This August, when my girlfriend dragged, err… invited me to ride with her to Sierra Stake Out, I must admit I was dreading it, but feeling out of place with a top case instead of a sissy bar, I awkwardly made my way through the troves of choppers. And while my campground mates and I might disagree on bike (or beer) choice, I’ll toast a frosty one around the campfire with most anyone.
The key there is “frosty.” I usually get straight to setting up camp, but after a long ride in the sweltering heat, cold beer was the first thing on my mind.
(It goes without saying: You’re a prime candidate for a Darwin Award if you drink and ride—you know the spiel. I’m just here with some insight on how to keep your post-ride triple IPA, Tecate, or coconut LaCroix ice cold.)
I zipped over to the nearest gas station and stuffed a bag of ice and a six-pack into my Mosko Moto Reckless 80 luggage. The day’s triple-digit temperatures meant the ice melted and the beer warmed long before the rambunctious karaoke had settled down for the night, and so began my longing for the perfect moto-camping cooler.
To me, the perfect cooler:
Keeps drinks cold for about a day
Plays nicely with my bike’s luggage
Can compact when not in use
Wading through the catalogs of the usual suspects for cooler tech—Yeti, RTIC, and Pelican—it seems clear that their “soft” coolers are only marginally better than wrangling and strapping a hard-sided cooler to a motorcycle, and many of them can’t squish down for more compact storage either. The popular choices have so many pockets, layers of insulation, gimmick-y features, and even technology that make them unwieldy and over-complicated for my simple needs of keeping beverages cold at camp.
IceMule takes a different approach. In a world of rolling refrigerators with stereos, IceMule’s “original adventure coolers” are stripped down to the basics, a natural extension of the ever-popular roll-top waterproof luggage concept.
The principle of Occam’s Razor—the simplest solution is often the best—definitely applies to the “Pro” series coolers. No frills or gizmos; these are essentially thoughtfully-designed, insulated roll-top dry bags with backpack straps, available in capacities ranging from 23L to 40L. In camp talk: ranging from a few six packs + ice to a 30-rack + ice.
IceMule claims their coolers keep drinks cold for 24 hours, an impressive, albeit dubious claim. My hard-sided, foam-insulated, thick-walled Pelican cooler keeps ice cold for about 36 hours, making me initially suspicious of IceMule’s claims. Is it optimistic marketing or ice-cold, hard fact?
To find out, I tested their smallest Pro cooler, the 23L “Large.” My non-scientific-but-reasonably-well-educated hypothesis (guess?) was that the cooler would indeed keep a cerveza cold to the one day mark, but it’d be floating by in the barely-drinkable temperature range.
Photos: James Tsuakamoto
I loaded the 23L up with 10 pounds of ice, a sixer of suds and an eight-pack of La Croix’s new cola flavor (next time in Tested…), took an initial temperature reading and started the timer. Its home for the next day was the hottest place in my backyard.
To celebrate the kickoff of the test, I stopped by the garage fridge to grab a cold one.
24 hours later after, a dirt-eating, yard sale-ing morning at Metcalf, I limped into the backyard with my infrared temperature gun to see if the IceMule is worth its salt. As I jostled the bag while unrolling the top, I heard the victorious sounds of ice and cans clanging together. Lo and behold, the Pro 23L held up its end of the bargain and maintained (relatively) solid ice and cold beverages after a genuine 24 hours.
Like any curious researcher with such tools at their disposal, I also took the time to measure the temps of my throat, the roof shingles, and my car’s hot exhaust pipe while enjoying a still-chilled beverage.
Photos: James Tsukamoto
IceMule’s marketing team went hard in the paint with the trademarked technologies and lingo employed in their coolers. Based on how well it performed, they can call it whatever the hell they want; I’ll just call it “effective.”
The exterior is clad in their MuleSkinET™ fabric and the interior is lined with their tough, tear-and-poke resistant MuleSkinEV™. Sandwiched in between these layers of mule-hide is their proprietary PolarLayer™ Insulation. Anyone can stuff foam between two layers of material, but the real secret of IceMule’s coolers is the ability to add air to increase the air gap between the interior and exterior skins, therefore making the PolarLayer’s insulation more effective. But when it’s time to pack up the cooler on the bike, I can open the valve and squeeze out all the air to roll or fold the cooler into a more compact shape.
Photos: Angelica Rubalcaba
The Pro 23L is also extraordinarily comfortable to wear. Its straps and back panel are padded, which make the weight of your burdens the cooler’s chilly contents seemingly disappear. On a recent trip, the near-weightlessness of the loaded cooler was a godsend for the half-mile hike from the campsite to our secret spot on the Yuba river.
Protecting the base of the cooler is a thicker, slightly-rubberized material that gives it stability when it’s standing upright and provides greater wear resistance on the bottom. All of the seams are welded for waterproofing, and components that will see higher stress, like the external webbing and roll-top buckle, also have stitching to reinforce the construction.
Photos: James Tsukamoto
Though the Pro 23L lacks specific tie-down points, strapping it to a motorcycle is pretty easy. In my testing, it was kept solidly in place with just two Rok Straps “X-ed” across the cooler. Washboard roads, high-lean turns, and even a couple wheelies and stoppies (…for science!) couldn’t get the cooler to slide around.
I did notice that when more of the ice had turned into a liquid, I could feel the cans and water sloshing around while maneuvering at low speeds. If your parking lot u-turns or stop light filtering is a bit shaky, take it easy when you’ve got a day or two old load in your IceMule.
There are quite a few options for coolers, but IceMule’s Pro 23L makes a lot of sense for motorcyclists. It’s simple, robust, and gets the job done. At $99.95, it comes in at about a third of the price of the high end soft coolers, leaving quite a bit more room in your budget for camp fees, track time, or whatever costs you incur while transporting your cooler. Even better, in addition to olive green, grey and matte black, the Pro 23L comes in RealTree camo so you can stash your suds safely out of sight of marauding chopper fans.