Picking the best soft cooler may seem a simple task, but the wrong choice can land you in hot water. No matter how long you’re going to be camping, chances are you’ll have something you want to keep cold.
Camping Coolers Comparison
Coolers for camping can fit anything from extra water to a full set of burgers and hot dogs. When you’re camping, the best soft cooler can make all the difference between a delicious meal on the campfire and a trek back to civilization.
THE BEST SOFT COOLERS FOR CAMPING OR HIKING
WHY USE A SOFT COOLER WHEN YOU’RE CAMPING?
One of the main reasons to use a soft cooler when you’re going camping is the weight. If you have any amount of hiking to do, a soft-sided cooler is considerably lighter than a more common hard plastic cooler. This is ideal when you’ve got to park and hike to your campsite, or you’re going on a day hike and want to keep your lunch cold.
Often, a soft cooler has a hard inner shell. This plastic will protect the food inside, but the whole thing won’t be as heavy as a cooler that’s completely solid.
On the other hand, sometimes the best soft cooler has completely soft sides. These are even lighter than those with a shell. And when they’re empty, they pack down to fit in your backpack. Then, you can take them home without any hassle.
The best time to use a soft cooler is any time you would have to lug a hard cooler to your campsite. Sure, if you’re taking a 24-pack of canned drinks, you might not notice a huge weight difference between the two. But when weight is more important than content, the best soft cooler will be there for you.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SOFT AND HARD COOLER?
There are a few other differences that may make you choose a soft cooler over a hard cooler. You should consider these when looking for the best soft cooler.
One major benefit of a hard cooler over a soft cooler is that hard coolers keep things colder for much longer. While this can vary based on what brand of cooler you use, it is generally true. Depending on the brand, certain hard-sided coolers can keep ice cold for several days.
Another benefit of hard-sided coolers is durability. If you’re planning on exposing your coolers to the elements, a hard-sided cooler will give you superior toughness in any scenario.
As for portability, you won’t want a hard-sided cooler if you have to carry it too far. While most of them have wheels and handles for carrying, the best soft cooler will be more portable every time.
Finally, soft and hard coolers vary widely concerning capacity. Hard-sided coolers are often much larger, so if your camping trips look like parties, a hard cooler may be the better option.
HOW DO YOU PICK THE BEST SOFT COOLER?
Now that you know if you need a soft cooler, all that comes next is deciding what you need from one.
The first thing you should think about is capacity. While all soft coolers are portable, some can last your group for a weekend. Others should stay in the realm of day trips. Know what kind of camping trips you like to take and how much food or drinks you’ll be taking.
How you carry your soft cooler can also make a big difference. One type is the messenger bag cooler. As its name suggests, this has a single large strap that you can throw over your shoulder. Many also have additional handles for easier carrying. These coolers are the largest and most common soft coolers you can buy.
If you’re not planning a multiple-person or multi-day trip, there are other choices. One is the lunchbox cooler. These aren’t always as small as the lunchbox you may take to work or school. In fact, one could fit lunch for your whole group! They’re also much easier to carry, even alongside a full hiking backpack.
For hands-free convenience, there’s one cooler that beats all the rest. Backpack coolers are exactly as they say they are: coolers that strap onto your back. If you have a partner to help carry all of your essentials, the backpack cooler is perfect. You can load it up with more food than you’d fit in a lunchbox or messenger bag cooler, and it will be more comfortable too!
Once you’ve picked the best soft cooler style for you, the last thing to do is pack it!
HOW WE NARROWED DOWN THE BEST SOFT COOLER
We used two main sources to help us trim down our picks for the best soft cooler. One was professional feedback, and the other was customer reviews.
Experts have a few big advantages over customers. For one, they have the resources to test many of the best soft coolers at the same time. While everyday campers may not have the money to buy and try multiple coolers, professional websites such as Popular Mechanics do.
Sites like these can test multiple coolers against each other at a time, and they can test them against a rubric. This is particularly helpful to you because you have an empirical way to measure the quality of each cooler.
On the other hand, there are customer reviews. Customers don’t necessarily have the time or money to test a dozen coolers against each other. But what they do
have is a massive numbers advantage over professional reviews. Where an expert article offers the views of no more than a few testers, customers can give dozens, hundreds, or even thousands.
Because users can give such a large consensus, we’ve put their opinion over professionals. Every choice for the best soft cooler has a rating of 4.0 stars or higher out of 5 on Amazon.
OUR TOP PICKS FOR SOFT-SIDED COOLERS
We’ve listed our top picks for the best soft cooler here. You can find them in alphabetical order.
AO COOLERS TRAVELER SOFT COOLER WITH HIGH-DENSITY INSULATION
AO Coolers Traveler Original Soft Cooler with High-Density…
- Soft-sided cooler with…
- Guaranteed to hold ice for 24…
- Perfect for boating, fishing,…
- Features two extended side…
- Twice the insulation of other…
The Traveler Soft Cooler from AO Coolers uses a messenger bag shoulder strap as well as a pair of handles on top. It is lined with high-density polyurethane foam that will keep ice cold for 24 hours. It works in temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll never have to worry about warm food or drinks.
Another useful feature of this cooler is the polyethylene film that lines the inside of the bag. This prevents moisture retention and keeps the bag from sweating. That way, no unwanted moisture will gather on you or your other gear.
On Amazon, the AO Coolers Traveler Soft Cooler with High-Density Insulation earned 4.4 stars out of 5 from 190 customers.
ARCTIC ZONE TITAN DEEP FREEZE ZIPPERLESS HARDBODY COOLER
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 Can Zipperless Cooler, Blue
- Deep Freeze high performance…
- Patented, “flip open”…
- Ultra Safe leak proof lining…
- Rhino-Tech water and stain…
- Adjustable Backsaver shoulder…
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless Hardbody Cooler has a range of sizes. With 16, 30, and 48-can sizes, you can store food and drinks for anything from a day trip to a long weekend at the campsite.
The “Zipperless” in this cooler’s name refers to the flip-open, Velcro-closed lid. It stays closed when you need it to, and still keeps everything cold inside. Ice stays cold in this cooler for two to three days. Plus, with a hard shell and interior shelf, everything stays protected and separate inside.
More than 1,600 Amazon customers rated this cooler 4.2 stars out of 5. It also earned the Amazon’s Choice Award.
BISON 24-CAN SOFTPAK COOLER BAG
The 24-Can Softpak Cooler Bag from Bison Coolers is sturdy, protecting cans and keeping ice cold for 24 hours in 120-degree heat. Its rugged vinyl exterior can withstand almost 400 pounds of tearing pressure. It will take a lot to tear this one open!
You’ll be able to pack a lot with you using this bag. It has a 24-can capacity, as the name suggests. But you can also pack 10 pounds of ice, so anything you stuff inside will stay extra cold. It also has nearly an inch of insulation between your drinks and the elements.
On Amazon, the Bison 24-Can Softpak Cooler Bag earned 4.4 stars out of 5. You can also find it on the Bison Coolers website.
CLEVERMADE TAHOE COOLER
CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap:…
- Portable small pop up cooler…
- Padded adjustable shoulder…
- Leak-proof insulation liner…
- The perfect gift for that hard…
- When closed, the leak proof…
This versatile soft-sided cooler from CleverMade may be able to carry 30 cans when full, but don’t let that turn you off if the size is an issue. When it’s empty, this bag collapses down to be less than 3 inches thick. You can keep it anywhere until the need arises.
You can carry the CleverMade Tahoe Cooler as a messenger bag or by its handles. Iced beverages inside will stay cold for up to 24 hours, and you can open bottles with the included bottle opener. This cooler also comes in a 50-can capacity variant.
COLEMAN 16-CAN COOLER
This soft-sided cooler from camping cornerstone Coleman has the versatility to fit any scenario. Its interior hard shell is removable, so you can use either ice or ice packs to keep drinks cold.
Since you may get the soft lining wet, Coleman has added an antimicrobial treatment. This prevents mold, mildew, and odors from collecting in the soft fabric. While you should use the hard liner with ice, the soft liner is heat-sealed to prevent any leaks.
COLEMAN 24-HOUR 30-CAN COOLER
Coleman’s 24-Hour 30-Can Cooler gives you affordability and reliability with plenty of space for your refreshments. With this cooler, you don’t have to worry about your wallet or your water.
This cooler lacks a hard inner liner but includes one with antimicrobial properties. Since you don’t want to keep letting heat in, a top hatch gives you easy access while the zipper keeps everything sealed shut.
The ICEMULE Pro is unique for being the only backpack cooler that we recommend here. This hands-free design frees you up for more strenuous activity, such as rock scrambling.
The ICEMULE Pro is a cylinder-shaped, roll-top backpack. This may not seem as secure as some of the other coolers here. But, it can keep 18 or more cans cold for 24 hours.
POLAR BEAR COOLERS 24-PACK NYLON SOFT COOLER
Polar Bear Coolers – Nylon Line – Quality Like No Other from…
- INSULATION – Keep ice 24 hours…
- INTERIOR LINER -…
- OUTER SHELL – Rugged 1000D…
- ZIPPER – Super Heavy-Duty YKK…
- SIDE ZIPPER POCKET – This side…
The Polar Bear Coolers 24-Pack Nylon Soft Cooler is a true soft cooler. It has no hard inner shell, although it doesn’t suffer for that. This soft nylon cooler is both versatile and durable.
This leakproof cooler has zippers and buckles that it advertises as unbreakable. It has an FDA-approved nylon shell with microbial treatment, so your food will stay fresh. Plus, it can keep 24 cans and 10 pounds of ice-cold for 24 hours.
YETI HOPPER TWO 20 PORTABLE COOLER
YETI Hopper Two 20, Portable Cooler, Fog Gray/Tahoe Blue
- The YETI Hopper Two 20 is our…
- The updated design of the…
- A tapered body makes extended…
- Features a waterproof DryHide…
- HydroLok Zipper (a design…
YETI has built a reputation for making the most rugged coolers on the market. But that reputation doesn’t come with a low price tag.
The exterior of the Hopper TWO 20 Portable Cooler is resistant to puncture, mildew, and UV rays. It won’t only protect your drinks; it’ll look good for years. Plus, this cooler can keep your ice and drinks cold for days on end.
More than 400 customers rated this cooler 4.3 stars out of 5 on Amazon.
THE BEST SOFT COOLER FOR ANY CAMPING OCCASION
This may seem like a lot of effort for something you may as well pick up at the supermarket. But make no mistake, the best soft cooler can make or break your camping or hiking trip. Choosing a poorly made one can end up in warm drinks and spoiled food.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are soft coolers as good as hard coolers?
It depends on what your goal is. If you want to keep things cool for longer periods of time, then a hard cooler should be your go-to option. For storing more things at the same time, the hard cooler wins yet again. However, if you want to travel light and be able to carry the cooler over your shoulder without straining yourself too hard, then by all means go for a soft cooler. Also, the lighter carrying capacity and weight make the soft cooler easier to fit inside the trunk of a car. Or you could just toss it on the backseat, whatever floats your boat.
Can you put ice in a soft cooler?
The soft sided cooler that you get is nothing more than a bag with the cooling and freezer style lining that will keep things cold. You can put ice or ice packs in these bags, and the bags are very easy to close because they could zip or fold over.
Will dry ice explode in a cooler?
Yes, dry ice can explode if stored inside a cooler, regardless if it’s a soft cooler or a hard cooler. Dry ice requires breathing room because the CO2 needs room to expand and it could cause your cooler to explode if you don’t remove the plug. So only put dry ice in your cooler if you plan on leaving it open, like in a scenario such as going to the beach and having your drinks at the ready.
Does salt stop ice from melting?
In its pure state, water freezes at 0°C or 32°F. By using salt, that freezing point can be lowered which forces the ice to melt and prevents the water from freezing or re-freezing. As salt touches this water, it starts to dissolve – subsequently lowering the freezing point and melting the ice surrounding it.
Fortunately, there are plenty of soft coolers that fit into any budget. Coleman makes affordable and reliable soft coolers. You don’t have to go all out for a YETI, but you can if you want to!
What are your favorite things to pack in your cooler while you camp? Let us know in the comments!
Paul Grove has been passionate about hunting for as long as he can remember. He recalls hunting squirrels with his dad’s trusty Winchester Model 63 as early as age 9. As he grew older, his hunting interests, tactics, and gear have refined. He was also fortunate enough to be born in Wisconsin, thus having unhindered access to some of the nation’s best whitetail deer hunting spots. When he’s not chasing deer or other large to massive game on public lands, he is field-testing various fishing gear in a never-ending quest to find that perfect fishing setup. Is his passion for hunting and fishing innate or acquired? Paul believes that it is more about passing down a family tradition.