LAST UPDATED: February 23, 2021
Best Soft-Sided Coolers (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Consider these soft-sided coolers for lunches on the go, family picnics, camping trips, and more.
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PUBLISHED ON February 23, 2021
When the weather gets warm, you need to keep your food cold. Nobody wants runny potato salad, and warm drinks won’t cut it. That means you’ll need a cooler. Traditional coolers come in two varieties: large and cumbersome, and small and cumbersome. They take up huge amounts of space and are very inconvenient to carry. Soft-sided coolers solve that problem with more efficient insulation and ergonomic shapes. Sizes are available to handle lunches or family picnics. Carry them like a tote, or wear them like a backpack. A lot of great options are out there, but we found some of the best to keep you eating well on the go. Read on to see which is best for you.
This blue and tan cooler is 14 x 11 x 12.5 inches and weighs 2.75 pounds. It can accommodate 30 cans.
- Easy to clean
- Has an antimicrobial liner
- Shoulder straps are adjustable
- Includes a carrying handle
- Shoulder strap is not particularly comfortable, and it may break after a short period of use
Capacity for 32 cans and enough ice to keep them cold. The lining uses heat-sealed seams to remain watertight, and the high-density fabric resists stains and odors.
- Store wet and dry contents separately
- Use the waterproof main compartment for wet items, and store dry items in the lid compartment
- Food stays cold and fresh for up to 12 hours
- Advertised to hold up to 32 cans, but you most likely can only fit about 20 cans with ice inside — consider upgrading to the larger 48-can cooler size to hold 32 cans with ice
Holds up to 20 cans and features 2 inches of closed-cell foam insulation. The liner and zippers on this cooler are waterproof.
- Outer shell prevents sweating
- Keeps its contents cold and prevents your other belongings from getting wet
- Carry this cooler with the top handles, side handles, or shoulder strap
- Several customers have reported that the zipper has broken or split unexpectedly — reach out to RTIC with any issues, especially if it breaks within the first few uses
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Benefits of Soft-Sided Coolers
- Flexible. Soft-sided coolers are extremely flexible, especially compared to rigid hard-sided coolers. The flexibility allows you to fit more cans and grocery items into your soft-sided cooler.
- Lightweight. Soft-sided coolers are also lightweight, making them easier to carry than regular hard coolers, even when filled with cans and ice. They’re a great option for traveling, camping, hiking, and fishing trips.
- Storage. Soft-sided coolers are extremely easy to store. When not in use, they can easily be folded up and stored in your vehicle, closet, basement, pantry, or other small storage space.
Types of Soft-Sided Coolers
This is the most common type of soft-sided cooler. It comes in a variety of different colors, designs, and sizes. It typically contains some type of carrying straps or shoulder straps, and it’s extremely flexible. When not in use, collapsible coolers can easily be folded up into a compact size for easy storage in your vehicle, RV, closet, basement, or other storage space.
Backpack soft-sided coolers are a convenient option if you’ll be traveling or using your cooler for long camping, hiking, or fishing trips. This type typically features a high-quality liner to prevent sweating on the exterior and keep your items cold for long periods. The cooler can be carried over your back using two heavy-duty shoulder straps, just like a regular backpack.
Insulated soft-sided coolers typically feature a double-liner system that allows you to keep the ice and drinks inside ice cold for long periods of time. This type of soft-sided cooler is not typically as flexible as other types due to the liner system. You won’t likely be able to fold these coolers into as compact of a size as regular soft-sided coolers.
Founded in 1947, Igloo has grown into one of the most reputable insulation and cooler manufacturers in the world. The company currently has more than 1,200 employees and produces more than 500 different products around the globe. In addition to soft-sided coolers, Igloo manufactures hard-sided coolers, stainless-steel water bottles, ice packs, and more.
Lifewit has become one of the most trusted companies, known for the quality manufacturing of a variety of household products. In addition to soft-sided coolers, Lifewit produces storage bags, bath mats, doormats, lunch bags, and more.
RTIC has developed into one of the most well-recognized and trustworthy companies for a variety of outdoor cooling products and drinkware. In addition to soft-sided coolers, RTIC manufactures hard-sided coolers, insulated water bottles, folding chairs, ice packs, and more.
Soft-Sided Cooler Pricing
- Under $30: Soft-sided coolers in this price range provide excellent value. These coolers are typically fully collapsible and a great option for casual use.
- $30-$70: This is the most common price range for soft-sided coolers. Products at this price point are usually well insulated and can also be of the backpack variety for easy carrying.
- $70 and up: This is the premium price range for soft-sided coolers. These coolers are typically extremely high quality, completely sweatproof, and able to keep your ice and beverages ice cold for multiple hours at a time.
The type of material that your cooler is made from is an important consideration. Most soft-sided coolers are constructed from some type of flexible fabric, while some will even feature high-density nylons, PVC, and TPU. Special coating or treatments may also help strengthen the exterior fabric to prevent sweating and condensation.
The level of insulation is one of the most important features of your cooler. Depending on the brand, model, and type, each soft-sided cooler offers various levels of insulation. It’s important to find a high-quality cooler that will keep your ice frozen and cold beverages ice cold for long periods.
The size of your cooler is another important consideration. Depending on what you’ll be using yours for, you can choose from all shapes and sizes. These coolers range from small lunch-box sizes to extra-large coolers, capable of holding enough food and beverages for long camping, hiking, or fishing trips.
- Storage. One of the main features of soft-sided coolers is their flexibility and storage capacity. Even the largest models can be extremely flexible, capable of being folded into a small, compact size. When not in use, these coolers can easily be stored in your closet, bedroom, vehicle, RV, basement, or storage space.
- Transportation. Another main feature of soft-sided coolers is their portability. Soft coolers are typically lightweight, flexible, and capable of being carried easily via the included shoulder straps. Some models are even of the backpack variety, making it even easier to carry a cooler full of beverages to your campsite.
- Warranty. The type and length of warranty included with your cooler is another important consideration. The most reputable companies typically include some type of warranty with your purchase. If there are any manufacturing issues or defects, it’s important to be able to receive a refund or replacement product that’s covered under warranty.
Best Soft-Sided Cooler Reviews & Recommendations 2021
The Igloo Outdoorsman 30 Can Cooler is a great option for hikers, campers, beachgoers and others who are looking for a compact yet spacious bag that keeps beverages and snacks cold. This soft-sided cooler is leak resistant, easy to clean, and features an antimicrobial liner. It has foam MaxCold insulation and can accommodate 30 cans. The bag is 14 x 11 x 12.5 inches and weighs 2.75 pounds. There's a lid on the top, so users can easily access the contents. The shoulder strap is adjustable, removable, and extra long for convenience. Users can alternatively carry the bag using the rubber handles, which click together. Overall, it keeps the contents cool for a good amount of time.
Unfortunately, there have been some complaints that the shoulder strap may fail after a short period of use. Also, the strap may not be the most comfortable to use.
If you’re a shopper who likes to get the most for your money, take a look at the Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag. This soft-sided cooler has a capacity of up to 32 cans and enough ice to keep them cold. The lining uses heat-sealed seams to keep it watertight, and the high-density fabric resists stains and odors. Store wet and dry items separately. Use the waterproof main compartment for wet items, and store dry items in the lid compartment. Food stays cold and fresh for up to 12 hours. Outside, this cooler features two large zippered compartments and two elastic mesh pouches for additional storage—these are perfect for napkins and utensils. This size is great for a couple’s picnics or small family outings. Choose between black and gray options.
One issue with the Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag is the size. Although it’s advertised to hold up to 32 cans, if you're adding enough ice to keep the cans cold, then you most likely can fit only around 20 cans inside. So if you’re looking to actually hold 32 cans with ice, you may want to consider upgrading to the larger 48-can cooler size.
The RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag is ideal for anyone who needs a personal cooler for lunch or a few drinks. This 20-can cooler is the smallest option on our list, so keep that in mind if you’re not looking for a lunchbox. Two inches of closed-cell foam insulation keeps food and drinks cold for long periods in even the hottest weather. Unlike alternatives that rely on a waterproof liner only, even the zippers on this cooler are waterproof, and the outer shell prevents sweating. This keeps its contents cold and prevents your other belongings from getting wet. Carry this cooler with the top handles, side handles, or shoulder strap. The waterproof zippers fit very tightly by design, so it’s important to protect them with the included lubricant.
Several customers have reported that the zipper of their coolers has broken or split unexpectedly. If this problem happens to you, especially in the first few uses, reach out to RTIC and ask for a refund or replacement product.
Family-sized outings call for family-sized coolers, and our pick for soft-sided options is the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag. This large cooler holds 50 cans plus ice. The outer dimensions measure 18.25 inches long, 12.25 inches wide, and 12 inches high. When not in use, you can collapse this cooler to a height of less than 3 inches. Internal supports in the base, sides, and rims help this cooler hold its shape and protect your food. A load rating of 50 pounds means this bag is strong enough for picnics, food delivery service, and summertime trips to the grocery store. This cooler uses three layers of waterproof insulation to keep melted ice inside. This option doesn’t have the thickest insulation, but its capacity and portability make it a great choice.
One downside of the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag is that it has been known to leak. Some customers have reported this issue upon initially using this soft-sided cooler. If your product does leak, reach out to CleverMade and report the manufacturing defect. The company has an excellent customer service team and will likely send you a replacement cooler.
If you’d rather not hand-carry your cooler everywhere you go, you’ll love the Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler. This 28-can cooler comfortably fits enough food and drinks for two people, with room to spare. The main compartment is lined with waterproof material and heat-welded seams. The liner is also built to resist odor and mildew, thanks to its antimicrobial properties. Store extra items in two mesh side pockets, or fasten large items to the face of the backpack with the built-in elastic cord. Padded shoulder straps and an adjustable hip belt make supporting the weight of food and ice packs more comfortable. This option’s insulation is less substantial than some of the other options on this list, but a compelling price and the option to wear it like a backpack make it a great choice for day hikes and commuting by bicycle or motorcycle.
One issue with the Coleman Soft Backpack Cooler is its size. Although it’s advertised to hold up to 28 cans with ice, users reported it doesn’t fit that many. If you’re looking to use this backpack cooler for a day trip with just a few items inside, it’s a great option. But don’t expect it to hold enough items to last you an entire weekend.
The Polar Bear Coolers Soft Cooler is capable of holding up to 24 cans along with enough ice to keep them cold. This product is made from a 1000D nylon outer shell reinforced with double-hemmed and anchor-stitched seams. It also includes a durable antimicrobial, FDA food-grade, TPU-coated nylon interior liner. High-density foam insulation is located between the liner and nylon exterior, capable of keeping your ice frozen for up to 24 hours, even in the most extreme temperatures over 100 degrees. There’s even a convenient side zippered pocket where you can store personal items like your smartphone, keys, or wallet. All Polar Bear coolers can be customized with embroidered text, a monogram, or a logo. There are also heavy-duty tie-downs that can be used to secure the cooler to any vehicle so that it doesn’t tip over while traveling.
One downside of the Polar Bear Soft Cooler is its durability. After extensive use, some customers have reported that their coolers started leaking. If you run into a leaking problem, contact the company and it should offer a replacement as long as your cooler is still covered under warranty.
The Engel HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler may be the most insulated product on the market. This soft-sided cooler is designed to keep ice frozen for up to four days, even in extreme temperatures up to 90 degrees. This product features an 840D shell and closed-cell foam insulation. This model is a completely welded design. Another unique feature is the vacuum valve, which can be used to inflate or deflate air between the cooler’s liner and exterior layers. It comes in four different color varieties, and also includes heavy-duty buckles, a bottle opener, a padded carrying handle, and a comfortable shoulder strap. With a capacity of 32 quarts, it can easily hold enough food, beverages, and ice for a day at the beach, camping trip, or a variety of other outdoor activities.
One issue with the Engel HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler is that the stitching has become unraveled for some customers. The company has an excellent customer service team that will likely offer a replacement if you have any manufacturing defects within the first few uses.
The Hydro Flask Unbound Soft-Sided Cooler is another one of the more durable products on the market. This cooler is lightweight, yet still built to withstand the test of time. It features the same TempShield technology that Hydro Flask uses in its vacuum-insulated water bottles and coffee mugs. The design allows ice to stay frozen and your beverages to remain ice cold for up to two full days, ideal for a weekend camping, hiking, or fishing trip. This soft cooler features a waterproof shell, watertight zippers, welded seams, and a compression-molded self-standing base. Perhaps best of all, Hydro Flask offers a five-year warranty with all of its products that covers any manufacturing issues or defects. This model is capable of holding up to 24 cans with ice.
One downside of the Hydro Flask Unbound Soft-Sided Cooler is that it’s priced at a premium. While the cost is considerably higher than some other brands, Hydro Flask is a trusted product that has been producing high-quality insulated products, water bottles, and drinkware for many years. It stands behind its coolers and even offers a five-year warranty for peace of mind.
- If you plan to bring your soft-sided cooler inside your vehicle or RV, make sure to test it for leaks before its first use.
- If you’ll be using your cooler for an extended period or long trips, make sure to choose a model that will keep ice frozen or keep your drinks cold for multiple hours or days at a time.
- If you’ll be walking a long distance to your campsite or hiking with your soft-sided cooler, it may be a good idea to consider one of the backpack types, or an option with a shoulder strap.
- If you live in an apartment or don’t have a lot of extra storage space in your home, make sure to buy one of the more flexible, collapsible soft-sided coolers that can be folded up and easily stored when not in use.
- To minimize the amount of weight in your cooler, you may want to consider buying ice packs to keep your drinks cold rather than using ice cubes, particularly if you’ll be carrying your cooler over a long distance.
Q: Which soft cooler keeps ice longest?
Of the soft coolers we reviewed, the Engel HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler keeps your ice frozen and your beverages cold the longest, over four full days. But several other great options are available that will hold ice for long periods as well.
Q: How long do soft coolers stay cold?
The amount of time that soft coolers stay cold varies greatly depending on the brand, model, size, material, and insulation. Some soft coolers, such as the Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler, can keep your ice frozen and your beverages ice cold for up to two full days.
Q: How can I keep my cooler cold for days?
To keep your cooler cold for multiple days at a time, consider using a great deal of ice or refreshing your cooler with new ice every day if possible. You may also want to consider using dry ice if that’s an option, as it can keep your cooler cold for even longer periods than regular ice.
Q: What is the best cooler for the money?
Our Best Value cooler is the Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag. This soft-sided cooler can store up to 32 cans and enough ice to keep them cold. Any food stored inside this cooler can stay cold and fresh for up to 12 hours. There are several other budget-friendly options available, so read our reviews in order to determine if another option best fits your needs.
For a high-quality, soft-sided cooler, consider the Igloo Outdoorsman 30 Can Cooler, which can keep your beverages cold for up to two full days, or the Lifewit Collapsible Cooler Bag, which can store up to 32 cans.