CONSUMER REVIEWS | By ADAM REEDER
Large hard-sided coolers definitely have their place. However, soft coolers can do the same job as hard-sided models, but they're easier to transport and stow.
Besides the fact that soft coolers are light and portable, they're also a great way to bring just enough of what you need for a day or even just an afternoon of fun. Soft coolers range from small containers for your lunch to backpacks for a day-long adventure.
If you're ready to dive in and get a new soft cooler, then keep reading. We've compiled this helpful buying guide to help you choose, and we even included a few reviews.
Considerations when choosing soft coolers
Soft cooler benefits
Coolers can get heavy in a hurry when you start filling them with ice, drinks, and snacks. That's why lightweight soft coolers can be a welcome change for camping and outdoor enthusiasts. They're also easy to fit into tight spots because the walls of the cooler are pliable. Finally, soft coolers are usually well insulated. So long as they have enough ice, most soft coolers will keep their contents cold for hours on end.
Types of soft coolers
Lunch box coolers are the smallest style available. They're most often used for toting a single meal for a day at work or a day trip. Some include a removable interior and a detachable shoulder strap.
Shoulder-bag coolers are a little bigger than lunch box coolers. They usually fit enough food for four to six people. These coolers often have a wider carrying strap than lunch box coolers. They're a great option for camping, fishing, or a day at the beach with a small group of friends or family.
Backpack -style coolers are a somewhat recent invention. As the name would suggest, they resemble a backpack from the outside. However, the interior is insulated just like any other soft cooler. They're great for situations where you might be transporting a lot of items and need your hands free.
Cooler size is most often described in terms of the number of soda cans that can be held inside. While a lunchbox-sized soft cooler would suffice for one person, you probably need at least a shoulder bag cooler for three or more people. Large soft coolers usually hold between 12 and 24 cans, while extra-large options can carry as many as 42.
Soft coolers are insulated most often with either closed-cell foam or insulated beads. Both items retain cold well. The best soft coolers can retain ice for up to 24 hours, with cheaper options retaining ice for around 8 hours.
Straps and handles
Soft coolers always have some sort of handle or strap to make transporting them easier. Think about how you usually tote a cooler and what situations you will use it in when choosing the type of strap or handle you need. For those who always need their hands free, a backpack cooler might be the best option.
Some soft coolers have wheels on the bottom. This makes for easier transport when your cooler is full of food and drinks. Keep in mind, though, that it can be tricky to roll such a cooler over sand or uneven terrain.
Compartments and pockets
Pockets can be extremely useful when you've packed a large meal for multiple people. They can hold utensils, napkins, and condiments. These are all items that can be easily forgotten if you don't have a dedicated compartment or pocket for storing them.
A removable liner is incredibly helpful if you want to wash the interior of your soft cooler on a regular basis. Removing the liner allows you to wash it in the sink, keeping your cooler clean and bacteria-free for the next use.
Water and UV resistance
Most soft coolers are UV resistant, though it's not as easy to find a water-resistant model. If you plan on using your cooler for boating or fishing, then make sure that it's labeled as water resistant, so that you don't get unwanted water into your cooler.
Most soft coolers cost between $15 and $300. $15 soft coolers are most often lunch box coolers. For $100, you can get a mid-level cooler that can hold up to 24 cans of soda. If you spend closer to $300, you'll get a premium soft cooler with closed-cell foam insulation, which may hold as many as 42 cans.
Q. How should I clean my soft cooler?
A. The inside and the outside of a soft cooler should be cleaned using warm water and dish soap. If you need to get out difficult stains, then you can use a baking soda and water solution to scrub it clean. Cleaning the interior of your soft cooler after every use will keep lingering odors at bay.
Q. Can I fill my soft cooler with ice?
A. Yes you can. However, some find it more convenient to fill their soft coolers with ice packs or even frozen bottles of water. Otherwise, you can end up with a lot of water in your cooler after the ice melts.
Soft coolers we recommend
Best of the best: Yeti's Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
Our take: A rugged soft cooler for the weekend warrior looking for a useful daytripper.
What we like: Durable as well as lightweight, this solidly built cooler has a leak-proof seal to keep the cold in and the warm out.
What we dislike: Costs more than most other soft coolers.
Best bang for your buck: Coleman's 16-Can Soft Cooler with Hard Liner
Our take: Great insulation and a great price to match.
What we like: Coleman makes dependable coolers, no matter the style. The hard line feels sturdy and well-made.
What we dislike: Some users reported eventual cracking in the hard liner.
Choice 3: CleverMade's SnapBasket Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler
Our take: A good all-around cooler that's small enough to be portable but big enough to be useful.
What we like: Collapsible design is incredibly convenient for stowing.
What we dislike: Some found the zipper to be less durable than they would have liked.
Adam Reeder is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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