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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When you're traveling, you want to keep your food cold. Nobody wants runny potato salad, and warm drinks can be disappointing. That means you need a cooler. Traditional, hard-style coolers come in two varieties: large and cumbersome or small and cumbersome. They take up huge amounts of space and are 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 available, but we found some of the best to keep you eating well on the go. Read on to see which one 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
- 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.