Choosing the Perfect Yeti Soft Sided Cooler: A Comprehensive Guide to Making the Right Purchase
Looking to keep your beverages refreshingly cold on your next outdoor adventure? Look no further than the sought-after Yeti soft sided cooler. With its unparalleled insulation and durability, the Yeti soft cooler is a game-changer in the world of portable coolers. Whether you're heading to the beach, a camping trip, or a tailgate party, this article will provide you with essential buying advice to ensure you make the right choice when it comes to selecting the perfect soft cooler. So, grab a seat and get ready to discover the ultimate companion for all your chilling needs.
Advice on Buying Soft Coolers
Our Opinion on Soft Coolers: Practicality and Best Uses
Before delving into the finer details, it's essential to note that soft coolers come with certain compromises. Unlike hard-sided models that can keep items cold for days or even weeks, soft coolers are not designed to maintain cold temperatures for more than a few days at most. Additionally, they are generally smaller than hard coolers, typically offering around 30 liters of storage capacity at most. With these factors in mind, soft coolers are not the best choice for multi-day outings. Instead, they are better suited for weekend getaways, day trips, tailgates, water activities, or quick errands like grocery shopping. They can also serve as an additional storage space for extra food and drinks when camping with a larger group.
A lineup of our favorite soft coolers
Furthermore, it's important to differentiate between collapsible and rigid soft coolers. In our experience, flexible and packable models like the Hydro Flask 20 L Insulated Tote are more versatile and functional compared to thicker and more rigid options like the Engel HD20. The flexible models lack drainage ports for excess water and do not compress down for storage when not in use. They also do not retain ice for as long as hard-sided coolers. Despite their higher cost, they are still lighter and more portable than hard coolers. However, it's crucial to consider the decrease in durability, insulation capabilities, and overall capacity when deciding on a soft cooler.
Rigid coolers like the Engel HD30 and ORCA Walker Tote take up more space
Soft Cooler Sizes (Capacities)
It is important to note that not all coolers measure their interior capacity in the same way. Some use cans as a unit of measurement, while others use liters, quarts, or gallons. However, "cans" is the most commonly used measurement for soft coolers, while hard coolers are generally listed in quarts. The largest option mentioned above, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler, can accommodate up to 30 12-ounce cans with ice. On the other end, Cotopaxi's Hielo 12L Cooler Bag can fit up to 12 cans without ice (approximately 8 cans with ice). In our experience, the ideal size for most soft coolers is around 18-24 cans with ice. These coolers are spacious enough for day trips or weekend road trips, manageable in terms of weight and portability, and do not take up much space in your vehicle or garage.
Hydro Flask's Insulated Tote (left) can hold around 10 cans with ice
Ice Retention and Cooling Capabilities
As we mentioned earlier, soft coolers do not excel in terms of ice retention. In ideal conditions, most soft coolers can only keep contents cold for a day or two at most. Several factors affect this, such as the ambient temperature, frequency of opening the lid, exposure to sunlight, and the ice-to-food ratio. Most brands recommend a 2:1 ice-to-food ratio for optimal performance. To achieve maximum performance, you can pre-chill your cooler before loading it by filling it with ice for a few hours. When you are ready to go, replace the ice with pre-chilled packs or fresh ice, maintaining the optimal ratio along with your drinks and food.
Most manufacturers recommend a 2:1 ice-to-food ratio
Most cooler manufacturers provide a "claimed ice retention" specification in their product listings. However, it's important to take these claims with a grain of salt as they may be based on extremely favorable testing conditions. From our list, ice retention times range from just 4 hours for the Hydro Flask 20 L Insulated Tote to three or four days for Engel's HD20 (the average is around 24 hours). In practice, we have found that real-world ice retention times are usually approximately half of the claimed times, depending on specific circumstances.
Helpful cooling tips inside REI Co-op's Cool Haul 24
Weight and Portability
One significant advantage of soft coolers over hard coolers is their lighter weight and greater portability. A quick look at our comparison table reveals that most options weigh between 2 and 4 pounds, with the largest and most robust designs weighing 7 pounds or more. For reference, the YETI Hopper M30 is the heaviest model on our list at 7 pounds, while the Hydro Flask 20 L Insulated Tote (1 lb. 5.1 oz.) and Cotopaxi Hielo 12L Cooler Bag (1 lb. 9 oz.) are the lightest. Comfortable shoulder straps and grab handles greatly enhance portability, and we discuss this aspect further below.
The YETI Hopper M30 feels heavy and bulky when filled with food, drinks, and ice
Construction and Durability
Durability varies among soft coolers, and one way to differentiate between models is by looking at the denier (D), which measures fabric thickness. Rigid coolers like the YETI Hopper M30 and Engel HD20 (both 840D) are known for their tough exteriors that can withstand sharp objects. RovR's new TravelR 30 is also highly durable with a strong TPU base and welded seams. Softer and more flexible models like the Hydro Flask 20 L Insulated Tote, Cotopaxi Hielo 12L Cooler Bag, and REI Co-op Pack-Away 24 feel less rugged but are still suitable for most casual outdoor activities.
YETI's top-of-the-line Hopper M30 is undeniably durable and long-lasting
It's worth noting that price and build quality often go hand in hand. Cheaper options like the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas, Coleman 24-Hour 16-Can Cooler, and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze may feel less sturdy compared to their more premium counterparts. However, if you plan to use your cooler infrequently or for casual day trips, these options should suffice. For regular outdoor enthusiasts, it may be worth investing in a higher-quality cooler to ensure durability, especially when using the cooler around water.
The AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas is reasonably well-built considering its price
Waterproof Soft Coolers
While many soft coolers feature highly water-resistant zippers or openings, very few have fully waterproof constructions. One exception is the ICEMULE Classic, which has a dry bag-like shape and an exterior with a roll-top closure that can be fully submerged in water. This makes it ideal for water activities like kayaking or paddleboarding. The ICEMULE Classic also floats for added safety in rough conditions. RTIC's Soft Pack falls into a similar category, offering a tough shell and leakproof design that can handle being submerged, although it is not technically fully waterproof.
Price: Budget vs. Premium Soft Coolers
Soft coolers have a wide price range, ranging from $26 for the Coleman 24-Hour 16-Can Cooler to $350 for the YETI Hopper M30. Higher prices often correlate with better build quality and durability. Premium models like the M30, Hopper Flip 12, Engel HD20, and OtterBox Trooper 20 have thicker and sturdier exteriors that can withstand long-term use. However, even the more affordable options on our list are decently constructed and sufficient for beach days or lunch packing on the go.
Two of the most premium designs on the market: Engel's HD30 and YETI's Hopper M30
Furthermore, the difference in ice retention between soft coolers is not significant compared to the variation in price. Therefore, it may be challenging to justify spending more on a high-end model. Although these top-tier coolers offer portability without compromising build quality, most people would benefit more from investing in a hard-sided cooler if their budget allows. The increased cooling capabilities and overall performance of hard coolers outweigh the weight penalty for many users.
Affordable options like the REI Cool Haul and Hydro Flask Insulated Tote are appealing
Opening Styles and Closure Systems
The style and closure system of a soft-sided cooler significantly impact convenience and overall performance. Various models feature different opening styles. For example, the YETI Hopper M30 has a magnet-equipped opening that requires effort to keep open while loading and unloading items. Some zipper-equipped options, such as RTIC's Soft Pack and Engel's HD20, have zippers that require force to operate but are leak-resistant. On the other hand, roll-top closures, like the one on ICEMULE's Classic, and zipperless designs secured with velcro, like the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze, are easier to open and close but may provide a less secure seal and insulation. Ultimately, the choice between convenience and security depends on personal preference.
The YETI Hopper M30's magnetic opening is difficult to keep open
Carrying Straps and Handles
As mentioned earlier, soft coolers are easier to carry compared to hard coolers due to their lighter weight. Most soft coolers come with padded straps and thick grab handles, allowing you to carry them over your shoulder or by hand. Premium models tend to have excellent cushioning along the straps, such as the YETI Hopper M30, RTIC Soft Pack Cooler, and Engel HD20. Budget options may have more basic strap systems, like those from AO Coolers, Coleman, and Arctic Zone, which are less comfortable for longer distances but still decently portable. Backpack-style coolers, such as the Hydro Flask 20 L Day Escape, are the easiest to carry with full harnesses that can be worn like standard daypacks.
We like the sturdy carry handle on the ORCA Walker Tote secured with magnets
For ultimate portability, backpack-style soft coolers are an excellent choice. These coolers borrow features from hiking daypacks, such as shoulder straps, padded backpanels, and exterior pockets for additional storage. Similar to traditional soft coolers, backpack models are lightweight, easy to carry, and packable. However, their insulation power falls short of hard coolers. For example, the Hydro Flask 20 L Day Escape is rated to keep ice frozen for up to 36 hours. Although backpack coolers may be more expensive given their modest storage capacity and performance, they are worth the investment if you need to walk long distances to your destination. For more information, please see our article on the best backpack coolers.
Backpack-style coolers offer ultimate portability
Additional Soft Cooler Features
Pockets and Organization
Soft coolers often feature at least one exterior pocket for storing small valuables like a phone, wallet, or keys. These pockets are incredibly useful for keeping track of belongings during day trips to the park or beach. Water-resistant pockets provide additional protection against splashes or light rain. Some models with functional stash pockets include the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler, ORCA Walker Tote, and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze.
We love the spacious front pocket on the ORCA Walker Tote
External Attachment Points
Many soft coolers, such as the YETI Hopper M30 and REI Co-op Cool Haul 24, have daisy chain webbing on the outside. These attachment points are useful for securing extra gear or attaching keys and other small items with a carabiner. The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze features a stretchy bungee system, which is convenient for securing lightweight jackets or small towels on top.
External attachment points are useful for securing extra gear
Some soft coolers come with integrated bottle openers and vacuum ports. The Engel HD20, Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze, and REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 include bottle openers. The HD20 also has a unique vacuum valve that allows you to suck out excess air before use to improve insulation. The ICEMULE Classic utilizes a similar valve system but involves adding air to enhance cooling and buoyancy or removing it to compress the cooler for storage. The Arctic Zone Titan has a shelf for separating hard and soft items, while the REI Cool Haul 24 has a removable inner liner that allows the shell to be used separately as a tote.
In conclusion, when it comes to purchasing a soft cooler, the Yeti Soft Sided Cooler certainly stands out from the crowd. With its exceptional insulation, durable construction, and innovative features, it proves to be a reliable companion for any outdoor adventure. Whether you're heading out on a weekend camping trip or simply enjoying a day at the beach, investing in a Yeti Soft Sided Cooler will ensure that your drinks stay cold, your food stays fresh, and your overall experience is always enjoyable. So, don't settle for an ordinary cooler – choose the Yeti Soft Sided Cooler and elevate your outdoor activities to a whole new level of convenience and satisfaction.
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