The ICEMULE Pro backpack cooler is one of our favorite soft-sided coolers. The overall design is astoundingly simple — it’s basically an insulated dry-bag with backpack straps.
To get Man Makes Fire a closer look at the ICEMULE Pro, ICEMULE Coolers sent us a review unit in the 23-liter Large size option. This is what we learned:
ICEMULE Pro Soft-Sided Backpack Cooler Review
The simplicity of the ICEMULE Pro cooler is part of its charm. In fact, as we were testing the best soft-sided coolers this year, we found ourselves reaching for the ICEMULE Pro to take out on day trips more often than most of the other coolers — and we attribute some of this preference to the durable simplicity of its overall design and construction.
So let’s break this down. What makes the ICEMULE Pro backpack cooler so great?
ICEMULE uses two rugged fabrics in the Pro: MuleSkinET is the company’s exterior fabric while MuleSkinEV is the interior fabric. Both layers are very durable. The exterior MuleSkinET feels a lot like the kind of material an inflatable raft might be constructed from while the interior layer has some texture built into it and has a slightly rubbery feel (but it’s not rubber). Either way, the fabrics are tough yet reasonably flexible.
The dry bag roll-top style closure works well, but upon first use you’ll likely need to be more firm with it than you might expect if you use dry bags that don’t have insulation. Remember, the side walls of the cooler are insulated, so once you start rolling the top closed you’ll have to bend and roll some of the insulating material, too. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to do this, but you do need two hands to roll it up and then connect the two ends.
The backpack straps are comfortable and flexible. The sternum strap lets you lock the system into place — we’re big fans of sternum straps (which run horizontally across your chest).
ICEMULE added a couple of pads for your back. When you’re loaded up with ice and cans and bottles, there is plenty of insulation and padding between you and the contents.
ICEMULE Pro: Size Options
The ICEMULE Pro soft-sided backpack cooler comes in three size options: Large (23L), X-Large (33L) and XX-Large (40L). To give you some perspective, the guy wearing the Large ICEMULE Pro in the photos in this review is about 6’3″ and 220 pounds.
The Large is designed to hold up to 18 cans with ice. The X-Large will hold 24 cans with ice while the XX-Large will hold 36 cans with ice. The Large will work well for most of us, but if you’re a thirsty partier, go bigger.
ICEMULE has one truly interesting feature — a built-in air valve called the IM Airvalve. This valve lets you add air into the insulated walls of the cooler itself. By introducing extra air, you increase the insulating abilities of the cooler and can reduce the space around your contents if you’re trying to maximize ice retention.
Frankly, we don’t use this feature much, primarily because we use the cooler as a day tripper cooler. Usually our idea is to drink the contents, not try to make them last for multiple days.
However, the IM Airvalve does let you squeeze air out of the sidewalls to give it the smallest possible “flat” profile. If you don’t have a lot of extra room for cooler storage in your home, you might like this feature because you can store the cooler most anywhere.
In fact, we particularly like the ICEMULE Pro’s ability to fit under the back seat of a pickup so that it’s handy and ready to go whenever you might need it. Most soft coolers of any reasonable size won’t fit under or behind a seat, so this is another reason why we appreciate the overall design of the ICEMULE Pro.
ICEMULE Pro: Ice Retention
ICEMULE says the ICEMULE Pro is designed to hold ice for more than 24 hours, assuming that you’re using a reasonable amount of ice in comparison to the contents, along with pre-chilled beverages. In our in-the-field usage testing, the ICEMULE Pro easily held ice well into the next day even though we were getting into and out of the cooler and reducing its contents (during 70 and 80-degree days). In this weather, we dumped a full 10-lb bag of ice over 12 cans and had room to spare — and even used some of the ice water to wash our hands.
We haven’t used the ICEMULE Pro on any truly hot days yet. If you’re hiking around in a 90-degree plus day, you probably want to a) pack more ice in relation to the food and beverages, and b) expect to keep your drinks cold for the day. Next-morning results will certainly be cool and drinkable, but likely not ice cold. In addition, if you expect the ICEMULE Pro to be used in a lot of direct sunlight, you might consider getting the gray version to give it a better chance of reflecting a few more of the sun’s rays.
If ice retention in a backpack cooler is your biggest priority, check out the OtterBox Trooper LT 30 and YETI Hopper Backflip 24. Both are big backpack coolers that offer multi-day ice retention capabilities (but they also cost quite a bit more and are much bulkier when not in use).
ICEMULE Pro Backpack Cooler Review: Truly Excellent
All-in-all, the ICEMULE Pro soft-sided backpack cooler is truly excellent. It’s simple, durable and utterly effective for day trips. Most importantly, we like using the ICEMULE Pro — it’s engineered for durability and has an uncomplicated design that just begs you to load it up and go. Plus, the price-to-value ratio is fantastic. Very highly recommended.