REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack Review
Cons: Zipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strap
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack
$79.95 at REI
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$110.00 at REI
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$49.95 at REI
|Pros||Comfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storage||Simple and easy to use, decent insulation, folds flat for storage, duffel handles||Soft cooler body, good pockets and features, comfortable shoulder strap||Superb support for heavy loads, external storage options, doubles as a backpack, useful size and shape||Flexible body is comfortable and convenient, folds flat, external pocket is large, easy to use, very lightweight|
|Cons||Zipper not leakproof, thin insulation, less durable, loose sternum strap||Shoulder strap a little short, zipper and exterior fabric are not waterproof, less durable materials||Exterior and zipper not waterproof||Not watertight, unimpressive insulation, zipper catches on bag||Leaks easily, smaller than expected, unimpressive insulation|
|Bottom Line||Though not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one pack||A solid performer that's simple to use, easy to carry, and costs less than most||A solid combination of usability, decent insulation, and a reasonable capacity||For carrying a jam-packed cooler full of heavy refreshments, there's no more comfortable option for taking weight off your shoulders than this||An easily stored cooler that leaks readily but is comfortable and useful enough to be a good solution for casual and infrequent usage|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||AO Coolers 24 Pack...||REI Co-op Cool Haul 18||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||REI Co-op Pack-Away 24|
|Insulation Value (30%)|
|Ease of Use (25%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||AO Coolers 24 Pack...||REI Co-op Cool Haul 18||REI Co-op Cool Trai...||REI Co-op Pack-Away 24|
|Measured Capacity (qt)||13 qt||24 qt||18 qt||22 qt||19.5 qt (cube)
34 qt (flat)
|Measured Capacity (cans with no ice)||16 cans||39 cans||28 cans||32 cans||32 cans (cube)
50 cans (flat)
|Carry Style||Backpack||Duffel Bag||Messenger Bag||Backpack||Messenger Bag|
|Internal Maximum Height (in)||11" flex||11" fully closed
|Fits Standard Wine Bottle Standing Upright?||Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain||Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Shelf Life of Food (Measured Hours Below 40ºF)||32 hr||55 hr||61 hr||9 hr||26 hr|
|Days of Cold Beverages (Measured Hours Below 50ºF)||37 hr||63 hr||75 hr||59 hr||32 hr|
|Measured Weight (lb)||2.4 lb||2.7 lb||4.3 lb||3.3 lb||1.6 lb|
|Exterior Fabric||Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner||1000 x 1300D heavy duty polyester with vinyl coating||Ripstop nylon, polyester shell||Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner||Polyester|
|Closure Method||Zippered flip top, dry storage cinch and clip||Zippered top||Zippered flip top||Zippered top, drawstring bag, clip straps||Zippered top|
|Handles and Straps||Backpack straps, top handle, sternum strap||Shoulder strap, duffel handles||Shoulder strap, end carry handles||Backpack straps, sternum strap, hip belt||Shoulder strap, duffel handles|
|Additional Storage||Yes; top half of pack, brain pocket, 2 mesh side pockets||Yes; 1 very large zippered exterior pocket||Yes; 2 slip exterior, 1 internal zip, webbing attachment loops||Yes; 2 medium zippered side pockets each with additional slip pocket, zippered pocket on top flap||Yes; 1 medium zippered exterior, 2 daisy chains|
|Removable Liner?||No||No||Yes||Yes; cooler comes out of backpack||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 interior 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.
Probably the least impressive part of the Split Pack is its insulation testing performance. Where some of its competitors lasted almost three 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 guidebook to reference while on your adventures.
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.
— Maggie Nichols
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