CAMPING & HIKING

Best Soft Sided Cooler: Keeping Your Beverages Cooler, Longer

Soft sided yeti cooler
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

When searching for the best soft sided cooler, you want to keep many factors in mind. Secondly, you want to layout what the exact intention of the cooler is. What exactly are you trying to keep cold? Are you carrying primarily drinks? Is it a mix of food and drinks, with some items that require an ice pack?

Or are you simply packing a picnic for two? If you’re looking for recommendations for the best soft cooler, you’ve come to the right place. We are going to discuss logistics, price, style and the whole bit, just to find the perfect cooling carrier for your next adventure.

TYPES OF SOFT-SIDED COOLERS

Okay, okay, so you’re probably thinking… a cooler is a cooler. They all are the same carrier with the same intention: to keep your drinks cold. Throw an ice pack in an isolated bag and you’re good to go. Though this strategy is a quick fix for one without a cooler, there are actually many different shapes, sizes and styles to a cooler and we’re about to delve into them all.

Soft sided coolers lined up

Let’s go ahead and nix the hard, box-shaped cooler, because let’s be honest, that’s not what we’re recommending here. But keep in mind, that option is tempting to some. Let’s take a look at the rest.

Lunchbox-style Cooler

These type of coolers have that “worker on the job” This might be the type of cooler that you take to work everyday if you work outdoors, or have a labor-intensive job. It could also serve as just a drink cooler (as most coolers can).

These types of coolers are soft-sided, but often have that firm feel to the cooler itself, creating a lunchbox shape and look. Often these types of coolers can be personalized; this is another reason as to why I gave it the lunchbox name.

Performance Cooler

I’d like to think of these coolers as the on-the-go type. Compact and easy to carry, these kinds of coolers typically store an adequate amount of food, drink, or even just ice, and come in handy for hikes, camping or even long bike rides. If you’re looking for an easy solution to keeping your items cold without lugging around a bulky cooler, this hip choice is definitely one to keep in mind.

Standard Cooler

The standard cooler is a simple solution and you can’t beat the price. It’s just what you would picture in your mind when someone would mention a soft-sided cooler. It typically holds up to 18 cans, comes in multiple colors and features a strap to carry over one or both of your shoulders.

Standard soft sided cooler

It’s an easy way to get the job done and to be honest, most people would probably purchase a standard cooler first, before doing much research on buying a more “high-tech”, expensive cooler. If the standard cooler keeps your drinks cold, why not stick to what you know, right?

Backpack Cooler

The title of this cooler is pretty self-explanatory. It’s also a pretty awesome cooler. These types of coolers are typically lightweight and smaller, disguising themselves as an average-sized backpack, but surprise! They double as a cooler. Great for an active family or day outings.

These coolers don’t necessarily need to be holding an 18-pack of Cola (because let’s be honest, your back would not be happy about that), but are great for a multi-purpose bag, including some items that might need to stay cold throughout the day.

COOLER LOGISTICS

Okay, so now that you have the “type” of cooler in mind, you might want to start thinking about narrowing down your choices based on specific features of those kinds of coolers. You might have found the perfect kind of cooler, but is it the right price?

Taking out beverage from cooler

Does the style and color suit you? Some coolers are priced higher than others and some are only available in two colors. Some coolers just have it all. If you’re looking for specifics, here are some recommendations to get your mind right.

PRICE

For an item like a cooler, price is definitely a category to keep in mind. This may shock you, but coolers can actually get quite expensive, depending on the brand and the quality of the product. The normal range for soft-sided coolers tend to be from the normal $15 to a high of $320.

Both of the brands that mark those ranges are recognizable, so it is the quality that should be focused on, along with the duration of cooling. When it comes to coolers, you are definitely getting what you pay for.

STYLE

The style of your cooler depends on the purpose of your cooler. Are you looking for a smaller, standard cooler just to hold some drinks? If so, style might not matter as much to you. However, if you’re looking for not only a quality cooler that is going to hold your food and drink for hours on end, and you’re looking to impress, the style and design of the cooler is going to be important to you.

Soft cooler on boat

A practical style is also an option. Walking around with a cooler all day could be tiring, therefore, one might opt for the “backpack” style, as mentioned above.

DURABILITY

Durability always tends to be an important factor. When browsing coolers, this is essentially the quality of the cooler that you’re looking at. Many of the recommended coolers feature a double insulation wall, and sweat proof material, both equally as appealing.

Non-leaking coolers with a “dry bag” design tend to be among the most durable and quality of the bunch. The only thing to be wary of with a durable cooler is the heftiness of the bulk you’re carrying plus the added weight of the cooler. That is definitely something to keep in mind.

VERSATILITY

Most coolers are pretty versatile in the sense that you can any kind of cooler, almost anywhere. However, some coolers are going to be more conducive to outdoor adventures or activity than others. For example, you wouldn’t bring a large ice chest with you to walk around an amusement park all day.

Durable soft side cooler

A soft-sided cooler would be much more conducive to this environment. Furthermore, a backpack style cooler or even a thin, performance cooler would work best with this type of outing. Purchasing a versatile cooler that could be great for multiple activities is probably your best bet.

CAPACITY

This specification is almost as important as the purpose for your cooler. Consumers typically choose their cooler based on the size of what they need to carry, and the maximum capacity that it holds. A common question might be, “how many drinks can that thing hold?”

Most standard coolers hold 18-20 cans comfortably, but don’t forget about the room you need for ice or a cold pack. Another option is a brand that offers the same specifications of a cooler, yet in various sizes. The capacities might range from 12 cans to a 48-pack.

Your Cooler Options

Now that you’re aware of what to look for in coolers, it’s time to look at the top rated products on the market.

BEAR COOLERS 24-PACK

BEAR COOLERS 24-PACKDimensions: 18 x 12 x 10 inches

Weight: 3 lbs

Specific features: Nylon, Sweatproof, High Density Foam, Personalizable

Best Use: Outdoor activities, All-day outings, Lunch bag, Tailgates

This is the perfect, everyday cooler. Not only is it made of sweatproof nylon and a durable, high-density foam shell, but it has the standard capacity option, among others. It features a bottle opener on the side of the bag and also can be personalized with an embroidered monogram or logo.

This bag would be perfect on the arm of mom or dad, heading to a day outing with the family. Rugged and leakproof, this cooler was built to make it last.

Check the price on Amazon

YETI HOPPER PORTABLE COOLER

YETI HOPPER PORTABLE COOLERDimensions: 16 x 22 ⅝ x 12 inches (outside), 14” x 17” x 9” (inside)

Weight: 5 lbs (empty weight)

Specific features: 100% Yeti, Coldcell insulation, Hydrolok zipper, DryHyde Shell

Best Use: Outdoor adventures, Camping, Fishing

This sturdy cooler could be described as rugged with a sleek design. It features coldcell insulation, also known as double-walled, and also boasts a hydrolok zipper to keep all the moisture in, along with a DryHyde shell to prove its sweat proof capabilities.

Not only is this cooler made of 100% Yeti material, but it’s leak proof, waterproof and even (unnecessarily) bulletproof. The pros to this cooler: it’s definitely the type of portable cooler that you want to take for an all day event; it’s a convenient fix to keeping your beverages or food cold for long periods of time and it holds up to 24 cans or 30 pounds of ice…wow!

The con of this cooler: the price. Unless you’ve calculated a big budget for your next cooler purchase, this one just might break the bank.

Check the price on Amazon

ICEMULE COOLERS PRO COOLER

ICEMULE COOLERS PRO COOLERDimensions: 13 x 8 x 5 inches

Weight: 5 lbs

Specific features: 20L, Insulated drybag, Backpack straps, Leakproof

Best Use: Hiking, Picnic, Outdoor Activities

If you’re looking for the best on-the-go cooler, you can stop at this recommendation. This cooler is perfectly designed for an active lifestyle; it falls into the category of a performance cooler.

This cooler features a backpack strapping system with extra padding to lessen the load while you’re hauling a big one. Not only does it provide you with an insulated drybag, but it’s 100% leak proof and can hold ice up to 24 hours.

This cooler is seen as pretty compact, but actually has a capacity of 20L and can hold up to 18 cans. The material of this cooler is also quite special. The outside struts a unique shell of 1000 denier tarpaulin, while the inside is made of heavy duty vinyl; these materials encourage adventure. So what are you waiting for? Take your drinks to go!

Check the price on Amazon

AO CANVAS SOFT COOLER WITH HIGH-DENSITY INSULATION

AO CANVAS SOFT COOLERDimensions: 12” x 10” x 17”

Weight: 4 lbs

Specific features: 24 cans, Fabric canvas, Removable shoulder strap, leak proof liner

Best Use: Hiking, boating, fishing, outdoor adventures

Though this cooler looks similar to a “lunchbox style” cooler, it’s actually much more durable and versatile than it seems. Made of heavy duty, fabric canvas and sporting a removable shoulder strap, this cooler is even more appealing with its high density insulation feature.

Though this brand of soft coolers offers a variety of other coolers with various capacities, this specific cooler holds 24 cans comfortable and can hold ice up to 24 hours, even in 120 degree weather…bring on the challenge! Not only does this cooler work well in the heat to keep your items cold, but it also works well in the cold, to keep your items hot!

The selling points of this cooler must be its durability and versatility. The style of the product isn’t too shabby, either.

Check the price on Amazon

COLEMAN 16-CAN SOFT COOLER WITH HARD LINER

COLEMAN 16-CAN SOFT COOLERDimensions: 11.02 x 11.81 x 7.87 inches

Weight: 1.9 lbs

Specific features: 16 cans, Shoulder straps, Mesh pockets, Plastic liner,

Best Use: Casual activities, Lunchbox, Trips to the park

This is yourstandard, go-to cooler that is a bang for your buck and gets the job done. You have probably seen this in your nearest target, in the camping or coolers section. It is said to hold 16 cans, but seems to hold less, by the given dimensions. These types of coolers tend to run small.

It does have a nice shoulder strap and mesh pockets for extra storage, which is a plus. The plastic liner that comes with the cooler is removable, which is another nice touch. Of course with this cooler you can’t expect ice to hold all day, but it’s perfect for a daily lunch box or your average picnic. Lastly, you can’t beat the price. This type of cooler is the epitome of: you get what you pay for.

Check the price on Amazon

OAGEAR COOLER SPORTS PACK

OAGEAR COOLER SPORTS PACKDimensions: 12.25″ x 16.5″ x 7.75″

Weight: 1.4lbs

Specific features: Lightweight, No-leak liner, Backpack straps

Best Use: Casual activities, Hiking, Family outings

This cooler is great for an all-day outing. If you’re looking for a cooler that could be designed for a family of four to head to the nearest amusement park, you just might have found your match. Budget-friendly and easily carried with its backpack straps, this cooler has an impressive capacity of 20 cans plus ice, and even features a no-leak liner.

Additionally, if you’re lightening the load as you go about your day, the cooler itself is light as a feather, weighing in at a whopping 1.4lbs. Definitely an easy items to carry around a park all day. If you aren’t sold yet, just check out the price. This cooler finds itself as the perfect go-to for the average, active family. Another upside? It comes in a variety of colors!

Check the price on Amazon

IGLOO 36-CAN SQUARE MARINE ULTRA

IGLOO 36CAN SQUARE MARINE ULTRADimensions: 10.75 x 13.25 x 17 inches

Weight: 2.7 lbs

Specific features: Man-made materials, Thick insulation, Anti-mildew & stain, Leak proof

Best Use: Casual outings, Lunch box, Outdoor drinks

This cooler falls into the category of a standard cooler, with a modern look; it’s offered in only white. Some might love that it is made of man-made materials, and most will enjoy the easy-to-clean fabric, anti-mildew and anti-stain promises, and lastly, the leak proof, thick insulation.

Though every cooler should make a leakproof promise, this cooler has a .35” thick PEVA material to keep that promise. This cooler is advertised as an outdoor adventure cooler, yet with the color white and lunchbox look, it wouldn’t be the best choice for your next camping trip. The price is mediocre and the reviews are sub par. Not a bad everyday choice, but this cooler is certainly nothing special.

Check the price on Amazon

STAY COOL

So let’s recap. There are a variety of styles of coolers, and it’s important to first know the intention of your cooler and its main purpose in life before making the big consumer leap. Is it your new lunchbox or your next hiking buddy? Is it for family outings and everyday picnics, or are you climbing the nearest peak?

Do you prefer the shoulder strap, or would you be more comfortable with the backpack style? Keep a reasonable price in mind and know how frequent you are willing to break out the cooler and then you can go from there. Though you might not have realized how in depth cooler talk can get, now you are aware of your options, so use the knowledge to your advantage!

Paddler carrying soft cooler

If you’ve tried any of these coolers, or have enjoyed a beverage out of a friend’s cooler (that was mentioned), then drop us a line! We’d love to hear how your experience was. Hopefully it was cool! If you haven’t had a chance to try one of these coolers, it’s important to check out the reviews before doing so.

We have plenty of other reviews on our site, so don’t be afraid to meander about. In the meantime, try to keep cool. These soft-sided coolers aren’t going anywhere. Except for your next adventure!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Greg Abbot

    To me, the AO brand cooler seems to stand out. I have only heard good things about it. However, after reading this article I have to say that IceMule also seems like a very exciting option because of its unique design, which seems to be centered around ease of use. I’m going to have to look into that brand a little more.

  • Mark Foster

    Oh, please do. The fun part of reading about reviews is that you get to compare a lot of products to see which one is best for you. I always go for lightweight soft sided coolers and pay particular attention on how long the ice stays solid inside. After all, making sure that food and beverage stays cool is the primary task of these babies. :o)

  • Liz Edwards

    Great article! We have the Polar Bear cooler and it is amazing. We bought it for a camping trip to South Georgia where temperatures can be so hot, but it performed like a champ. I like that it is lightweight and that it has enough space to fit in our food and drinks. Just a tip, you can fold the ends over in place for enhance performance, it really works.

  • Mark Foster

    Being aware of the temperatures and how much food you need to store are the most important things when it comes to a cooler. You will need something large enough for your trip, and you need it to keep your items from going bad. The Polar Bear cooler is one that works in that manner, so great choice!

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