Which soft cooler is best for your road trip?
Traditional coolers have rigid sides and lids and are ideal for keeping drinks, food and snacks cool. However, they are often too cumbersome and heavy for travel. These soft coolers use flexible foam insulation and rugged waterproof materials, making them the perfect companion for camping or road trips.
Choosing the ideal soft cooler will depend on the length of your road trip, the activities you will use it for and how many items you want to keep cold.
What to know before you buy a soft cooler
Types of coolers
There are several designs of soft coolers. The smallest is a lunchbox cooler, which can hold four to six drink cans. Shoulder bags are midsize and a good option for up to four people. Backpack soft coolers tend to be the largest and have two straps for carrying on your back.
Most soft coolers use either insulated beads or closed-cell foam panels to keep food and beverages cold. Beads are usually cheaper and can keep ice from 12 to 24 hours. Foam tends to be more effective, with the thickest bags keeping ice for several days at a time.
Because they’re lightweight, soft coolers are immensely portable and easy to store. Some have short handles, which are fine for moving the cooler around the campsite or in and out of a vehicle. If you want to take the cooler further afield, look for one with a long padded shoulder strap or twin straps for carrying it like a backpack.
What to look for in a quality soft cooler
The capacity of a cooler is usually measured in cans. The smallest hold four cans at the most and are better for day trips. Large coolers may hold 12, 24 or even 48 cans. Depending on how you will use it, try to strike a balance between capacity and portability, as the more items there are inside, the heavier and more difficult it is to carry.
To be useful for traveling, a cooler needs to be flexible yet water-, puncture- and ultraviolet-resistant. Materials such as canvas, neoprene and nylon offer good durability and can be coated to add protection. Straps should be strong enough to carry the cooler at full capacity and have double-stitched connectors at each pickup point.
Some coolers have useful extra features such as a removable liner that makes it easy to clean, additional compartments and pockets for stashing gear, a rigid base for protection or even wheels on some larger models. However, these will add somewhat to the cooler’s weight and cost.
How much you can expect to spend on a soft cooler
Prices can vary significantly depending on the size, material and type of insulation. A small cooler for a day trip can be found for under $40, while one big enough for a multi-day trip can cost as much as $400.
Soft cooler for your road trip FAQ
Can I put ice in a soft cooler?
A. This depends on the construction of the cooler. Some have stitched seams that will leak when the ice melts and are better used with ice packs. High-quality coolers with taped seams and waterproof closers can be filled with loose ice and emptied out once it turns to water.
How should I care for a soft cooler?
A. It is important not to overload a cooler, especially if you will carry it long distances, as this can put a strain on the handles and zip. After use, clean both the inside and outside with a mild detergent and allow it to dry completely before storing it.
What’s the best soft cooler to buy for your road trip?
Top soft cooler for your road trip
What you need to know: This cooler has a 30-quart capacity that can hold up to 50 cans. It is well insulated and keeps ice for roughly three days.
What you’ll love: It is made of durable nylon coated in thermoplastic polyurethane, making it waterproof and puncture-, UV- and chemical-resistant. It has a wide mouth for easy loading and unloading and has two wide shoulder straps. It closes using strong magnets and includes a carrying strap and a built-in bottle opener.
What you should consider: It’s only available in Alpine green.
Top soft cooler for the money
What you need to know: This budget-friendly cooler is made from a heavy-duty waterproof material with sealed seams.
What you’ll love: It can hold plenty of ice and up to 12 cans or four bottles of wine. It has a removable padded carrying strap and rolls up compactly when not in use. And it floats, making it useful for fishing, sailing or kayaking as well as camping, hunting or hiking.
What you should consider: It only keeps ice for about 24 hours.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This cooler bag is available in six colors and has both a wide opening and a 20-can capacity.
What you’ll love: It uses closed-cell foam insulation that keeps items cool for several days. The top closes with strong magnets instead of a zipper, creating a watertight seal, and twin quick-release buckles mean it won’t open unexpectedly.
What you should consider: Due to its rugged design, it’s quite heavy even when empty.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Gillespie writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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