There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to soft-sided coolers. How can you tell whether they’re going to be any good at keeping your food and drinks cold? And how can you find one that fits your needs?
The bottom line up front: We like the YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Can Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack as we think it’s the most durable backpack cooler. It will work well whether you need it for lunch breaks at work or hikes through tough terrain, and you won’t have to worry about the zipper failing on you.
We also like:
- Coleman Cooler with Wheels – the best choice if you want something with a larger capacity
- CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap – ideal if you’re tight on space, this cooler bag folds up small
Here’s a rundown of what we’ll be looking at:
- What main features to look for in a soft-sided cooler
- 5 of our best this year, including their pros,cons and key features
- Some frequently asked questions about soft-sided coolers
- A little more detail about our top pick for today
Table of Contents
- Best Soft-Sided Coolers Compared
- What to Look for in a Soft-Sided Cooler
- Top 5 Soft-Sided Coolers
- Under Armour 12 Can Soft-Sided Cooler – Good All-Rounder
- YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Can Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack – Most Durable
- CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap – Most Compact
- Ozark Trail 24 Can Insulated Cooler Backpack – Best Value
- Coleman Cooler with Wheels – Best Soft-Sided Cooler with Wheels
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Our Verdict on the Best Soft-Sided Cooler …
Let’s start by seeing how they compare to each other!
Best Soft-Sided Coolers Compared
What to Look for in a Soft-Sided Cooler
Here are a few things to look out for to ensure you get a good-quality soft-sided cooler:
Soft-sided coolers tend to use insulating materials like closed-cell rubber foam (you can find out more about this in Wired’s guide on What Makes a Good Cooler According to Physics?). This helps to keep the contents nice and cool. You can also look for features like zippers that seal tightly closed and removable inner linings, which help to ensure that the cold air stays trapped inside.
Ice retention measures how long ice will last in a cooler before it melts. Because they don’t have as much insulation, ice doesn’t keep in soft-sided coolers for as long as rotomolded coolers. However, they’re still pretty good at holding ice for around 12 hours or so. You can read more about this in our in-depth guide: How Long Does Ice Last in a Cooler?
Not all manufacturers advertise ice retention times, and some of them are done under ideal conditions (they may leave the cooler in a dark room, for example, whereas you might be looking for a golf bag cooler that may be out in direct sunlight for hours at a time).
Capacity in soft-sided coolers tends to be measured in cans, which creates an easy way to visualize how big it will be. A larger capacity will require more ice or ice packs to keep it cold, and will obviously be heavier than a smaller cooler when full. If you’re after a long-lasting small cooler for lunch or days out, we have great recommendations in our article: Which Small Cooler Keeps Ice the Longest?
There’s nothing more annoying than buying a new bag only to find the zippers or clasp breaks after a couple of uses. Coolers, even soft-sided ones, can be a bit of an investment, so it’s worth looking for one with reinforced zippers that will last for a long time, especially if you’re looking for a lunch bag you’ll be using every day.
- Lunch bag style – usually with one handle on the top, these tend to be cube-shaped and are big enough to hold a good-sized lunch and a drink.
- Backpack style – ideal for hikes, days out, or picnics, backpack coolers allow you to carry your food and drinks hands-free.
- Tote bag style – these make perfect coolers for picnics or beach trips and are usually good value.
- Golf bag coolers – these are designed specifically to fit either inside or alongside a golf bag, and are usually big enough just for a few cans.
There are some extra features you can look for, including:
- Removable liners for easy cleaning
- D-rings (multi-purpose rings that allow you to attach other gear to your cooler)
- Fence hooks (allowing you to keep your bag off the ground – perfect if you’re after a lunch cooler for construction workers)
- Built-in bottle openers
- Pockets with zippers to keep your wallet, keys, etc
- Water bottle holders
You can also look for coolers with internal pockets or dividers to help keep the contents organized. Properly packing a cooler can make the world of difference – check out Good Housekeeping’s guide on How to Safely Pack a Cooler to find out more.
Top 5 Soft-Sided Coolers
Here are 5 of our favorite soft-sided coolers. We’ve chosen a variety of styles and capacities, but they all have great insulation and some extra features, too.
Under Armour 12 Can Soft-Sided Cooler – Good All-Rounder
- Capacity: 12 Cans
Inner: Foam insulation
- Color: Blue and black
- Weight: 0.90 Kilograms (2 Pounds)
- Dimensions: 11.3 x 11.5 x 7.5 Inches (28.7 x 29.21 x 19.05 Centimeters)
The Under Armour 12 Can Soft-Sided Cooler is a good all-rounder if you’re after a soft-sided cooler. It has a 12-can capacity, so just about the right size for a lunch bag.
The insulation is built into the interior lining, and it works well at keeping the contents cool for a full working day, but it won’t last for much longer than that. It has a magnetic lid to keep cold air trapped inside.
It’s pretty durable, with lining that is designed to be easy to wipe clean. It’s also coated on the outside, making it resistant to water and dirt.
It also has two exterior pockets, an adjustable shoulder strap, and a fence hook, which means if you work on a construction site, you can hang it out of the way until you need it.
- Good insulation
- Comes with exterior pockets and an adjustable shoulder strap
- Easy to keep clean
- Not as long-lasting as other coolers on this list
YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Can Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack – Most Durable
- Capacity: 24 Cans
Outer: High-density waterproof material
Insulation: Closed-cell rubber foam
- Color: Gray
- Weight: 3.4 Kilograms (7.5 Pounds)
- Dimensions: 13.78 x 8.47 x 19.06 Inches (35 x 21.51 x 48.41 Centimeters)
The YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Can Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack is an excellent choice if you want a cooler that’s going to last you for a long time. It has a decent capacity of 24 cans, ideal for a day trip.
It has a few features to improve ice retention, including great insulation and a zipper that allows you to lock cold air inside.
It’s excellent from a durability perspective. It has a hydro lock zipper, one of the toughest zippers you can buy, which is a bit stiff to use but can be ‘broken in’ (you can check YETI’s Hopper FAQ page for more information on that). The outer shell is resistant to punctures and mildew, and it has UV protection, which means you won’t have to worry about the outside fading in the sun.
It’s super easy to reach the contents using the wide-mouth zipper, and it has a hitch point grid, which essentially allows you to use other YETI accessories and attach them to your cooler. It has padded, adjustable straps.
- Extremely durable
- Padding on straps to make it more comfortable
- Wide mouth makes it easy to get into
- Zipper is a bit stiff to start with
CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap – Most Compact
- Capacity: 30 Cans
- Color: Charcoal
- Weight: 0.79 Kilograms (1.75 Pounds)
- Dimensions: 15.5 x 12 x 10 Inches (39.37 x 30.48 x 25.4 Centimeters)
The CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap is a handy cooler to have when you’re running low on space. It has a 30-can capacity, which makes it a smart choice for a small family or a couple on a day out.
The cooler has three layers of insulation, with a leak-proof liner, so you can expect it to last all day long. This cooler also has heat-welded seams, so you won’t have to worry about warm air getting into it from any angle.
This cooler is collapsible – it folds down to around 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) in width, so it’s great if you’re tight on space. It has an adjustable padded shoulder strap and a carry handle, but it does lack extra storage pockets.
- 3 layers of insulation
- Folds up very small
- Doesn’t have extra storage pockets
Ozark Trail 24 Can Insulated Cooler Backpack – Best Value
- Capacity: 24 Cans
Outer: Waterproof coated tear-resistant material
Insulation: High-density super foam
- Color: Black
- Weight: 0.63 Kilograms (1.38 Pounds)
- Dimensions: 18 x 11.4 x 2.5 Inches (45.72 x 28.95 x 6.35 Centimeters)
The Ozark Trail 24 Can Insulated Cooler Backpack is a great value soft-sided cooler. Ozark Trail coolers are great value as a general rule, so it’s worth checking them out. It has a 24-can capacity, and it’s another backpack-style cooler, ideal for days out.
It uses high-density foam as insulation so it has decent cooling power. The downside is that some users have had issues with leaks from the zipper area if laid flat, so it’s better to keep it upright if you plan to use ice instead of ice packs.
In terms of durability, it has waterproof and tear-resistant outer fabric, and the inner lining is treated with antimicrobial materials.
There are mesh pockets on the side for water bottles, and adjustable straps, which are padded for extra comfort.
- Padded straps
- Good value
- May leak from the zipper area
Coleman Cooler with Wheels – Best Soft-Sided Cooler with Wheels
- Capacity: 42 Cans
- Color: Blue
- Weight: 1.5 Kilograms (3.30 Pounds)
- Dimensions: 11.81 x 14.96 x 9.84 Inches (30 x 37.99 x 24.99 Centimeters)
The Coleman Cooler with Wheels is a great soft-sided cooler with wheels. It has a 42-can capacity, so it’s on the larger size, but it’s easy to move around.
The cooler has decent insulation, so you can expect it to keep your food and drinks cold for a full day out. The cooler also has a flexible, removable plastic liner, which not only gives the cooler more structure and protects the contents but also helps to keep the cold air trapped inside.
This cooler has heat-welded seams to stop leakages, multiple pockets to keep the contents organized, and an easy-to-use telescoping handle. The wheels work really well on pavements or smooth surfaces, but won’t hold up as well on uneven terrain, so it may not suit your hike or hunting trip. If you like the look of this one, you can read more about it in our Coleman Cooler with Wheels review.
- Easy to clean
- Good insulation
- Multiple pockets included
- Won’t wheel smoothly across all terrains
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we talk about our favorite soft-sided cooler, let’s look at some commonly asked questions.
Are soft-sided coolers easy to clean?
Yes, they tend to be very easy to clean. You can’t stick them in the washing machine, but you can wipe them down with a soft cloth and soapy water and leave them to air dry.
Over time, coolers can gain stains or odors that are more difficult to remove. Mier Sports has a step-by-step guide on how to clean insulated lunch bags with some more tips on this.
How long can soft-sided coolers keep food cold?
Soft-sided coolers can keep food and drinks cold for around 12 hours. However, it’s recommended that you eat your perishable food earlier in the day if possible. Soft-sided coolers get warm quicker than hard-sided coolers so it’s important not to let your food get to the ‘danger zone’ temperature range of 40°F (4.4°C) – 140°F (60°C), according to the USDA’s guide to the “Danger Zone”.
We’ve covered this topic in detail in the past – check out our answer to the question ‘How Long do Thermal Bags Keep Food Cold For’ if you want to know more.
Should I use ice packs or ice cubes?
Some soft-sided coolers aren’t designed to hold ice cubes – this is because the ice will melt and leak through the zippers or seams. In that case, you’re better off using ice packs. We like Cooler Shock Resuable Ice Packs as they’re small and slimline, which makes them ideal for slotting into soft-sided coolers.
How do I safely pack a soft-sided cooler?
The important thing is that you include enough ice or ice packs to keep the whole contents cold. The USDA has some guidelines about this in their article “Use an Insulated Lunch Bag to Keep Meals Safe”. They recommend using at least 2 cold sources in a lunch bag (for example, 2 ice packs).
Our Verdict on the Best Soft-Sided Cooler …
We really do recommend the YETI Hopper Backflip 24 Can Soft-Sided Cooler Backpack. While it may feel like more of an investment, it will see you through all kinds of situations. Whether you’re looking for a lunch bag, or you need something to keep your food and drinks cool on a long hike, it should last for a long time, so we think it’s worth it.
If you do want something bigger, you should check out the Coleman Cooler with Wheels. Larger coolers can get heavy, but the wheels make it really easy to move around even when full.
If you’re tight on space, check out the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag with Shoulder Strap. It folds down really small, so when you’re not using it, you can store it in a tiny space with no problems.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to find a soft-sided cooler that works for you. If you have, please feel free to share this article with people in your life that may find it helpful.
Plus, if you’ve got any other cooler recommendations, let us know in the comments below. Also, leave us a comment if you have any tips for using soft-sided coolers!