The Ultimate Guide to the Best Soft Coolers: Tested and Reviewed

Are you tired of lugging around bulky, heavy coolers that can't even keep your drinks and snacks cold for a full day? It's time to discover the game-changer: soft coolers. These lightweight and portable coolers provide a refreshing alternative to their hard-shell counterparts. With impressive ice retention and durability, they are perfect for day hikes, fishing trips, and road adventures. But with so many options available, which soft cooler should you choose? Don't worry, we've done the research for you. In this article, we'll reveal the top soft coolers on the market, carefully selected based on rigorous ice retention and durability tests. Get ready to find your perfect companion for keeping things cool in style and convenience. Let's dive in!

Ice Retention and Durability Test Results

The ice retention and durability tests were crucial in determining the best soft coolers on the market. During the ice retention test, the coolers were filled with ice and kept indoors at a room temperature of around 70 degrees for five days. The coolers were checked daily to observe ice levels and melting times. Leak tests were also conducted to ensure there were no leaks around the seams and zipper areas.

In terms of durability, each cooler underwent multiple drops from the top of a ladder. They were inspected for any dents, dings, and rips. These tests allowed us to assess the overall quality and performance of the coolers under real-life conditions. Combining the results of the ice retention and durability tests, we were able to identify the top performers in each category.

Factors Considered for Award Categories

When determining the best soft coolers in each award category, several factors were taken into consideration.

Aesthetics: We assessed the overall appearance of the coolers and considered if there were multiple color schemes available. A visually appealing cooler can enhance your outdoor experience.

Value: The price point of the coolers was compared to the materials used and the overall build quality. We looked for coolers that offered a good balance between price and performance.

A gray and orange Engel HD30 cooler sitting on a grassy lawn.

Storability: The ease of storing the coolers was evaluated. We considered whether the coolers could flatten down for convenient storage in tight areas.

These factors helped us identify the top performers in each category, ensuring that the chosen coolers not only excelled in their primary features but also offered additional value to users.

Best Overall Soft Cooler: Engel HD30 Heavy Duty Cooler Bag

The Engel HD30 Heavy Duty Cooler Bag emerged as the best overall soft cooler based on its exceptional ice retention and additional features. With a closed cell foam insulation, this cooler was able to keep ice for four whole days, outperforming others in the test. Even after five days, some ice cubes were still floating, showcasing its remarkable performance. The Engel HD30 is comparable to a hard-sided rotomolded cooler in terms of ice retention.

The gray and orange Engel HD30 cooler being held open to show the interior on a grassy lawn.

In addition to its superior ice retention, the Engel HD30 offers ample storage space and a solid price point. It is a great choice for families, group outings, or car camping trips. The only downside is that it can be a bit difficult to open and dry out after use. Nonetheless, considering its performance and affordability compared to similar-sized coolers on the market, the Engel HD30 is a top contender.

The black RTIC soft pack cooler on a green lawn.

Best Soft Cooler for Boating: RTIC Soft Pack

For those seeking a soft cooler specifically for boating, the RTIC Soft Pack stands out as the best choice. It held ice for just under three days, making it suitable for a full day of fishing or boating adventure. The RTIC Soft Pack also offers a floating feature, alleviating concerns about accidental drops overboard. While some condensation may appear on the outside, it can be easily wiped off. The cooler features a reliable zipper, although initial lubrication may be required. With its sleek design and ease of cleaning and access, the RTIC Soft Pack is a great companion for boating trips.

Best Soft Cooler for Road Trips: Yeti M15

The Yeti M15 is the top-rated soft cooler for road trips, thanks to its impressive ice retention and durable construction. During testing, the Yeti M15 retained ice for over three and a half days, primarily due to its excellent magnetic seal. The magnetic closure system ensures a crisp and solid seal, minimizing air exposure. The top can also be rolled down and secured with additional straps for enhanced sealing.

The interior of the black RTIC soft pack cooler on a grassy lawn.

Aside from ice retention, the Yeti M15 boasts a visually appealing design and offers a comfortable carrying experience with its excellent shoulder strap. Available in charcoal or navy, the M15 is a stylish and functional option for road trips. While the price tag may be a bit high, those who can afford it will not be disappointed with its overall performance.

Best Soft Cooler for the Beach: Orca Wanderer 24

The dark blue and gray Yeti M15 cooler and shoulder strap on a grassy lawn.

If you plan to spend a day at the beach and need a reliable cooler, the Orca Wanderer 24 is the top choice. It features a unique design with a plastic frame and hard latches instead of a zipper or magnet closure system. During testing, the Orca Wanderer 24 held ice for just under three days, showcasing its solid ice retention qualities. The cooler's lid seals tightly, minimizing heat entry.

What sets the Orca Wanderer 24 apart is its easy access and cleaning. The open design allows for quick clean-up, and the cooler dries out rapidly. With a size of 24 cans, it is perfect for beach trips and also versatile enough for boating and road trips. Although the price point is slightly higher, the exceptional performance and attractive looks make it a worthy investment.

Camping photo

Best Soft Cooler Backpack: Engel Roll Top High Performance Backpack Cooler

For those in need of a backpack-style soft cooler, the Engel Roll Top High Performance Backpack Cooler is our top recommendation. Its massive 25-quart capacity stands out, all while maintaining a lightweight design. Weighing only 3.5 pounds, this cooler feels incredibly comfortable on the back, even when filled with ice. During testing, the Engel Roll Top held ice for approximately three days, and it can likely extend retention by cinching the roll top tightly or utilizing the built-in vacuum seal.

The blue and gray Orca Wanderer 24 cooler with shoulder strap sitting on green grass.

Drying and airing out the cooler may present some challenges, but its ease of propping open distinguishes it from the Engel HD30. Despite its larger capacity, this backpack-style cooler is surprisingly affordable compared to similar options on the market. The padded shoulder straps and back padding ensure a comfortable carrying experience, making it an excellent choice for outdoor adventures.

Considerations when Choosing Soft Coolers

When selecting a soft cooler, it is important to consider a few factors to ensure it meets your specific needs. Soft coolers are generally designed for shorter adventures, so don't expect ice to last as long as it would in a hard cooler. The insulation in soft coolers is typically not as thick, and the soft side walls do not retain cold as effectively.

Camping photo

However, soft coolers offer significant advantages in terms of weight. Many manufacturers now offer specialized backpack coolers, which are easy to carry due to their soft design. To prevent the inconvenience of sloshing water, reusable freezer packs can be used instead of ice. These packs not only keep everything neat and tidy inside the cooler but also help in retaining the cold.

FAQs about Soft Coolers

Q: Is a soft cooler as good as a hard cooler?

A gray, black, and teal Engel Roll Top backpack cooler on a grassy lawn.

A: While hard coolers have superior ice retention due to thicker insulation, soft coolers have their own advantages. Soft coolers are lighter, making them easier to carry for outdoor adventures. Additionally, they offer greater storage versatility and typically come in fashionable designs. Soft coolers are excellent choices for shorter trips or when portability is a priority.

Q: What size cooler do I need?

A: The size of the cooler you need depends on the purpose and the number of individuals you intend to accommodate. Smaller coolers, such as the Orca Wanderer or a 12-can RTIC Soft Pack, are suitable for a couple's day at the beach. On the other hand, larger coolers like the Engel HD30 are better suited for families or gatherings with multiple friends. It is essential to check the dimensions of the cooler before making a purchase to ensure it fits your needs and storage space.

Camping photo

Q: Can you put ice in a backpack cooler?

A: Absolutely! In fact, backpack coolers like the Engel Roll Top High Performance Backpack Cooler, offer ample space for ice and other items. While drying and airing out these coolers can be challenging, reusable freezer packs are a great alternative. They keep your cooler clean and eliminate any concerns about dealing with melted ice. Freezer packs are also cost-effective compared to buying large bags of ice.

Trust in Field & Stream's Product Reviews

For over 125 years, Field & Stream has been a trusted source for honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors are passionate about the outdoors and extensively test products to provide readers with unbiased reviews. Whether it's a bass lure or a backpack, our product reviews cover the good and the bad, ensuring that you have all the information you need before making a purchase decision. You can rely on Field & Stream to keep you up to date on the best new gear and to help you choose the right soft cooler for your needs.

Trust in Field & Stream's Product Reviews

When it comes to selecting the best soft cooler for your outdoor adventures, trust Field & Stream's unbiased and authentic product reviews. For over 125 years, we have been dedicated to providing readers with honest coverage and comprehensive evaluations of outdoor gear. So, whether you're planning a beach trip, a boating excursion, or a road trip, let our expertise guide you in making the right choice. Don't settle for warm drinks and melted ice any longer. Upgrade to a top-performing soft cooler that combines durability, convenience, and impressive ice retention. Get ready to embark on your next adventure with confidence, and chill your way to unforgettable experiences. Choose the best soft cooler that suits your needs and make your trips cooler than ever before!

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