The best soft cooler becomes an essential part of many outdoor adventures. Simply worded, a soft cooler is a bag meant to keep things cold when transported. Boaters, campers, hikers, and hunters—to name a few enthusiasts—all heavily use coolers in the woods or out on the water. Cooler performance must be dependable to keep food/drinks, fresh fish, or wild game from spoiling.
Deciding On A Soft Cooler
Keeping in mind the distance you will often carry a cooler is important. Utilizing a soft cooler provides an ease of packability and compact storage when not in use. Not one of these attributes is associated with the use of a hard cooler.
While hard coolers are durable and definitely have more efficient cooling properties, they are mostly composed of either plastic or stainless steel. Metal coolers are hefty in weight, yet indestructible. Metal absorbs heat and retains it longer, even if moved into the shade. Plastic coolers are often composed of high-density foam. While they are insulated quite well, the bulkiness and weight can quickly become cumbersome for one individual to handle. Plastic coolers are often less of a strain if carried by two people at a time.
Wheeled hard coolers are often viewed as a back-saver. However, popular models at stores such as Home Depot, Target, and Walmart are widely known to be useless on rough ground. There are many accounts of axles and wheels easily breaking.
Drawbacks of soft-sided coolers are the lack of durable rigidity and lowered cooling efficiency. However, using cold packs, cooling foods prior to packing, and freezing water bottles for later use can help increase cooling efficiency, as well as maximize space.
Soft Cooler Qualities to Consider
Insulated bags do not actively chill anything. They are designed to keep food and drink cool for longer than they normally keep, without the added assistance of an insulated device.
- Size – Most soft coolers can be gauged in size according to the number of 12-ounce cans they can hold. So a tag marked as “20L capacity” will also contain a comment about that equaling roughly 18 cans and a bit of ice. The number of cans could increase if pre-chilled cans are used to cut down on the amount of ice.
- Insulation Value – Insulation value takes into account several factors, such as thickness, type of insulation, and what amount. Your primary activity can help to decide how much you may need. More can be better, but not always. As stated before, consider your intended usage. Driving to a picnic at the neighborhood park doesn’t require the effective closure system and thick insulation desired for a camping trip in Arizona.
- Durability – The overall durability of a soft cooler is just as essential as insulation. Important, yet simple, qualities to pay attention to are the components (buckles, straps, zippers, pulls), material composition, and construction style. Many of the more expensive and specially designed soft coolers are geared toward more rugged adventures and a significant amount of abuse. The Yeti Hopper is significantly more durable than the other models reviewed here. It costs significantly more but puts up with an impressive amount of wear and tear.
- Ease of Use – How easy is it to use for frequently intended needs? Key assets include being able to get things in and out, along with keeping it clean and carrying it around. What are you going to do with it? Where do you plan to take it? These questions will guide you to what is important to have in the product build (shoulder strap, backpack design, etc.).
- Portability – The primary reason one searches for a soft cooler for is the need to move around. Whether the trip is from the car to a picnic at the lake; or cruising on a multi-day motorcycle trek, it needs to be easy to pack along with you. Ideally being lightweight and having a shoulder strap are top design elements contributing to the coolers portability.
Other helpful considerations are conformability to spaces and condensability for storage.
3 Primary Styles of Soft Coolers
The main reason most people seek out a soft cooler is personally transporting food and drink over a distance. The underlying need for insulation also takes into account the time frames desired to satisfy the purpose of transporting temperature sensitive items. Most soft coolers are designed to withstand a few hours all the way up to a few days of use.
One can obtain a soft sided cooler ideal for carrying lunch to school/work; or one that conveniently sustains one-two people on a multi-day trip.
There are three primary styles of insulating soft coolers.
- Lunch Box – Lunch box designed models often have a wide opening and removable liner that makes cleaning up a bit easier. Some come with a shoulder strap for comfort. These smaller soft coolers are perfect for a single meal for one person. They may even be used to carry drinks for two-three people on an outing.
- Shoulder Bag – Simple and flexible, some models can carry as much as a hard cooler. The advantage is in the ease of use as a shoulder bag and beneficial ability of compressed storage. These are often the perfect choice for a day at the beach or fishing on the boat. A shoulder bag soft cooler is also great for everyday use for the individual who needs to carry a decent amount of food and drink.
- Backpack – If you need to carry a cooler a long way, an insulated backpack is a way to go. You have the hands-free benefits of a backpack, with the insulation of a cooler. Ideal for heavier loads and when you have other items to carry.
Soft Cooler Model Reviews
Often, outdoor enthusiasts can fuel an adventure by packing just an over the shoulder soft cooler. We’ve reviewed 3 of the best soft coolers in the shoulder bag style.
eBags Crew Cooler II was designed with the needs of pilots and flight attendants in mind. Dimensions for this soft cooler are 15″ x 10.5″ x 8.5″, with a 3.5’ deep top dry compartment perfect for stowing away non-perishables. The bottom compartment is 7.5” high and all six sides are insulated. Mesh zipper pockets in the lid help to keep small items in place. The front pocket is 3” x 11” x 5”. The Crew Cooler has 5 pockets total. The inner lining zips out for convenient cleaning.
This soft cooler is perfect as a large lunch bag. It is also useful for packing 2-4 light meals or snacks for just one-two people. This particular soft cooler is unique as a bag sufficient for a sizeable lunch without being large enough for a day fishing at the lake.
- Shoulder strap and two smaller handles
- Multiple compartments
- Can fit more than one meal easily
- Able to fit glass storage containers
- Large, unattractive logo on the side
- Shoulder strap doesn’t have a pad, slips off shoulder easily
- Double handle straps attach to lid, not body
- Doesn’t insulate for a very long period of time
- Not good for use with open ice
A helpful hint about using the eBags Crew Cooler II, reviewers mention this bag is not suitable for a hard day working in 8-12 hour heat. It’s also worth mentioning open water and open ice are not suitable and will cause leakage. It’s best to use ice or gel packs.
- Limited 5-year Commercial Use Warranty (flight crew)
- Limited Lifetime Warranty (non-commercial use)
- American Made
- Top dry compartment is an ideal space to hold non-perishables
- Zippered mesh pocket located in the top compartment. Ideal for keeping small items (utensils, napkins, etc.) easily accessible
- Bottom cold compartment equipped with replaceable PEVA liner for easy cleaning
- All six sides of the bottom compartment are fully insulated
- Front tip-out pocket has two zipper pullers and side pleats to prevent loss of contents
One of the best soft cooler options for a day trip or long day at work is the Mojecto Large Cooler Bag. Dimensions for this bag are 15” x 12″ x 9”. The top compartment height is 4″ and the bottom compartment height is 8″.
With lots of room for food and accessories, the Mojecto Large Cooler Bag is perfect for a hefty lunch at the office or school, while also capable of sustaining one-two people on a hiking trip. This cooler also has a 10” wide pass through for luggage handles.
Two insulated compartments offer enough space for keeping food hot or cold all day. Thick insulation is paired with durable, heavy duty construction. The Mojecto soft cooler is equipped with an inside liner that zips out for easy cleaning. Aa an added bonus, a replacement liner is included.
- Shoulder strap and handles for carrying multiple ways
- Quality materials
- Numerous compartments and internal netting pockets
- Ample storage room
- Extra liner included
- The straps are attached in awkward places relative to the main zippers (the straps get in the way when zipping/unzipping)
- The side pockets are too short for holding things like coffee mugs or regular cups
- Not rigid enough to properly support the sides of the bag
It’s important to keep in mind the soft cooler bag is not designed to withstand homemade ice packs, open ice, or open liquid. Cooler bags can be chilled with ice packs or ice gels.
- Lifetime Warranty covers manufacturer defects
- Dual compartments are fully insulated
- 840D superior quality, durable polyester fabric
- Replaceable tear-resistant Peva liner
- Zippered mesh pocket located inside top insulated compartment
- Bottom compartment insulated from all sides
- Bonus: Additional Peva liner included as a back-up
- Removable Peva liner in bottom compartment for easy cleaning
- High-density insulation provides extended cooling
- Two zippered mesh pockets on sides can hold beverages
- Durable stitching and multiple pockets
- Oversized heavy-duty double zippers
- Adjustable padded shoulder straps (removable)
- Two long handles for alternate carrying method
The Yeti Hopper 30 is an option to consider for the needs of a group of four to ten people on a day trip. This is also a good choice for an adventure similar to a multi-day motorcycle ride. Many user reviews state that this is the bag for anyone needing to keep things cool for several days without leaking. Yeti products are known for indestructibility and superior insulation performance.
The Hopper 30 can easily carry at least 24 icy cans for tailgating or a trip to the lake. Dimensions for this bag are 22.5” x 12” x 16.5”. It weighs about 6lbs empty and up to 50lbs when full. This soft cooler is puncture resistant and has a mildew resistant anti-microbial liner. The sides are a sturdy inch of closed-cell foam and the bottom is lined with 1.5 inches of the same.
The Hopper is made of an extremely durable material and is quite rigid at first. The Hopper owner’s manual states that with time it will break in and become easier to open up wider. The design of the zipper supports its function in assisting in keeping items temperature controlled.
Since the Hopper takes some time to become less rigid, some reviewers suggest opening the Hopper 30 by pressing on of the short ends against your torso/chest while pulling the other end towards you. This is explained as an easy way to open the zipper hole enough to more effectively reach into the cooler bag.
- Great for long road trips or camping
- Holds 24 cans
- Mildew resistant anti-microbial shell
- Shoulder strap
- 3-year warranty
- Extreme durability
- Can be around 50lbs fully loaded
- Opening extremely tight
- Only top zipper opening
- Takes time to break in
- Awkward for carrying long distances
With the Yeti Hopper 30, remember that the zipper must be closed completely to avoid leakage. Yeti builds their products to last and boasts an impressive 3-year warranty. While this is most likely the most expensive soft cooler available, it is backed by the durability and confidence that the Yeti brand is known for.
- Yeti provides a 3-year warranty
- Enough room for 24 cans or 30 lbs. of ice
- Puncture-resistant and leak-proof Dryhide Shell
- Anti-microbial lining
- Multiple D-ring tie-downs (6 total)
- Patented HydroLok Zipper is watertight
- 1″ foam Coldcell Insulation on sides, 1.5″ on bottom
If you plan to pack for lunch at the office or heading out for a picnic, then choosing the eBags Crew Cooler II is a safe bet. Packing for a 12-hour shift construction shift or 3-day hike easily calls for relying on the Mojecto Large Cooler Bag. Heading out for group outings that need more than a few beverages is a task for the YETI Hopper 30 to take on.
Many different factors are important when deciding on a soft cooler that fits your needs. Knowing how you intend to use it a majority of the time is essential. No matter what kind of outdoor adventure you’re planning, there is a wide range of soft coolers available to choose from.