The Ultimate Guide to Top Waterproof Coolers: Everything You Need to Know and What to Look For
When it comes to outdoor adventures or even just a trip to the beach, a reliable cooler is an essential item. But with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. That's why we've put together a comprehensive guide to the top waterproof coolers on the market. In this article, we'll break down the key factors to consider, such as portability, weight, functionality, and price, to help you make an informed decision. We'll also delve into the important features that make a cooler "soft", answer common questions like whether you need to pre-chill your cooler, and guide you on selecting the right size. So, if you're ready to find the perfect cooler that will keep your drinks ice cold and your food fresh, keep reading.
Best Soft Coolers for All Your Adventures
We had the pleasure of using the Orca Walker Cooler ($220) for tailgating at trailheads after hikes and park BBQs. This cooler is ideal for single-day adventures and impressed us with its tough 840-denier textile exterior that withstands rough handling.
The insulation, made of a metal-coated plastic blend, effectively preserved the ice and kept our goods cold. The soft interior liner and waterproof zipper ensured a leak-free experience.
While the two side handles could be more comfortable to hold, the center magnetic handle offers a smooth grip. However, when the handgrip is detached into two separate pieces, it becomes less comfortable to grasp.
In our ice retention test, the Walker Cooler performed exceptionally, maintaining ice for up to 70 hours. It has a capacity of 20 12-ounce cans.
- Size: 14.5″ x 11″ x 13.25″
- Capacity: 33 L
- Weight: 1,633 g (3.6 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Up to 3 days
- Waterproof top zipper and seams prevent leaks
- Convenient small exterior pocket
- Bungee cords securely hold items in place
- Magnetic split handle is uncomfortable when divided into two straps
The Hydro Flask Day Escape Soft Tote Cooler ($150) offers a sleek, lightweight, and durable design. We used this cooler for park BBQs and were impressed by its comfortable shoulder straps.
The waterproof 600-denier polyester shell and watertight zipper with welded seams ensured no leaks. However, we did find the zipper harder to operate with one hand, requiring counter-pulling of the side handles.
During our ice retention test, we observed some condensation on the exterior, leading to slightly faster ice melting compared to other coolers. Nonetheless, it still exceeded the brand's claimed 36-hour ice retention, lasting for about 60 hours. The Escape cooler can hold 24 12-ounce cans.
- Size: 12.2″ x 20.5″ x 7.8″
- Capacity: 18 L
- Weight: 1,134 g (2.5 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Up to 2.5 days
- Comfortable tote straps for easy shoulder carrying
- Leakproof waterproof zipper
- Completely waterproof construction
- Exterior pocket lacks a zipper for added security
- No integrated pockets for organization
The Mountainsmith Sixer ($35) is a fantastic cooler for on-the-go lunches. Our tester, a Colorado-based electrician and mountain biker, easily packed a canned drink, sandwich, fruit, and chocolate in it. Its size and shape make it convenient to fit in a messy work truck.
The cooler is easy to clean both inside and out, and its vintage look adds to its appeal. The ergonomic haul handle provides a comfortable grip. Our ice melted relatively quickly on hot days, which caused some moisture inside the cooler. However, the seamless liner contained the water and showed no signs of leaks.
During our ice retention test, this cooler preserved ice for 25 hours. It can fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Size: 11″ x 11″ x 6″
- Capacity: 12 L
- Weight: 499 g (1.1 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Up to 25 hours
- Two comfortable tote straps for shoulder carrying
- Perfect for park concerts
- Zippered interior mesh pocket for utensils
- Two flat side pockets for additional storage
- Lightweight removable shoulder strap could be more sturdy
- Cooler bottom can absorb moisture
- Lid's zipper is not waterproof
The Igloo Pursuit Tote ($120) successfully kept our bubbly water, hummus, pepperoni, peppers, and arugula fresh during car camping and crewing the Hardrock 100. Its lightweight design and malleable fabric made it easy to carry from the van to the hotel porch.
The cooler offers ample storage space and can be compressed for convenient storage. Its slender shape ensures stability and comfortable shoulder carrying.
We especially liked the exterior front zipper pocket. However, the side mesh water bottle pockets feel flimsy and easily snag. The wide entry and two-way zipper of the top opening were convenient, although drying out the cooler became slightly challenging due to its wide rim.
In terms of ice retention, this tote performs well for short trips and errands, but pre-cooling the bag is recommended. According to our ice retention test, this cooler can keep ice for up to 40 hours. It can fit 30 12-ounce cans.
- Size: 22.4″ x 3.7″ x 15.7″
- Capacity: 21 L
- Weight: 907 g (2 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Up to 1.5 days
- Two comfortable tote straps for shoulder carrying
- Padded removable shoulder strap for added versatility
- Ice melts relatively faster in hot vehicles or sunny conditions
- Top zipper is not waterproof and may cause leaks
- Some condensation may appear on the cooler's exterior
The REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler ($100) received resounding applause from our team. It proved to be a reliable companion for whitewater rafting, car camping, and crewing the Hardrock 100. Its size is perfect for a duo.
The cooler features a durable ripstop nylon exterior that is easy to clean. The insulated polyester liner inside is both sturdy and removable, making cleaning a breeze.
While both hard and soft coolers offer great handles, the portability of soft coolers is unmatched. The Cool Haul's cube shape and lightweight materials ensure easy transportation, especially on a boat or in a truck bed.
In our ice retention test, the REI Co-op Cool Haul held ice for up to 60 hours. It can fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Size: 14″ x 11″ x 11″
- Capacity: 15 L
- Weight: 1,415 g (3.12 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Up to 2.5 days
- Daisy chain webbing and bottle opener included
- Interior zippered pocket keeps food items above the ice
- Strong and comfortable side and top handles
- Helpful cooling tips listed inside the lid
- The cube shape may bounce off your back when using the shoulder strap
- Top zipper is not waterproof, so be cautious of leaks
- Exterior front pocket lacks a zipper for securing items
The 5-gallon KULA Soft Cooler ($240) features a unique and playful round shape with a zipper top, while still maintaining rugged durability. Its heavy-duty exterior can withstand rough handling, while remaining relatively lightweight for easy carrying.
There is also a smaller 2.5-gallon option, perfect for single or duo outings or for smaller vessels like a SUP.
Based on user reviews, this cooler performs admirably in various challenging conditions, including road trips in hot Texas weather, offshore fishing, and boating in Florida's hot and humid climate. The ice remained usable even after a full day.
- Size: 15.25″ x 14.5″
- Capacity: 18 L
- Weight: 2,041 g (4.5 lbs.)
- Ice retention test: Unavailable
- Ample daisy chain attachment points
- Stylish and eye-catching design
- Does not fully fill or fit in angular corners
- The zipper can be tough to pull, but included lubricant helps
- Some people wish it was 1 inch taller to fit a bottle of wine
What You Should Know About Soft Coolers
Why Buy A Soft-Sided Cooler?
Soft coolers offer more flexibility compared to traditional hard coolers due to their size, lightweight construction, and additional features like padded handles, bottle openers, or backpack straps. They are well-suited for activities such as picnics or day hikes. The pliable construction of soft coolers allows for easy storage when not in use. Many soft coolers can be collapsed and stored away after being emptied and wiped clean.
What To Look For In A Soft Cooler
When shopping for a soft cooler, look for leak-resistant or waterproof closures to ensure a secure seal. Closed-cell foam insulation is superior to other cooling methods. Puncture-resistant materials contribute to the durability of the cooler. While additional features like an exterior pocket for utensils are beneficial, they should not compromise cooling capability or overall durability.
How Much Ice Should I Use?
Based on our research and experiments, it is ideal to use twice as much ice or ice packs as the volume of food inside your cooler. For example, if you have a gallon of milk, you should use two gallons of ice to keep it cool. Using more ice improves food preservation over a longer period. To extend the preservation time beyond 24 hours, a combination of ice chunks and ice chips is recommended. Chips provide immediate cooling, while chunks maintain freshness.
How Can I Keep My Cooler Cold Longer?
- Pre-cool your cooler: Bring your soft cooler inside your home from a hot garage to allow it to reach room temperature. This prevents ice wastage in cooling down the cooler.
- Avoid using melting ice: Using ice that is already melting will not achieve the same level of cooling as ice straight from the freezer. This applies to ice packs as well.
- Keep it in the shade: Whenever possible, keep your soft cooler in the shade during your travels to maintain cooler temperatures for longer periods.
- Keep it closed: Minimize the frequency of opening your cooler to retain colder temperatures inside.
Can I Use Dry Ice In A Soft Cooler?
Most soft coolers are designed to work optimally with ice packs or ice cubes. However, dry ice can be used in most soft coolers as it reaches lower temperatures than regular ice and can keep items frozen, not just chilled. Dry ice evaporates as it warms up instead of melting, eliminating the need to clean up water puddles. Keep in mind that dry ice doesn't last as long as regular ice and constantly emits carbon dioxide. It is best to store dry ice outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Place dry ice at the bottom of the cooler, wrapped in newspaper, and keep items that require freezing or lower temperatures on top. Items that only need to be chilled can be placed closer to the top of the cooler.
In conclusion, when it comes to finding the top waterproof coolers, there are several factors to consider. From portability and functionality to ice retention and durability, these features can make all the difference in your outdoor adventures. So, whether you're planning a day at the beach, a camping trip, or a tailgate party, be sure to choose a soft cooler that meets your specific needs. With a wide range of available sizes, capacities, and designs, there is no doubt that you'll find the perfect fit for your cooling needs. Keep these tips in mind when searching for your next soft cooler, and enjoy convenient and reliable cooling whenever and wherever you need it.
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