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With camping weather and longer days finally here, investing in a great cooler is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for anything you’re planning to do this spring and summer. It’s tough to go wrong in your search for a good cooler, which can make sure your beers are drinkable, even on days when you’re sweating outside or getting a sunburn.
If you’re planning to camp out at a music festival or stocking up on your favorite summer craft beers for tailgating season, you’ll want to consider a good soft-sided cooler, which gives you a ton of storage space without the bulk or heft as a regular hard-sided cooler. The best soft-sided coolers will make sure you can easily carry your drinks with you, no matter where you’re going. Here’s everything you should know.
Buying Guide: What Are the Best Soft Coolers?
From their storage capacity to the level of insulation, take these features into consideration when you’re shopping for the best soft-sided cooler.
Size and Storage Capacity: The amount of bottles, cans or food you want to pack in your soft cooler will help determine which model you purchase. The soft-sided coolers in this guide span from larger backpack coolers that are ideal for road trips or multi-day camping, to small packs you can fit in a tote bag or picnic basket.
Insulation: Chances are slim that you’ll open up any of the coolers in this guide and take out a beverage that’s too warm to drink. Thanks to improved liners that are readily equipped to beat the spring and summer heat and keep consistent temperatures, you should be able to reach for a cold beer or ice-cold water right out of your cooler, whether you’re camping or tailgating.
But not every cooler will be able to maintain an optimal temperature for your six-pack of IPAs for days on end, with some soft coolers that are best reserved for packing lunches or for short commutes up to a few hours. So keep in mind how long you’ll need to pack away cold beverages or foods before consuming them.
Portability: The best soft coolers are easy to tote just about everywhere you go, from weekend tailgates to the park or your campsite. Unlike hard-sided coolers, soft coolers are made to be easy to transport with you while keeping your items cold and ready to drink or eat.
Carrying Straps: Soft-sided coolers function a lot like your favorite bags and are made with different straps to carry them around, whether you prefer to have shoulder straps or like carrying your cooler like a backpack or with handheld straps. This guide includes backpack coolers, insulated lunch totes and soft coolers that come with shoulder straps.
The Best Soft-Sided Coolers
We picked the best soft coolers for any situation and any budget.
1. Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Soft Cooler
One of the best soft-sided coolers we’ve tested, Yeti’s portable Hopper cooler has a bit more structure than your typical soft-sided cooler, which means it’s great for making sure glass bottles of kombucha or bottles of wine won’t tip over and break.
The padded shoulder strap offers a bit of extra comfort if you have to carry it, whether you’re commuting from the train to the beach or you’re carrying it around your campground.
Yeti says you can keep ice in the cooler for days. It comes in multiple sizes, including 8, 12, or 18 that correspond to the amount of cans it can fit. Our go-to: the 12.
It’s also available in several colors, including the newest release in Alpine Yellow, pictured above.
2. AO Coolers Original Soft Cooler
With a case that won’t leak and a big carrying capacity that can hold as many as 24 cans along with 14 pounds of ice, this AO cooler is a good all-around soft carrier for day trips during hot weather. Didn’t get to drinking your beverages until the end of the day? Here’s the main reason you brought this cooler with you: The company claims the Original can keep everything, including your ice, cold for 24 hours, so you’ll still have a chilled brew waiting for you at the end of your hike.
3. Tourit Leak-Proof Soft Sided Cooler Backpack
Looking for a backpack cooler to use for a weekend camping adventure or a hiking trip? You can fill up this Tourit backpack cooler with about 36 cans, and they should stay cold for about three days, according to the company. Like any good backpack, it can also carry more than cans thanks to two side pockets for almonds or jerky for quick grab-and-snack access, as well as straps for carrying a shell when it gets too hot outside. Coolest of all, it has a built-in bottle opener on one of the shoulder straps so you don’t have to search the dark depths of your pack again.
4. Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler
Mini coolers like this lightweight 2.5-liter pack from Fjallraven is what you want when you just need to pack the essentials, like lunch or a bottle of cold brew or water. It’s an ideal commuter’s cooler thanks to its small size and zip closure, and you can stash it next to your laptop in a tote or backpack. You can also fit a small ice pack inside to make sure your drinks stay cool.
5. Hydro Flask 8L Lunch Tote
Another great commuting option, this lunch tote from Hydro Flask has more than enough space to fit leftovers and a drink. It comes with a zipper to seal in the cold and to prevent accidental spills from happening, which is especially good if you’re carrying it in a backpack. When all the drinks are gone, you can easily fold it until your next outing. We’ve personally tested Hydro Flask’s totes, and, like the name suggests, they’re great for transporting lunches, but we especially like how easy they are to wipe clean and that you can store them in a kitchen drawer when you’re not using them.