Holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics, loves traveling and learning new languages. Fluent in Spanish, is learning French and Czech at the moment. Enjoys exploring national cuisines every time he visits new countries.
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous online and offline grilling masterclasses runs his own BBQ accessories shop.
Last updated: March 01, 2021
GrillGuru is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
A soft cooler that works like it is supposed to and gives you excellent value for your expenditure is surprisingly not easy to find. However, getting the best soft cooler is possible if you come prepared with the right information. This includes an understanding of soft cooler features and how they influence the use and effectiveness of the device.
The cooler features worth noting include capacity, dimensions, portability, weight, insulation, shell material, and the maximum ice life. An idea of the size of snacks and beverages you will be carrying may help determine if the capacity is enough. Other than that, you can check on weight, portability and dimensions to see how easy or challenging it is to transport the cooler. Further, the best soft coolers in the market will keep food and beverages cool and fresh for longer. If you want the same in your cooler look into the insulation and maximum ice life. Finally, shell material can shed some light on cooler durability. For us, these features were all integral in picking the soft cooler options below. We as well recommend these options as potential purchases.
Starting off our soft cooler list is the RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag. The image above shows the kanati finish, although the cooler is available in a few different colors as well. However, the color options you encounter may vary depending on vendors.
With this bag, you can carry up to 30 cans of a beverage if you want to. This is in addition to the ice that will help maintain cool temperatures. If also you need your drinks to stay cool for several days you can’t go wrong with this cooler bag. After all, ice can last ten days in the carry bag. Additionally, the closed-cell foam insulation is what makes this possible.
Of course, since ice will melt little by little in the bag, the no-leak zipper comes in handy. Otherwise, you would have to deal with escaping moisture, whether it is in your car or on your clothes. Also, carrying a bag with a wet exterior wouldn’t be comfortable for anyone.
Further, you can keep mildew and other microorganisms from your cans and food with the anti-microbial liner. Being puncture-resistant is also praiseworthy. You have the heavy-duty nylon exterior to thank for that.
What we liked: Impressive durability is one top feature you get from this cooler bag due to construction. Further, you can keep an exciting 30 cans in the bag cool and fresh for a relatively long time without worrying about the ice melting or microorganisms getting in. It doesn’t hurt having a few exterior pockets as well.
What could be better: The zipper being leak proof comes at a cost since it is difficult to open and close before you add the lubricating gel that comes with the purchase.
The YETI Hopper TWO Portable Cooler comes at a relatively steep price. This is in comparison to the other soft coolers listed. If the number of previous buyers and satisfaction rate is anything to go by this cooler is impressive.
Once you put your drinks and ice in the bag and close the zip, nothing will be coming out until you open it up again. This is thanks to the Hydrolock zipper and the leak-proof design.
You can decide if the 16-can capacity is enough for you prior to purchase. Also, you would need to be content with 48-hours ice-life. Consequently, only use this bag on outings that take less than two days.
Lastly, access to the cans is made easier by the wide mouth opening provided.
What we liked: Once the bag is open reaching cans is easy with the wide opening. However, nothing goes in or out of the bag unless you open the zipper. You are thus guaranteed a dry exterior and cool temperatures for your cans.
What could be better: The manufacturer could make things easier on users by making the bag lighter. Also, the bag is pricey.
The picture of the Hydro Flask Unbound Soft-Sided Cooler doesn’t do it justice since it is much larger than it seems. By looking at the dimensions, you can tell just how big the product is. As such, the 22 L capacity is not surprising.
Also, the manufacturer has figured out that loss of cold temperatures mostly occurs at the bottom of such bags. Consequently, the bag is re-enforced with more insulation material at the bottom.
Inside the bag, you get BPA-free liner which is another positive. You thus needn’t worry about the material seeping into the food or drinks you put in the bag. A maximum ice life of 48 hours is provided. As such, pack food and beverages that you can finish in less than two days before leaving the house.
What we liked: The size and capacity are enough for a small group of people to pack as well as keep their food and drinks fresh for two days. More insulation at the bottom as well shows a bit of innovation by the manufacturer. Also, with its backpack design, it is easier to carry, and the exterior pockets provide storage for something that isn’t food or beverage related. Finally, being toxin-free is a plus.
What could be better: The top parts of the bag could as well be better insulated.
As for the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler, it uses double-coated TPU in the making of its exterior. As such, This offers a harder exterior making it the only one of its kind listed.
What’s more, the product uses closed-cell foam, a material that has been proven effective in keeping temperatures as they are inside the cooler. This is something this cooler has in common with the YETI Hopper TWO Portable Cooler and the editor’s choice.
There is nowhere on the body of the bag that moisture can leak out from. This is inclusive of the zipper as long as it is properly closed. Also, food-grade liner in a tool meant for handling food is a plus.
Lastly, if you run into problems in the use of your Pelican Elite Soft Cooler remember you can turn to your three-year warranty.
What we liked: Not many such bags come with a warranty; hence this product deserves credit for that. Also, the hard case is durable, the closed-cell foam insulation effective and the leak-proof design is impressive. Food grade liner has also been included to keep your consumables safe to eat and drink.
What could be better: The zipper could make it easier for you to open. Also, the hard outer shell does make it more awkward to carry than other cooler bags.
With the OtterBox Trooper Cooler, you get three days of ice life which is exciting. Its 12-quart capacity is capable of carrying 16 cans. Nevertheless, that is only if ice is excluded.
Since ice is necessary for keeping your food and drinks cool, the capacity can be rounded off to around 12 cans. Thermal insulation works to keep the cold in and hot temperatures away from the ice and food. Moreover, when you close the seal, even moisture cannot escape the confines of the product.
Like the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler, this soft lunch cooler offers a food-grade liner.
You further benefit from having water-resistant pockets just in case you find yourself in the rain.
What we liked: The cooler will no doubt be easier to carry since it is so lightweight. You also can’t fault the construction since all the materials used are high-quality and serve a purpose. Additionally, water-resistant pockets keep whatever you are carrying in them dry even when you encounter moisture from outside sources. If you add that to the leak-proof design of the seal you have a top-notch purchase.
What could be better: Most buyers, as well as our team, seem to be satisfied with the product as it is.
This particular soft-sided cooler can be used for more than just keeping food and beverages cool. After all, the liner is removable. Also, given the coolers relatively low price, you get to save a few bucks as well.
Remember that the liner is treated so that it can keep away mold, mildew, odor and microbial growth. Also, the product has heat-welded seams to keep moisture from the ice in the bag from leaking out.
You as well have multiple pockets on the exterior of the bag. If you have any other supplies for your picnic or trip that don’t need to be kept cool, this is the place for them.
Finally, the handles are made to make this cooler easy to carry. Added onto this mix is an adjustable strap as well.
What we liked: You will love the 16-can capacity, the anti-microbial liner and the seams that keep moisture from leaking. The liner being removable is a plus. The multiple exterior pockets may prove useful as well. Finally, the price is enticing.
What could be better: the insulation liner isn’t very thick, and for that reason, the cooler can’t hold ice for longer than 24 hours.
The AO Coolers Original Soft Cooler is the highest capacity soft cooler for camping listed. If you are thus taking your whole family for a picnic in the park or a boating expedition, this could be the best pick. Note that the maximum ice life for this purchase is limited to 24 hours.
Remember the product can also hold 10 lbs of ice. Factor that into your calculations as you are trying to figure out how much weight you will be carrying.
For temperature retention, this cooler bag uses closed-cell foam which a lot of the competition has used as well. You as well get leak protection in the form of a TPU liner. If whatever you are carrying in the bag isn’t too heavy, you can use the shoulder strap. However, if you need help, you can take the shoulder strap out and have someone else hold one of two straps you will be left with.
What we liked: To serve a larger group of people you probably need a cooler bag of this caliber. Also, benefits of a high-quality soft cooler, including cold retention, a waterproof layer, and two carry options come with the purchase. What’s more, the canvas exterior can prove quite durable.
What could be better: The ice life could be better, and the cooler can be heavy to carry around when full.
An affordably priced 30 can soft cooler is available in the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 Can Tote. It has a max. ice life similar to that of the OtterBox Trooper Cooler.
It as well uses unique technology to maintain the temperature of ice, drinks and food which includes a Therma-Flect® radiant barrier and a triple layer ColdBlock™ base.
The bag’s interior is lined with leak-proof lining. Also, the product is puncture resistant. A feature not mentioned above is Microban, microbial protection which is embedded in the lining.
What we liked: This product incorporates multiple layers in its temperature retention efforts which is why the ice life is as long as it is. We also liked the durability. After all, the exterior is abrasion and puncture resistant. Lastly, this is a high capacity tote with microbial protection.
What could be better: The zipper construction could be better.
The PERMIAN Coolers Portable Cooler Bag with Roll Top is a soft-sided rolling cooler that many people prefer to take along their camping, canoeing and kayaking trips.
Furthermore, this is one of three cooler options listed to feature welded seams. If you are kayaking, or canoeing you will appreciate that it can keep the water out as well as ice in.
The product can as well be rolled for easy storage. Another pro is the padded shoulder strap.
What we liked: The product can be rolled up and end up taking less space in storage. The maximum ice life provided is also superior to a lot of options in the market. Further, an easier time carrying the bag is provided by the padded strap.
What could be better: The inner liner responsible for temperature retention doesn’t last long.
If you liked the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner, you will likely like the Coleman 30 Can Removable Liner Cooler as well. The names imply the same manufacturing sources.
You will likely see the pros of the 16-can option we mentioned above here as well. The removable liner is one of them. Another is the front zippered pocket. They even feature a similar shoulder strap and seams meant to keep ice in the bag.
The two bags are starkly different where capacity is concerned. Some might even say the bags are more or less the same bag with this option being more expensive and having a larger space for food and drinks.
What we liked: This is a higher capacity option as compared to the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner. You get heat-welded seams for keeping ice and moisture in. You as well get pockets for storage of other supplies for your trip.
What could be better: The ice life offered could be better to cater to camping trips and other plans that last for more than 24 hours. Further, it doesn’t seem like the manufacturer used the best quality zipper.
Coleman have also introduced a soft lunch cooler for NFL lovers. Also, the design of the exterior will be customized to feature the team you support. The one pictured above is one you can get if you are an Arizona Cardinals fan.
Like the other Coleman options, it has a 24 hours ice life limit. Given its small size and capacity, it is lightweight and quite affordable. Also, it comes with an anti-microbial lining as well.
The adjustable strap is a pro if you are looking for a comfortable carrying experience.
What we liked: We loved that the bag is easy to carry as you go to show support for your team. The anti-microbial liner is welcome as well.
What could be better: The size may be too small for some of you to store both your lunch and your drinks.
Things to Consider
You may not be able to go out and buy all eleven options listed above. However, you can buy the soft shell cooler that would be ideal for how you want to use the device. You can as well depend on the buying guide below to help lead the way in picking from your available options.
Benefits of soft coolers
Soft coolers are a better pick for some in comparison to hard coolers. This is because they are lighter, don’t take up much storage space when you’re not using them and are easier to transport. You may attribute the last-mentioned benefit to the straps that may even be wrapped around your shoulders.
Features to consider when buying a soft cooler
You can see disparities between various soft coolers above mainly in the section of features. This means varying capabilities. You thus may be wondering how to choose between them. Read below, and you will find out.
The style of the soft cooler should match what you are most comfortable with. The backpack, for instance, is better for those who want hands-free carry of their drinks and snacks. If you are in the water, canoeing or kayaking, this is one of the better options for you.
The same is the case for hikers, bikers and others who may need to use their hands while carrying their supplies. Even distribution of weight on the shoulders also allows a person to carry more cans and snacks.
To add to your selection criteria, capacity is quite crucial. You can’t pick a soft cooler like the Pelican Elite Soft Cooler if you are carrying drinks for 15 people. After all, it can only hold 12 cans. However, you don’t need to pick the biggest capacity soft cooler while you can select one with just enough capacity.
Max. ice life
A major pro for the RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag is the almost 10-day max. ice life. This means your drinks and food will be in almost freezer like conditions for the same duration. As such, they will stay fresh for longer.
If you are camping, this is ideal. However, picking the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner for a several-day camping trip may not be the best if the max. ice life is 24 hours. Take into account your potential use scenarios as some of you have no intention of going camping.
If you encounter both open-cell and closed-cell foam insulation as you are shopping, you should know the latter is better. Since there is minimal air in the spaces, the insulation is less likely to affect the temperature of what is in the bag.
Also, there are other types of insulation that you may encounter. The takeaway is that you should check how well the insulation material does its job.
The make-up of the shell can determine exterior durability. Pay attention to that as it also protects the components inside. Remember that the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 Can Tote is puncture-resistant due to the materials used to make the exterior of the drinks carrier.
You also need to move the soft cooler from time to time. It could be to your car, back to the house, to the boat, to the camping ground and more. If the product is not portable, it may make these things impossible.
Versatility is crucial for users as well. You may want to carry food, drinks and other supplies as well. If the cooler bag can only carry food, you’ll have to purchase a second cooler for drinks and vice versa. This is counterproductive as you can buy a single bag that is versatile enough for both purposes.
Some coolers also come with separate compartments or pockets both on the interior and exterior of the tool. These can serve varying needs. As such, more pockets is always better.
You should even be aware of how much space the cooler takes up in your car, tent, boat, or storage space for planning purposes. The dimensions will tell you if the cooler bag is too small or too big.
If you want an improved soft cooler experience, check for other features as well. Examples include adjustable straps, wide mouth openings, food-grade liners and more.
If you leave food and drinks in the cooler for longer than necessary, the product can absorb some of the odor. However, options with anti-microbial lining are better at managing this phenomenon. Nevertheless, always remember to take out the ice and foodstuffs in the cooler on time.
The YETI Hopper is an awesome tote as well. This is in terms of the shell, insulation, zipper, and leak-proof design. For the third pick, the Hydro Flask Unbound Soft-Sided Cooler suffices. Having a backpack design means it is easier to carry than most of the competition with the same capacity.
If these three don’t fit your fancy, we are confident you can still find the best soft cooler for you among the eight others that are listed above.