Anytime you hit the road, you’re going to want beverages, snacks, or even meals with you. And especially on longer trips or adventures when the weather is hot, you’ll want to make sure they stay cool. We’ve likely all heaved the heavy, durable, hard-sided cooler chests into the back of a family car. But what if you want something that’s easier to carry, a bit more flexible, yet still keeps your food and drinks chilled for your next adventure? It’s time for one of the best soft coolers on the market.
Soft vs. Hard Coolers
Hard coolers will always have a place when hitting the road. After all, they’re highly durable, and they are well-known for ice retention. In other words, they can keep food and beverages cool for days or even weeks. Unfortunately, hard coolers can also be cumbersome, heavy, and difficult to carry or find a place where they’ll fit when not in use.
Soft coolers, on the other hand, are lighter and easier to carry and store. Because they’re made with pliable yet insulated materials, many can even be collapsed for storage or squeezed into tighter spaces (depending on what they’re loaded with).
However, they aren’t designed to keep your food and drinks cool for more than a few days max. They also tend to be smaller, so they’re better for shorter day or weekend getaways rather than long vacations. That also, however, is what makes them perfect for day trips to the park or lake or for tailgate parties. They even work well for a trip to the grocery store to keep your food cool on a hot day.
Why Choose a Soft Cooler?
Even if you already have a hard-sided cooler, you may also want a soft cooler as part of your gear as they provide so many benefits, including:
- Lightweight, so they’re easier to carry. Some can even be carried on your back to your picnic spot.
- Flexible, which means they can fit into tight spaces like behind or beneath your seat or inside your backpack or in that strangely shaped storage space in your RV.
- Good insulation, so they will keep your food or drinks chilled, as long as you have ice available.
- Easy to clean, which you’ll want to do after every use to ensure they don’t grow mold, mildew, and develop a funky, unappetizing smell.
Choosing Your Size Cooler
One of the most important choices when it comes to the best soft cooler for your needs is the size. There are three main choices:
- Lunch-box size—these are smaller and tend to be shaped like a lunch box. They often have features for easy clean up and portability as they’re designed for everyday use, going from home to work or school and back again. If you’re traveling solo and just need a drink and lunch for the day, this may be just right. But if you’ll be sharing your food and drink, you’ll likely want to size up.
- Backpack soft coolers—just as the name implies, these often have straps and are shaped to fit comfortably across your back, so you can keep your hands free as you hike to your favorite fishing hole, picnic area, or wherever your adventure is taking you.
- Chest-size soft cooler—these can come in various sizes from fairly compact to rather large. They are typically rectangular and can be loaded up with anywhere from 4 to 42 cans.
Best Soft Cooler Criteria
To help make the comparison easier, we choose a few of the most important criteria. That includes:
Storage Capacity: the best soft coolers can be compared in liters, quarts, or gallons. Most often, though, they’re compared by how many cans the cooler can fit.
Ice Retention: you want your cooler to keep your food and drinks cold. While even the best soft coolers aren’t as good as a quality hard cooler, they should be able to keep everything chilled for at least a day or two. Keep in mind, though, that every time you open the lid, you allow warm air in. Other factors that can determine how well the cooler stays cool include how hot (or cold) the temperature is, if the cooler is exposed to sunlight, and how much ice you have in your cooler. Most cooler manufacturers recommend a 2-to-1 ice-to-food ratio.
To help make your cooler even more efficient, you may want to pre-chill it. That is, fill it with ice for a few hours before it’s time to load it up and hit the road.
Portability: One of the biggest pluses of the best soft coolers is how light they are. That means they’re more portable than most hard-sided coolers. Portability also means how easy they are to carry around. That is, do they have comfortable straps and handles that are easy to grab?
Price: There’s a wide price spread between soft coolers, ranging from around $15 to hundreds of bucks. Often, but not always, as the cost goes up, so does the durability. So, if you want something that’s going to be part of your RV gear for years to come, it may be worth investing in a more expensive option or even choosing a hard-sided cooler if you don’t need the flexibility. Yet if you are just looking for something to carry and keep your drinks, snacks, or lunch cool when you’re away from your RV, you may be just as happy with a less expensive option.
Features: Depending on your uses for your soft cooler, you may want something with straps and handles, wheels, various compartments, liners that can be removed for easy cleanup, water resistance, or UV protection.
Best Soft Cooler Comparisons
|Yeti Hopper Flip 12
|12 cans + 15 pounds of ice
|Offers Coldcell Insulation to keep your food and drinks cold for a full day +.
|With a handle plus comfortable shoulder strap, it’s easy to carry. There’s also a backpack version for longer treks.
|With a leakproof zip and a durable shell, it’s waterproof and resistant to punctures and abrasions.
|Other Yeti coolers are available in different configurations, from flip tops to backpacks, and even a lunch box, depending on your needs.
|48 cans with no ice
|Excellent insulation: According to some users, this cooler can keep your drinks cool for days, even when the temps go up.
|Convenient messenger bag design with sturdy, comfortable shoulder straps as well as side straps and a top handle.
|Super durable and great insulation. Easy to grab, water-resistant, and even comes with a bottle opener.
|This is one of the larger coolers on the list and is also one of the favorites. But it does come with a higher price tag.
|RTIC Soft Pack Cooler
|Comes in 12, 20, 30, and 40 can sizes
|Keeps everything cool for up to 24 hours.
|With both a shoulder strap and an easy to grab handle, the RTIC is highly portable. It also floats, so it’s a great option for water adventures.
|Durable zip to prevent leaks, light weight, yet durable.
|This soft cooler is light weight, well build, and durable. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable options. It has a premium feel without the premium price.
|$69.89 – $119.89
|12 cans + ice
|While the IceMule doesn’t come in highest, it can still keep drinks and food cool for up to 24 hours.
|This soft cooler is light weight and easy to carry over the shoulder. Plus, it’s waterproof and floats, making it another great option for water trips.
|Comes with an adjustable cross-body strap, roll-top closure for easy loading, and is rugged and versatile for almost any use.
|One of the most affordable soft coolers on the list, the IceMule is also collapsible and can be rolled up for easy storage. It’s also very durable.
|n/a: 28 L
|Can be wheeled in or carried via the removable, padded shoulder strap.
|Highly durable with a strong base and welded sides. It also comes with a liner designed to keep food fresher for longer. It also has spaces for your cocktail ice, wine bottles, utensils, cups, and more.
|If your goal is to be the life of the party, roll on in with this Cooler Caddy that’s both a cocktail caddy and a modern picnic basket.
Even the best soft coolers come with drawbacks. They typically aren’t as durable and can’t maintain their chill past the first few days. They also tend to be smaller. That said, they are highly convenient, portable, and perfect for shorter outings. Plus, they can often even be carried on your back, making them the right option when straying away from your RV and into the woods or onto the beach, so you can relax and enjoy all nature provides with your chilled food and beverages close at hand.