Lightweight and portable. From a trusted brand, it boasts quality construction, solid zipper, and leak-proof design. Some users report that items stay cold longer than expected.
Expensive. For the price, a few owners say it should keep items colder for longer than it does.
Durable and well-made. Ideal for travel; keeps food cold. A great value.
Occasional issues with the interior hard liner cracking.
Does a terrific job keeping food cold. Roomy yet portable. Durable design with heavy-duty zipper. Easy to clean.
Heavy and somewhat hard to carry when full. The zipper may also be stiff upon initial use.
Roomy and easy to close and clean. Insulation quality is comparable to that of pricier coolers. Excellent value.
A few users feel the shape is awkward. Occasional reports of quality issues with zipper and lining.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
When you’re out and about – camping, fishing, hiking, or simply traveling in your car – it’s helpful to have a cooler along that can keep your food and beverages cold. Hard coolers are fantastic to have on hand, but sometimes, you need a cooler that’s lighter and easier to carry. Enter the soft cooler.
Soft coolers are made of pliable, insulated material. Most have zipper closures to secure the items inside, though some have a drawstring or fold-over closure. The seal that’s created is usually airtight to effectively maintain the temperature inside.
If you’re ready to buy a new soft cooler, consider our top recommendations in the product list. If you’re looking for general tips on choosing a soft cooler, our shopping guide has all the information you need.
Perhaps you own a hard-sided cooler already. These are invaluable pieces to have on hand for some types of events. But there are benefits to owning a soft cooler, as well. Ideally, you will have access to both during your travels and adventures.
Here’s a look at a few of the major perks you enjoy when you own a soft cooler.
Soft coolers are lightweight. They’re much easier to carry when you’re on the go than hard coolers. If you’ll be hiking or traversing over difficult terrain, a soft cooler is a much more portable option and can usually be carried by one person.
Soft coolers are easier to fit in tight spaces. You’ll have a much easier time fitting a soft cooler in the trunk of your car, beneath the seats of a boat, or inside your camping backpack than you would a hard cooler.
In spite of their awesome portability, soft coolers provide effective insulation. In other words, your food and beverages won’t get warm … just be sure to add an adequate ice source to the cooler ahead of time.
There are three main types of soft coolers: lunch box coolers, shoulder bag coolers, and backpack coolers.
Lunch box soft coolers
Lunch box-style soft coolers are smaller and, as the name implies, they resemble the traditional lunch box in size and shape. In fact, many people use them as lunch boxes at work or school. Features may include a removable interior liner for easy cleanup and a detachable carrying strap.
These coolers generally aren’t large enough to supply more than one person. For camping, fishing, or boating trips with a group, we recommend a larger option.
Shoulder bag soft coolers
Shoulder bag-style soft coolers are a bit larger; you can often fit enough food and beverages for four to six people inside. The most noteworthy feature is the wide carrying strap, which is usually not detachable. If you regularly travel with a small group of friends or family on camping, boating, or fishing trips, this type of cooler may meet your needs.
Backpack soft coolers
Backpack soft coolers resemble real backpacks in that they have carrying straps you can use to carry the cooler on your back. If you’re looking for a larger soft cooler and prefer to keep your hands free, this may be the right option for you. Many styles are fully waterproof – ideal for fishing and boating trips.
The size of a soft cooler is usually measured in terms of how many cans of soda, beer, or soft drinks it can hold. Of course, only you know how much food and drink you need for your trip, but we offer some general guidelines.
One or two people could probably get by sharing a smaller soft cooler, such as a lunch box cooler. This type of cooler holds one to four cans. A group of four to six would want to share something larger that could hold up to 12 cans. Large soft coolers usually hold 12 to 24 cans; extra-large soft coolers may hold up to 42 cans.
You might decide you need a smaller cooler for one trip and a larger cooler for another – it all depends on your needs and preferences.
Soft coolers are lined with insulation to keep your food and beverages cold. Most soft coolers consist of either insulated beads or closed-cell foam, both of which have the ability to retain cold temperatures.
Some manufacturers specify the amount of time you can expect the cooler to retain ice before it melts. For the most effective soft cooler, look for an option that retains ice for approximately 24 hours.
Straps and handles
All soft coolers feature some type of strap or handle to make carrying a little easier. It may be easier to carry a cooler with a long shoulder strap if your hands are already full. In other instances, you might prefer a cooler with a shorter carry handle. Fortunately, some coolers have both a shoulder strap and a carry handle so you can decide in each situation which carrying method is best.
We advise buyers to look for a cooler with padded straps and handles for the most comfortable grip.
If you tend to pack heavy, you may prefer a soft cooler with wheels so you can drag it behind you. Keep in mind, however, that wheeling a cooler over rough terrain when you’re camping or hiking can be difficult.
Compartments and pockets
Some soft coolers feature a single compartment; others feature two or more compartments as well as interior pockets for the separate storage of various food and beverage items. Some even offer exterior pockets. Here, you can place foods that don’t need to be chilled, utensils, napkins, and other accessories that you might need.
To make cleanup easier, look for a soft cooler with a removable interior liner that you can simply wipe clean when you’re finished using it. Some coolers have liners with anti-microbial properties. These liners are more resistant to the development of mold, mildew, and odors.
Water and UV resistance
No matter what type of travel you plan to use it for, it’s a good idea to look for a soft cooler with a water-resistant outer shell in case you get caught in the rain. If you plan to use the cooler for boating, fishing, or other water-related trips, it’s a must-have feature.
Some soft coolers are also UV resistant, so you never have to worry about the exterior heating up if you’re out in the sun.
Soft cooler prices vary based on the size and type of insulation used. In most cases, you can expect to spend between $15 and $300 on a soft cooler.
The most budget-friendly models range from $15 to $45. These smaller coolers usually feature insulating beads and can hold 12 cans or less.
If you want a soft cooler that can hold a bit more, say 12 to 24 cans, the price will likely be higher. In the $35 to $100 price range, you can find mid-level soft coolers with closed-cell foam insulation.
If you want to store 24 cans or more in your soft cooler, you’ll likely pay somewhere between $100 and $300 for a quality model. These high-end coolers also tend to feature closed-cell foam insulation.
Q. Can I put ice in a soft cooler?
A. You can put ice in a soft cooler to help keep your food and beverages cold. However, many users prefer using ice packs or even frozen water bottles instead. You’re less likely to end up with puddles at the bottom of your cooler this way.
Q. What’s the best way to clean a soft cooler?
A. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning both the interior and exterior with a solution of warm water and mild dish soap. For tough stains on the interior, a mixture of baking soda and water usually works well. Allow your cooler to air dry completely before storing it to prevent mold and mildew growth.
Q. How long does a soft cooler usually last?
A. While a soft cooler isn’t as durable as a hard cooler, it can hold up very well with proper care. Clean and store your cooler according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you should be able to enjoy it for two to ten years.