The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Top Soft Cooler Bags for All Your Needs

Discover the ultimate companion for your outdoor adventures - the best soft cooler bags! Whether you're heading on a beach trip, camping in the mountains, or simply enjoying a picnic in the park, these versatile coolers are designed to keep your favorite drinks and snacks refreshingly cold. In this article, we will delve into everything you need to know about soft coolers, from what to look for when purchasing one to the available sizes and leakproof features. Join us as we explore the world of soft coolers and find the perfect bag to accompany you on your next excursion.

What You Should Know About Soft Coolers

Why Buy A Soft-Sided Cooler?

Soft coolers offer more flexibility than traditional hard-sided coolers due to their size, lightweight construction, and additional features such as padded handles, bottle openers, or backpack straps. They are ideal for activities like picnics in the park or day hikes.

Unlike hard-sided coolers, soft coolers can be easily stored when not in use. They can be collapsed and stored away after being emptied and wiped clean.

What To Look For In A Soft Cooler

A soft cooler on wheels being pulled against a yellow background

A soft cooler on wheels is easier to transport compared to one with only handles.

When shopping for a soft cooler, look for leak-resistant or waterproof closures. Give priority to coolers with closed-cell foam insulation for better cooling. Puncture-resistant materials are important for durability. Extra features such as exterior pockets are a plus, but not at the expense of cooling capability or durability.

How Much Ice Should I Use?

A soft cooler full of ice cubes

To test the best soft coolers, we filled each one with ice to measure its melting time.

According to our research and experiments, a cooler should ideally have twice as much ice or ice packs as it does food by volume. For example, if you are chilling a gallon of milk, you would use two gallons of ice. Using more ice allows for better food preservation over a longer period of time. To preserve food for more than 24 hours, a combination of ice chunks and ice chips is recommended.

How Can I Keep My Cooler Cold Longer?

  • Pre-cool your cooler: If storing your soft cooler in a hot garage, bring it inside your home to reach room temperature before use.
  • Avoid using melting ice: Using ice or ice packs that are already melting will not keep your soft cooler as cold as fresh ice.
  • Keep it in the shade: Keep your soft cooler in the shade as much as possible during your travels to maintain cooler temperatures.
  • Keep it closed: Open your cooler as infrequently as possible to retain cold temperatures.

Can I Use Dry Ice In A Soft Cooler?

Most soft coolers work best with ice packs or ice cubes. However, dry ice can be used in most soft coolers if you require extra cold temperatures for freezing items like ice cream or meat.

Dry ice evaporates as it warms up instead of melting, making it advantageous in terms of cleanup. However, it doesn't last as long as regular ice. Store dry ice outdoors or in a well-ventilated area due to the constant emission of carbon dioxide. Place dry ice at the bottom of your cooler, wrapped in newspaper, and keep items that need to stay frozen or colder on top.

Available Sizes/Capacities

Our top picks include soft coolers available in a range of sizes to fit your needs, whether it's for a small group, specific activities, or limited space.


For longer outings or road trips, it's important to ensure that your cooler doesn't leak. Some of our tested coolers performed exceptionally well in leak tests, while others experienced leakage when placed on their sides or upside-down. Consider the leakproof feature based on your specific needs.


Storage options such as side pockets and front pockets are convenient in soft coolers. Not as crucial as ice retention or capacity, pockets provide additional storage for items like cell phones, wallets, or a change of clothes.

Strap Design

Most coolers feature removable straps for carrying cross-body and handles for shorter distances. Adjustable straps offer more versatility, while permanent straps are designed for backpack-style carrying. Choose a design that suits your preference and convenience.

Ice Retention/Insulation

Ice retention is a key factor in soft coolers. The quality and amount of insulation determine how long the ice lasts and how well the contents stay cold. Look for coolers with good insulation and consider the manufacturer's ice retention claims, as well as real-life trial results.

What size cooler do I need?

Determining the size of the cooler depends on factors such as the number of people, duration of use, and type of meals. Consider the amount of ice you want to use, as it affects the capacity for food and beverages. When in doubt, choose a size slightly larger to accommodate more ice on hot days.


Soft coolers are lighter compared to hard coolers due to the materials used. Consider the weight if you need to carry the cooler over longer distances. Hard coolers, on the other hand, offer more capacity and better ice retention if weight is less of a concern.

So whether you're planning a picnic at the park, a beach day with friends, or a camping trip in the wilderness, investing in the best soft cooler bag is a must. With all the options available, make sure to consider the key factors discussed here, from size and capacity to leakproofing and insulation. Don't forget to take into account your personal needs and preferences, including weight and strap design. With the right soft cooler bag by your side, keeping your drinks cold and your food fresh will be a breeze, allowing you to fully enjoy all of your outdoor adventures.

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