One of the Best soft coolers on the beach

Best Soft Coolers for Chilled Adventures in the Wild

Heading to the beach? Road tripping? A weekend camping by the lake? Or just need something to keep the drinks cool whilst paddling on a sunny afternoon? For days when keeping your cucumber sandwiches from turning into a sweating mush feels tougher than summiting Mont Blanc, you need a quality cooler. Of course, a typically bulky hard cooler can work as well as a freezer on a multi-day trip. But when it comes to practicality and versatility, compact and lightweight soft coolers are far better suited to outdoor excursions than hard coolers. Particularly when you travel without a private vehicle.

Summary table of the best soft coolers in 2018

ProductCapacityCarry systemCost
Engel Coolers Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Bag32qtShoulder strap$$$
Red Watertight Cool Bag18 litres / 28 cansShoulder strap$$$
Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack22 litresBackpack$$$$
OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler20 qtShoulder strap$$$
Homitt Soft Cooler20 canShoulder strap$$
Mountainsmith The Sixer- Soft Sided Cooler10 litres / 6 cansShoulder strap$
Yeti Hopper Backflip 2423.8 liters / 20 cansBackpack$$$$
Icemule Pro20 litre / 18 cansBackpack$$
AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler12 cansShoulder strap$
Polar Bear Coolers H2O Waterproof Cooler12 cansShoulder strap$$

The best soft coolers in 2018

Engel Coolers Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Bag

Engel Coolers Waterproof Soft-Sided Cooler Bag

The HD30 soft-sided cooler from Engle is one of the best soft coolers on the market right now. Its rugged TPU outer wall makes it a durable companion for outdoor activities while the fully taped seams and waterproof zipper mean that you can confidently take this cooler out on the water with you, or leave it out in the rain. One of its key features is the vacuum valve which draws excess air from the insulation and keeps your ice cool for longer. Its quality insulation even outperforms market leader Yeti. It is one of the largest coolers on the market, with a 48 can capacity. Despite this, the Engle soft cooler is very portable. The combination of a padded shoulder strap, side handles, and top handles make it comfortable to carry in three different ways. The cooler also features a removable bottle opener and external zippered pocket.

Pros

  • Excellent insulation
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Durable and fully waterproof main compartment
  • 3-year warranty

Cons

  • The external pocket is not waterproof
  • Bulky

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Red Cooler

Red Watertight Cool Bag

The Red Watertight Cool Bag is a very similar design to the Homitt Soft Cooler, but with a few additional features that make it ideal for those with a penchant for water-based adventures. Yes, it is fully waterproof with mega robust zippers that keeps sea water out, and melt water in. And yes, it is made from exceptionally robust, high density fabric on the outside. Both of these features, together with the thermal-lock, closed cell non-absorbent insulation, contribute to the excellent insulation that keeps ice as ice for over 24 hours. The cool bag also has external pockets on both sides which are perfect for storing utensils or salt and pepper etc — things that don’t need cooling. Plus, there is a luggage tension system which allows the bag to be securely attached to a stand up paddle board without any risk of it toppling overboard. The best soft cooler for SUP adventures!

Pros

  • Excellent insulation
  • Durable and fully waterproof main compartment
  • Deisgned for water-based adventures

Cons

  • Pricey

Find the latest price at:
Red Original


Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack

Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack

Weighing in at only 3 pounds, the Unbound 22L soft cooler from Hydro Flask is one of the lightest on the market. It’s designed to keep food and drinks cool for 48 hours. The 22L capacity and padded shoulder straps make it a comfortable soft cooler for a day hike or overnight trip. We also like that this soft cooler combines usefulness with style: its sleek aesthetic comes in a range of four colours! Plus, the main compartment features a hinged and waterproof zippered lid which is easy to pack and clean. And the external mesh and zippered pockets are convenient for storing small items. The Hydro Flask Unbound also has an FDA approved and BPA free, anti-microbial liner. It is one of the most expensive soft coolers on the market, however, the Unbound comes with a 5-year warranty.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable carry system
  • Practical design
  • 5-year warranty

Cons

  • Expensive

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry


OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler

OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler

The OtterBox Trooper 20 is tough enough to challenge even a hard-shell cooler. Its exterior is not just durable enough to withstand drops, scrapes, punctures, and UV rays, but it’s also fully waterproof and leakproof. The Trooper 20 has a water and dustproof rating of IP-65, plus tie-down points which means that it’s both tough and practical for rough water excursions. The manufacturer claims that its foam insulated lid and thermal insulation will hold ice for up to 3 days. This 20-litre model comes with a wide and comfortable shoulder strap and a mounting system for external attachments, while the larger 30L version also features detachable backpack straps. Like the Hydro Flask Unbound, the OtterBox Trooper 20 comes with a pretty high price tag, however, users can expect an easy-open and long-lasting soft cooler with a lifetime warranty.

Pros

  • Super durable
  • Good for water sports
  • Very functional design
  • Lifetime Warranty

Cons

  • High price tag
  • Not very compact

Find the latest price at:
REI


Homitt Soft Cooler

Homitt Soft Cooler

This Homitt Cooler is a versatile soft cooler for extended picnics or weekend camping trip. Both the interior and exterior are made from an insulating TPU with a thick layer of high-density foam in between. The Homitt Soft Cooler is a practical size for carrying and still provides enough space for 20 cans. It’s also available in a 10 can or 30 can size. The two side handle straps and adjustable shoulder strap make it quick and easy to grab on your way out, while the fully opening lid makes cleaning any spillages a breeze. Best of all this Homitt soft cooler comes with a reasonable mid-range price.

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Two ways to carry
  • Convenient size
  • Good insulation

Cons

  • Can’t hold ice for as long as more expensive coolers

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Mountainsmith The Sixer- Soft Sided Cooler

Mountainsmith The Sixer Cooler

The Sixer Cooler from Mountainsmith is one of the cheapest soft-sided coolers on the market. Its design is simple but surprisingly practical; deeper than it is wide and sealed with a barrel-top zipper. You’ll have no problems storing bottles upright. The interior is lined with a waterproof, leakproof, and easy to clean PEVA fabric while the outer fabric is made from baby ripstop nylon. The Sixer Cooler isn’t as high-tech as others on this list, but its functional design and handy features (such as an adjustable shoulder strap, top handle, and rear pocket) make it one of the best budget soft coolers of 2018.

Pros

  • Simple design
  • Leakproof
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Won’t retain ice as long as other coolers

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry


YETI Hopper BackFlip 24

Yeti Hopper Backflip 24

Yeti is well known for topping the marketplace with their high-quality coolers and the Backflip 24 doesn’t disappoint. The combination of a backpack suspension system and multiple tie-down points, plus a puncture, mildew, and UV resistant Dryhide Shell make it just as practical for stand-up paddle boarding as it is for wet and dry hikes. Its padded shoulder straps with removable chest and waist strap are designed to evenly distribute the weight on your back whilst simultaneously providing extra stability. Meanwhile, the Hydrolock zipper keeps water from getting in and liquids from leaking out and the Coldcell insulation keeps drinks cool for much longer than most soft coolers.

Pros

Very durable and waterproof

Comfortable to carry

Quality insulation

Multiple tie-down points

Cons

  • A little bulky to carry on your back
  • High price

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry


Icemule Pro

Icemule Pro

The Icemule Pro is one of the most portable soft coolers on the market due to its backpack strap and padded back panel. The easy to open dry-bag top means that there’s no messing about with zippers or latches. Meanwhile, the muleskin fabric is very tough and fully waterproof. Although the insulation is not as effective as more traditional soft coolers, the Polarlayer insulation foam still keeps ice frozen for over 24 hours. It also features an IM Air Valve which allows you to, firstly, add air for better insulation and, secondly, release air for easy storage.

Pros

  • Easy to carry
  • Simple design
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Difficult to pack when not full

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry


AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler

AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler

Designed to keep foods and drinks cool or hot for 24 hours, the 12 Can Canvas Soft Cooler from AO Coolers is compact enough to count as carry-on luggage and cheap enough that it won’t put much of a dent in your travel funds. Like others on this list, it’s made from a durable TPU fabric which is abrasion and puncture resistant and waterproof. Its removable shoulder strap, two top handles, and clip-down sides give you plenty of carrying options and ways of securing it whilst driving or boating.

Pros

  • Budget price tag
  • Sleek design
  • Available in multiple sizes
  • Lightweight and packable

Cons

  • May not live up to its claims to hold ice for 24 hours

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Polar Bear Coolers H2O Waterproof Cooler

Polar Bear Coolers H2O Waterproof Cooler

The H20 Waterproof Cooler from Polar Bear is made from a rugged TPU fabric and fitted with a YKK Zipper which makes it fully waterproof and practical for wet weather activities. The multiple tie-down points and skid-proof bottom helps prevent the Polar Bear H20 from falling off your stand-up paddleboard, too! The Dura-Temp liner and cold cell insulation, plus the included 4 pack of ice coolers, will keep the contents both cool and sweat free during an outdoors excursion. Other features we like about this Polar Bear soft cooler include its removable shoulder strap, padded top handles, and bottle opener. It also comes in a choice of three sizes; 12 can, 24 can, or 48 can.

Pros

  • Many attachment points
  • Durable and waterproof exterior
  • Available in three sizes
  • Mid-range price

Cons

  • May leak if turned upside down

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


What to look for when choosing the best soft coolers

There’s more to choosing the best soft coolers than colour, size, and price. Also, while ice retention is a key factor, it’s not necessarily the winning feature. Here are a few things to consider when looking for the best soft cooler to suit your needs:

Portability

The main reason why you would opt for a soft cooler over a hard cooler is down to portability. Hard coolers hold their temperature for longer. But they are heavy and cumbersome. So it is key that if portability is important, you choose a soft cooler that is lightweight and easy to carry. To make carry your soft cooler as easy as possible, these are your options:

  • Cooler with handles

    Carry handles

    These make lifting a cooler from A to B very easy. They should have some padding on to comfortably carry a cooler short distances.

  • Cooler with shoulder strap

    Shoulder straps

    These are good for carrying your cooler a little way: from the car to the beach or through the park to your picnic spot. Shoulder straps should be adjustable in length with padding, and they are often removeable.

  • Backpack straps on cooler

    Backpack straps

    For those wanting to carry a cooler for any significant distance, backpack straps are essential. They will be lightly padded, often with a sternum strap of waist belt for extra stability. Soft coolers with backpack straps are essential for getting off the beaten track.

Material

The fabric is important because even a soft cooler should be durable enough to resist punctures and abrasions when hiking through prickly scrub. Soft coolers made from Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) or Dryhide, or those with a rubberized base, are usually the toughest and the most waterproof too.

Insulation

The thicker the insulation, the better is it. But its effectiveness also comes down to a few other things. The toughness of the external fabric, if the cooler is waterproof or not and whether the zippers are watertight all contribute to the insulation. As does the closure system. If a cooler is air tight then it will be a more effective insulator than if air is seeping in or out.

Waterproof

If you plan on taking your cooler out on water-based adventures then having a fully waterproof cooler is key. This is also a desirable feature if you tend to like rainy weather adventures! Having a waterproof cooler means that moisture should stay inside the cooler, as well as being prevented from getting in. Super important to stop it leaking all over your gear, or leaking over you when you’re carrying it.

To ensure that the best soft coolers don’t leak, they tend to be fitted with heavy duty YKK or Hydrolock zippers.

Value

The best soft-sided cooler for you may not be the one with the highest price tag. While soft coolers, such as those produced by Yeti and OtterBox, with thick ColdCell insulation and a high-quality liner will be able to retain ice for far longer. However, they also tend to be heavier and come with a much higher price tag. If you’re simply looking for a cooler to tuck into your suitcase then a budget soft cooler made from ripstop nylon can do the job just fine.

Features of the best soft coolers

Other features of soft coolers include:

  • Tie-down points
  • Removable bottle opener
  • Vacuum valves
  • Exterior pockets

These items may not be essential, but they’re still useful and worth considering when selecting the best soft cooler in 2018.


Taking meal-time outside is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So fill up that soft cooler with fresh food and cool beers and take your dinner table out into the wild!

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