Which soft coolers are best?
Soft coolers keep your favorite drinks cold and your favorite foods fresh. Whether you’re out on the lake fishing with a loved one or having a picnic in the park with friends, soft coolers are an easy way to keep everything you want in one place at the proper temperature.
Soft coolers are lighter and easier to carry than their hard plastic counterparts. The top pick, the Yeti Hopper Portable Soft Cooler, comes in three different sizes and is tough enough to withstand anything you or nature throws at it. Here’s everything to consider to find the perfect soft cooler for you.
What to know before you buy a soft cooler
The soft cooler capacity is measured by how many 12-ounce cans it can hold. The smallest type of soft cooler is a lunch box-style soft cooler. These contain one to four cans and are best for people making regular solo trips or for two people who don’t require much storage space.
Buyers seeking more room have lots of options. Once you go beyond the lunch box, soft coolers can range from holding 6-50 cans, although most fall between 8-18. While bigger may sound better, be realistic about how many full cans of soda or beer you can carry at one time.
Most soft coolers have a padded handle to carry it by hand. Some models will also have a shoulder strap. A shoulder strap is great if you’re only planning to carry your soft cooler a short distance, but it may cause problems when hiking. Having a heavy bag on one side of your body for an extended period can cause back problems or make you unsteady on rough terrain.
To solve this issue, consider a backpack-style soft cooler. This will distribute the weight more evenly across your body. If you’ll be on fairly even ground, consider a model with wheels on the bottom like a piece of luggage.
Water and UV resistance
Look for a soft cooler with a water-resistant outer shell. This will prevent your food from getting soggy if you get caught in the rain.
Some soft coolers also have a UV-resistant outer shell. This is great if you’ll be out on the lake all day or in some other situation where your cooler will have to be in the direct sun for an extended period.
For even more information, check out the complete soft cooler buying guide from BestReviews.
What to look for in a quality soft cooler
Soft coolers use insulation to keep your food and beverages cold. This insulation uses gel beads or closed-cell foam. Some manufacturers note how long their bags keep their chilly temperature. If you’re planning an overnight trip, look for models promising 24 hours of cold time.
To prolong the cold time of any bag, store it in a cool, dark place. You don’t want to put cold items in a hot bag. If you have room in your fridge or freezer, store your bag there the night before you plan to head out.
Easy to clean
It’s crucial to clean your soft cooler immediately after every use to prevent mold, mildew, odor and other cleanliness issues. To assist in this effort, many models will have a removable liner. This makes it much easier to wash the part of your bag that touches your food. Many liners also contain antimicrobial properties.
If buying online, check user reviews to see how easily previous buyers have been cleaning their bags. You won’t use a bag that’s difficult to clean no matter how great it is otherwise.
Storage compartments and add-ons
Some soft coolers have a single interior storage compartment. Others will have two or more. Consider what you’ll be storing most often and whether that means you’ll need a divider. Also, look for bags with exterior pockets. This is a great place to keep things that don’t need cold, like napkins, utensils and wet wipes.
Certain models also have hooks on the outside to attach a bottle opener, a compass or anything else you might need while out and about.
How much you can expect to spend on a soft cooler
Soft cooler prices depend on storage capacity and material quality. You can find budget-friendly models holding a dozen or fewer for $15-$45. Mid-range coolers holding 12 to 24 cans are $35-$100. Models holding 24 or more cans, or models made of super high-quality materials, can be $100-$300.
Soft cooler FAQ
What’s the best way to clean a soft cooler?
A. Check your manufacturer instructions. Most will recommend washing the interior and exterior with warm water and mild dish soap. For tough interior stains, mix water and baking soda. Be sure to let the cooler air dry completely before storing or reusing.
Should I use an ice pack or actual ice in my soft cooler?
A. Unlike hard plastic coolers, soft coolers don’t have a spout for easy drainage of melted ice. Having a pool of water sloshing around at the bottom of your soft cooler is an open invitation for mildew. Instead, use an ice pack. Some models even come with one.
What’s the best soft cooler to buy?
Top soft cooler
What you need to know: This rugged option comes in three sizes and a wide variety of colors.
What you’ll love: It is tough but still lightweight and easy to use. It has solid construction and leak-proof design.
What you should consider: This option is pricey, and some users say it doesn’t do any better of a job than less expensive models.
Top soft cooler for the money
What you need to know: This option provides good insulation at a great price.
What you’ll love: It is available in five colors, and comes with a shoulder strap and exterior pockets.
What you should consider: A few previous buyers say their interior hard lining cracked over time.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: It comes with significant capacity and collapses for easy storage when not in use.
What you’ll love: This option holds up to 50 cans, and you can add a shoulder strap or ice packs. It also comes in four colors.
What you should consider: This unit is very heavy when full, and some users report issues with the zipper.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Frank Paiva writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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