Review: IceMule Pro Cooler

IceMule was developed by founder James Collie as a ultra portable cooler to carry food and drinks comfortably on day hikes. Leave it to a Florida native to see the potential for a cooler that can effectively be worn as a daypack. What we dig about the IceMule Pro is that it’s not a gimmick. It’s a good cooler–it kept a ten pound bag of ice mostly frozen for for three days while we romped around the Olympic Peninsula. Granted, temps never crested 50 degrees, but cold beer is cold beer–and that’s no gimmick.

The rise of backpack coolers is kind of in line with the recent explosion of millennials getting after it. They’ve got their own style and approach to being outside, and the backpack cooler is a good metaphor for it. The departure from the traditional steel belted Coleman of the parent generation to soft-sided coolers like the IceMule, represents, literally, a more flexible idea of adventure. I’m not going to lie—I’ve been a little salty toward my generation’s shenanigans, Instagram tom foolery, and general lack of etiquette. But I’m beginning to see some promise in the products our adventures have inspired.

Specs:
Weight: 4 pounds
Material: MuleSkin ET (exterior)= 1,000D tarpaulin, MuleSkin EV (liner)= 50mils thick
Dimensions: 17” x 14” x 11” when closed 20L volume.
Pockets: Shock cord web

The IceMule Pro is a soft-sided, 20L cooler with ample padding for carrying a ten pound bag of ice and 18 cans, or any combo of ice/cans/sammies within that volume. Thanks to the three layer construction of IceMule products, specially the controllable air element via the IM AirValve, the bag rides more like a big balloon than a icebox. While I disagree with the cylindrical patterning of IceMule Pro, I have to say, I was impressed at how well it carried. The perforated foam back panel and amply padded shoulder straps round out the remainder of what is a serviceable suspension system.

What’s good?
With RF welded seams rated up to 65 pounds, you can certainly push the limits of your camp side accoutrements. The fact that you can keep said accoutrements cold for over 48 hours is also kind of a game changer. (I’m looking at to you, weekend warriors.) Really though, if you’re in the market for a cooler, IceMule checks all the boxes for thermal efficiency and performance.

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Having a beer on the coast after a really rough night in the Hoh Rain Forest. Photo: Colin Kimball.

The adjustable air element and IM AirValve gives you a little more flexibility in what you carry and how you keep it cold. The inflate/deflate valve allows you to control the amount of air between the insulation layers and the protective MuleSkin ET outer layer. Be warned, the more air you put into the IceMule Pro, the more difficult it becomes to roll closed. It’s a balancing act, but an effective one.

It also rides great. I could easily see myself carrying this on day length adventures with a full load up to 10 miles roundtrip, ideally on over night destinations within five miles from the trail head. If one member of your group carries the shelter and two sleeping systems, you’ve got a recipe for a good weekend. I also really dig how durable this is.  1000D tarpaulin is crazy strong, fully waterproof, and provides plenty of structure whatever odds and ends you carry.

What’s not so good?
I didn’t care for the sternum strap being adjustable on both lengths of webbing. It complicates a simple process and I don’t really see the benefit.

The roll top is the best type of closure and access for this bag. I think the choice of a cylinder has some benefits, especially in production cost and cleaning, but it’s not the right shape for a backpack. I think IceMule clearly has a jump on the competition in terms of performance, but if they are going to remain relevant with brands like Cold Shoulder Bags, The North Face, and YETI joining the field, they need to re-pattern their products into more ergonomic designs. The addition of side compression straps rather than a self securing roll top would also be a welcome addition.

Nit Picking:
Swap out the bungie netting for RF welded daisy chain that runs the length of the front face. It’s more versatile than a bungie web and I can’t imagine it’d be much more expensive in production.

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I’d love to see IceMule turn the black welded pieces into daisy chain and run them the length of the pack.

How does this improve my experience?
For shorter trips, smaller groups, or when I’m hauling all the gear at my disposal and I can’t fit a 54 quart Coleman in the trunk—The Ice Mule comes into its own. Being able to pack some beers and turkey sandwiches for a quick reload en route to the next trail head, and then take those cold ones with you a reasonable few miles in, is a crucial development in my camping habits.  You want back country mimosas and a full spectrum breakfast 5 miles deep? Look no further. Ice Mule has you covered.


Disclaimer: Ice Mule Pro provided me with this pack in exchange for my review.

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