Best Soft Cooler
Last Updated by Brandon F. on June 24, 2019
We’ve tested a lot of coolers here at TheCoolerZone. But one question that we have been asked a lot is “what is the best soft cooler?”
Seeing how we have experience with a huge list of soft coolers, we feel that we are at a point where we can tell you what the best soft coolers on the market are right now.
In this ultimate guide to the best soft cooler, we will break down what factors to consider when shopping for a soft cooler. We will list out various coolers and how well (or not well) they do in each of these factors. Finally, we will pick our top soft coolers.
If you are in a hurry and simply want to know our top choices, the table below will list them out.
If you are interested in reading in more detail, scroll below!
- 1 Best Soft Cooler
- 1.1 The Best Soft Cooler: What to Look For
- 1.2 Ice Retention
- 1.3 Build Quality
- 1.4 Mobility/Features
- 1.5 Price
- 1.6 Choosing the Best Soft Cooler
- 1.7 Our Top Choice: Engel Soft-Sided Cooler
- 1.8 Honorable Mention #1 – Siberian Sidekick
- 1.9 Honorable Mention #2 – Polar Bear 48 Pack H2O
- 1.10 Summary
The Best Soft Cooler: What to Look For
Through our thousands of hours of testing and research into soft coolers, we have come up with some factors that we feel are the most vital. These are things that just about everybody expects from a quality soft cooler.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Most people expect their cooler to do what a cooler is designed to do: keep things cool!
When it comes to soft coolers, the difference between the ice retention numbers of a low-quality cooler and a high-quality cooler can be miles apart. While soft coolers will never have the ice life numbers of the top-tier hard-sided coolers on the market, there are some models out there that can still offer multiple days of ice life.
The last thing that you want is for your soft cooler to start falling apart a week after you buy it. And unfortunately, many of the budget soft coolers on the market are notorious for just that. Issues such as the zipper malfunctioning, threads unraveling, or seams coming loose are complaints that we hear every day from our readers.
Thankfully, there are a host of soft coolers out there that have stepped up their game in the quality department.
Soft Coolers are inherently designed to be easier to carry than a hard-sided cooler. But that doesn’t mean that certain models are more user-friendly than others when it comes to transporting them. A soft cooler that isn’t very mobile can be extremely frustrating to use. And if you are going to go that route, then you might as well stick to a hard-sided cooler!
There are also plenty of features that manufacturers can include on a soft cooler. These features are there to add convenience and versatility to their products.
The asking price is always a top consideration when shopping around. The best soft cooler in the world isn’t much good to shoppers if it prices itself out of being affordable. The best soft cooler should be able to perform well in all other aspects while still being reasonably priced.
These are a few of the top considerations one should make when researching soft coolers. But worry not! We have already done all of the research for you. In the next few sections, we will break down each of these metrics and list out the top soft coolers for each category.
There are literally hundreds of soft coolers on the market these days. But to narrow it down, we will be focusing on what we feel are the top soft coolers. Also, all of these soft coolers are models that we have personally tested. Below we list out the competition and also provide a direct link to our full review of each model.
The competition for this article will involve the following soft coolers:
The first metric that we will be going over is ice retention. In our many thorough individual product reviews, we have put various soft coolers through ice tests. We will list out the soft coolers that have had the highest ice life levels according to our testing.
The best soft coolers for ice life all seem to share common similarities.
First, they all have extremely thick insulated walls.
While the insulation used can vary, the most common that we have come across is closed cell foam. This type of foam provides excellent insulation qualities while not being super heavy.
The wall thicknesses also vary some but it is common to see the soft coolers with the highest ice retention levels to have walls that are 1” thick or even higher.
Next, the best soft coolers for ice life will have robust and nearly water-tight zippers.
Since the opening between the lid and the body is where most of the cold air escapes, having a capable zipper mechanism in place is essential. A soft cooler with the thickest walls in the world will not amount to much if the zipper does not do a good job of sealing the cold air in.
There should be a strong rubber gasket feature on both sides of the zipper. This will help to squeeze shut when the zipper is zipped up. This helps to lock in the air and provide the essential ice retention boost.
Many of our readers have contacted us complaining about the zippers on some of the best soft coolers on the market. They will tell us that the zippers can be very difficult to open and close.
That is perfectly normal! To get that strong seal, there will be a bit of resistance in the zipper when you try opening and closing it. In fact, some cooler brands actually instruct you to apply some oil or grease to the zipper to help with this.
Finally, the best soft coolers for ice life will tend to be quite large.
This is a common theme that we have seen in hard-sided coolers as well. Larger coolers can hold more ice. And the more ice that you can store, the longer it will take to all melt.
It almost goes without saying that larger coolers will be more difficult to transport. So if you are unwilling or incapable to lug around one of the many giant soft coolers on the market right now, you will need to be willing to give up some in the way of ice life.
Now that we have gone over the most common factors that go into ice retention for soft coolers, let’s list out the top performers based off of our testing.
As you can clearly see, there is a pretty large range of ice retention numbers depending on which model you are looking at. Another obvious observation is that there are a lot of soft coolers that have very similar ice numbers towards the top of the spectrum.
This really isn’t all that surprising. Many of the modern cooler brands essentially “copy” one another in their design. If you were to cover up the log on some of the largest soft coolers on the market right now, you would actually be hard-pressed to be able to tell the difference from one brand to the next.
For the sake of keeping things simple, the following soft coolers are more or less identical when it comes to ice life numbers: Cordova Cooler Backpack, Calcutta Renegade 45L, Homitt 30 Can, Simple Modern Soft Cooler, RTIC SoftPak 40, Yeti Hopper 40, Techni Ice 36Q, and Engel Soft-Sided.
All of these models, depending on conditions, should offer a solid 2 to 3 days of ice retention.
If you are needing a cooler to perform for longer periods of time than this, you will need to go with a hard-sided cooler or plan to refill your soft cooler with more ice.
Theoretically, a company could make a soft cooler that has longer ice life than this. However, it would likely result in an enormous and heavy monstrosity of a soft cooler that would be next to impossible to transport.
The next metric that we will discuss is build quality. Soft Coolers can vary quite a bit in how well-constructed they are. And since they are made of softer materials than hard-sided coolers, they are more prone to scratching, ripping, and tearing.
Thankfully, cooler brands have found ways to make their soft coolers incredibly resilient. This is accomplished by using high-quality materials, proven manufacturing methods, and clever design that minimizes weak points.
We will briefly go over each of these factors.
The toughest soft coolers utilize extremely strong plastics and fabrics. The most popular outer material that we are seeing is nylon. Nylons such as 840D Denier are quite common.
This specific strain of nylon is very scratch and tear resistant. You can bump and scrape a soft cooler made of 840D Nylon on abrasive surfaces such as rocks and trees without the worry of it tearing.
The other nice thing about nylon is that it is relatively lightweight.
The inner liner of a soft cooler is just as important. We are seeing that the industry standard these days is a smoother, more food and drink-friendly material such as 420 TPU Polyurethane.
While not as strong as the outer nylon material, this polyurethane material is much easier to keep clean. In addition, it will not absorb water as the nylon will.
Proven Manufacturing Methods
To attach these various pieces of fabric, cooler companies are utilizing what is called heat welds or heat seaming. This literally melts the components together to form a tight bond.
Heat welding is advantageous to traditional stitching. Stitching has a tendency to unfurl over time. We all have a favorite old shirt or pair pants that are experiencing just this!
Heat welding, on the other hand, is much more resilient to wear and tear over time. The weld is extremely strong. We have heard (and personally experienced) very few issues with heat welds failing.
Where stitching is necessary, the stitching on the best soft coolers is strong. In fact, many brands do double stitching (stitching on the inside and on the outside) for the added strength boost.
Other components should be of excellent quality as well to be considered as one of the toughest soft coolers. In particular, we focus on the zipper assembly. The zipper is the main “moving part” on a soft cooler. And a failed zipper means a failed soft cooler!
The top soft coolers on the market have extremely durable zippers. They can be stubborn to operate but will hold up to many years of use.
Finally, we like to see cooler companies stand behind the quality of their products. And the best way to do this is with a great warranty. When we see a solid warranty on a soft cooler, we know that means that the manufacturer is confident in its quality.
We aren’t going to go in the fine details of each soft cooler on the market. If you want to read our full analysis of their respected build quality, please read the Full Reviews that we have done for each model.
However, we will list out the best-rated soft coolers that we tested in terms of Build Quality.
The list includes the Techni Ice Soft Cooler, Simple Modern Soft Cooler, Yeti Hopper, RTIC SoftPak, Polar Bear Nylon Soft Cooler, Engel Soft-Sided Cooler, Grizzly Soft-Sided Cooler, Kysek Soft-Sided Cooler, Cordova Soft-Sided Cooler, Calcutta Soft-Sided Cooler, Siberian Soft-Sided Cooler, and Pelican Soft-Sided Cooler.
If you decide to go with any of these brands, you will enjoy a proven soft cooler that is extremely durable. We have personally tested each of these models for long periods and have had no quality issues with any of them.
A big reason why people go with soft coolers instead of hard-sided coolers is that soft coolers are much easier to carry. The fact that they are typically smaller and also more lightweight makes them much less laborious to transport around.
In fact, that is why a lot of soft coolers are advertised as being “totes”, “backpacks”, or “bags”.
However, as we mentioned earlier, there is an opposite relationship between ice retention/build quality and mobility. In other words, the toughest cooler that holds ice the longest also tend to be the bulkiest and heaviest.
But that doesn’t mean that brands haven’t found clever ways to minimize the impact.
In addition, there are more and more clever features that we are seeing on the latest soft coolers. These features make the soft coolers much more versatile for all sorts of applications.
We like to see soft coolers that have extremely comfortable and adjustable carrying methods. The most common types of carrying methods will be padded shoulder straps and, in the case of cooler backpacks, dual shoulder straps.
Cordova Backpack Cooler, Calcutta Backpack Cooler, and the Icemule Boss Backpack Cooler have some of the most comfortable shoulder straps that we have come across.
Immediately following these straps are the Engel Backpack Cooler, Grizzly Drifter, the RTIC SoftPak, and the Yeti Hopper. While these model’s straps aren’t quite as comfy, they are still good enough for most people.
While comfortable straps and handles are essential, we also like to see other features on today’s best soft coolers.
The most obvious features come in the way of additional storage areas. It is also nice to have a soft cooler that provides some pockets, strapping, etc. outside of the insulated main storage area.
These other compartments can be good for storing items that you don’t want to keep chilled and/or want to keep away from the ice.
Take for instance the Cordova Soft Cooler. This soft cooler has a large storage pocket located on top that is sectioned off from the insulated area.
The more common approach is to have smaller pockets on the face or sides of the soft cooler. These pockets will have their own zippers.
The above image also shows some good examples of other types of storage methods that are being used right now. This comes in the way of molle straps or webbing. The straps and webbing that you see on the Calcutta Soft Cooler and Icemule Boss Soft Cooler above are becoming more and more common in the soft cooler world.
These straps/webbings are great for hanging items off of with a rope or lanyard. This can include things such as your car keys, cell phone, trail map, or really anything else that you want quick access to without having to open up the cooler lid.
Other less common features that are popping up include attached bottle openers, extendable lids, a gripped rubber base, and easy access top flaps.
It is way beyond the scope of this article to list the specific features for every soft cooler on the market.
Instead, we will list out a few of our top choices.
The Polar Bear Backpack Cooler, Grizzly Drifter 20, Igloo Sportsman Backpack Cooler, Icemule Boss 30L, and Cordova Backpack Cooler are among the most impressive soft coolers that we have tested when it comes to mobility and overall features.
Price is almost always a consideration in everything that you buy. And when it comes to soft coolers, the asking price can vary quite a bit.
Due to the higher end materials and a larger list of features rolling out these days, some soft coolers are really getting up there in asking price. In fact, there are quite a few examples that can be just expensive as traditional hard-sided coolers.
But just because a particular soft cooler costs more than another doesn’t immediately mean it is a bad thing. If that particular model far surpasses the other model in ice performance, build quality, and features then the higher price could be justified.
Below is a rough ranking of the various soft coolers according to their asking price. The fewer dollar signs next to the cooler, the more affordable it is.
Arctic Zone Titan 48
Ozark Trail Soft Tote
Techni Ice 36Q Cooler Bag
Homitt 30 Can
Grizzly Drifter 20
Icemule Pro XX-Large
Siberian Sidekick 32
Igloo Sportsman Backpack
RTIC SoftPak 40
Cordova Cooler Backpack
Polar Bear 48-Pack H2O
Calcutta Renegade 45L
Pelican SC48 Soft Cooler
Yeti Hopper 40
It is no surprise that Yeti and Pelican top out the list as the most expensive soft coolers. Right below these two are a large group of similarly-priced soft coolers including the Polar Bear 48-Pack H2O, Calcutta Renegade 45L, Orca Pod, and Kysek Rover.
The list keeps going down, with the most affordable soft coolers being the Arctic Zone Titan 48, Ozark Trail Soft Tote, Techni Ice 36Q Cooler Bag, and the Simple Modern Soft Cooler.
Choosing the Best Soft Cooler
Now that we have gone over some of the top considerations that most people make when shopping for a soft cooler, we can pick our best choices.
When determining our picks, we took into consideration all of the metrics that we discussed above.
We wanted a soft cooler that provides excellent ice retention. We also valued a soft cooler that is comfortable to carry and comes with other helpful features. We wanted a soft cooler that was well made and would last for years. And finally, it would be nice to have a soft cooler that is a good overall value.
Considering these factors, we made our choices.
Our Top Choice: Engel Soft-Sided Cooler
At the top of the list, we had to go with the Engel Soft-Sided Cooler.
The Engel Soft-Sided Cooler was among the highest performing models when it came to ice retention. If you load it up with enough ice, it can keep your items chilled for a whopping 3 days or more.
In addition, there are tons of great features on this soft cooler. We really like how it comes with three different ways to carry it. There is also additional storage thanks to the front waterproof pocket. And to further help the Engel Soft-Sided Cooler stand out from the crowd, you will enjoy a built-in bottle opener and even a vacuum valve!
The build quality on this cooler is excellent as well.
And the asking price, while certainly not the cheapest, is “middle of the road”. You get a lot of cooler for not a lot of money here.
Honorable Mention #1 – Siberian Sidekick
We were impressed with the Siberian Sidekick’s “bang for your buck”.
It managed to offer a solid 2 to 3 days of ice life. While not the absolute longest, it isn’t too far off from competing with the best in the business when it comes to ice retention.
It is also extremely well made. The walls are comprised of multiple layers of high-density foam surrounded by 840D TPU on the outside and 420D TPU on the inside. The heat welds and stitching are also excellent.
Many of the features that we like to see are present as well. This includes additional storage pockets, multiple ways to carry it, and a built-in bottle opener.
And all of this comes at a very reasonable price that is actually towards the bottom of the price spectrum.
If you are on a tighter budget and still demand quality, the Siberian Sidekick Soft Cooler is a strong contender.
Honorable Mention #2 – Polar Bear 48 Pack H2O
The second honorable mention has to go to the Polar Bear 48 Pack H2O Soft Cooler.
This is the largest of the Polar Bear Soft Coolers. So it is no surprise that it also has the longest ice life.
In our testing, the Polar Bear 48 Pack provides a solid 2 days of ice retention. This is a bit lower than some of the other models we tested, but nonetheless impressive.
What we really like about this cooler is its ability to store a ton of items while still being relatively easy to transport. You can pack in a whopping 48 cans into this cooler with room to spare for ice. The clever folding top design allows you to mold the cooler around the store objects. This helps to reduce how much space the cooler takes up.
And being an H2O model, this Polar Bear Cooler is extremely water-resistant. It comes with a waterproof TPU exterior and upgrades it metal parts to corrosion-resistant metal.
The only negative of this cooler is the asking price. It does creep up towards the top of the price spectrum. But when you consider how much storage space it has as well as its overall performance and build quality, it makes the sticker shock easier to swallow.
We hope that this huge guide to the best soft coolers was of benefit to you. We test a lot of soft coolers here at TheCoolerZone so we understand how it is easy to become overwhelmed with the options.
By filtering out the best soft coolers based on several important metrics, it makes it much easier to figure out what the best purchases are right now.
We feel that all of the soft coolers that we have tested for this article bring some good things to the table. But our top choices, in our opinion, displayed traits that put them above the rest of the competition.