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BobVila - Best Soft-Sided Coolers

January 27, 2021 4 min read

The Best Soft Coolers for Taking Drinks and Perishables To-Go

You don’t need a heavy cooler to bring the party with you. One of these lightweight, soft-sided models will help make you the coolest fan at the tailgate party.

The cooler industry looks entirely different from how it looked 15 years ago. Some innovative brands came along and turned it on its head, producing heavy, very well-insulated hard coolers. While these coolers are tough (some can even withstand a bear) and keep beer cold for a week, they’re cumbersome and overkill for a day trip.

If looking for a lightweight food-keeping companion to take on your next day trip or adventure, check into the best soft coolers. These flexible, easy-to-carry coolers can handle drinks, sandwiches, snacks, and ice, so you can take the party everywhere.

  1. BEST OVERALL: RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Coleman Soft Cooler Bag
  3. UPGRADE PICK: YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
  4. BEST COLLAPSIBLE: CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag Insulated Leakproof
  5. BEST WITH WHEELS: Coleman 42-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner
  6. BEST PERFORMER: ENGEL HD30 Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Tote Bag

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Soft Cooler

Before looking for the best soft coolers on the market, consider a few key characteristics. Keep reading to find a list of the most important considerations while shopping.

Type

Soft coolers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, ranging from standard coolers in several sizes, coolers that look like totes, and even backpack-style coolers to throw over the shoulders.

Give some thought to your favorite activities. To just hang out on a beach blanket in the sun, a tote-style cooler may do the trick. For a hiking or camping trip, a backpack cooler may work best to provide hydration and food.

Material 

The best soft coolers come in as many different materials as they do shapes and sizes. Finding one made with a material that’s lightweight, tough, easy to clean, and well insulating is key to soft cooler bliss.

In general, most of the best soft coolers have shells and liners made from a durable fabric like nylon or polyester. These materials are tough, strong, and easy to clean. On the other hand, vinyl coolers at the lower end of the price scale often are less durable. At the top of the cost spectrum, some companies use proprietary rubber-coated fabric to provide optimal insulation.

Size and Weight

While a “bigger-is-better” attitude dominates the hard-sided cooler industry, soft coolers are all about flexibility and ease of use. Having a particular size and weight in mind while shopping can help you choose the best soft cooler.

Most manufacturers quantify cooler sizes by 12-ounce can capacity, so deciding on a size can be simple. Choose between 8-, 12-, 20-, 30-, and 40-can capacities. A capacity of 20 cans seems to be the sweet spot; it accommodates some drinks, food, and a few ice packs.

Obviously, the larger the cooler’s capacity, the heavier it will be. Some heavy-duty coolers can weigh between five and seven pounds. Since a six-pack of beer often weighs around two pounds, a seven-pound cooler could be overkill for a day trip.

Performance

As manufacturers strive to beat their competitors, they’re creating better performing coolers, and the consumer sees the benefit.

Some soft-sided coolers can store ice for up to a week, which is nice to know for those occasional longer uses. It also provides a benchmark with which to compare coolers.

Keeping water in or out also is important, so finding a cooler made with a leak-proof and waterproof seal and materials may be an important determining factor. A cooler that you can accidentally drop off the side of a rowboat without soaking the snacks could be of significant importance. Similarly, if the cooler and a picnic blanket are stored next to each other on a road trip, avoid a cooler that might leak melted ice water all over the car seats.

Portability 

A soft cooler won’t do much good if it can’t accompany its user on adventures. Portability is a big consideration, and how the manufacturer addresses that factor might have some bearing on the decision.

Smaller soft coolers don’t need many carrying options. A top-mounted handle or shoulder strap could work well enough.

Large-capacity coolers require a different approach. Consider backpack options and those with wheels and telescoping handles. Even for short hikes, these features make heavy coolers much easier to transport.

Versatility 

Some soft coolers may have extra pockets and flexible carrying options, while others have built-in features that make them more versatile.

A soft cooler that goes on a real adventure probably will be put in some precarious positions. For mounting on the roof of a car or to the back of a four-wheeler, many soft coolers feature nylon webbing for hooking them to bungee cords or tie-downs, keeping the brews from bouncing off on the way to the destination.

Other models collapse and pack into easy-to-store packages, perfect for storing in the trunk for grabbing cold foods at the grocery store. Some even fit into a backpack when empty, providing a bit of extra versatility if needed.

Our Top Picks

It’s time to start shopping for the best soft cooler. Keep the most important considerations in mind to make the best-informed decision possible.

CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag Insulated Leakproof

With the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag, it’s easy to keep a spare cooler in the trunk or with camping gear. This cooler’s polyester and PVA blend are lightweight but tough materials. The cooler can hold 50 12-ounce cans, with some extra room for ice. It features three layers of insulation and a leak-proof design.

The collapsible design may be CleverMade Cooler Bag’s best feature. The company uses patented SnapHinge hinges that click into place to provide structure but snap inward to fold the cooler into a tight package. It measures less than 3 inches thick when collapsed, making it ideal for keeping in the car for groceries.

 

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