If you’re planning a day trip to the beach, a picnic at your favorite beauty spot, or a BBQ with friends and family – getting yourself the best soft-sided cooler will ensure that your food stays fresh and your drinks stay ice cold.
Soft-sided coolers are fantastic tools for dining in the great outdoors. Flexible and easy to transport, these portable refrigerators are a must-have for all your warm-weather adventures. Many models offer fantastic ice retention for weekend excursions, and they come in a variety of capacities to suit every need.
In this guide, we take a look at the leading models on the market and explain how to choose the best soft-sided cooler for your lifestyle.
- 1 Best Soft Sided Coolers
- 1.1 Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler
- 1.2 ENGEL HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag
- 1.3 YETI Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler
- 1.4 Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner
- 1.5 CleverMade Tahoe Collapsible Cooler Bag
- 1.6 Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack Original Nylon Soft Cooler
- 1.7 TOURIT Soft Cooler 30 Cans Leak-Proof Soft Pack Cooler
- 1.8 RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag
- 1.9 Earth Pak Heavy Duty Waterproof 20 Can Soft Cooler Bag
- 2 What to Look for When Buying the Best Soft Sided Cooler
- 3 Soft Sided Coolers vs Hard Sided
- 4 Final Thoughts
Best Soft Sided Coolers
To help you find the best soft-sided cooler for you, we have reviewed a wide range of models to suit all lifestyles and budgets. Read on to find your ideal match.
Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler
First on our list is the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler. This highly-regarded model is an excellent choice for keeping your refreshments cool during camping trips, picnics and BBQs.
Great for weekend trips, the Yeti Hopper Flip will keep ice frozen for at least 12 hours, but will keep the contents ice-cold for up to three days. This is thanks to its top-spec, closed-cell foam insulation, that performs better than the standard foams found in cheaper models.
With a lightweight design, cube shape and ergonomic shoulder strap, this soft cooler is comfortable to carry to your favorite beauty spot. The leak proof “HydroLok” zipper and DryHide shell outer protects your supplies from getting wet in bad weather or while out on the water. It is also highly durable and resistant to punctures and mildew – so wherever your adventures take you, this cooler can stand up to the punishment.
We love that this soft cooler has a wide mouth opening that makes it easy to load and grab all your drinks and snacks on the go. It can hold up to 12 standard-sized cans or a combination of cans and food – so there’s plenty of room to pack refreshments for several people. The handy hitch point grid on the front is also useful for attaching bottle openers or carabiners, so you can carry extra equipment and keep your hands free.
Overall, the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler is a fantastic choice for keeping your supplies fresh and cold while enjoying the outdoors in tough environments. The only downside to this model is the price. It’s pretty expensive if you have a low budget, but we think this is to be expected considering its excellent performance.
ENGEL HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag
The ENGEL HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag is another great choice for group BBQs or family picnics on the beach. Its impressive 32-quart capacity is large enough to fit up to 48 cans, so there’s more than enough space for everyone’s refreshments.
Thanks to its impressive ice-retention time of 3-4 days, this soft-sided cooler is perfect for long weekends away. Its closed-cell insulation is highly-effective and designed to keep your supplies fresh even on hot summer days. This is combined with welded seams that prevent warm air from getting inside – so even raw meat is kept safely chilled during your trip.
Extremely durable, we like that this soft-sided cooler is built to stand up to the challenges of the Great Outdoors. The outer shell is made from tough, 840 denier fibers – that are strong enough to resist abrasion and tearing. The front and rear sides are also laminated with a TPU film which prevents punctures, so you can drop this cooler on the ground without a care in the world.
For a large cooler, this model is very user-friendly. The top zipper opens generously but you can also unclip the sides for wider access and effortless loading and unloading. This model is quite bulky when compared to smaller capacity coolers, but its clever design and sturdy, padded handle makes it comfortable to carry to your preferred picnic spot.
We also like that it has extra pockets and a detachable bottle opener, so you won’t be caught short if you forget to bring one.
This soft-sided cooler isn’t cheap, so it may not be suitable for you if you’re on a limited budget. However, it is a highly durable, efficient and large-capacity model that’s excellent for big gatherings with family and friends.
YETI Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler
If you hate fiddling with zippers, the YETI Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler could be just what you need. Boasting a new design, this model has ditched the zippered closure of its predecessor and adopted an innovative magnetic closure that’s quick and effective.
This magnetic closure is strong, airtight and leak-resistant, thus saving you the hassle of zipping your cool bag open and closed whenever you want some refreshment. Its efficient design means you won’t need to worry about not closing it correctly and letting warm air in. The magnets snap shut tightly and when combined with the sturdy buckles and closed-cell insulation, this model will keep ice frozen for up to 3 days. The wide opening provides plenty of room to load and unload, too, so you can easily access your supplies.
This cooler offers enough capacity to hold 20 cans, making it a great choice for family picnics or summer BBQs on the beach. The padded shoulder strap ensures it is comfortable to carry to your destination, but you can choose to remove it and use the sturdy top handles instead if you wish. It also comes with D-ring tie downs, which are great for securing it to your bike or kayak.
Thanks to its durable, UV-resistant construction and waterproof outer, this model makes a great pick for outdoor dining in challenging environments. We also like the addition of a leakproof liner, that ensures any accidental spills won’t drain out into your car or picnic blanket.
Ironically, the only potential drawback to this model is that it is too effective. The magnets are incredibly strong, so it may require some practice to pack and empty it single-handed without it snapping closed.
Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner
For large families or groups of friends, this Coleman Soft Cooler is another good choice. Capable of holding 30 standard-sized cans, this cooler has more than enough space to chill supplies for yourself and your guests.
This model doesn’t offer the same degree of ice-retention that we’ve seen in previous reviews, so it’s not suitable for weekend adventures. However, it will keep ice frozen for up to 24-hours with careful use, so it will ensure your food and drinks remain chilled for the duration of a day trip.
We like that the Coleman has a number of external mesh and zippered pockets, which are useful for stashing maps, snacks or utensils. The lid panel also has an attached bungee cord, so you can secure your picnic blanket or beach towels without needing a separate bag.
The interior plastic lining of this soft-sided cooler has antimicrobial properties to resist odors, mildew and mold from accumulating over time. You can also remove this lining for easy cleaning, so your cooler stays smelling fresh. The main compartment has welded, leakproof seams and a mesh pocket inside the lid that’s useful for keeping some supplies away from the ice so they stay cool and dry.
This cooler is relatively compact and comes with a comfortable shoulder strap and side handles that make it easy to carry to your destination. Overall, this model is a good budget choice for family day trips, picnics and BBQs, but it doesn’t perform as well with ice retention as the more pricey models.
CleverMade Tahoe Collapsible Cooler Bag
Need to save packing space? Then the CleverMade Tahoe Collapsible Cooler Bag could be your perfect choice. Its collapsible design makes it ideal for space-saving storage when not in use, while its generous capacity is great for large families.
Its 32-quart capacity offers plenty of space for all your food and drinks and is large enough to hold 50 standard-sized cans. The design is tough and durable, making it great for off-track adventures – while the structured internal support ensures this cooler is easy to load and stays upright when resting on the ground.
With regard to ice retention, this soft-sided cooler will keep your ice frozen for around 12-hours. This insulation is less efficient than other models seen in our soft-sided cooler reviews, but it is more than long enough for day trips, beach picnics and keeping food and drinks chilled while on your way to a BBQ.
Fully leakproof, you can be sure that this cooler will prevent any unfortunate spills from seeping through onto your picnic blanket or into your trunk. The leakproof stitching also helps to maintain internal temperature, as the airtight seals prevent warm air from getting inside.
Aside from the main compartment, the CleverMade Tahoe also features two additional pockets for stashing your valuables, maps, or utensils. One is zippered on the front panel, while the other is a mesh pocket, which is great for sunscreen or easy-grab snacks. The integrated bottle opener is another welcome feature, so you’ll always have a back-up if you happen to forget yours!
With its comfortable top and side carry handles, this soft cooler is easy to transport even when fully loaded. The only downside is that it lacks a shoulder strap, so you won’t be able to carry it hands-free.
Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack Original Nylon Soft Cooler
Another great choice for outdoor dining is the Polar Bear Cooler. Made from highly-durable, rugged materials – this soft-sided cooler is designed to withstand challenging environments while keeping your supplies fresh and chilled.
The exterior features 1000D nylon that is luggage grade quality. This material is scratch-resistant, so you can drop this cooler on the ground and not need to worry about damaging it. The interior capacity is large enough to hold 24 cans, so there’s plenty of space for refreshments for yourself and your guests.
Featuring 1-inch of high-density insulation foam, the Polar Bear Soft Cooler will keep ice frozen for up to 24 hours in 100+ degrees, making it perfect for overnight stays or summer day trips. The TPU coated interior liner is easy to clean and has food-grade antimicrobial properties to prevent nasty odors. We also like that it is fully leakproof to prevent any unexpected messes during transport.
The side zippered pocket is a convenient addition that’s useful for keeping your keys, phone or extra snacks close to hand. The top carry handles are comfortable to hold, but this model does come complete with a shoulder strap so you can transport the cooler hands-free.
Overall, this is a fantastic, hardwearing cooler that should last you many years with regular use. The only slight drawback is that the rigid lining can make it a little awkward to hold the cooler open when loading and unloading for the first few uses.
TOURIT Soft Cooler 30 Cans Leak-Proof Soft Pack Cooler
Coming from another highly-respected brand, the TOURIT Soft Cooler is a great choice for keeping your supplies on ice for weekend trips or group BBQs and picnics.
Boasting three-way insulation, this soft cooler can keep ice for up to 3 days in the right conditions. It has a generous capacity, able to hold up to 30 cans – and the wide mouth opening makes it simple to load and unload easily. The highly-durable, waterproof outer shell is made from tough materials for puncture and scratch-resistance, so even in challenging environments, this cooler will stay looking its best.
The internal compartment is totally leakproof, thanks to the heavy-duty, airtight zipper. Even if you tip this cooler upside down when full of water, not a single drop will escape, which makes it perfect for traveling over bumpy roads or boating. This tight seal also enhances its insulation properties, so your supplies will stay ice cold, even in hot weather.
Easy to carry, this cooler features both top and side reinforced handles for comfortable transportation when fully loaded. And if you’d rather go hands-free, the attached shoulder strap has a padded section so it won’t dig into your skin. There’s also a built-in bottle opener on the side, which is handy if you tend to forget your own.
For storing extra items, the mesh side sleeve and zippered pocket come in handy. It is worth noting that when the cooler is full, these pockets don’t offer much in the way of additional capacity, but they’re still useful for smaller items like maps or keys.
All in all, this TOURIT Soft Cooler is an excellent, reliable choice for family picnics, weekend trips and BBQs with friends. It offers generous capacity and is tough enough to handle challenging environments without becoming scuffed or leaking.
RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag
Similar in design to our previous model, the RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag makes another worthy choice for all your outdoor adventures. Featuring a 30 can capacity, this soft-sided cooler is a great size for family BBQs or picnics at your favorite beauty spot.
With 2-inches of closed-cell foam insulation on the lid and 1-inch around the sides, this cooler performs very well at ice retention. Your food and drinks will be kept ice cold for at least 48 hours, so it is a great option for weekends away. It also features an easy-clean liner that has antimicrobial properties to keep food odors under control.
Ideal for long hikes to your destination, this soft cooler is lightweight and portable for easy transportation. The thick top handles are comfortable to grip, while the sturdy side handles and additional shoulder strap provide plenty of carrying options to suit your preference. The outer shell is made from waterproof tough materials for puncture-resistance, and also has built-in UV protection to ensure it stays looking good as new.
With its airtight, leak proof zipper, you can be sure that this cooler will keep any unfortunate spills contained to limit mess in your vehicle. Due to its effectiveness, this zipper may be a little tough to use at first, but it should loosen up with time.
The only minor drawback to this excellent cooler is that it only has one small extra pocket on the front. When the cooler is fully loaded, this pocket doesn’t offer much capacity, but it’s still handy for storing your keys somewhere safe.
Earth Pak Heavy Duty Waterproof 20 Can Soft Cooler Bag
Last on our list is the Earth Pak Heavy Duty cooler bag. With a cube-shaped design and generous capacity, this soft cooler is another good option for keeping your supplies chilled in the summer months.
Capable of holding up to 20 standard-sized cans, this durable cooler is perfect for trips to the beach and enjoying beauty spot BBQs with friends and family. The high-density insulating foam maintains internal temperature incredibly well, and can keep ice frozen for as long as three days, so your food and drinks stay ice cold.
Similar to other models we have seen, the Earth Pak Heavy Duty also features a leak proof zipper. Airtight and rated to IPX-8 standard, this zipper helps to prevent warm air from getting inside and will stop any spills from seeping out and soiling your car or picnic blanket.
Ideal for hot days, this soft cooler has built-in UV protection to guard against color fading and a reinforced exterior for puncture-resistance on rough ground. So, whether you’re hiking to your lunch spot or setting up on a stony beach, this cooler can withstand environmental punishment. The addition of four D-rings and webbing anchor points are also great for securing the cooler when traveling or attaching extra equipment.
This model features a wide mouth opening for easy loading and unloading, which is useful for locating your favorite drink or snack without digging through the ice. The included bottle opener is a convenient addition, while the extra mesh pocket in the lid is useful for keeping your other items safe and dry.
Comfortable to transport, the Earth Pak Heavy Duty Cooler has a choice of carry straps to suit your preferences. The top handles are double-stitched for extra strength, but it also has side handles and a shoulder strap for enhanced portability.
Unlike other coolers we have seen, this model features an interior mesh tote bag, so you can refill the ice without removing all the contents. Simply lift the bag out and let the water drain through, pour the water out of the cooler, and refill. This method is much easier and faster than taking all of your food and drinks out first, so you can make the most of your day while keeping your supplies fresh.
What to Look for When Buying the Best Soft Sided Cooler
Still unsure which soft-sided cooler to choose? In our in-depth buying guide, we tell you everything you need to look out for to make the perfect choice.
|Some more great coolers|
|Best Wheeled Cooler|
|Best Backpack Cooler|
Soft-sided coolers can vary widely in price. The right option for you will depend heavily on your intended use and budget.
If you spend your weekends’ boating, fishing, camping or RVing in tough conditions; a soft-sided cooler that is highly durable and offers long ice-retention would be your best choice. The top-spec models that can retain ice for several days are often expensive, usually priced at around $200- $300+, but you can find reliable options with ice retention of 48 hours for a little less.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a model that can keep your food and drinks ice cold for the duration of a picnic or day trip, a cheaper cooler will do the job. These models are a little more basic, but so long as they have good insulation, they will hold ice for several hours. These types of coolers are more affordable, usually priced around $30 – $100.
Whatever your budget and needs, it is important to do your research first and not rush to buy the most expensive cooler you can afford. Reading our soft-sided cooler reviews above will help you decide which model suits you best.
It’s no surprise that insulation is one of the most important considerations when choosing the best soft-sided cooler. If a cooler doesn’t keep your supplies cold, then it’s no better than any other bag.
Closed-cell insulation is the best choice, this is due to the density of micro air bubbles within the foam that help to slow down temperature changes. Soft-sided coolers that offer several layers of insulation are more effective than those that only have one thick layer. The more layers of insulation, the more effective a cooler will be.
However, it’s important to consider that coolers with very thick insulation are more likely to be bulky and have less storage capacity. Therefore, you’ll have to weigh up which of these factors is most important for your lifestyle.
Straps, Zips, Bungee Cord, and Buckles
The best soft-sided coolers will have sturdy straps that are double-stitched for extra strength and durability.
Most models can hold several cans, and will understandably become quite heavy when full – so the straps must be able to withstand this weight without failing.
Buckles should be made from heavy-duty plastic or metal to ensure they will last the test of time. Some coolers have roll-down tops that are secured with buckles, a bit like a dry bag, so any buckles must be secure and reliable under strain.
Coolers that have zip closures are more common. Zips should be airtight and leakproof to prevent warm air from getting into the storage compartment. Heavy-duty zippers can sometimes be a little tough and awkward to open and close for the first few uses. This is normal and should become easier with time. A lubricant or zipper wax may be advisable to maintain performance.
For additional external storage, bungee cords are useful. Many soft-sided coolers will feature bungee cords across the top of the lid, where you can stuff a picnic blanket, sweater, beach towel or sunscreen for easy access on the go.
Weight, Size, and Portability
Soft-sided coolers are generally designed to be portable, but some are easier to transport than others.
When choosing your new cooler, it makes sense to consider the weight before purchasing. After all, this will be the empty weight and the cooler weight will increase substantially once you have filled it with all your ice, cans and food.
With regard to size, the capacity that’s best for your needs depends on how you intend to use it. If you head out on solo fishing trips, a small cooler will suffice. But if you are planning to bring it on family picnics or to large gatherings around a grill, you’ll need to choose a model that has adequate capacity for refreshments for several people.
It goes without saying that the larger the cooler, the more difficult it will be to carry, especially when fully loaded. Therefore, coolers that offer a choice of carry straps are a good option.
Look for models that have both top carry handles and side handles for flexibility. Shoulder straps are also useful for lighter loads, as you can carry the cooler while keeping your hands free for other items.
As mentioned previously, the best soft-sided cooler for you is heavily dependent on how you intend to use it.
For day trips fishing, picnics and summer days on the beach, coolers that are lightweight, easy to carry and can hold ice for at least 8-12 hours are your best bet.
Coolers that have a capacity of 20 cans are a good choice for average-sized family excursions, as they will be compact and portable, but still hold enough supplies to keep everyone refreshed.
On the other hand, for weekends away camping, RVing or large gatherings at BBQs, bigger capacity coolers that have longer ice retention are recommended. Models with extended ice retention will keep foods fresher for longer, which is especially important for raw meats, fish and dairy products.
Larger models will naturally be heavier and bulkier, but this is a minor trade-off to keep several days of supplies safely chilled on ice.
Storage – Collapsed Size
It’s worthwhile checking the collapsed size of any soft-sided cooler before deciding to purchase.
Some models will fold down completely to just a few inches – while others can be compressed when empty but will still take up a fair amount of storage space.
Other models with thick insulation may have quite rigid inner liners that prevent them from being collapsed or compressed at all without risking damage. These models are OK if you have the space to store them in your RV or boat, but they can be frustrating to carry back from a day out or when traveling.
Many soft-sided coolers come with a variety of useful additional features. Here’s what to look out for:
Shelf and Compartment Separators – Shelf and compartment separators are convenient for organizing your supplies and keeping wet items and dry items apart inside your cooler.
Some foodstuffs like bread, pastries and chocolate will sweat or melt if left in the heat, but go soggy if they make contact with ice water. Therefore, having the option to keep these items chilled and dry allows you to pack a wider variety of foods.
Shelves are great for preventing foods from getting squashed by heavier items during transportation.
Pockets – Having additional pockets is a useful feature that allows you to stash your valuables, cutlery, maps, snacks and sunscreen within easy reach – so you won’t need to carry an extra bag with you.
Bottle Opener – Imagine the scene – you’ve carried your cooler, loaded with ice-cold beer bottles, all the way to the beach to meet your friends. But, once you reach for a drink, you remember you left your bottle opener at home!
Having an integrated bottle opener on your cooler will save you from accidentally ruining your day and disappointing your guests.
Liner – Removable liners are a great option that makes cleaning your cooler much less hassle. Some models feature liners that have antimicrobial properties to reduce odor build-up, while others have rigid liners that provide added support but can be lifted out for cleaning.
A few models offer mesh liners that make replacing the ice quick and easy without removing all your supplies. All you need to do is lift out the liner, let the remaining ice water drain into the compartment, tip it out and refill.
Soft Sided Coolers vs Hard Sided
Soft-sided and hard-sided coolers each have their own pros and cons. The right type of cooler for you will depend on your lifestyle.
Benefits of Soft-Sided Coolers:
Weight – Soft-sided coolers are more lightweight than hard-sided coolers. Therefore, they are easier to carry to your favorite picnic spot.
Easy to Clean – Soft-sided coolers often have removable liners and antimicrobial properties, which makes it easier to keep clean and smelling fresh.
Collapsible – Soft-sided coolers can often be compressed or collapsed to save storage space. Hard-sided coolers will take up the same amount of space whether they are full or empty.
More Forgiving – Hard-sided coolers can be uncomfortable to carry and cause bruises if you accidentally knock yourself with them. They are also more likely to cause damage to surfaces if dropped.
Cons of Soft-Sided Coolers:
Durability – High-end soft-sided coolers offer great durability, but hard-sided coolers will always be a tougher choice overall.
Capacity – Hard-sided coolers are available with greater capacities than soft-sided coolers.
Protection of Contents – Soft-sided coolers don’t provide much protection to their contents. If you accidentally drop or knock over a soft-sided cooler, there’s a much greater chance your supplies will get squashed or broken. Hard-sided coolers are a better option for protecting delicate items.
Any of the models we have seen in our soft-sided cooler reviews would make excellent choices in their own right, but the best soft-sided cooler for you will depend on your lifestyle.
For large gatherings, the CleverMade Tahoe Collapsible Cooler Bag is our favorite pick. With a huge 50 can capacity and built-in bottle opener, this cooler offers more than enough space to pack refreshments for several people. It will hold ice for up to 12 hours and better still, once you’re done, it can be collapsed down for space-saving storage.
If you need long-lasting ice retention for weekend trips, ENGEL HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag is well worth a look. With impressive ice retention of 3-4 days, this soft-sided cooler is the ideal choice for keeping food and drinks at a safe and refreshing temperature for extended periods. It is also highly durable and has a generous 48 can capacity so you can pack enough for your trip.
For family day trips and laid back picnics, the Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack Original Nylon Soft Cooler is a great choice. This model has a smaller capacity that’s suitable for shorter adventures, is easily portable and offers ice retention of 24 hours in high temperatures. There’s also a handy side pocket for your valuables.
Lastly, for solo fishing trips or couples excursions, the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler could be your best bet. With a capacity for 12 cans, this popular model will keep ice frozen for 12 hours, but your supplies will remain chilled for up to 3 days. It’s lightweight, ergonomic design is comfortable to transport, but it is also durable enough to withstand tough conditions. We also like the attachment hitches on the front, so you can clip extra equipment to the cooler for hands-free portability.
Whatever model you choose, our soft-sided cooler reviews have something for everyone.