Exploring the Best Yeti Soft Cooler Options: Your Complete Buying Guide
Are you tired of warm beers and soggy sandwiches ruining your outdoor adventures? Imagine a cooler that defies the heat, keeping your refreshments icy cold for days. Enter the world of the elusive Yeti Soft Cooler, a game-changer in the world of portable cooling solutions. If you're eager to discover the secret behind this legendary cooler and how to choose the perfect one for your needs, you've come to the right place. Prepare to embark on a journey that will revolutionize how you enjoy your outdoor experiences.
Advice for Buying Soft Coolers
Our Opinion on Soft Coolers: Functionality and Best Usage
Before discussing the finer details, it's important to note that soft coolers have certain limitations. Unlike hard-sided models that can keep food and drinks cold for days or even weeks, soft coolers are not designed to maintain cold temperatures for longer than a few days at most. They also tend to be smaller than hard coolers, typically offering around 30 liters of capacity at most. Because of this, soft coolers are not ideal for multi-day trips. Instead, they are better suited for weekend getaways, day trips to the park or beach, tailgating, boating, or quick grocery store runs. They can also serve as a supplementary storage option for larger groups when camping.
A selection of our favorite soft coolers
Furthermore, it's important to distinguish 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. Rigid coolers lack drainage ports to remove excess water after the ice melts, and they cannot be compressed for storage when not in use. Additionally, they do not retain ice as effectively as hard coolers. Despite these drawbacks, rigid coolers are lighter and more portable than hard coolers. However, it's crucial to consider the trade-offs in durability, insulation, and capacity.
Rigid coolers like the Engel HD30 and ORCA Walker Tote occupy a significant amount of space
Sizes of Soft Coolers (Capacities)
It's important to note that not all coolers measure interior capacity in the same way. Some use cans as a unit of measure, while others use liters, quarts, or gallons. However, most soft coolers use the "cans" measurement, while hard coolers are typically listed in quarts. In the following article, we primarily use "cans" as the unit of measure for soft coolers. However, there may be some discrepancies to be aware of, particularly regarding whether the capacity includes ice. In our write-ups and comparison table, we have done our best to clarify these details. This distinction is crucial to consider when buying a soft cooler.
For reference, the largest soft cooler included in this article is the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler, which can hold up to 30 12-ounce cans with ice. On the other end of the spectrum, Cotopaxi's Hielo 12L Cooler Bag can fit up to 12 cans without ice (approximately 8 cans with ice), according to Cotopaxi's estimates. However, many popular soft coolers typically offer space for around 18-24 cans with ice. These are generally suitable for day trips or weekend road trips, manageable in terms of weight and portability, and do not take up excessive space in your vehicle or storage area.
Hydro Flask's Insulated Tote (left) can hold approximately 10 cans with ice
Ice Retention and Cooling Abilities
As mentioned earlier, soft coolers have limited ice retention compared to hard coolers. In ideal conditions, most soft coolers can only keep contents cold for a day or two at most. The duration of ice retention is influenced by external factors such as air temperature, frequency of lid opening, exposure to sunlight, and ice-to-food ratio (most brands recommend a 2:1 ratio of ice to food). To maximize performance, it is recommended to pre-chill the cooler by filling it with ice for several hours before loading in the items you want to keep cold. When you're ready to go, replace the pre-chilled ice or packs with fresh ice at 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 note that these claims should be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no standardized testing method. The provided ice retention times often seem exaggerated, potentially due to extremely favorable testing conditions. In practice, you can expect to get approximately half of the claimed ice retention time in real-world use, depending on your specific circumstances.
Helpful cooling tips inside REI Co-op's Cool Haul 24
Weight and Portability
One clear advantage of soft coolers over hard coolers is their significantly lighter weight, making them easier to carry. Looking at the comparison table above, most soft coolers weigh between 2 and 4 pounds, while larger and sturdier designs can weigh 7 pounds or more. For instance, the heaviest model on our list is YETI's Hopper M30, which weighs 7 pounds. On the other hand, smaller collapsible models like the Hydro Flask 20 L Insulated Tote and Cotopaxi Hielo 12L Cooler Bag are the lightest, weighing 1 pound 5.1 ounces and 1 pound 9 ounces, respectively. Comfortable shoulder straps and sturdy handles greatly contribute to portability. More information about this can be found below.
When filled with food, drinks, and ice, the YETI Hopper M30 can feel heavy and bulky
Construction and Durability
Durability can vary significantly among soft coolers, with fabric thickness being an important factor. Rigid models like YETI's Hopper M30 and Engel's HD20, both made with 840D fabric, are particularly sturdy. They have tough exteriors that provide confidence when handling sharp objects and show minimal signs of wear during regular use. RovR's TravelR 30 is another durable option with a strong TPU base and welded seams. Softer and more flexible designs like Hydro Flask's 20 L Insulated Tote, Cotopaxi's Hielo 12L Cooler Bag, and REI Co-op's Pack-Away 24 are less rugged but still reasonably well-built for most casual outdoor activities.
YETI's top-of-the-line Hopper M30 is undeniably tough and long-lasting
Furthermore, it's worth mentioning that price often reflects build quality. Cheaper options like the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas, Coleman 24-Hour 16-Can Cooler, and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze generally have lower-quality components and construction compared to more premium choices. However, if you plan to use your cooler infrequently or for casual day trips, these options will still get the job done. However, passionate outdoor enthusiasts who use their coolers frequently, especially around water, will likely benefit from investing in higher-quality models.
The AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas offers decent build quality for its price
Waterproof Soft Coolers
Many of the coolers mentioned in this article have highly water-resistant zippers or openings, but very few are fully waterproof. One exception is the ICEMULE Classic, which has a dry bag-like shape and exterior with a roll-top closure, allowing it to be fully submerged in water. Consequently, it is well-suited for water-based activities such as kayaking or paddleboarding. Moreover, it floats, providing added security in rough conditions. The RTIC Soft Pack Cooler also falls into this category. While not fully waterproof, its tough shell and leakproof design make it capable of withstanding water exposure.
Price: Budget vs. Premium Soft Coolers
The price range for soft coolers is substantial, starting as low as $26 for the Coleman 24-Hour 16-Can Cooler and going up to $350 for the top-of-the-line YETI Hopper M30. Spending more often correlates with increased durability and higher build quality. Premium models like the M30, Hopper Flip 12, Engel HD20, and OtterBox Trooper 20 have thick and rigid exteriors that withstand long-term use exceptionally well. However, even the more budget-friendly options on our list are reasonably well-built and sufficient for beach days or packing a lunch on the go, which may be appealing to many.
Engel's HD30 and YETI's Hopper M30 are two premium designs in the market
Furthermore, unlike hard coolers, the difference in ice retention between soft coolers is not significant, making it more challenging to justify the high cost of premium models. Although these top-end designs offer the portability of a soft cooler without compromising on build quality, they may not be worth the investment for most people. If your budget allows, it's advisable to opt for a hard-sided cooler instead. While you'll have to bear the weight, the improved cooling capabilities and overall performance usually make up for the trade-off.
Affordable options like the REI Cool Haul and Hydro Flask Insulated Tote are highly appealing
Opening Styles and Closure Systems
The opening style and closure system of a soft cooler greatly impact convenience and overall performance. Different models offer varying styles. For example, the YETI Hopper M30 has a rigid opening equipped with magnets. While this design ensures durability, it requires effort to keep the lid open while loading or unloading food and drinks. Some soft coolers, such as the RTIC Soft Pack and Engel HD20, have zipper openings that also require significant force to operate. However, the wraparound design of the RTIC makes it easier to keep the lid open, and zipper-equipped options tend to be highly leak-resistant.
Opening the magnetic lid of the YETI Hopper M30 can be quite challenging
Alternatively, some soft coolers feature roll-top closures, like the ICEMULE Classic, or zipperless designs secured with strong Velcro, such as the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze. While these options are easier to open and close, they may provide less insulation and a less secure seal compared to zipper models. Ultimately, striking a balance between ease of use and security influences the most suitable opening style.
Opening styles vary significantly, impacting convenience and insulation capabilities
Carrying Straps and Handles
As mentioned earlier, soft coolers are significantly easier to transport compared to hard coolers. Most soft coolers come with padded straps and sturdy handles, allowing for solo carrying over the shoulder or by hand. Premium models often have well-padded straps, such as the YETI Hopper M30, RTIC Soft Pack Cooler, and Engel HD20. Budget options with simpler strap systems, like those from AO Coolers, Coleman, and Arctic Zone, may not be as comfortable for longer distances. However, they are still portable and completely serviceable for short walks from the car. Backpack-style coolers, such as the Hydro Flask 20 L Day Escape, offer the easiest portability with harnesses that can be worn like a regular daypack. More information on backpack coolers can be found below.
The ORCA Walker Tote features an interlocking carry handle secured with magnets
For ultimate portability, backpack-style soft coolers are an excellent choice. They borrow features from hiking daypacks, such as shoulder straps, padded back panels, and exterior pockets for additional storage. Like traditional soft coolers, backpack models are lightweight, easy to carry, and can be packed down when not in use. However, their insulation power is not as strong as that of hard coolers. For instance, the Hydro Flask 20 L Day Escape is rated to keep ice frozen for up to 36 hours. Backpack coolers are generally more expensive considering their relatively modest storage capacity and overall performance. Nonetheless, they offer unparalleled convenience for treks longer than half a mile. For more information, refer to our article on the best backpack coolers.
Backpack-style coolers provide the most convenient portability
Additional Soft Cooler Features
Pockets and Organization: Many soft coolers have at least one exterior pocket for storing small valuables like phones, wallets, or keys. These pockets are incredibly useful for keeping items organized while spending a day outdoors. 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.
The generous front pocket on the ORCA Walker Tote is extremely convenient
External Attachment Points: Several soft coolers, such as the YETI Hopper M30 and REI Co-op Cool Haul 24, feature daisy chain webbing along the exterior. These attachment points are useful for securing additional gear. For instance, they can be used to keep keys easily accessible by attaching a carabiner. The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze has a stretchy bungee system that can secure lightweight jackets or small towels on top.
External attachment points provide added convenience
Other Features: Integrated bottle openers and vacuum ports are notable features found in some soft coolers. For instance, the Engel HD20, Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze, and REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 come with built-in bottle openers. The HD20 also includes a unique vacuum valve that allows excess air to be sucked out before use, maximizing insulation. The ICEMULE Classic has a similar valve system, with the added capability of adding air for increased cooling power and buoyancy, or removing air to compress the cooler for storage. Additionally, the Arctic Zone Titan has a shelf for separating hard and soft items, and the REI Cool Haul 24 features 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, there is no better option than the Yeti Soft Cooler. With its superior insulation, durable construction, and innovative technology, this cooler is sure to keep your drinks and food cold for hours on end. Whether you're heading on a camping trip, a tailgate party, or simply enjoying a day at the beach, the Yeti Soft Cooler is the perfect companion. Don't settle for anything less than the best – invest in the Yeti Soft Cooler and experience the ultimate in portable cooling convenience. So go ahead, take the plunge, and make every adventure a refreshing one with the unbeatable Yeti Soft Cooler.
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