When you’re going camping, dealing with a heavy cooler is the last think you want to deal with out there. Luckily, you don’t have to! A soft cooler, one that is portable and easy to carry, can be a lifesaver on your next camping trip.
However, before you purchase just any old soft cooler you should definitely shop around to make sure the cooler you are getting will meet all of your needs. To help you do this, below we have reviewed several of the most popular and best-selling soft coolers currently on the market, and highlighted the pros and cons associated with each product.
We have also included a Soft Cooler Buying Guide, in which we will discuss some of the factors and characteristics you will need to consider when making this type of purchase.
This page contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
What To Look For In A Camping Soft Cooler
If you are currently in the market for a soft cooler, there are several factors and characteristics you will need to consider. To help you make the most educated purchasing decision, below we have highlighted and explained some of these considerations.
What Type of Soft Cooler Do You Need?
When it comes to soft coolers, there are essentially three primary types: the lunch box cooler, the shoulder bag cooler and the backpack cooler. Here is a description of each of these types of coolers:
The Lunch Box Soft Cooler
As its name implies, the lunch box cooler typically takes on the size and shape of a standard lunchbox. Typically the smallest of all the soft coolers, the lunch box cooler is often used by people who take cold food and drinks to work or school, or by those enjoying a one-meal picnic in the park.
Features of the lunch box cooler may include a removal interior liner for fast and easy cleanup and a detachable carry strap. This type of cooler usually just holds enough food and drink for one or two people to have one meal. Because of this, if you plan to go camping the lunch box cooler may be too small.
The Shoulder Bag Soft Cooler
A bit larger than the lunch box cooler, the shoulder bag cooler often has the capacity for enough food and beverages to accommodate four to six people. The most remarkable feature of the shoulder bag soft cooler is the wide carrying strap, which is usually non-detachable.
If you regularly travel with a small group of friends or family on camping, boating, or fishing trips, this type of cooler may just be ideal for you.
The Backpack Soft Cooler
Typically equal in size or a bit larger than the shoulder bag cooler, the backpack soft cooler is equipped with backpack-like straps that allow you to tote your cooler in a hands-free manner. If you’re looking for a soft cooler that is larger than a single lunch box cooler, and your goal is to keep your hands free, the backpack cooler might just be the best option when camping.
Many of the backpack-style coolers are also completely waterproof, making them perfect when boating and fishing.
What Size Soft Cooler Do You Need?
Although we briefly touched on the size of the soft cooler in the previous section, this important factor bears repeating. When shopping for a soft cooler there are many sizes available, although few soft coolers are manufactured in sizes that can rival the larger hard plastic coolers.
Keep in mind that the size of your soft cooler is measured according to the number of cans it can hold—cans of beer, soda, etc. Many coolers, for example, will even include the capacity in their name, such as the “Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler.”
If your camping party only involves one or two people, you can usually get away with a smaller cooler. Some campers will purchase a large plastic cooler that remains at the campsite, and bring along a soft cooler when heading out to fish, boat or hike.
Thus, when determining the size of the backpack you will need, always consider the typical number of people and the type of activities in which you will all be engaged.
You might even determine that you need both a large and small soft cooler for different types of trips and activities.
What About Insulation?
All soft coolers are lined on the interior with some form of insulation, although this insulation may vary from one cooler to the next. The majority of soft coolers typically consist of either insulated beads or closed-cell foam for insulation.
Both of these materials perform well in terms of keeping your drinks nice and chilled. Some of the better soft cooler manufacturers will specify the number of hours you can expect the cooler to retain ice before melting.
For best results, then, you should look for a soft cooler that can retain ice for at least 24 hours—even longer for extended trips.
Straps and Handles
Naturally, ever soft cooler you purchase is going to have some type of strap or handle—an appendage that makes carrying the unit easier and more hassle-free. However, the exact type of carrying aid will depend on the type of cooler and the manufacturer.
Shoulder carry soft coolers generally have a long strap with a padded piece that sits directly atop the shoulder. This can take a little of the strain away.
Lunch box coolers, on the other hand, may not have any straps, but rather a handle that can be lifted and then folded away after you place the cooler down.
The best coolers will have both a handle and a shoulder strap, the former used to move the cooler short distances, and the longer to help free up your hands for other items. If you plan to hike with your cooler, we highly recommend one of the great backpack-style coolers currently available—one that will never wear down your arms on long treks.
If you purchase a very large soft cooler, and you intend to pack it heavy with plenty of beer and sodas, you may want to consider a cooler with wheels.
Soft coolers with wheels are ideal when you need to walk long distances on relatively flat and smooth surfaces, such as when you go to an airport to catch a plane, or when trudging toward your campsite from the parking lot. These wheels will NOT do you a lot of good in rough terrain, however.
Pockets and Compartments
Some soft coolers are equipped with just a lone, large compartment; while others feature two or more compartments as well as inside pockets for the separate storage of various food and beverage items.
Some even offer exterior pockets for accessories like keys, sunscreen and the like. Before purchasing your next soft cooler, think carefully about how much storage space you will need and buy accordingly
A removable liner in a soft cooler is a really great convenience. With a removable liner you can rinse off and clean the interior of the cooler without soaking the outside of the unit.
This can really come in handy if you intend to use your cooler on a regular basis, perhaps as the go-to lunchbox you take to work.
Waterproof or Water Resistant
Although very few soft coolers are completely waterproof, the majority have some water resistant properties. We recommend you get a cooler that is at least water resistant, especially if you will be camping in wet environments or pursuing activities such as fishing or boating.
Active Weekender Picks: Top Soft Coolers for Campers
Since there are so many options out there for camping coolers, we want to highlight a few of our favorite options. Below you’ll find our staff reviews on some of the best camping soft coolers for the money right now.
1. Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner
Considered a mid-sized unit, the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner is the perfect companion when camping.
This highly portable cooler has an insulated lining that is treated with antimicrobials to resist odor, mold, mildew, and fungus—a liner that also offers packing flexibility and easy cleaning. The zippered main compartment of this Coleman Cooler is designed to keep all of the contents cold; and the optional hard plastic liner is perfect when packing lots of ice.
The fully adjustable shoulder strap is padded where it meets your shoulder for the ultimate in comfort; and the heat-welded seams help to resist tears and leaks. The cooler comes with a front zippered pocket, 2 side mesh pockets, a dry storage pouch, and optional lid bungees for added storage.
We think this is the perfect cooler for beers when beach camping, if you prefer a soft cooler to a hard one.
- Treated liner. The liner of the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler is treated with antimicrobials that resist all types of germs, mildew, mold and fungus.
- Padded strap. The strap on this cooler is very comfortable.
- Added storage available. In addition to the standard equipment it features, the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler can also be purchased with optional lid bungees for added storage.
- May Tear. When packed too heavily, the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler has been known to rip at times from the seams.
Where to Buy:
2. YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
Made by a company whose name is synonymous with high quality, the YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler is one of the best soft coolers on the market.
The cooler features patented Cold Cell insulation, a closed-cell foam that offers superior cold-holding to ordinary soft coolers, and has a capacity of up to 16 12-ounce cans plus the needed ice. The Hopper Flip features a 100 percent leak proof, Hydro Lock Zipper and its wide-mouth opening means great accessibility and visibility to contents.
Overall, this is a great outdoor cooler, regardless of your location or passion.
- High Quality. Like all of this company’s cooler models, the YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler is of the very highest quality.
- Waterproof. The patented DryHide Shell of this cooler is waterproof and resistant to mildew, punctures, and abrasions
- Premium Priced. While Yeti coolers are some of the best in the business, they are probably not suited to the budget-conscious consumer.
Where to Buy:
3. CleverMade SnapBasket 50 Can, Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler
The CleverMade SnapBasket 50 Can, Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler is a great space-saving solution that combines packing, transport and storage into one reusable, collapsible cooler.
The largest of the coolers we have reviewed on our list, this behemoth can hold up to 50 beverage cans and the requisite ice to keep them chilled. The cooler is made from a blend of polyester, polyethylene vinyl acetate, polypropylene, MDF and ABS, which all come together to make it very tough and waterproof.
Best of all, its leak-proof insulated interior (body, base and lid) is ideal for keeping drinks and food icy cold everywhere you go.
- Multiple pockets. With its multiple pockets, you can stash dry goods and gear in the outside pockets, saving room inside for items that require controlled temperatures.
- Durable. The CleverMade SnapBasket is designed with rip-stop fabric for extreme durability and water resistance.
- Very cold drinks. This soft-sided, leak-proof cooler keeps food and drinks cold for up to 36 hours or more.
- Very large. Unless you plan to camp for several days or with a very large group of people, this cooler may be larger than you need.
Where to buy:
Comparing The Top Soft Coolers For Camping
Here’s a quick look at our favorite options to keep your drinks cold when camping.
- Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Removable Liner
- YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
- CleverMade SnapBasket 50 Can, Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler[/su_note]
top image: Flickr,Tony Webster CC2.0