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Best Backpack Coolers to Keep Food and Drinks Cold On the Go

At the risk of spreading the word too far, Timpanogos is my favorite hike along the Wasatch Front. There are a LOT of great trails, views, slopes and summits along that range, but Timp is the GOAT. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to the top several times, and turned back by conditions a few times, but the experience is always well worth the effort.

This past month, as summer was winding down, and before the weather turned too hard, I hiked to the top from Timpooneke with my daughter for her first summit. It was special for me to spend that time with her, especially because she was leaving the hemisphere (YES, the HEMISPHERE!) the next day. She’s in the Himalayan foothills as I type this, I’m gathering from her that the hiking is pretty good there too.

She’d had a previous attempt that was unsuccessful due to lack of attention to land navigation on the part of her hiking partners, so it was a chance for her to see what she’d missed and a chance for me to show that her old man can still find his way in the backcountry.

Over the years, I’ve learned, often the hard way, that being well-provisioned and equipped is crucial to keeping morale up while enjoying the great outdoors: “There’s no such thing as bad conditions if you have the right gear and know how to use it.” Knowing this and wanting to have a great day with my daughter, I took special care with the loadout for what I knew to be a ten-hour-ish hike that we’d start on before dawn.

I’ve used our Cordova Outdoors Backcountry Backpack cooler for multiple shorter outings, but wanted to see how it would feel on my back for a long day on the trail. Knowing that no matter how it felt, it would keep our drinks and snacks chilly and so keep my daughter’s morale high, I committed to carrying it. I’m glad I did.

The trail is not technical, not even steep at first, but it is about six and a half miles to the top, and the last 45 minutes or so is over a saddle, on the opposite side of the mountain, on relatively exposed rock. You want whatever you’re carrying to be comfortable and secured to your body.

We took four 28 oz Gatorades, cold cut sandwiches and assorted snacks that are best enjoyed cold like yogurt and chocolate. I used two two-pound Packice blocks. The weather was pleasant enough to hike in shorts with a light hoody – there was snow in spots and there were mountain goats.

Fully loaded, the Backpack weighed about 23 pounds. Not heavy, but not insignificant. The straps kept the weight up high, which I very much prefer. The tension adjusters on the shoulder straps made the chest band not strictly necessary, but still nice to have.

The Backcountry Backpack insulation is top notch. Ten out of ten. The watertight zipper on the main compartment kept the provisions secure. We ate the yogurt and chocolate on top of the mountain (11,753’ above sea level) and both were still well chilled after an hour in the car and six hours on the trail. The Gatorade stayed frosty. All. Day. Long. We were within sight of our vehicle and approaching ten hours on the trail when we finished the last of it, it was still ice cream-headache inducing cold.

The front pocket and top compartment were more handy than I’d anticipated – we used the top to stash empty wrappers and the pocket for keys, phone, sunscreen, lip balm and bandanas. The clean lines of the Backpack were a plus too – I found that it was easy to dump the weight for a break and cinch down when it was time to get going again.

So, what could be better about the Backcountry Backpack? I’ll tell you: it’s great for carrying supplies over short distances across uneven terrain for activities like a day at the beach. But loaded up for 13 miles, I did feel the straps on my shoulders. The spacing between the top of the straps could be increased/improved. And a little more padding would also help with the ride. We’ll make those tweaks and continue to improve our Backcountry coolers and all our products as we keep moving forward.

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