Whether you’re camping, tailgating, or just chilling outdoors with friends and family, you’re going to crave a cold drink. Or maybe you want to bring some food to a barbecue, boating trip, or the aforementioned camping, but you’re worried about how well it will sit in the heat. When this happens, you might look into the world of coolers.
There are several different types of coolers, but they can be split between hard and soft. Hard coolers are made from firm materials with multiple layers of insulation and are typically meant to keep food and drink cold for days. Soft coolers, on the other hand, are meant to be used for shorter periods of time. Their structure is made of fabric and insulation, making them soft to the touch.
Not all soft coolers are made the same and it can be difficult to find the best one. To help make the decision easy for you, we’ve reviewed the five best soft coolers and taken an in-depth look at their pros and cons, size and weight, main features, and how long each one manages to keep food and drink cold. When making our selections, we’ve focused primarily on how good each cooler is at keeping consumables fresh, as well as the general size of the container.
At the end, we also give a few tips and tricks on distinguishing between coolers.
Ready? It’s time to cool off with a cool review.
Best Soft Coolers Available Online
This soft cooler does exactly what it claims to do, which is have space for 30 regular soda or beer cans. There is a removable hard liner inside for packing flexibility, as well as a central pocket and two side mesh pockets for improved storage. There is also a front zipper pocket, although this can be difficult to pack properly because of the size of the cooler and what needs to fit inside of it.
One great feature of the Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler is that it is easy to clean and possesses an antimicrobial PEVA liner. This liner helps prevent the buildup of mold and bacteria and can also cancel unpleasant odors common with frequently used soft coolers.
This product is available in red and green, giving it a small element of creativity. The interior seams are also heat welded to prevent leaks, meaning it can be stuffed with ice and still be leak-proof.
- Tons of pockets
- Antimicrobial PEVA lining
- Easy to Clean
- Only keeps things cool for 3-4 hours
Why It’s Recommended: This cooler is expensive, well-sealed, and is conveniently resistant to bacteria and mold, which are common in many soft coolers.
The AO Coolers Original Soft Cooler is a behemoth of a product that comes with a 24 hour guarantee, meaning it is expected to keep things cool for a maximum of 24 hours no matter what the weather. This is especially handy for people who have all day trips planned and would like a cooler large enough to store food and drinks for 3-4 individuals.
The AO comes in four sizes, measured by cans: 12, 24, 36, and 48. It’s also available in five different colors and doesn’t sacrifice quality in any of the variations, making it a great choice for people who value individuality and customization. There is one central containment chamber as well as two additional pockets.
This is a shoulder strap messenger style bag. There are two internal layers of insulation, and the interior has been sealed to be leak-proof.
- Available in four sizes
- Double layer of insulation
- Keeps cool for 24 hours (in 120 degree weather)
- This bag can be quite expensive
Why It’s Recommended: This soft cooler is highly customizable, features multiple layers of insulation, and is great for people who would like to plan day trips in hot climates without fear.
The Canway Cooler Bag features a 40 can design, meaning it is large enough to hold 40 330 ml soda or beer cans without issue. The design is gray and features a large central containment chamber with two smaller pockets along the side. Unlike some other soft coolers, this one comes with two ice packs included to help in keeping food and drink cool all day long.
The interior is sealed to prevent leaks, and the exterior is designed to be water-resistant and dirt-proof. This makes it great for rougher terrain and people who would like to bring a reliable cooler camping, to the beach, or hiking.
This is also one of the only soft coolers to feature an easy access design. While the top lid can be zipped closed, there is also a small mesh spot that can be opened and closed to provide quick access to food and drink without needing to undo the entire cooler.
- Comes with 2 ice packs
- Easy access design
- The shoulder strap is unpadded and short
Why It’s Recommended: This is a relatively inexpensive but still large soft cooler great for outdoor get-togethers.
The RTIC Soft Pack could be considered the rhinoceros of the soft coolers because it is covered in a tough skin and truly packs a punch. There is one large main container and then a couple of different pockets for extra storage space. Unlike a lot of other coolers, the RTIC has an exterior that does not sweat no matter how much ice is put inside. There is also 2 in. of foam insulation for extra protection.
The RTIC Soft Pack is available in six different colors for a modicum of customization and individuality for people who are concerned about the appearance of their equipment. The no leak zipper helps prevent spills and drips from the top.
This pack is highly durable, possesses welded seams, and features two different methods for carrying, including handles and a shoulder strap.
- Exterior does not sweat
- There is 2 in. of foam insulation
- Available in multiple colors
- No leak zipper
- Highly durable
- Super expensive
Why It’s Recommended:
The Hanic 30L Large Cooler Bag is a large soft cooler that specializes in being leak-proof. It can hold a maximum of 40 330 ml cans or 20 500 ml bottles. This product has one large pocket to store the majority of food or drink and then two separate pockets along the sides for extra storage space. This is a messenger style bag with a single strap and is available in a muted gray and orange to avoid clashing with other gear.
Some other great features about this soft cooler are the 1-year warranty, the fact that the fabric is dirt proof, and that the bag is collapsible. The warranty covers damages from the manufacturer as well as rips and tears during regular use, which is great for people who worry about not getting their money’s worth. Being resistant to dirt is great for campers and hikers, and being collapsible is wonderful for people who don’t want to lug around an empty cooler after a party.
The only real downside is that users need to be careful to not put more than 2 lbs. of ice in the cooler, because it will then leak.
- It has pockets
- Includes a 1 year warranty
- Capable of holding 40 cans
- Not as leak-proof as advertised
Why It’s Recommended: This soft cooler is recommended because it is large, has multiple pockets and flaps, and is entirely collapsible.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Soft Cooler
Soft coolers often resemble portable bags and are ideal when someone wants to be able to transport the cooler easily. Thus these products tend to range in size from being small individual lunchboxes to large bags that can fit enough food and drink for 4-5 people.
Soft coolers will also take a variety of forms, including messenger, lunchbox, and backpack styles to suit people’s different needs. Some can even be rolled away and hidden when they’re no longer being used!
However, while all coolers are insulated, a soft version is considered the least insulated because there isn’t a lot of room for the proper materials. Thus these should only be picked when consumables only need to be kept cool for a couple of hours rather than all day.
With this in mind, the main things to consider when choosing a soft cooler are: What will be stored in the bag? How long will the cooler be in use? and What style of cooler would best suit your lifestyle?
Food v. Drinks
Nothing ruins a trip more than accidentally getting food poisoning. It’s important to then understand just how long food and drinks can be stored in a soft cooler before they start to go bad. The FDA recommends that products like raw meat, eggs, dairy, and certain fruits and vegetables need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and most alcohols need to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler to prevent the growth of bacteria after opening.
When someone uses a soft cooler, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain such low temperatures for a long period of time. At most, the cooler can preserve food for 6-8 hours. Drinks get off a little easier, being able to be cool for between 10-12 hours.
So, when picking the best soft cooler, you need to think about what you want to pack and how long you intend to keep it in the cooler. If you have a barbecue planned for late in the evening and are unsure about how long it might be, consider buying a soft cooler with a long shelf life to keep you food and drinks at the best temperature.
Usability refers to how well you can use the soft cooler during day to day functions. This means examining how well your desired model opens, closes, maintains its insulation, and whether or not it has extra pockets to store more snacks.
Many people are attracted to lunchboxes that have zippers, and it’s easy to see why. In general, zippers do a good job of creating a complete seal. However, a big issue is that the zipper is less impressive without some form of lubricant to keep it functioning properly because of the constant cold it is exposed to. Roll tops and clips are also popular, but can take some finagling to open and close.
Besides how the cooler opens, it’s also important to look at straps and how the bag is intended to be carried. A single strap is good for short trips. However, if someone plans on hiking or camping, it is a good idea to find a cooler that can be carried like a backpack or even has wheels for simple transportation.
Messenger v. Lunchbox v. Backpack
The final thing to consider is which version of a soft cooler you prefer. They are available as messenger bags, lunchboxes, and even backpacks. The majority look like messenger bags since they are spacious but are not meant to be carried long distances. Lunchboxes typically have enough room for a single person to have food and drink, while a backpack is ideal for a large group with a meal and multiple drinks.
Whenever you want to bring food and drink with you in the great outdoors, it’s important to have a portable soft cooler to keep everything a great temperature. These coolers can vary in size, but they provide an honorable service by letting you crack open a cold soda on the beach on a hot summer day. Or, they can be essential for bringing sausages to a friend’s barbecue at a campsite.
Whatever the case may be, you’re going to want a soft cooler for all of your 24 hour food transportation needs.
We hope our reviews and buying guides have been helpful for you. Since we chose several different styles and sizes of soft coolers, we quite certain at least one of them will be perfect for you this summer. Even if you decide to go with another product or even another cooler type, we’re certain our tips and tricks will be helpful for buying the best cooler for your special events!