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Best cool bag 2023: Chilling backpacks, totes and bottle caddies from £5

Jamie Stedmond
23 Jan 2023

Keep your drinks and provisions cool for picnics, outdoor parties and hikes with our round-up of the best cool bags available

The best cool bag should keep drinks, snacks and other items nice and cool for at least the length of a picnic or trip to the seaside. However, more premium models boast even longer cool times and a plethora of features such as waterproofing, collapsibility and more robust straps – ideal for longer trips.

We can all agree that nothing spoils an outing like lukewarm drinks and sweaty ham sandwiches – so If you’re a seasoned camper, an avid daytripper or just someone who likes to keep their beer cold when they head out to the park, a cool bag will fill a void in your life you might not have realised was there. During the warmer months you’ll find your cool bag will become an indispensable item for day to day use. Although, if you want something more robust and are willing to pay a little extra, our roundup of the best cool boxes might be of more interest to you.

Check out our handy buying guide below; it’ll take you through some of the technical questions you might have when purchasing a cool bag. Further down the page, you’ll find mini-reviews of our favourite cool bags, rounding up everything from budget-options, to style-focused models and innovative items you might not have seen anywhere else.

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Best cool bag: At a glance

How to choose the best cool bag for you

What do I need to consider when buying a cool bag?

There are a couple things to keep in mind when purchasing a cool bag, with most factors dependent on what kind of activity you’ll be using your bag for.

Camping and hiking: If you plan on using your bag for camping and hiking, you should look for an option with excellent cooling times, a large capacity and comfortable carry straps. For outdoors enthusiasts, any high-end model

should fit the bill best, as they usually have robust straps and clips, as well as extra pockets and pouches for carrying equipment and non-food items. They should have a good capacity in their main sections and thick insulation to keep your supplies cool. More premium models also have features such as improved weighting and waterproofing, which can come in handy on long trips where you might encounter a variety of different terrains and weather conditions.

Day trips and picnics: For day trips and picnics you’ll want a cooler bag with a handy, packable shape, good capacity and a pleasant design is always a bonus. Picnic-style cool bags are usually cuboid in shape, making them easy to slot into a near-full car boot, and the different handles and straps make them easier to carry alongside other equipment, such as deck chairs and small children.

Grocery shopping: A cool bag can make your weekly shop a lot simpler, allowing you to buy chilled and frozen items without needing to immediately rush home. For grocery shopping, tote-style cool bags are the product for the job. Similar in shape to a shopping bag, tote cool bags are roomy enough for all your chilled goods and their loose shape makes for easy packing at the checkout.

Outdoor drinks: The best option for outdoor drinks is a good sized bottle caddy. Bottle caddies tend to be small enough to carry around without feeling cumbersome but large enough to accommodate a 750ml bottle or a number of cans – making them the ideal option for shorter, spur of the moment outings.

General use: If you don’t have a solid plan for what you’re going to do with your cool bag, a good quality cooling backpack works well for general use. Backpacks are usually comfortable and easy to carry in a range of situations, as well as having a good capacity. So whether it’s a short hike, a picnic or a trip to the park, a backpack will fit into your plans nicely.

How do I get the most out of my cool bag?

There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure you get the best results out of your bag.

1. Use ice packs and pre-chill: Cool bags use insulating foam and gels to regulate temperature, which means they attempt to keep the temperature in the bag where it already is. Adding lukewarm items to a room temperature bag won’t magically make them cold. Try to get your provisions as cold as possible before packing them, and add ice packs to lower and maintain the temperature in the bag.

2. Fill your cool bag: A full cool bag stays cold longer than one that only has a few items in it as it contains less air, which easily dissipates when the bag is opened. This is where choosing the correct capacity becomes important. An overstuffed cool bag is a happy one – providing you can still close it, of course.

3. Store and open it wisely: Cool bags work best when stored out of direct sunlight, so find a cool and shady spot and stash your bag there upon arrival. They also maintain their internal temperature better the less they’re opened, so make sure you close them up fully after grabbing your supplies. It also helps to make sure everyone gets what they need each time it's opened, to avoid multiple people opening the bag and allowing the cold air to escape.

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The best cool bags you can buy in 2023

1. Red Original 18L Waterproof Soft Cooler Bag: Best high-end cool bag

Price: £160 | Buy now from Red Equipment

The most premium cooler bag on our list, this offering from British brand Red is a serious piece of kit. Designed with paddle boarding in mind, this waterproof, easy-wash bag would also be of great use to hikers, campers or anyone going on an extended trip into nature.

While not as hard as a cool box, the soft-shell exterior is a lot sturdier, and a little heavier, than any of the other bags we tested. It has two outer pockets for storage, as well as a range of d-rings and webbing loops for attaching other kit, straps or handles. The bag is pleasant to carry relative to its size and weight, coming with a range of carry options. These include a well-weighted, covered, velcro carry handle; a removable and adjustable shoulder strap with movable padding and twin handles on either end for sharing the load between two people. The bag also has a textured base to prevent sliding, tieing neatly into Red's “Luggage Tension” system, which allows the bag to be securely strapped onto boards, cars and boats.

The bag’s superior cooling power comes from its incredibly thick insulation, welded seams and waterproof zip. Red claims it has a cooling time of up to 72hrs, even stating that ice can remain frozen for that length of time. Given these claims, we tested this bag over three days, with ice.

Our bag wasn’t fully packed and was opened a number of times for testing, meaning we didn’t reach the full 72 hrs with our ice intact. However, the ice did remain frozen for about 30 hours and drinks stayed ice cold for the entire duration. With the right prep and attention to detail, we’re pretty confident that the bag’s maximum cooling time could be achieved.

If you like the sound of this bag, but need a little more capacity, there’s also a 30L option available.

Key details – Capacity: 18L; Dimensions: 38cm x 30cm x 37cm; Type: Waterproof cool bag; Cooling time: Up to 72hrs

Buy now from Red Equipment

2. Pro Cook 20L Insulated Cool Bag: Best everyday cool bag

Price: £25 | Buy now from Pro Cook

This 20L insulated cool bag from Pro Cook is a good sized cool bag suitable for everyday use, with the pleasant striped design making it stand out nicely. It’s easy to carry, even when full, as it has a well-designed, velcro carry handle that distributes weight evenly. The cloth covering also prevents your hand from getting strap burn. If your hands are full, you can use the adjustable shoulder strap, which is made from soft, comfortable material and is long enough to wear on your side or across your body.

As far as cooling goes, it’s thick and well insulated. Its double-zip is sturdy, if a little stiff, and keeps things well sealed. We tested it with a range of snacks, lunch items and soft drinks, which fit comfortably and were kept very cool for at least the first five hours. Towards the sixth hour things got marginally less cool, but it should be noted we tested the bag without cool packs or ice to assess its base strength. Paired with ice packs, this bag should provide reliable cooling for a lengthy picnic or a trip to the seaside. Once empty, it flattens down well for easy storage.

Key details – Capacity: 20L; Dimensions: 34cm x 20cm x 20cm; Type: Picnic bag; Cooling time: Up to 6hrs

Buy now from Pro Cook

3. Vonhaus Ash Grey Cooler Tote: Best cool bag for groceries

Price: £18 | Buy now from Vonhaus

Tote bags are all the rage nowadays, offering a stylish, reusable alternative to plastic shopping bags. Vonhaus’s cooler tote offers a nice upgrade on your standard cloth tote bag. It feels lightweight and is handy to carry with its two well-secured straps – these straps also button together, and have a soft, faux-leather cover, fitting snugly and comfortably over the shoulder.

While it would work well at a picnic or a gathering in the park, the place it excels most is at the checkout. It can be a pain heading out to the supermarket and then having to rush home with chilled or frozen items. This bag’s 22L capacity means it should fit plenty of chilled and frozen goods from the shops and its soft, handbag style shape make it well-suited to rapidly packing things away at the till.

In our cooling test, we found it worked similarly well to other models in its price range, keeping lunches and drinks cool for about six hours without the aid of ice or ice packs. With that in mind, you can head home with your shopping at a leisurely pace and maybe even fit in an errand in along the way. Its interior surface is also easy to clean with a damp cloth, so any spills or leaks can be taken care of with ease.

Key details – Capacity: 22L; Dimensions: 35cm x 36cm x 13cm; Type: Tote bag; Cooling time: Up to 6hrs

Buy now from Vonhaus

4. Lakeland Insulated Backpack Cool Bag: Best value cooler backpack

Price: £35 | Buy now from Lakeland

While it might lack the extra straps and clips that a backpack geared towards hiking would have, this cool backpack from Lakeland works well as an everyday, jack-of-all-trades model. Its classic backpack design and appealing colour mean you can use it to carry groceries or lunches around town, without looking like you’re geared up for a three-day trip up a mountain.

Its 20L capacity is roomy and the padded straps are incredibly comfortable – it felt light and secure, even with ten drink cans and multiple lunch items inside. It has two side pouches, each of which could fit a water bottle or something similar, and a handy front pocket lined with insulating aluminium, in similar fashion to the main section.

In testing, the backpack performed well, keeping cans and snacks cold up to the six hour mark. The small pocket at the front performed admirably, but didn’t quite have the cooling capabilities of the fully insulated main section. Ultimately, with its carrying comfort, size and cooling performance, we can recommend this backpack for everything from park outings to picnics, as well as long walks or short hikes.

Key details – Capacity: 20L; Dimensions: 29cm x 20cm x 43cm; Type: Backpack cool bag; Cooling time: Over 6hrs

Buy now from Lakeland

5. Packit Freezable Lunch Bag: Best cool bag for lunches

Price: £26 | Buy now from Amazon

This cleverly designed model from Packit does away with the need for ice packs entirely, cooling snacks and drinks using its built-in freezable gel walls. This does mean it requires a bit of prep time, performing best after freezing overnight. However, its foldable design does at least make it simple to slot into a packed freezer.

The 4.7L capacity means you won’t be able to fit a whole picnic in there but it will accommodate a drink or two and a small lunch item, making it an ideal way to transport your lunch to work or out on the go. The relatively small size of the Packit does also make it eminently portable and it’s easily popped into a larger bag. It also has a very handy clip and strap for attaching it to the outside of another bag, pram or anything else you might be taking along with you.

Unsurprisingly, the frozen gel packs of the Packit put it ahead of other cool bags when it comes to cooling time. The drink and lunch we tested got even colder initially and still felt as cold as it did at the start by the end of the six hour test. If you’re an organised sort in search of a way to keep your lunch icy-cold all day, this is the cool bag for you.

Key details – Capacity: 4.7L; Dimensions: 25cm x 22cm x 16cm; Type: Lunch bag; Cooling time: Over 6hrs

Buy now from Amazon

6. Quechua Isothermal Walking Backpack: Best budget cool backpack for outdoor activities

Price: £15 | Buy now from Decathlon

This isothermal backpack from Decathlon’s Quechua range is a solid budget pick for anyone needing a cool bag for long walks or short hikes. It has two comfortable, padded straps and is nicely sized and compact, making it a breeze to carry even when laden down with food and cans of drink. It also has handy, non-cooler outer pockets for storing valuables and other items.

The bag’s 10L capacity is on the smaller side for this list, but it does make it easier to pack tight, and therefore keep your picnic or lunch cool. In our cooling test the bag performed well, keeping food and drinks nicely chilled for the first five hours, with its cooling power falling off a little in the sixth and final hour of the test. One relatively unique feature of this bag is the strap inside the cooler section for keeping drinks vessels upright. The secureness of heavy drinks bottles and cans did make a noticeable difference in carrying comfort compared to similar bags.

Overall, this bag overperforms for its price point, offering comfort; quality design and materials; and solid cooling ability all while keeping things budget friendly.

Key Details – Capacity: 10L; Dimensions: 21cm x 17cm x 38 cm; Type: Cool backpack; Cooling time: Up to 5hrs

Buy now from Decathlon

7. Eleanor Bowmer Miami Shells Lunch Cooler Tote Bag: Best stylish cool bag

Price: £15 | Buy now from John Lewis

Other people might turn up with electric cool boxes or high-tech camping bags, but if you want to have the cutest cool bag at the picnic, this is the option for you. This bag has a lovely purple and pink pastel design and features a super stylish Miami Shells pattern by textile design and illustration studio Eleanor Bowmer.

On the more practical side of things, the bag has two soft, woven straps that sit nicely on the shoulder – although I did find myself wishing they had a clip or handle cover like similar models. However, unlike other models, it has two compartments for storage, which can be handy if you have items you’d like to keep separate.

The bag performed well in our cooling test, keeping food and drinks well chilled for the full six hour period. The bag’s petite size made it easy to pack full and keep things cool – but if you think you’ll need more storage space, there are also larger versions available, as well as models with more compartments.

Key details – Capacity: 10L; Dimensions: 35cm X 13cm X 23cm; Type: Tote bag; Cooling time: Up to 6hrs

Buy now from John Lewis

8. URBN Living 2L Drinks Bag: Best budget bottle caddy

Price: £5 | Buy now from OnBuy

Not everyone is trying to take a full meal and drinks out into the wild, sometimes you just need to keep a bottle or a few cans chilled for a day at the park. If this sounds more your speed, a bottle caddy is the ideal solution. This drinks bag from URBN Living is sized to fit a two litre bottle and has an adjustable strap that fits comfortably whether slung over one shoulder or worn crossbody. It also folds up neatly when empty and comes in two colours: red and blue.

As far as cool times go, our drinks started to warm up slightly after the four hour mark in our test. While this does put it a little behind other bags on our list, its performance is strong for its price point. This bottle caddy makes a great budget option for cooling, leaving some extra pounds spare to purchase ice packs to bring it up to speed. Ultimately, this bag will help keep a white wine or some drinks cans chill for a good few hours.

Key details – Capacity: 2L; Dimensions: 29 cm x 12 cm; Type: Bottle caddy; Cooling time: Up to 5hrs

Buy now from OnBuy

9. Cellardine CaddyO Wine Chiller: Best bottle caddy for wine

Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re serious about your white wine, you’ll know that drinking it warm is a sub-optimal experience to say the least. This unique bottle caddy from Cellardine is a great solution for chilling a bottle on the go. It does, however, require a little prep time. You’ll need to store the cooling cylinder in the freezer for at least four hours before use – after that, the CaddyO can chill warm bottles and keep them cool for hours.

It has a grippy texture to its base and is bottom heavy, making it hard to knock over. It also comes with a “waiter’s friend” corkscrew to pop your bottle once chilled. We used a room temperature bottle for our test and the CaddyO did a solid job of chilling it, taking about 45 minutes to get it to a well chilled drinking temperature. Our bottle stayed cool throughout our six hour cooling test.

It's worth noting that this does have an advertised cooling of up to nine hours, so we decided to leave the CaddyO to run a little longer. Resultantly, we found the chill factor fell off somewhat after the seventh hour. Still, starting with a chilled bottle would probably improve results, and seven hours is more than enough time to get through a few bottles.

Key details – Capacity: 1L; Dimensions: 23.5cm x 14cm x 38cm; Type: Bottle caddy; Cooling time: Over 6hrs

Buy now from Amazon

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