Coolers are a necessity for camping trips, beach dates, and sporting events. But, honestly, hard-shelled coolers are an inconvenience. Maybe it’s time to bring a convenient, lightweight, soft cooler to your next big event.
What to Look for in a Soft Cooler
Before buying a soft cooler, it’s important to consider your needs. Soft coolers come in many shapes and sizes, and if you go out to buy the first one that you see, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. There’s no point in buying a giant soft cooler for beach dates, and you’ll only disappoint your friends by bringing a personal sized soft cooler to a get-together.
- Insulation: Unlike hard coolers, soft coolers aren’t the best insulators. Usually, soft coolers can retain ice for about one day. Consider it a trade-off for portability. That said, some soft coolers have better ice retention than others, and the Engel HD30 can retain ice for up to four days.
- Durability: In the world of soft coolers, durability tends to be directly related to price. All of the soft coolers on this list are lined for easy cleaning, leak-prevention, and decent durability. But if you want a soft cooler that can survive the abuse of camping trips and boat rides, be prepared to pony up some cash.
- Size and Portability: Soft coolers come in a variety of sizes and are ultimately more portable than similarly-sized hard coolers. The biggest benefit of many soft coolers is that they can be collapsed for even more portability once they’re empty. Still, there isn’t a great one-size-fits-all option, so you may want to consider picking up a large volume soft cooler for bigger gatherings and a medium-size or personal cooler for smaller excursions.
- Capacity: Of course, your preferred cooler size is based on capacity. It can be challenging to tell a cooler’s capacity online, so we’ve listed each cooler’s size in quarts. For reference, ten quarts can hold about 17 cans without ice, or about eight cans with a reasonable amount of ice.
Once you’ve sorted out what you need from a soft cooler, it’s time to start shopping.
The Premium Option: Engel HD30 20qt Vacuum Seal Cooler ($200)
The Engel HD30 is a waterproof, well-insulted 20-quart tote with a built-in vacuum seal. It has an ice retention rating of up to four days, which is impressive for a soft cooler. Really, this is the perfect cooler for outdoor events or travel. It’s a great option for anyone who’s stuck between the convenience of a soft cooler and the ice retention of a hard cooler.
The Budget Option: CleverMade 31qt Collapsible Cooler ($30)
Of course, you don’t have to dip into your savings account just to buy a soft cooler. The CleverMade 31qt soft cooler is large, collapsible, and cheaper than a dinner for two. It’s leak-proof, and it can retain ice for about a day.
The Best Sports Pick: YETI Hopper 12qt Cooler ($200)
If you’re interested in buying a soft cooler that can handle a beating, then you should check out the YETI Hopper. It’s a reasonably sized 12-quart cooler with a leak-proof, puncture resistant case. It can retain ice for about one day, which makes it ideal for dangerous boat rides, hunting trips, and other outdoor expeditions.
The Best Personal Cooler: Coleman 8qt Collapsible Cooler ($14)
There’s no point in buying a soft cooler that’s bigger than your needs. If all you need is a small, collapsible cooler for beach dates or travel, then consider grabbing a Coleman personal cooler. It’s small and leak-proof, can retain ice for 16 hours, and it can conveniently fold down to a compact size when not in use.
For Ultimate Convenience: MIER 9qt Backpack Cooler ($70)
Soft coolers are made for convenience, but they can still be a bit awkward to carry around. If you need a cooler that’s good for hiking, biking, or even a day at a theme park, then check out the MIER backpack cooler. It’s adjustable, durable, leak-proof, and it can retain ice for a whole day. It also has a built-in front pocket (for bottle openers and other tools), a sternum strap that goes across your chest, and two daisy-chain attachment points.