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REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Review

Though not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one pack.
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Pros:  Comfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storage
Cons:  Zipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strap
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 15, 2019
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 11
  • Insulation Value - 30% 5
  • Ease of Use - 25% 9
  • Portability - 25% 9
  • Durability - 20% 5

Our Verdict

Some coolers will keep your bacon cold all weekend for the final morning's breakfast, and some will last for years of intensive abuse. And then there's the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack. What it lacks in durability and insulation prowess it makes up for by being an exceptionally convenient package for solo adventuring. With the cooler on the bottom and plenty of room on top for all your non-cooler-related items, this pack really lets you bring it all. It's a convenient setup with well-thought-out features that's also surprisingly comfortable to carry and is consistently our favorite option for any time we had a lot of dry goods as well as cooler provisions to bring along.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $79.95 at REI$186.93 at Amazon$249.99 at Backcountry
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$86.95 at Amazon$114.95 at REI
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Pros Comfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storageVery 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, affordableDurable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensive
Cons Zipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strapZippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very largeVery expensive, no extra pockets, flips upside down easilyFrustrating zipperLearning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pockets
Bottom Line Though not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one pack.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.A very different design than most, but by far our favorite to carry over long distances.
Rating Categories Cool Trail Split Pack Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Flip 12 RTIC SoftPak 20 IceMule Pro
Insulation Value (30%)
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Portability (25%)
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Specs Cool Trail Split... Engel HD30 YETI Hopper Flip 12 RTIC SoftPak 20 IceMule Pro
Carry Style Backpack Messenger Bag Lunchbox Lunchbox Backpack
Measured Weight (lb) 2.4 lb 5.9 lb 3.6 lb 3.0 lb 3.0 lb
Exterior Fabric Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner Abrasion-resistant fabric 840D double-sided thermoplastic urethane Thick nylon shell Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon
Closure Method Zippered flip top, dry storage cinch and clip Zippered top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, watertight zip Roll-top
Handles and Straps Backpack straps, carry handle, sternum strap Shoulder strap, carry handles Shoulder strap, top handle Shoulder strap, carry handle Backpack straps, sternum strap
Additional Storage Yes; top half of pack, brain pocket, 2 mesh side pockets Yes; 1 larger exterior zippered (meant to be waterproof but isn't) No; webbing attachment loops Yes; small exterior No; exterior shock cord panel
Removable Liner? No No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Cool Trail Split Pack is a half backpack, half cooler option that has comfortable backpack straps and a sternum strap. Its material is leakproof, but the zippers are not. The cooler section fits 12 cans plus ice, and the dry storage area on top easily holds trail accessories like an extra layer, a first aid kit, snacks, a camera, etc.

Performance Comparison


This half-backpack-half-cooler is built with the solo adventurer in mind.
This half-backpack-half-cooler is built with the solo adventurer in mind.

Insulation Value


Probably the least impressive part of the Split Pack is its insulation testing performance. Where some of its competitors lasted over four days holding food-safe temperatures of 40°F or less, this one made it just 32 hours in our hot room before rising to unsafe food temps. Another five hours after that (37 hours total), it surpassed the average "cold beer" temperature of 50°F. This isn't totally surprising, given its lightweight PE foam insulation that's merely 10mm thick. However, given that its intended usage is for a single day of adventuring, we think it's more than adequate to do the job at hand.

Our insulation testing results from the backpack-style models in our review.
Our insulation testing results from the backpack-style models in our review.

Importantly, while the inner PEVA lining is leakproof and holds ice long after it's turned to water, the zipper is not. So while you're carrying it, it will stay nice and dry, but if you tip it on its side to say or slide it under your seat as you travel, it will leak.

While it doesn't provide the most insulation  the REI Split Pack's insulated cooler section can be removed  which we found more useful than expected.
While it doesn't provide the most insulation, the REI Split Pack's insulated cooler section can be removed, which we found more useful than expected.

Ease of Use


REI really thought things through when it comes to the usability of this multi-function pack. Not only is the half-and-half design convenient for truly bringing all you might need for a full solo day in the backcountry or at the park, but there are also plenty of features to make it even handier. Two large, mesh side pockets can hold the beverage you're currently consuming or become excellent trash collectors. The top dry section is large enough to easily hold all your ten essentials while the over-the-top flap is a large, easy-access pocket for stuff you might need to use en route. Front lash straps make it easy to attach additional items and don't have to be messed with to gain access to the cooler or dry storage.

The top half of this cooler backpack handles your dry goods.

The cooler section itself can also be completely removed from the pack, so you could put it in your fridge or freezer the night before if you're feeling really prepared (pre-cooling a cooler is a great way to extend the lifespan of your cooler's ice). While it's in the pack, it's accessed by both its regular zipper and an additional zipper on the outside of the pack, hidden under a cover flap. This double zipper system pretty much guarantees you'll need to set down the whole thing to rummage around in the cooler, but also adds an extra layer of protection to your chilled goods. The lid of the cooler also velcros to the underside of its compartment within the pack to keep it all opening and closing together while in use. Because the pack splits in half to reach the cooler, a full dry storage compartment counterbalances the open bag, stopping it from tipping over like so many other backpack models tend to do. And though this cooler isn't particularly large, with capacity enough for 12 regular-sized cans plus ice, we think it's plenty large enough for 1-2 people on a day's worth of adventuring.


Portability


Another easy A for the Split Pack! Not only is it more convenient because it's a backpack, but it's also actually comfortable to carry. The shoulder straps are wide and pliable, offering both support and comfort. The pack alone is a featherlight 2.4 lbs, so you're not carrying much more weight than the actual items you're putting in this bag. Though it (like the vast majority of backpack coolers) lacks a waistbelt, we didn't find ourselves too upset about it even when it was packed full on a long slog up a canyon - though we did manage to soak the back padding with sweat! The shoulder straps are a bit on the wide side for some narrower shoulders, but the sternum strap helps to correct that. Of all the backpack coolers we tested, this is one of our favorites when it comes to actually being able to carry it - fully loaded - for long distances.

Soft  comfortable shoulder straps and a shape that has more give than a lot of other boxy backpack coolers make it no problem to carry this bag for long distances - even without a hip belt.
Soft, comfortable shoulder straps and a shape that has more give than a lot of other boxy backpack coolers make it no problem to carry this bag for long distances - even without a hip belt.

Durability


This is one other area in which the design of the Trail Split struck a compromise that's perhaps not the same deal other coolers have made. While it's made of recycled ripstop nylon with a polyester interior (and all eco-friendly, bluesign® compliant), it's just not living up to some of the super-intense, beefy models that can take some hardcore abuse. It does have pretty solid construction for what it is, but cut down on weight and added extra comfort by using less intensively durable materials. We don't think that trade-off is a terrible thing for what you get, though we would like to see a beefier bottom that is better able to withstand being set down on whatever picnic surface you choose. Additionally, the sternum strap slides a little too easily for our taste, and can actually come off its rail, which it's not supposed to do. While we didn't lose ours, we read several other reports from users saying one half or the other accidentally fell off somewhere along the trail. Bummer.

Unfortunately  the ripstop nylon exterior of the Split Pack just doesn't offer the same durability as many other coolers we tested.
Unfortunately, the ripstop nylon exterior of the Split Pack just doesn't offer the same durability as many other coolers we tested.

Value


Considering that this pack is both a cooler AND a daypack, we think it's a pretty exceptional value. If you're after a super insulative cooler or an amazing daypack, this is neither of those. But if you love striking a middle ground and having one awesomely useful piece of gear, this is your jam. For a pretty low price compared to most of the competition, you don't have to sacrifice bringing cold beverages and food OR an extra layer and a book to read on your adventures.

Though this thin cooler didn't do amazingly in our insulation torture testing  its plenty for a single day's worth of exploring in the woods.
Though this thin cooler didn't do amazingly in our insulation torture testing, its plenty for a single day's worth of exploring in the woods.

Conclusion


Though it doesn't win an award this time around, we think the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack is an extremely useful piece of equipment. It does the hard job of merging a cooler and a daypack into this wonderful little bag that won't break the bank. It's not the most rugged, nor does it have the longest-lasting ice, but for bringing along those dry goods on your adventure, it's hard to beat this bag.

Adventure confidently with this super useful backpack cooler from REI.
Adventure confidently with this super useful backpack cooler from REI.


Maggie Brandenburg