get there.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Maggie Brandenburg