Whether you’re a light-luncher or a frequent tailgate party goer, someone who enjoys a relaxing day out fishing or a big fan of adventurous weekends- soft coolers are one of the must-have items for day-trippers and vacationers alike. These convenient and simple bags can turn an expensive trip to the countryside into a pleasant picnic for the family, with a touch of preparation.
If you’re not sure what makes the best soft coolers for your needs, however, then fear not. We’ve done all the homework for you, so you can choose the right cooler for you and your loved ones, based on your own needs. Read on to find out our top picks, as well as why you’ll love these options as much as we do.
The Best Soft Cooler
Easily coming up tops as the best soft-sided cooler is the YETI Hopper TWO 30. Known for top-of-the-range products that will put a smile on your face, this YETI cooler bag is built to make your food last. It’s easy to clean and puts other heavy-duty competitors to shame- and, best of all, it’s completely leak proof thanks to the HydroLock Zipper.
Closed-cell rubber foam offers improved insulation and liner is made from FDA-approved food-grade material, which means you won’t have to worry about food going bad. Meanwhile, the outer material is made from a high-density fabric which protects your goods from UV damage and punctures.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for keeping food hot from what we could see during our research, and it can come with a hefty price tag. That said, if you’re looking for a cooler that will hold up against pretty much anything you can throw at it, yet remains surprisingly easy to clean, giving the YETI Hopper TWO an incredible longevity, then this should be your first choice.
Closed-cell foam insulation
- ModelYETI 123
- Weight9.5 pounds
Designed to carry drinks with ease, this is a great option for users who want to focus a little more on their beverages over food- although it will carry plenty of that, too. The vertical orientation means it’s much easier to get a decent amount of drinks in, if you’re thinking of doing a little tailgating or heading to a friend’s house on a sunny afternoon- all the while being easy to carry thanks to the reinforced handles.
The soft liner features an antimicrobial lining to keep your food safe and is even removed, making it all the easier to clean, after use. Meanwhile, multiple pockets allow for any accessories to be brought along without a hitch and the heat-welded seams mean that this cooler is even leak-proof.
Easy to clean
Convenient size and features
- Weight1.2 pounds
Available in a range of sizes, the RTIC Day Cooler comes with plenty of room for days out with friends or solo adventures. Ideal for bringing drinks along on your travels, the biggest size you can grab here is the 24-can day cooler, but for those who prefer their nibbles, there’s plenty of room for these two- with added mesh pockets and side compartment to bring room temperature food
The lining is antimicrobial, so you can be sure your food will stay fresher for longer, and is made from an FDA-approved food contact material. So, your bag will resist odors, mildew and mold- and your food hygiene will be top-notch.
- Weight2.13 pounds
A great go-between for soft-sided coolers and hard-sided coolers, the Titan Deep Freeze is as tough as they come, while still being lightweight and easy to carry. The insulation reflects heat thanks to its heat barrier and the company boasts of insulation so effective, that ice will stay put for up to 3 days!
The interior is made up of a hard-shelf, allowing you to keep your soft goods separate, and the HardBody liner means the likelihood of your precious produce being squished during transit is next to none.
Heat barrier deflects heat
Abrasion and puncture-resistant
- BrandArctic Zone
- Weight3.05 pounds
Another option that comes in a range of sizes, our particular favorite is the 12 Pack option, since it’s large enough to hold enough for a couple of drinks, or a great lunch for a couple, while still being small enough to carry around easily.
The lining is made from luggage-grade nylon, which is coated on the inside to make it suitable for perishable goods. Meanwhile, the insulation is a high-density foam that boasts of 24-hour cooling time. As an added bonus, you can personalize these bags with a name or company logo, if you so choose.
Coated nylon material
- BrandPolar Bear Coolers
- Model PB 121
- Weight2 pounds
Originally designed for cabin crews, this is a bag that comes with a myriad of features that make it ideal for travelling. There are plenty of different ways to bring this bag along with you, including a slide-on pocket to combine with telescopic handles- perfect for long-haul trips.
There is also plenty of storage options with the Crew Cooler, such as the cooler compartment and upper “dry food” area, as well as multiple, zippered pockets and mesh side walls to keep any accessories you feel like bringing along. The best part, however, is the removable PEVA liner, which makes cleaning a doddle.
Separate compartments for food types
Replaceable food liner
Multiple carrying variations
- Weight2.01 pounds
If you’re looking for a large soft cooler but don’t want the hassle of carrying the weight all day, this is the best option for you. The telescopic handle and wheels make this more of carry-on luggage than a cooler if it was for the removable antimicrobial lining and leakproof heat-welded seams that make this a great option for keeping food cool on those hot days.
Telescopic handle and wheels for easy movement
- Weight2.2 pounds
This soft-sided cooler from AO Coolers comes with a removable shoulder strap that allows for comfortable carrying and multiple side-pockets for dry food- great if you plan on spending the day out on boat, or if you’re having a picnic with friends. Meanwhile, the leakproof liner and thick insulation means your food will stay colder, for longer, without fear of any liquid incidents on your travels.
Reviewers note that these can come in sizes that are a little larger than expected, so we’ve favored the 24-can option for a reasonable size. If you’re looking for a longer trip or want to pack in plenty of food and drinks, plus some extra ice packs to keep your food even cooler, then you should opt for the larger sizes.
Separate compartment for dry items
Removable shoulder strap
- BrandAO Coolers
- Weight 2.8 pounds
If you’re looking for a cooler that’s large enough for one, then this should definitely be your next purchase. The Deluxe cooler bag from Carhartt is a dual-compartment cooler bag that works perfectly as a lunch box- but isn’t great for long days out or to fit enough food and beverages for multiple people.
This isn’t a waterproof or leak-proof option, but the liner is still decent enough to handle light rain- great if all you need is something to get you through the commute but not so great for those who like to take their coolers out on day trips. The main benefit of this cooler is that you can use it for both hot and cold food, without any fear of damaging your new bag.
Heavy duty, shower proof material
Can be used for hot or cold food
- Weight10.4 ounces
This super-tough option from RTIC is another of our firm favorites for solo use or smaller requirements. The two-inch foam insulation refuses to give way to mediocre temperatures, while the laminated fabric and welded seams ensure this cooler stays leakproof- perfect for day trips and hikers.
These are available in a range of colors and are surprisingly comfortable to carry, with multiple handles across the bag, for your preferred carrying method. The main downside here, is that this is not a big bag for the money, so if your budget is lower, you may be better off with one of our other options.
- Weight3.85 pounds
This collapsible cooler is perfect for those who take regular vacations or simply want a long-lasting cooler that can easily be stored away and brought out when needed. The lining is tough enough to be leakproof and keep food well-insulated, but soft enough that it can easily be folded down for storage or travel.
This is a bag that has great value for money, as the large capacity is practically given away at an amazing price. Don’t be fooled, however, as the quality can easily hold up to some of the more expensive options here, with a rip-stop fabric and water-resistant outer lining.
leakproof, insulated interior
Heavy duty material
- Model 7060-H011-0006
- Weight 2 pounds
Available in two designs, the MIER large capacity cooler bag comes with PEVA liner and thick insulation- making a great option for both hot and warm food and therefore the perfect accompaniment to lunch.
While this cooler isn’t as effective as some of the others on this list, MIER’s choice is still a good option for the price. Plus, you can always add in some extra ice packs to increase the cooling period, thanks to the reasonable capacity that comes with it.
Multiple side pockets
Multiple carrying options
- Model MIER-LHB005
- Weight 15.8 ounces
Thermos and Under Armour have come together to create this fantastic cooler bag that, while a little pricey, comes with some impressive features. Take the Flex-A-Guard liner, for example, which is both strong and easy to clean or the IsoTec premium foam which helps keep food cooler, for longer.
Add in the little extras like the molded rubber handle for improved grip, the surprisingly large capacity and the multiple side pockets for dry foods and cutlery, and you have yourself a perfect day-bag for those short trips away.
IsoTec premium insulation
- Weight 1 pounds
Designed to be a great, heavy-duty option for solo travelers, the Marine Ultra from Igloo is leak-resistant and antimicrobial with a thick closed-cell foam insulation for added perishable longevity. It also has the benefits of being UV protective and comes with a bungee-cord upper to really encourage you to fill this little cooler to the top.
There have been some complaints, however, that the stitching comes loose if you’re too rough and the bag has a tendency to leak if you’re using ice- although these reviews do mention that the customer service of Igloo is always keen to resolve these, so problems are always quickly resolved.
Closed-cell foam insulation
- Weight2.92 pounds
We’re top-and-tailing our list with YETI products, with the Hopper Flip cooler coming in as our last option. Again, this comes in with a hefty price tag, but it certainly seems to be worth the extra money, if you have the budget.
Once again using ColdCell insulation and HydroLok zipper, this is another 100% waterproof option- with the main difference being the size of this cooler. This is really only good for one person use since the capacity of this cooler is lacking a little. Still, being resistant to pretty much every nasty going and so easy to bring along, the YETI Hopper Flip is still a great choice for travelers and adventurers.
Closed-cell foam insulation
- Weight2.8 pounds
Best Soft Cooler Buying Guide & FAQ
What to Look for in a Soft Sided Cooler
- Insulation performance
First and foremost, you’ll need a cooler that can keep your food at the right temperature, so you don’t end up with food poisoning and gastroenteritis. As such, you should look into getting a soft-sided cooler that can keep food cool for as long as possible. Preferably, this would also have separate storage areas for the food you need to keep cold, versus the food that can stay in more temperate environments.
In other words, you’ll have to look into the insulation performance of your soft-sided cooler bag. The cold temperature of your cooler will leak out the cool air and the Fahrenheit will drop over time, but the best soft coolers will be able to hold this for much longer than an average soft cooler.
This all depends on how much you’re planning to take with you. Just as you need a soft-sided cooler that can handle enough food or drinks for the number of people who travel with you, you also don’t need a massive cooler if you’re only looking for a bag that’s big enough for your own food.
A bag that comes with you on day trips or weekends away is likely to get a little battered during the process of travel. Not only will your cooler need to handle possible drops, as well as bangs and scrapes, you should grab a bag that is reinforced around its weakest areas- the zipper, around the handles and the seams.
Getting a soft cooler bag that has heavy-duty lining means your bag will have increased longevity, and the likelihood of you losing your goods will drop considerably. Meanwhile, you should also watch out for areas around any extra features that your bag might have, as these can potentially create weak points in the material or structure.
This is one of the biggest reasons why customers purchase a collapsible cooler, since hard-sided coolers are more likely to be made of tougher materials, such as metal or plastic. Meanwhile, soft sided coolers can be made from everything from cotton to the tougher weaves with nylon.
These can affect a number of different aspects, all of which add to the overall quality of your cooler, such as whether or not your new cooler will be waterproof- a huge benefit if you are planning to take a few drinks that need to be kept on ice. There’s also a difference in how airtight each material will be, with some being more likely to let out the cold air and bring in warm air- which will affect the longevity of your food’s shelf life.
Admittedly, you might be more concerned about whether your bag can carry the weight you intend to place inside. However, it can also be important to register how heavy your new cooler is- especially, if you’re planning on using it regularly for work or similar purposes. A lighter bag is less likely to be as strong as a heavier bag- but it will be much easier to carry around on your shoulder or back if it’s lightweight.
With the rising competition brought forward by the online market, the added features that each bag brings can be ever-tempting. These features can include portability, for example, such as extra handles or the ability to carry your cooler bag in multiple ways, to find the most comfortable for yourself. It can also mean that you invest in a collapsible cooler, which is much easier to pack away when not in use or put to one side once they food has been eaten on your travels.
Other convenient features include having drainage holes, or openings, which will allow you to safely remove the water contents from your bag once you’re finished using ice or similar. Meanwhile, others may have something simple, like capacity markings or built-in cup holders. All of these are nice additions- but they should affect the overall usability of your soft cooler.
Benefits of Soft Coolers
All coolers have the benefit of keeping your food fresh, reducing the risk of health problems as a result of poor food hygiene and keeping your food tasting great, and your drinks cold. All of which is perfect for trips out or sunny days where you would otherwise be spending money or struggling to find somewhere to eat out. Soft coolers, of course, come with further benefits, including:
You can fill up a soft-sided cooler with the amount of food and drink that you desire, and then easily store the malleable bag away. Hard-sided coolers are tougher, as you have a set size and capacity, which needs to be stored upright and somewhere that has enough space to hold your cooler.
They’re also much lighter, which helps when it comes to smaller bags in particular, as these are more frequently used for shorter day trips or simply to take your food to the office. This makes it much easier to bring your soft cooler with you- especially at the end of the day, when it’s empty!
Soft coolers are cheaper because they’re made from cheaper materials. As opposed to metals and plastics, the fabric used in soft sided coolers comes at a better rate and this makes them more affordable to the average household.
Being lighter, easier to store and affordable makes soft coolers extremely convenient. As well as this, they’re more likely to come with different carrying methods, as opposed to a hard handle, such as in backpack format or as a messenger bag- which is infinitely easier to carry around. Being hands-free allows you take other items that you’re carrying around with you, without strained fingers and wrists, too!
How to Pack and Use Your Cooler
Coolers are brilliant for keeping your drinks cold and your food fresh- but this can only happen when you use them appropriately. As much as we would all love for it to be as easy as opening it up and chucking in what you need, there is a method to the madness that will help you get the most out of your cooler.
- First of all, you should refrigerate your cooler the night before- especially if your bag uses gels or similar. This will give the bag enough time to absorb the cold and increase the longevity of your food and drinks.
- If you’re looking to add in some ice, ready for some nice, cold drinks with your pals, you should try to go for the chunkiest ice available- this will last longer and create less water, which in turn will melt smaller blocks even faster.
- Pack in layers! Begin with a layer of ice at the bottom of your cooler, which will lay a solid foundation for the rest of your food and drinks. Then use a piece of cardboard or similar above this- it might sound strange, but it will provide a simple barrier for when you reach in- helping you grab your intended item over a handful of ice.
- If your packaging is thicker or larger than necessary, then you can always opt for re-sealable bags. This can cut down on wasted space, which will in turn create more room for you to pack in your favorite nibbles and beverages.
- If you’re packing different food types- cooked and raw meat for a BBQ, for example- be sure to keep these items separated. This is basic food hygiene but it’s easy for food to slip and greet each other when sliding around the trunk of your car, so use re-sealable bags or other forms of barriers to stop the meeting.
- Keep your cooler closed when not in use- there’s not much point keeping your cooler bag open if you’re not using it, since this will essentially lower it to a storage bag for ice (and not for very long, at that). Luckily, cooler bags are easy enough to open and close without hassle, so this shouldn’t be too inconvenient.
- Always clean out your soft cooler bag after it’s been used. We discuss how to do this in more detail, in our FAQ section, below.
Soft Coolers FAQ:
Q: What is a soft cooler?
A: Soft coolers, also known as soft-sided coolers are reinforced bags that have a reflective or protective lining, which allows for food to stay at the temperature required- providing it was placed in the bag at that temperature in the first place.
They slow down the time it takes for your food and drinks to become warm, which allows food to stay fresher and much healthier, as bacteria is less likely to grow in cold areas. The fresh food also increases the taste and texture of your meals, which is a huge bonus.
Q: How do I clean my soft-sided cooler?
A: First and foremost, you’ll need to ensure that your bag is free from loose dirt and debris, which will inevitably be hanging around your bag. Simply tip your soft cooler bag upside-down and give it a good shake, to do this.
Next, give your bag a quick wipe over with some dish soap and warm water. If you notice spots that don’t come away, then just allow the mixture to sit over the dirt and let it soak in. For the teeth on zippers, or awkward spaces, use a soft-bristled brush to shift away food that may have gotten caught in the teeth.
Once again, wipe over the tougher spots that wouldn’t come away previously, and- if they still won’t budge- use your brush there too, being firm but gentle so as not to damage the cooler.
If you have a zipper grease, such as the supplied tube with the YETI cooler bag, apply this to the top end of the zipper. This will keep everything working as it should and ensure that you can keep using your soft cooler bag, for years to come.
Never use any bleach or harsh chemicals when cleaning your bag, as this can contaminate food and cause harm to those who use the cooler.
Q: Are all of these coolers leakproof?
A: While the majority of our top picks are leak-proof, it is unfortunate that not all of them are classed as being leak-proof. That said, they will naturally have a considerable durability and the linings and seams will all be able to retain water. Where the cooler isn’t waterproof, we have made it clear in our descriptions- including where the bag will leak- for example, some zippers aren’t created to withhold water, and therefore should be kept upright.
Q: Will a soft cooler work for both hot and cold items?
A: Not all soft coolers have the ability to keep hot items hot, as the temperature can sometimes damage the bag, or the cooler simply isn’t designed to stay hot. Of course, some of our top picks do have this feature and we’ve let you know in the descriptions when this is the case.
Our Top Pick
The YETI Hopper TWO Portable Cooler easily sails past competitors when it comes to durability, longevity, size and convenience. The reinforced handles and sturdy material seem almost indestructible and the closed-cell foam lining provides a long-lasting insulation that will ensure your food and drinks stay as fresh as can be. Ideal, since the space of the bag allows for plenty of food to be kept, too.
Then there’s the fact that this bag is completely waterproof- including the zipper- something that is easily one of the toughest parts about carrying ice around with you on your travels. Add to this the accessories available and all-in-all you’ve got yourself a great travelling companion when it comes to camping weekends and day trips.