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REI Co-op Pack-Away 24 Review

An easily stored cooler that leaks readily but is comfortable and useful enough to be a good solution for casual and infrequent usage
REI Co-op Pack-Away 24
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $50 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Flexible body is comfortable and convenient, folds flat, external pocket is large, easy to use, very lightweight
Cons:  Leaks easily, smaller than expected, unimpressive insulation
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 10, 2021
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#14 of 15
  • Insulation Value - 30% 4
  • Ease of Use - 25% 5
  • Portability - 25% 7
  • Durability - 20% 5

Our Verdict

The REI Pack-Away 24 is a low-cost, intriguing soft cooler that transforms into a flat tote for easy storage. As a cube, it's flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of contents and fairly comfortable to carry. It's smaller than we expected, but to get more volume requires using it as an oversized, less comfortable tote. The zippers are standard and are not waterproof. The model we bought also leaks slowly from the bottom corner. Though it's not as protective, insulative, or burly as many of its competitors, this inexpensive unit is a solid option for day trips and infrequent cooler needs, especially because it folds away flat to take up little space.

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Pros Flexible body is comfortable and convenient, folds flat, external pocket is large, easy to use, very lightweightVery durable construction, excellent insulation, useful handles and features, comfortable shoulder strapDurable design, comfortable to carry when full, good capacity, relatively inexpensiveGood insulation, extremely durable, top opens wide, no zipper to worry aboutWatertight fabric and zipper, good insulation value, great size to capacity ratio, convenient top handle, great value
Cons Leaks easily, smaller than expected, unimpressive insulationZippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very largeLearning curve for best use, not 100% leakproof, no extra pocketsMagnetic closure won't stay open, difficult to load alone, huge, picky shoulder strap arrangementNo external storage options, plastic D rings twist, doesn't come with zipper lubricant
Bottom Line An easily stored cooler that leaks readily but is comfortable and useful enough to be a good solution for casual and infrequent usageWhen it comes to the best performance, this model takes home the well-chilled trophyThis backpack-style cooler is our favorite model to carry over longer distancesThe upgrade from zipper to magnetic strips comes with some usability struggles, but if you need a massive soft cooler, this one deliversA watertight cooler that's convenient to use, with above-average insulation for a below-average price
Rating Categories REI Co-op Pack-Away 24 Engel HD30 IceMule Pro YETI Hopper M30 Igloo Reactor Portable 30-Can
Insulation Value (30%)
4
9
7
9
7
Ease Of Use (25%)
5
7
8
6
7
Portability (25%)
7
7
9
6
7
Durability (20%)
5
9
6
9
8
Specs REI Co-op... Engel HD30 IceMule Pro YETI Hopper M30 Igloo Reactor...
Measured Capacity (qt) 19.5 qt (cube)
34 qt (flat)
32 qt 25 qt 30.5 qt 26.5 qt
Measured Capacity (cans with no ice) 32 cans (cube)
50 cans (flat)
48 cans 39 cans 50 cans 30 cans
Carry Style Messenger Bag Messenger Bag Backpack Messenger Bag Messenger Bag
Internal Maximum Height (in) 12"(cube)/19" (flat) 13" 17" fully closed
23" max
13" fully closed
15" max
9.5"
Fits Standard Wine Bottle Standing Upright? Yes Yes Yes Yes No - will fit on side
Shelf Life of Food (Measured Hours Below 40ºF) 26 hr 73 hr 52 hr 78 hr 51 hr
Days of Cold Beverages (Measured Hours Below 50ºF) 32 hr 79 hr 55 hr 88 hr 54 hr
Measured Weight (lb) 1.6 lb 5.9 lb 3.0 lb 7.1 lb 3.1 lb
Exterior Fabric Polyester Abrasion-resistant fabric Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon 840D double-sided thermoplastic urethane Unspecified water resistant polyester exterior, nylon interior
Closure Method Zippered top Zippered top, watertight zip Roll-top Magnetic seal and over-the-top clips Zippered flip top, watertight zip
Handles and Straps Shoulder strap, duffel handles Shoulder strap, end handles, duffel handles Backpack straps, sternum strap Shoulder strap, end handles, top handle Shoulder strap, end handles, top handle
Additional Storage Yes; 1 medium zippered exterior, 2 daisy chains Yes; 1 larger exterior zippered (meant to be waterproof but isn't) No; exterior shock cord panel No; webbing attachment loops No
Removable Liner? No No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Pack Away 24 is a messenger bag style cooler that converts between a flat tote and a roughly 20L cube. It has an adjustable shoulder strap and two duffel-style handles. It features a medium-sized external zippered pocket and two short daisy chains on each side.

Performance Comparison


Using the REI Pack Away reminds us of using an old familiar duffel...
Using the REI Pack Away reminds us of using an old familiar duffel bag - with insulation.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Insulation Value


While this flexible bag cooler converts between two different configurations (with different capacities), we only tested its insulation as a cube, because we find it to be the more convenient, though smaller, way to use this cooler. As a (slightly under) 20-quart cube, the Pack-Away 24 lasted just 26 hours below 40° F, the recommended food-safe temperature by the FDA. It managed 32 hours under 50° F, which is roughly the temperature at which beer is still refreshing. This is far shy of the average performance among the models we tested. If we'd tested it as a flat tote bag, with its 34-quart volume, it would have contained more ice (we scale the amount of ice and cans in each cooler to match their capacities) and might have lasted longer. However, we chose not to test it as a tote, as we found it more than a little bit awkward to use it this way. It's also worth noting that it closes with just a regular zipper—not a waterproof one.

Comparing results during insulation testing of models 20L and...
Comparing results during insulation testing of models 20L and smaller. The REI Pack Away 24 fits in this group because we tested it in its most convenient configuration -- a cube -- which we measured just under 20L.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Ease of Use


If you enjoy using a classic, slightly floppy duffel bag, the Pack-Away is a solid choice for you. It has a removable and adjustable shoulder strap and duffel-style handles (though no way to clip the two together). Two zipper pulls allow you to open the cooler at any given point along the top. The rather flexible cooler body makes it easy to pack completely to the brim or accommodate awkwardly shaped items. A fairly large zippered pocket on the outside holds a small selection of your dry goods and has a clip for your keys (or favorite bottle opener), and four short daisy chains provide additional attachment points. The main feature of this soft cooler is that it folds flat for easy storage. We tried using it as a flat tote bag and it doesn't not work, but its elongated body and lack of a flat bottom make for a heavy, unwieldy package that jumbles everything together in transit. We prefer it as a cube, despite the loss of volume. The only real downside to using it as a cube is that by clipping corners where they need to go to make it a cube, the zipper actually runs up both ends and over the top. Since it's not a waterproof zipper, we found ice water sometimes sloshes out the sides and gets us a little bit damp.

A good-sized slip pocket on the side helps you hold dry essentials...
A good-sized slip pocket on the side helps you hold dry essentials and conveniently includes a keychain clip within. Short daisy chains are also available to clip on any extras.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Portability


Completely empty, the Pack-Away weighs 1.6 pounds, which makes it one of the lightest coolers we tested of any size. Even when it's completely full, it carries comfortably over your shoulder or across your body. Despite the shoulder pad being fairly small and insignificant looking, it does a more than adequate job helping your shoulder be as comfortable as you can expect, carrying a cooler full of picnic supplies. Once again, the flexible body of the cooler comes in handy, conforming to the shape of your side rather than bashing rigidly like so many other models.

We tried using the Pack Away in its large, tote-bag configuration...
We tried using the Pack Away in its large, tote-bag configuration, but without a flat bottom, it jumbled all our contents together and is also too long for us to happily carry it for as far as we're willing to go with it in as a cube.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


Made of simple polyester, the Pack-Away isn't blowing us away with its ruggedness. The inner liner is waterproof, but the unit we tested leaks from one of the bottom corners, straight out of the box. Unfortunately, we read a lot of other Pack-Away owners reporting similar experiences in their online reviews. If it weren't for that leak, the rest of the cooler seems good enough to be a casual or infrequently used piece of gear in your summertime arsenal.

The canvas-like exterior of the Pack Away isn't ripstop or...
The canvas-like exterior of the Pack Away isn't ripstop or waterproof. And our internal liner leaks in one corner, as you can see from this photo.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


The Pack-Away 24 is one of the cheaper models we tested, and in this case, we think you get what you pay for. It does an okay job and is certainly good enough for a single day of use on the beach for a family that only needs it every now and then. This infrequent usage is reinforced by how easy it is to pack it flat and tuck it away on a shelf or in a closet. If that sounds like your ideal cooler, then this just might be right for you.

Conclusion


Though the Pack-Away isn't winning any awards, it's still a decently handy cooler. It's very easy to use and comfortable to carry, feeling familiar even when it's practically brand new. With a low price that's tough to beat, this is a pretty solid option for very casual cooler needs and infrequent cooler users.

With the corners clipped down, making it cube-shaped, the Pack Away...
With the corners clipped down, making it cube-shaped, the Pack Away has a smaller volume and can slosh water from the ends of the not-waterproof zipper, but is easy to use and comfortable to carry.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Maggie Brandenburg