My family loves to hike. As a low maintenance trail runner, it is easy for me to stuff a few things in my pack and head out the door, but family hikes tend to require more planning (especially when it involves a six and eight year old). We like to take our time and enjoy nature on our adventures, which comes with its own set of challenges. We need to pack enough food and drinks for everyone for a long day outside. I can’t tell you how many times we have thought to ourselves, “man, it would be great if we could have a real picnic” while reaching the half way point of our hike at one of the many remote alpine lakes in Utah. This is a challenge because by the time you actually get there, your drinks are warm and your food is smushed and gross. Well, I finally found a solution with the IceMule Pro Cooler. Take a look!
Disclaimer: IceMule provided me with the Pro 20L for free for the purposes of this review (and perhaps after a little salivating on my part at Outdoor Retailer). As always though, my objectives are to help you with your buying decision and help the company improve upon their products, so I will strive to be honest and unbiased.
The model I have been using is the 20L Pro model, which is a soft-sided, insulated cooler designed to be worn as a backpack. I was interested in this model because it could be worn backpack style and I felt it offered the right balance between capacity and weight and would be perfect for my anticipated use. Here are the specs from their site.
Dimensions & Capacity
- 17″ tall, 14″ wide, 11″ deep (when closed)
- Capacity = 18 cans plus ice
- TriFold DriTopTM System. Foolproof seal to keep ice in and air out.
- MuleSkinETTM and MuleSkinEVTM. Tough 1000 denier Outer layer for exceptional strength and durability; heavy-duty inner layer 2X thicker than most soft coolers.
- ComfortCarryIMPTM System. Reinforced back-straps and plus ventilated back pads provide ultimate comfort for long-range excursions.
- PolarLayerTM Insulation. Keeps contents “IceMule Cold” for up to 24 hours.
- IM AirValveTM. Allows for insulation layer air removal so the cooler can roll up for storage in its stuff sack.
I have used it a few times so far, but I will focus my review on my recent trip spent hiking with my family in the hotter conditions of Southeastern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Many of the trails in these parks are pretty exposed. Knowing that we would be moving slow with my kids, I wanted to make sure we had enough cold drinks and some food for when we got hungry. I figured this terrain would be the perfect test for the IceMule. Here is a picture of me wearing it near Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
I was focused on reviewing it in two key categories, comfort and performance.
This was perhaps my greatest concern before using it. My initial thought was, “how could wearing a cooler on my back be comfortable?” At the end of the day, I was beyond surprised at how comfortable it was. When loading it about 2/3 full, it weighed in at around 15lbs; a manageable weight for most grown ups. The padding on the back and shoulder straps was so comfortable that I didn’t feel burdened with the weight and didn’t feel any awkward weight distribution at all. When all was said and done, I never got sore shoulders or any sign of chafing. In other words, it was pretty comfortable. In addition, it was pretty breathable. Sweat on by back was very minimal, despite being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit out.
Ultimately, the biggest test for me was how long it would keep the ice, otherwise, what would be the point of carrying a cooler up a mountain. 🙂 With a small 8 lb bag of ice, about 8 bottles/cans, and some food, the ice melted about half way over the course of 4 1/2 – 5 hours. This included several times opening and closing the cooler along the hike. I am sure with more ice, it would have kept even longer, although I felt the amount I used was typical of how I will use it. While it didn’t seem like the ice would last anywhere close to a full day, it would have been good for 8+ hours in the heat of the day, which is likely perfect for most uses. Additionally, I plan to test out other use cases to see what effects it has on ice longevity.
When done, it is easy to clean as well, just requiring a quick rinse and air drying. It also has a air release valve so that you can release the air used for insulation for quick and compact storage when it is not in use.
One other nice thing about this pack that I haven’t mentioned yet are the rip cords on the back of the pack that is perfect for cinching down a jacket or two. It is perfect if you are expecting it to be rainy or chilly and would like to pack accordingly without having to carry another bag. I will say, I don’t believe there is anything else on the market that compares to the IceMule. It fills a huge gap that I have had as it relates to hiking, particularly as a family. I could see this having so many applications too, day trips to the park/zoo/etc., a day out on the boat or at the beach, you name it! For $100, this is definitely worth picking up and keeping handy.
- Ice lasts more than long enough for a day full of activities.
- Comfortable and breathable.
- Plenty of room (with some to spare) for drinks and food for my family of four.
- Easy to clean and store.
- In addition to the rip cords on the back, it would be great to build in some pockets or storage up front for quick access to essentials.
If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!