The Drive: Best Soft-Sided Coolers in 2021

February 23, 2021 4 min read

Best Family Sized Soft-Sided Cooler

When the weather gets warm, you need to keep your food cold. Nobody wants runny potato salad, and warm drinks won’t cut it. That means you’ll need a cooler. Traditional coolers come in two varieties: large and cumbersome, and small and cumbersome. They take up huge amounts of space and are very 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 out there, but we found some of the best to keep you eating well on the go. Read on to see which is best for you.

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.

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.

Key Features


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.

Other Considerations

  • 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 Family Size: CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag 

Family-sized outings call for family-sized coolers, and our pick for soft-sided options is the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag. This large cooler holds 50 cans plus ice. The outer dimensions measure 18.25 inches long, 12.25 inches wide, and 12 inches high. When not in use, you can collapse this cooler to a height of less than 3 inches. Internal supports in the base, sides, and rims help this cooler hold its shape and protect your food. A load rating of 50 pounds means this bag is strong enough for picnics, food delivery service, and summertime trips to the grocery store. This cooler uses three layers of waterproof insulation to keep melted ice inside. This option doesn’t have the thickest insulation, but its capacity and portability make it a great choice. 

One downside of the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag is that it has been known to leak. Some customers have reported this issue upon initially using this soft-sided cooler. If your product does leak, reach out to CleverMade and report the manufacturing defect. The company has an excellent customer service team and will likely send you a replacement cooler.



See the full article here. 

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