The 10 Best Soft Coolers for Any Outing

Bradley Ford
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

From Popular Mechanics

There are plenty of options from which to choose when it comes to soft coolers. The number of brands, features, sizes, and colors can be overwhelming. Taking a few minutes to think about what it is you want to keep cool and where you want to take it will help narrow down your choices. If you’re going to a barbecue or picnic, kayaking or canoeing, or to an outdoor concert or sporting event, then one of these soft coolers is up for the task. Check out the five top soft coolers below or keep scrolling for longer reviews and even more great options, plus tips on how to choose the right one.

Why Choose a Soft Cooler

While most traditional hard coolers are typically more durable and can keep things cold for days, they can be difficult to transport easily. Soft coolers are made of lighter materials and are designed to be carried over the shoulder or like a backpack. The cooler’s soft body helps to eliminate pressure points by conforming to your body without being awkward. Because of their portable design, they’re generally not available in capacities larger than 30 quarts, or 30 “can” volume—that’s the number of beverage cans the cooler holds.

Soft coolers are ideal for one-day events and activities, although some models in our test can keep things cold for as long as three days. The smaller sizes are great for carrying lunch or snacks, while the larger sizes will hold a case of drinks to keep you and your friends “hydrated.” Soft coolers are also easier to pack in the car, as they will deform to fit into the available space—rather than take up a large, rectangular block of space like their hard-plastic brethren. One other benefit is that many soft coolers are collapsible and will take up less room when not being used.

Coolers: Dos and Don’ts

  • Pre-chill cooler with sacrificial ice or ice pack—things will stay cold longer.
  • Pre-chill or freeze food and drinks.
  • For best results, fill with a 2:1 ice-to-contents ratio.
  • Completely fill the cooler—an air pocket will make ice melt quicker.
  • Block ice lasts longer, while crushed or cubed ice chills contents faster.
  • Don’t drain melted ice, cold water stays cold better than air.
  • Limit how often and how long the cooler is opened.

How We Tested These Coolers

Every cooler on this list has been thoroughly vetted and evaluated by our test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience using these coolers to determine the best options. Each of these coolers held ice as long as the manufacturers claimed, in optimal conditions, when filled with ice. We tested in less optimal conditions, over 24 hours, with the coolers half full of ice—because, the world isn’t always a perfect place. Our team of experienced testers spent many hours using these coolers for their intended purpose. We’ve transported them by bike and car, worn them on our backs and over our shoulders, and left them out in the sun. We evaluated them on thermal performance, ease of use, comfort during personal transport, price, and aesthetic appeal to come up with this list of coolers that will best serve the needs of anyone looking to keep their food and drinks cold.

―EDITORS' CHOICE―

OtterBox Trooper LT 30 Cooler

The Trooper LT 30 is made by OtterBox, makers of some of the most secure, waterproof phone cases. It puts the same level of care into this cooler, which is waterproof from both the inside out, and the outside in. The clamshell latch clamps securely closed and opens wide for easy access to the generous 30-quart capacity. Filled halfway with ice, 70 percent lasted 24 hours, and 1 percent lasted 72—with a water temperature of 35 degrees. Packed full of food, drink, and ice, the Trooper LT easily keeps things cold for 72+ hours. A Thermo-Plastic Urethane coated nylon covers the cooler, with two water-resistant pockets in front and a shoulder strap that converts to backpack straps. The cooler can be comfortably worn as a backpack and is great for hiking, camping, rafting, fishing, and outdoor sporting events.

―BEST LUNCH COOLER―

Coleman 30 Can Cooler

The small, cube-shaped 30 Can Cooler from Coleman will indeed hold 30 cans, but pack 24 and leave some room for ice. Beverage carrying isn’t the best use for it, however. It’s ideally suited for carrying a family lunch or picnic, snacks, and drinks for a sports event, day trips to the beach, or overnight camping at a campground. It easily stayed cold enough for a day, despite being only half full of ice. After 24 hours, 15 percent of the ice remained. The food-safe, hard plastic liner made cleaning easy, and prevented melted ice from leaking and making a mess. With two mesh side pockets, a front zippered pouch, and elastic straps on top, there is plenty of space to carry your ancillary stuff that doesn’t need to be kept cold.

―BEST VALUE―

Arctic Zone Titan Guide Series Backpack Cooler

On a cost-to-performance basis, Arctic Zone’s Titan Guide Series Backpack Cooler is a tremendous value. In our test, 21 percent of the ice lasted 72 hours, even when only filled halfway. For those who prefer to use ice packs, there is a large pocket inside to hold your pack and help keep things dry. The backpack is designed to hold 30 cans, but 36 can be packed if max beverage portage is required. For smaller items that require quick, easy access, three of the four zip pockets are also insulated. The zip pocket in the top is perfect for fruit, sandwiches, or other things that might get crushed when thrown in with everything else. The extra storage doesn’t end there, though, with three mesh pockets and a crisscrossed bungee cinch on the front for larger items. The waterproof interior, treated to resist odors and stains, is easy to clean post adventure. As far as the backpack functionality, the back and straps have ample padding for the size and weight of a full cooler. We found the straps had enough adjustability to get a comfortable fit—with the caveat that most folks aren’t accustomed to walking around with 15+ pounds strapped on their back.

―BEST BACKPACK SYSTEM―

Yeti Hopper Backflip 24 Soft Sided Cooler/Backpack


Yeti’s Hopper Backflip 24 is a wearable soft cooler that is perfect for day trips, outdoor sports tournaments, beach days, and hiking. The exterior material, something Yeti calls DryHide, is waterproof, UV and puncture resistant, and easy to clean. The robust backpack straps, chest strap, and waist belt stabilize and distribute weight evenly and comfortably. The claimed capacity is 20 cans plus ice, but we were able to fit a full case of our favorite beverage in the Backflip 24. When filled halfway with ice, 24 percent of the ice was sill frozen after 24 hours. Pack this cooler properly and the contents will still be cold long after 24 hours. The zipper closure tested to be 100 percent leakproof, so there will be no surprises if it tips over in the car.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

―BEST FOR WINE―

Pelican Dayventure Sling

When product capabilities lead with “an interior compartment that can hold up to four wine bottles” you get a sense of the Pelican Dayventure Sling’s priorities. For the record, enterprising vinophiles will be able to fit five bottles, with the last inverted and nested in the center. Prefer beer or soft drinks? The Dayventure will hold 12 cans, in six layers of two, with room for some ice. The size and weight make it easy to transport, with a single handle on the side, or the included shoulder strap. While the Dayventure is perfect for day trips, it will easily keep its contents cold for two day—after 48 hours, it still had 10 percent of the ice we started with. Stand it up or lay it down because the zipper is watertight, and we found it quite reliable in testing. The liner and exterior shell are coated with thermoplastic urethane which is waterproof, easy to clean, and puncture proof. Finally, there is a single side pocket for things like cutlery, napkins, or your favorite bottle opener.

―BEST COOLER ON WHEELS―

Coleman Ultra Durable Wheeled Cooler

Coleman’s Ultra Durable Wheeled Cooler can be used with or without the wheeled roller frame. The frame functions exactly the same as a carry-on roller bag. Removing the frame makes the cooler a couple inches shorter, and a little more than an inch or so narrower front to back. It also makes the cooler more stable on loose, soft surfaces like sand. Two padded, strap handles on the sides facilitate loading in the car or carrying, when not using the wheels to roll the cooler. The Ultra Durable cooler will hold 42 cans as advertised, but we would pack 36 and allow a little more room for ice. The coated, welded liner is leak-proof and easily wipes clean. Coleman claims the Ultra Durable cooler will stay cold for 42 hours, but in our test there was still 23 percent of the ice left after 48 hours. Additional storage is provided with a mesh pocket on each side, a zip pocket in the front, and crisscrossed bungee straps on top to hold larger things like a picnic blanket.

―MOST COMFORTABLE―

Bison Coolers 24 Can SoftPak

Bison’s 24 Can SoftPak cooler is a soft cooler in the truest sense—it is completely collapsible. Initially that made it seem a little flimsy, but the soft foam insulation conforms to your back or side and acts as a cushion, making it very comfortable to carry with the shoulder strap. The flexible nature of the cooler makes storage convenient too, since it can be squashed to fit into tight spaces. It has an outer shell made from 1000 denier vinyl which is UV and tear resistant, as well as easy to clean. The zipper closure is not leakproof, so be careful about tipping it too far once the ice starts to melt. Capacity is 24 cans, and filled halfway with ice, 61 percent of it remained after 24 hours. The 24 Can SoftPak easily keeps cold up to two days when packed properly and is great to take along just about anywhere you want cold drinks and a picnic lunch.

―MOST INCOGNITO―

Lifeproof Backpack Cooler


LifeProof’s Backpack Cooler is essentially an insulated backpack. With the shape, scale, and features of a backpack, it is easy to adjust and get comfortable carrying up to a case of your favorite beverage. It has two padded shoulder straps can be connected with a chest strap, a mesh side pocket, a front-facing, zippered side pocket, and large pocket on the back. The cooler also comes with a reusable ice pack, a nice bonus because it’s less messy than using ice. In our test, we filled the Backpack Cooler halfway with ice, and after 24 hours 12 percent of the ice remained. With the cooler packed properly, with food/drink and ice, it will keep contents cold up to two days. The backpack is useful for all manner of day trips, just be careful when using ice in it as the zipper isn’t leakproof.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

―BEST TRUE SOFT COOLER―

AO Coolers 12 Pack Deluxe Canvas Cooler

At first glance, the 12 Pack Deluxe Canvas Cooler seems quite ordinary. The thermal protection the cooler offers, though, is far from ordinary. We packed it halfway with ice, and after 24 hours, 44 percent of the ice remained. Packed full, with no air gaps, the contents will easily stay cold up to 48 hours. The cooler shell is made of a nylon canvas and comes in solid colors with two dry side pockets—custom embroidery options are available. The soft, flexible insulation makes the cooler just about completely collapsible. Two sewn handles, a removable shoulder strap, and four D-rings are provided for carrying and stowing the cooler. Cinch straps on the ends ensure that the cooler can be closed up tight, reducing air gaps inside. The 12 Pack Deluxe is a perfect size for lunches, small picnics, day trips, or anyplace else you want to keep food and drink cold.

―BEST ICE RETENTION―

Yeti Hopper M30

The Yeti Hopper M30 is a new model, replacing the Hopper Two 30 we tested last year. It shares most of the features with the old model, including the DryHide, shell which is waterproof, UV and puncture resistant; shopping bag handles and a padded, removable shoulder strap; multiple D-ring tie-downs; and a flat, molded bottom. What’s new is a strong, self-closing, leak resistant, magnetic closure that extends the length of the cooler. Once closed, it folds to one side and is secured with two buckle straps—sort of like a dry bag. This eliminated the zipper on the old model and greatly improved thermal performance. In our test, after 72 hours, the M30 still had 49% of the ice it started with. The only drawback to the new closure, is its preference for staying closed. Loading or unloading can be a bit of a juggle trying to hold it open while adding ice or contents. With the D-ring tie-downs—great for securing when boating or off-roading—the M30 is also good for beach trips, picnics and barbecues, and campground camping.

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