Soft-sided coolers are a great option for camping. Although they don’t carry quite as much as the traditional plastic or metal coolers, the benefits of soft coolers more than make up for their smaller size. We’ve put together a guide to help you pick the best soft cooler for camping.
|AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler||Amazon||A|
|Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler||Amazon||A|
|Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series 12 Pack Check||Amazon||A+|
|RTIC 20 Soft Pack||Amazon||A|
|Yeti Hopper Portable Cooler||Amazon||A|
How to Choose a Soft-Sided Cooler
Not all coolers are created equal. So how do you know which is right for you? By taking a look at the benefits of each feature, we can find the best soft cooler for you and your trip.
Straps vs. Handles vs. Wheels
One of the most important things to think about before buying any camping gear is how you will be carrying it to your camp. The issue of transport raises several questions.
- Shoulder strap or shorter carry handles? These are the most common varieties of soft-sided coolers. A cooler with both shoulder straps and short carry handles offers flexibility when your hands are full. Also, are the straps and handles padded so you don’t arrive for a relaxing time in nature with a sore shoulder or arms?
- What about a backpack style? The benefits of a cooler with the convenience of a backpack. With two sturdy padded straps, this is the answer for heavier loads or when you’re carrying your gear a longer distance.
- How about wheels? If you’re already weighed down with no room for another strap or handle, a wheeled cooler may help. But unless your campsite is right across the parking lot, the wheels may make your life more difficult.
The next feature to consider when searching for the best soft cooler for camping is how much food and drinks it will hold. How long will you be gone? How much food will you need? What type of food and drinks will you be taking?
The longer your camping trip, the larger the cooler you’ll need. Most soft-sided coolers are measured by the number of cans they hold, so make sure you find one that will do the job.
As you’re looking for a cooler to take camping, remember that in order to keep the beverages cold, they will need to be packed with ice or ice packs. About one-quarter of the cooler’s space will be taken up with ice, so is there enough room left over?
While some coolers have separate compartments for warm food, they are generally only large enough to sustain one person for one to two days. To make sure your food stays safe, it’s vital that your cooler is large enough to hold all your perishables and will keep them cold while you’re camping.
There are plenty of fashionable coolers on the market today. But the more important thing to look for is practicality. Is that Marvel cooler really practical to take camping? Sure it looks cool, but will it be helpful or more of a hindrance when you are trudging along the trail, weighed down with your tent and sleeping bag?
Rather than look for a cooler with all the latest bells and whistles, we’d recommend selecting one that is durable and comfortable to carry on your camping trip.
Make sure it is insulated to keep beverages cold, has easy access so you’re not fighting to open it, and that the cooler itself is not too heavy when empty. Another bonus is if the cooler has a separate compartment for foods that you don’t want ice cold, such as dry snacks.
We assume it would be safe to say that you do not want a disposable cooler or one that falls apart after a single use. If your cooler will be used frequently, it might be a good idea to find one that is durable.
While you don’t have to spend a fortune on your cooler, just remember that as with most things, you get what you pay for. Flimsy plastic zippers may break before you’ve emptied the contents of your cooler.
Reinforced seams, strong handles, cushioned straps, and stitching that is not fraying are all things to look for in a well-made soft-sided cooler.
We’ve rounded up five soft coolers to help you with your final decision.
Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series 12 Pack
Available in a range of sizes as well as a backpack style, the Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series is a cooler to be reckoned with. Its high-density open-cell foam insulation claims to provide – when packed correctly – for a full 24 hours of frozen ice.
After all the drinks are gone, it can be condensed down to about half size for easy storage. This cooler has a rugged skid proof lining on bottom and an extra zipper pocket on the front that can be used to carry cell phones, keys or other smaller items that you want to protect. The zipper on the side pocket seals shut and creates a waterproof barrier.
- Variety of sizes from 12 pack to 48 pack
- Rugged and durable nylon exterior, unbreakable zippers and hardware
- Available in a variety of colors/prints
- Bottle opener keychain on the zipper
- Side flaps fold down and clip in to be more streamlined
- Have to unclip the sides in order to open the zipper and access the inside.
- May leak if it is tipped/falls over
- The shoulder strap could be longer
Yeti Hopper Portable Cooler
Yeti coolers are known for being durable, portable and keeping ice frozen for days. It is also the first 100% leak proof cooler. While others claim not to leak, the Yeti has a HydroLok zipper so even when held upside down, it keeps everything inside. Its tough exterior is built to withstand even your toughest outdoor adventures. Available in a variety of sizes, it’s meant to fit your outdoor lifestyle perfectly.
view the full review here.
- HydroLok zipper is modeled after technology found on HazMat suits so it’s 100% leak proof and airtight to prevent spills and leaks on the go
- Dryhide shell uses material similar to whitewater rafts, is waterproof and resistant to punctures
- The liner is antimicrobial, mildew resistant and FDA food grade
- The Hitchpoint Grid offers easy accessory fastening for helpful items you want to keep handy such as bottle openers, carabiners, or key chains
- Price – while the Yeti is a high quality product, it is one of the priciest on the market
- The tightness of the zipper can make it difficult to reach in and out of the cooler
- At 8.6 pounds when empty, it’s on the heavier side
AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler
AO Coolers offer a highly insulated and durable cooler to fit your camping, fishing, outdoor adventure needs. Available in a variety of sizes, it is guaranteed not to leak and claims to keep ice frozen for 24 hours in 120-degree weather. It’s lightweight and portable so it’s easy to carry after it’s been emptied.
- Meets airplane carry-on requirements for easier travel
- Available in multiple sizes and colors
- Small side pocket to keep dry items safe
- Removable shoulder strap adds to versatility
- Soft exterior won’t scratch or damage your upholstery
- To keep contents cold, the zipper must be zipped and sides clipped down, which makes it harder to find what you want
- Versatility and portability are lost the larger the cooler is due to weight
- Difficult to dry the inside liner after use due to its larger size
- No padding on shoulder strap
Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler
With a removable hard plastic liner, the Coleman 30-Can Soft Cooler is flexible and versatile. Interior and exterior mesh pockets make organizing your cooler a breeze, while the hard liner protects food is removable for easy clean up.
Unlike the other coolers reviewed, it doesn’t guarantee your contents will stay cold for any specific time period. The adjustable shoulder strap and handles make it easy to carry. This is a great portable cooler but more fitting for daily use rather than longer camping trips.
- Removable hard liner protects food from being crushed and flexibility for easier packing
- Available in Red or Green
- Flexible inner lining has built-in antimicrobial properties that resist odor, mold, and mildew
- Interior and exterior pockets allow for easier organization and added storage
- Adjustable shoulder strap with padding makes this cooler easier to carry
- Ice does not stay frozen for very long in comparison to the other coolers reviewed due to lack of significant insulation
- 30 cans do not fit with ice
- The adjustable strap is not long enough to carry across your body comfortably
- Quality is not as durable as the Yeti, AO, or the Polar Bear
RTIC 20 Soft Pack
Portable and durable, the RTIC 20 Soft Pack gives its more expensive competitors a run for their money. Its no leak zipper keeps the contents from seeping out and ruining your upholstery. Although it only comes in one color, it is available in a variety of sizes.
Puncture-resistant, its anti-microbial liner resists mildew inside your cooler. Longer carry handles and an adjustable shoulder strap make carrying your cooler comfortable and convenient.
- 2” foam insulation keeps contents cold
- Available in a variety of sizes to choose from
- Fits carry on requirements for most airlines for easier travel
- Large interior compartment and one front zippered pocket to keep small items safe and dry
- No leak zipper keeps liquids inside the cooler and away from your upholstery
- With ice, will hold closer to 12 cans
- Zipper does not zip smoothly
- Claims to keep ice frozen for five days but it only stays frozen for two to three days on average
- Outside pocket is tiny
And The Winner Is…
All of the coolers mentioned are extremely good but we’ve decided that the Polar Bear Cooler Nylon Series 12 Pack is ready to take its place among the world’s best soft coolers and is our overall winner. The point is to improve your camping experience with a soft cooler that will help, not hinder your adventure.
With such a portable size, versatile options and durable construction, it will do exactly what it’s meant to do – keep your cold items colder for longer. Since it’s on the smaller side, it can’t be packed so much that it will be too heavy to carry.