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Best Soft Coolers of 2022

We put soft coolers from Yeti, Igloo, Engel, and more to head to head tests to find which kept your refreshments cold the best
Best Soft Coolers of 2022
We tested the top soft coolers side-by-side and scored each one on key performance metrics.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg
Thursday April 21, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Over the last 6 years, we've vetted, purchased, and tested over 30 soft coolers. Our most recent test compares 14 of the best models available today. Soft coolers offer portability and versatility that traditional hard coolers can't. From lunchboxes to beach days, we meticulously put these soft-shelled sidekicks through the paces, side-by-side, to discover which are the best insulators, the supremely rugged, and the sensationally portable. We fully loaded these coolers, walked with them for miles, and went through hundreds of pounds of ice. No matter your budget or needs, our exhaustive testing will help you identify the perfect cooler for you.

Need a larger, hard-sided cooler for your next camping trip? We've got you covered. We also have recommendations for a plethora of other camping accessories, from camping stoves to tents and sleeping bags, we've got the scoop on the gear that's worth your money (and the stuff that isn't).

Top 14 Products

(swipe left to view)
 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award        
Price $240 List$129.95 at REI
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$350.00 at REI
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$250 List$100 List$250.00 at REI
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$86 List
$85.95 at Amazon
$80 List
Check Price at REI
$110 List
Check Price at REI
$100 List$63 List
$62.99 at Amazon
$100 List$50 List
Check Price at REI
$30 List
$29.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
80
76
75
73
72
71
68
67
66
63
54
54
52
43
Bottom Line When it comes to the best performance, this model takes home the well-chilled trophyThis backpack-style cooler is our favorite model to carry over longer distancesThe upgrade from zipper to magnetic strips comes with some usability struggles, but if you need a massive soft cooler, this one deliversAn easy opening cooler that offers pretty high-quality insulation in an interesting design and comes with its own multi-toolA watertight cooler that's convenient to use, with above-average insulation for a below-average priceA fantastic model for individual use and short sessions, this model is built to last for countless work lunchesA solid performer that's simple to use, easy to carry, and costs less than mostThough not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one packA solid combination of usability, decent insulation, and a reasonable capacityFor carrying a jam-packed cooler full of heavy refreshments, there's no more comfortable option for taking weight off your shoulders than thisA simple cooler that functions well without a high price tagIt looks impressive but it doesn't quite live up to that expectationAn easily stored cooler that leaks readily but is comfortable and useful enough to be a good solution for casual and infrequent usageAlthough the design of this model is tried-and-true, it's not very insulated or durable
Rating Categories Engel HD30 IceMule Pro YETI Hopper M30 OtterBox Trooper 20 Igloo Reactor Porta... YETI Hopper Flip 12 AO Coolers 24 Pack... REI Co-op Cool Trai... REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 REI Co-op Cool Trai... Arctic Zone Titan D... RTIC SoftPak 20 REI Co-op Pack-Away 24 Coleman 16-Can
Insulation Value (30%)
9.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
4.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
4.0
Ease of Use (25%)
7.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
5.0
5.0
4.0
Portability (25%)
7.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
9.0
5.0
9.0
5.0
5.0
7.0
6.0
Durability (20%)
9.0
6.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
7.0
5.0
3.0
Specs Engel HD30 IceMule Pro YETI Hopper M30 OtterBox Trooper 20 Igloo Reactor Porta... YETI Hopper Flip 12 AO Coolers 24 Pack... REI Co-op Cool Trai... REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 REI Co-op Cool Trai... Arctic Zone Titan D... RTIC SoftPak 20 REI Co-op Pack-Away 24 Coleman 16-Can
Measured Capacity (qt) 32 qt 25 qt 30.5 qt 19.5 qt 26.5 qt 13 qt 24 qt 13 qt 18 qt 22 qt 21 qt 14 qt 19.5 qt (cube)
34 qt (flat)
9.5 qt
Measured Capacity (cans with no ice) 48 cans 39 cans 50 cans 28 cans 30 cans 18 cans 39 cans 16 cans 28 cans 32 cans 30 cans 24 cans 32 cans (cube)
50 cans (flat)
16 cans
Carry Style Messenger Bag Backpack Messenger Bag Messenger Bag Messenger Bag Lunchbox Duffel Bag Backpack Messenger Bag Backpack Lunchbox Lunchbox Messenger Bag Lunchbox
Internal Maximum Height (in) 13" 17" fully closed
23" max
13" fully closed
15" max
12" 9.5" 8" 11" fully closed
12.5" max
11" flex 11" insert
12" lid
19" 10.5" total
(3" above shelf)
10.5" 12"(cube)/19" (flat) 8.5" bin
11" lid
Fits Standard Wine Bottle Standing Upright? Yes Yes Yes Yes No - will fit on side No - will fit on side Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain Yes - some flex required, no zipper strain Yes Yes No - will fit on side No - will fit on side Yes No - can squeeze it in but too much zipper strain
Shelf Life of Food (Measured Hours Below 40ºF) 73 hr 52 hr 78 hr 57 hr 51 hr 37 hr 55 hr 32 hr 61 hr 9 hr 40 hr 26 hr 26 hr 27 hr
Days of Cold Beverages (Measured Hours Below 50ºF) 79 hr 55 hr 88 hr 70 hr 54 hr 44 hr 63 hr 37 hr 75 hr 59 hr 48 hr 48 hr 32 hr 31 hr
Measured Weight (lb) 5.9 lb 3.0 lb 7.1 lb 6.8 lb 3.1 lb 3.6 lb 2.7 lb 2.4 lb 4.3 lb 3.3 lb 3.4 lb 3.0 lb 1.6 lb 1.7 lb
Exterior Fabric Abrasion-resistant fabric Mule SkinET 1000D ripstop tarpaulin/vinyl/nylon 840D double-sided thermoplastic urethane TPU coated nylon Unspecified water resistant polyester exterior, nylon interior 840D double-sided thermoplastic urethane 1000 x 1300D heavy duty polyester with vinyl coating Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner Ripstop nylon, polyester shell Recycled ripstop nylon outer/polyester inner 840D polyester Heavy duty nylon shell Polyester Light nylon canvas
Closure Method Zippered top, watertight zip Roll-top Magnetic seal and over-the-top clips No-zip flip top Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered top Zippered flip top, dry storage cinch and clip Zippered flip top Zippered top, drawstring bag, clip straps No-zip flip top Zippered flip top, watertight zip Zippered top Zippered flip top
Handles and Straps Shoulder strap, end handles, duffel handles Backpack straps, sternum strap Shoulder strap, end handles, top handle Shoulder strap, end handles Shoulder strap, end handles, top handle Shoulder strap, top handle, end handles Shoulder strap, duffel handles Backpack straps, top handle, sternum strap Shoulder strap, end carry handles Backpack straps, sternum strap, hip belt Shoulder strap, end handles Shoulder strap, end handles, duffel handles Shoulder strap, duffel handles Shoulder strap
Additional Storage Yes; 1 larger exterior zippered (meant to be waterproof but isn't) No; exterior shock cord panel No; webbing attachment loops Yes; 1 medium zippered exterior, daisy chain on back, 2 attachment clips for additional accessories No No; webbing attachment loops Yes; 1 very large zippered exterior pocket Yes; top half of pack, brain pocket, 2 mesh side pockets Yes; 2 slip exterior, 1 internal zip, webbing attachment loops Yes; 2 medium zippered side pockets each with additional slip pocket, zippered pocket on top flap Yes, 2 zippered and insulated external pockets, 2 mesh pockets, top shock cord Yes; 1 small zippered exterior Yes; 1 medium zippered exterior, 2 daisy chains Yes; exterior front pocket, 2 mesh pockets, top shock cord
Removable Liner? No No No No No No No No Yes Yes; cooler comes out of backpack Yes No No Yes


Best Overall Soft Cooler


Engel HD30


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 9.0
  • Ease of Use 7.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Durability 9.0
Closure Type: Leakproof zipper | Weight: 5.9 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely durable
Top-notch insulation
Handy handles and features
Comfy shoulder carry
REASONS TO AVOID
Exterior pocket not waterproof
Quite large

We are continually impressed by the Engel HD30. It provides top-notch insulation, keeping raw foods appropriately cold (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for just over three days in our insulation tests. While many soft coolers have bulky zippers that are difficult to use or narrow openings that hinder access, the Engel stands out as remarkably easy to use. With corners that unclip, the top conveniently opens further to allow quick loading and locating of contents. On top of that, this is one of the largest coolers we tested, fitting an impressive 48 cans, making it a solid contender to guard your food and drink for a long weekend of camping. Despite its bulky size, the Engel is more portable than we expected, featuring an easy two-person carry using the end handles. Even after several years of regular use, its durable construction has proven itself worth the investment, with consistent performance, unchanged over time, and even looking pretty much the same as the day we first bought it.

Of course, large capacity always comes with a trade-off in how far you're willing to carry it. Even with a friend to help, this fully-loaded bag isn't the ideal cooler to cart a mile down the beach. But with all sorts of additional helpful features like extra handles, a removable bottle opener, and an additional pocket, the Engel continues to outcompete even the newest models for yet another year, remaining our favorite soft cooler. It may not be cheap, but it is impressive.

Read review: Engel Coolers HD30

best overall soft cooler
The Engel will stand up to all your adventures!
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Best Bang for Your Buck


Igloo Reactor Portable 30-Can


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 7.0
  • Ease of Use 7.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Durability 8.0
Closure Type: Leakproof zipper | Weight: 3.1 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Zipper and fabric are leak-resistant
Quality insulation
Great capacity to size ratio
Convenient top handle
REASONS TO AVOID
No zipper lubricant included
No pockets

If you're a bargain hunter, we think you'll love the excellent value of the Igloo Reactor 30. This cooler has the look, feel, and nearly the performance of the high-end soft coolers we've tested yet costs significantly less. It outcompeted most others in this lineup in our rigorous insulation testing with thick walls and a leakproof zipper, which lends extra confidence to an already waterproof interior and exterior. An extra tough layer around the bottom and wrapping up the sides adds abrasion resistance where you need it most. Fitting 30 cans (without any ice), the Reactor maximizes internal capacity. Rounded corners and edges help maintain a fairly comfortable carrying experience while the top handle is very handy—a feature we love to see on coolers of this shape and size.

The only knock against the Reactor's straightforward, easy-to-use design is that its waterproof zipper is exceptionally difficult to operate. It eases up some with the application of zipper lubricant, which doesn't come with this cooler. While we appreciate the simplicity of this model, its lack of external pockets can be a downside. And though it doesn't seem to pose a usability issue, the D-rings on either end of the shoulder strap flip sideways readily, a minor annoyance. Still, the issues we have with the Reactor are minor, and we found the pros far outweigh the cons — especially for this relatively low price.

Read review: Igloo Reactor Portable 30-Can

soft cooler - best bang for your buck
Beach day on a budget, with the Igloo Reactor.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Best for a Tight Budget


AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler


68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 7.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Portability 6.0
  • Durability 6.0
Closure Type: Zipper | Weight: 2.7 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Simple design that's easy to use
Decent insulation
Duffel style handles
Folds flat for storage
REASONS TO AVOID
Zipper and exterior not waterproof
Shoulder strap on the short side

At first glance, this cooler may not look like much. It doesn't have the laminated exterior and waterproof zipper that so many others boast. Yet underneath this unassuming exterior, the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler is a solid model that's simple to use and easy to love. Thick foam surrounding the entirety of your contents provides reliable insulation for an above-average amount of time. A single opening that's longer than the interior of the bag makes it uncomplicated to load and later locate what you're seeking. On the outside, there is a large zippered pocket that provides a well-above-average amount of dry storage, and its duffel-style handles can be joined together for easy transportation. Its flexible shape allows you to fold it flat for storage (a unique feature that most of the competition can't claim) and easily accommodates tall objects, such as 750 ml wine bottles.

The AO does lose some points since its exterior and zipper are not waterproof, though the regular zipper is much easier to use than waterproof ones, which typically require a lot more tugging. And though its hull isn't as stiff and impenetrable as some of the others we tested, it's still pretty strong and well-constructed. We also wish the shoulder strap was longer for cross-body wear. Lastly, this model lacks the high-end look of the more premium models in our test, but that might not matter to you. These drawbacks are minor. All in all, this cooler performs well above its price tag, offering a strong value.

Read review: AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler

soft cooler - best for a tight budget
Spend less and adventure more with the AO Original.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Best Backpack Cooler


IceMule Pro


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 7.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Portability 9.0
  • Durability 6.0
Closure Type: Roll-top | Weight: 2.9 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Ease of transport
Surprisingly good capacity
Strong design
REASONS TO AVOID
Not leakproof
Not as insulative as some
Usage learning curve

With many exciting backpack coolers now on the scene, we retested this pack next to several new models, and the IceMule Pro handily holds its own among the backpack-style coolers. Though this cooler requires a bit of a learning curve, it proves itself incredibly easy to use and comfortable to carry. The large roll-top design allows easy access to its contents, so you won't have to remove everything on top to reach that last cold soda at the bottom. Soft, wide shoulder straps, a longer torso length, and sides easily inflated or deflated by hand make this pack much more comfortable to carry than its many rigid competitors. With a lightly padded back panel, breathable mesh, and a more flexible structure, we found ourselves much less sweaty hiking this model down the trail than any other backpack cooler. It also performs quite well among backpack models in our insulation testing and is solidly durable.

It took some time for us to figure out the best way to use the inflatable sides to maximize both capacity and insulation, but once we got that down, we enjoyed the extra padding provided by the air-filled walls. However, we can't quite get the top rolled tight enough to be waterproof, though it only leaks little drips when completely inverted. When fully loaded with a whopping 39 cans, we wish we had a waist belt to take some of the weight off our shoulders. But for lighter loads, wearing the IceMule is like carrying a grade school backpack. While we wish it had more pockets on the outside for extra items, we enjoy using the IceMule Pro, and it is our go-to choice for bringing a few refreshments along for a multi-mile hike or for any destination a little further from the parking lot.

Read review: IceMule Pro

soft cooler - best backpack cooler
Even sitting in a puddle all day, it never took on any water.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Best Personal Cooler


YETI Hopper Flip 12


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 6.0
  • Ease of Use 7.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Durability 9.0
Closure Type: Leakproof zipper | Weight: 3.6 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Durability
Great insulation
Nice size for personal use
Convenient handles
REASONS TO AVOID
No extra pockets
Flips upside down rather easily
Price

Year after year, the Yeti Hopper Flip 12 continues to impress us. This tried and true model boasts impressive insulation for a small cooler. Its shape and size are convenient and easy to use with a simple design that simply works. Yeti products are known to be strong and primed to tackle all your wild adventures, and this one is no exception. The latest rendition of this crowd favorite includes a top handle (in addition to the two side handles from previous iterations) to make grabbing and going even more effortless. Yeti also includes a tube of zipper lubricant and helpful directions for caring for and making the most out of your investment.

The Flip doesn't come with any additional pockets or features, while many other coolers do. Those extras, well, cost extra on top of an already expensive cooler. Though this latest version costs marginally less than its predecessor, it's still among the more expensive coolers out there. But if you want a personal cooler that just won't quit, the Flip should be on your shortlist.

Read review: Yeti Hopper Flip 12

soft cooler - best personal cooler
We never had to worry about our ice not lasting all day in this beefy box.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Great Value for Casual Use


Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless


54
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation Value 6.0
  • Ease of Use 6.0
  • Portability 5.0
  • Durability 4.0
Closure Type: Zipperless lid | Weight: 3.4 lb
REASONS TO BUY
Fairly lightweight
Tons of features
Inexpensive
REASONS TO AVOID
Not spillproof
Not the most durable

The Arctic Titan Zipperless offers great utility for a steal. Despite having some of the thinnest insulation of any model we tested, it still managed to maintain recommended food temperatures for a little under two days, which was right around the group average. The zipperless design for the main compartment makes it completely painless to use, and the hard plastic interior makes it simple to pack. A removable plastic shelf adds functionality, keeping sensitive items out of melted ice, and numerous pockets adorn the outside for wine corkscrews, napkins, and silverware. It even comes with a bottle opener clipped to one end.

The low price tag does come at the cost of some durability, though. This is not the model we would expect to last the longest, as its materials and craftmanship are not top-tier. Many of the features added on seemingly everywhere also ride the line between being handy and superfluous. The shelf is easy to knock loose and fall into the main chamber, and the bottle opener is not the best. This isn't the model we recommend for hardcore use, but if you need a small cooler for occasional use and want to spend the least, this model offers a lot of value.

Read review: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless

soft cooler - though it's not the most amazing cooler we tested, it does offer...
Though it's not the most amazing cooler we tested, it does offer respectable insulation and a high degree of usability for an impressively low price.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Compare Products

select up to 5 products
Score Product
80
$240
Engel HD30
Our choice for best all around soft cooler
76
$130
IceMule Pro
With a unique design and comfortable carry straps, we love it for...
75
$350
YETI Hopper M30
Swapping zippers for magnets is an intriguing move, but we're not...
73
$250
OtterBox Trooper 20
This easy-to-use cooler has a unique lid and good-quality...
72
$100
Igloo Reactor Portable 30-Can
A leakproof model that's easy to use and has better-than-average...
71
$250
YETI Hopper Flip 12
Sized for personal use, this option is a high-performer
68
$86
AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler
A decent cooler that's a simple design, easy to use, and less...
67
$80
REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack
Lacking a bit of beefiness, this pack is optimal for cool AND dry...
66
$110
REI Co-op Cool Haul 18
A pleasant mixture of solid insulation, usable capacity, and...
63
$100
REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack
When you need to bring a ton of heavy cold stuff with you, look no...
54
$63
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless
An easy to use option that keeps costs low and offers surprising...
54
$100
RTIC SoftPak 20
Though it looks imposing, its performance isn't exceptional
52
$50
REI Co-op Pack-Away 24
A handy model that won't stop meltwater leakage but is a useful and...
43
$30
Coleman 16-Can
This model is lightweight and inexpensive, but also packs minimal...

testing coolers on hot lakeside beaches in the high desert.
Testing coolers on hot lakeside beaches in the high desert.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Why You Should Trust Us


Our expert panel consists of Senior Review Editor, Maggie Nichols, and her crew of adventure-loving friends. Maggie has spent over 15 years as an outdoor and backcountry guide, from backpacking the Sierras and Andes to rafting South Africa and Utah. She spent a summer living out of her teardrop trailer and isn't one to give up on the comforts of a fresh meal while she's out. Her background in scientific research helps bring structure and scrutiny to our intensive cooler testing process. Maggie is the GearLab cooler guru and has been testing coolers and other gear for GearLab since 2017, personally having tested over 60 different coolers, from traditional ice boxes to the latest in portable powered technology.

Less durable materials and construction don't necessarily mean it's...
Less durable materials and construction don't necessarily mean it's not the right cooler for what YOU need.
Meander through the wilderness more easily with a backpack cooler.
Meander through the wilderness more easily with a backpack cooler.
Through carrying each model to and from the car, beach, and park, we...
Through carrying each model to and from the car, beach, and park, we quickly learned which models are easier than others to transport.

Before we started timing how long our drinks stayed cold, this review began with market research into which soft coolers are worth trying out. Every year the number of impressive-looking soft coolers seems to grow, and we've been expanding our selection of test-worthy models for five years. Our in-depth insulation testing was developed in conjunction with Steven Tata, whose background in engineering helped us to design realistic and intensive testing of these coolers. Testing consists of a quantitative ice melt test and extensive field use. The ice melt test was carried out in a controlled environment with the internal temperature of the coolers monitored and analyzed in accordance with the USDA's Refrigeration and Food Safety Guidelines. Field use takes place in various environments, from hot desert hikes to road trips from muggy Minnesota to sunny California, for a well-rounded set of conditions. All this adds up to a comprehensive review, which will thoroughly equip you to make a well-suited soft cooler purchase.

soft cooler - maggie and her dog, madeline, hard at work testing coolers in the...
Maggie and her dog, Madeline, hard at work testing coolers in the summer sun.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Analysis and Test Results


Each contender's overall score is carefully calculated through a myriad of tests spanning four crucial, mutually exclusive metrics. In order to discover the best cooler for every use, we broke down our testing into specific individual and comparative assessments of every model's Insulation Value, Ease of Use, Portability, and Durability. All four of these metrics include numerous tests and evaluations that inform each cooler's score in that metric. We weighted each metric according to its overall importance to the general experience of using a soft cooler. When the metrics' scores are totaled up, each cooler ends up with a score between 1 and 100. Here we break down those metrics individually and discuss the best performers across individual tests and full metric scores

all coolers packed full of ice and cans, heading into our hot room...
All coolers packed full of ice and cans, heading into our hot room insulation testing.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Value


When it comes to performance in soft coolers, you often get what you pay for in terms of durability and insulation value. Some of the most expensive products we tested offer some of the most impressive insulation powers and are made of impressively durable materials. However, this gear category continues to explode with innovations at competitive prices, and the correlation of price to performance is not a perfect linear relationship. Several models we tested challenge the idea that more money equals a better cooler, offering exceptional values and some impressive niche performances.

The Igloo Reactor 30 is our ideal combination of performance and price for those looking for a great product at a reduced price. It offers up above-average functionality, durability, and insulation for a price far below similar-scoring models, making it one of the best value options we've seen yet. The AO 24 Pack is another functional and well-priced cooler. Though not as rugged or waterproof as many options, we still find ourselves reaching for its straightforward functionality and above-average insulation time and time again. The most inexpensive cooler we generally recommend is the Arctic Zone Titan. It's surprisingly easy to use and can come in handy for infrequent use at a bargain price.


Insulation Value


The FDA recommends keeping perishable foods that require refrigeration at or below 40º Fahrenheit; this helps prolong their freshness by slowing down the bacteria and other such nasties from growing inside. Keeping a larger cooler cold will require putting more ice or ice packs inside versus keeping a smaller cooler cold, as most coolers recommend at least a 1:1 ice to food ratio, if not even more ice. Making sure your items are cold before they go into the cooler is another way to add insulation value to any cooler. Keeping your food or beverages cold is the number one reason to purchase a cooler; thus, it is the most rigorous metric in our testing. Our head-to-head hot room insulation tests highlight which coolers provide the greatest insulation value.


We noted two critical temperature thresholds during our testing: 40º F and 50º F. While 40º Fahrenheit is the food-safe threshold recommended by the FDA, 50º F represents the average maximum ideal temperature for serving beer. Of course, the ideal beer-drinking temperature depends on the type of beer you're enjoying and your personal preference. The American Homebrewers Association breaks down the optimal serving temperature for many different types of beer. We chose 50º F in part as an average maximum ideal temperature for serving beer and also as a second benchmark temperature to easily grasp the rate of temperature increase as ice melts in each cooler.

the performance of large models (over 20l) in our insulation testing.
The performance of large models (over 20L) in our insulation testing.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Leading the pack is the Yeti Hopper M30, which in our most recent round of testing managed an impressive 78 hours of sub 40° internal temps, even when the external temperatures in our hot room reached over 95° F. After years of testing and retesting, the Engel HD30 also performed admirably in our intensive hot-room testing, lasting a full 73 hours below 40° F internally. The Yeti Hopper M30 and Engel HD30 then continued to maintain internal temperatures at refreshing, sub 50° F for 88 and 79 hours, respectively. These coolers are on the large end of possible volumes among models in this category and have very thick insulation and waterproof fabric and closure systems. The Engel's watertight zipper effectively seals insulated sides that are nearly 2 inches thick. The Yeti M30 has done away with the zipper, instead sporting a leakproof magnetic strip that seals itself with a snap whenever your hand isn't in it. This helps to keep beverages colder even when you're hanging out with that one friend who likes to leave things hanging open.

comparing results during insulation testing of models 20l and...
Comparing results during insulation testing of models 20L and smaller. The REI Pack Away 24 fits in this group because we tested it in its most convenient configuration -- a cube -- which we measured just under 20L.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Among smaller coolers, those with volumes 20L or less, the REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 is a top performer. Despite lacking a waterproof exterior or leakproof zipper, the Cool Haul kept temperatures below 40° F for a whopping 61 hours, which is just over 2.5 days. It maintained sub 50° F temps for 75 hours, offering over three days of refreshing beverages. The OtterBox Trooper 20 and AO 24 are also noteworthy here, offering food-safe temps below 40° F for 61 and 57 hours, respectively.

Among backpack models, the IceMule and its roll-top lid continue to reign supreme, even after several years of testing, regular use, and retesting, maintaining temperatures below 40° F for 52 hours and below 50° F for 55 hours. The REI Co-op Cool Trail Pack outlasted it when it comes to refreshing beverage temps, holding below 50° F for 59 hours. However, the Cool Trail Pack failed to stay below 40° F after just 9 hours, making us not excited to entrust it to keep any sensitive food items fresh.

the performance of backpack models in our insulation testing.
The performance of backpack models in our insulation testing.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

As soft-sided coolers have become increasingly popular, the market has become increasingly innovative. Once, the presence of an airtight zipper and waterproof exterior was an indicator of solid insulation. Now, a wide variety of closure solutions continue to impress us with their ability to keep things chilled. Models with the now old-school approach of having a water/airproof zipper include the Engel, RTIC SoftPak, Igloo Reactor, and Yeti Hopper Flip. The Yeti M30 has replaced its waterproof zipper with an equally effective magnetic seal, the IceMule Pro has a (mostly sealed) roll-top (like a dry bag), and the OtterBox Trooper features a fully sealed, plastic flip-top lid.

soft cooler - results from our rigorous insulation testing.
Results from our rigorous insulation testing.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

In an interesting twist, the Arctic Titan Zipperless has neither a zipper nor a roll-top and isn't even fully sealed. It closes like an old-school hard cooler, with a plastic lid that nestles snugly into the top of its plastic body. It's lined on the outside by a thinly insulated fabric bag. Despite not being airtight or leakproof, it managed to hold ice for 40 hours during our testing. Still, other coolers have more traditional zippers that aren't watertight, yet they manage to provide effective insulation, including the REI Cool Haul, REI Pack Away, and AO 24 Pack.

soft cooler - the otterbox trooper ditches the frequently cumbersome waterproof...
The OtterBox Trooper ditches the frequently cumbersome waterproof zipper for a flip-top plastic lid with an accompanying latch and rubber gasket lining the opening to keep it fully sealed.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

It's also worth mentioning that of the coolers we tested, three of the six that managed above-average insulation testing results (keeping temperatures below 40º F for 44+ hours) are not watertight and are significantly more budget-friendly than the top two performers in this metric. Notably, the REI Cool Haul (61 hours below 40º F), AO 24 Pack (55 hours), and IceMule Pro (52 hours) are all impressive insulators for weekend uses and cost a lot less than you might expect. The Arctic Titan Zipperless comes close as well (40 hours), making it another promising option. If your needs are modest, and so is your budget, these coolers offer good insulation at a fraction of the cost.

soft cooler - the rei cool haul still manages well-above-average insulation...
The REI Cool Haul still manages well-above-average insulation, despite a lack of a watertight zipper or a waterproof exterior.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Ease of Use


Ease of use is important. Some designs make using a cooler more enjoyable. We also found some options that proved frustrating to use.


To evaluate this metric, we focused on how easy the coolers are to load and unload—how they open and how challenging the zipper or closing mechanism is to use, and if they stay open while you pack them full or if they require a second pair of hands. We considered how adaptable each cooler is to different sizes and shapes of contents: can it fit a carton of eggs for a breakfast cookout or a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio for that fancy picnic? We also looked at the features each came with and evaluated their actual usability. As we discovered, just because a bottle opener is clipped onto the end, unfortunately, doesn't mean it will reliably open bottles.

soft cooler - zipper lubricant included with many models helps those thick, beefy...
Zipper lubricant included with many models helps those thick, beefy waterproof zippers to slide a bit more easily. However, many of them still require a significant amount of force to operate and can collect greasy-looking lubricant over time.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

One of the most frustrating qualities of many of the models we tested is their challenging zippers. So far, manufacturers haven't been able to produce a zipper that's waterproof and truly easy to use. Many soft cooler zippers not only require two hands to open and close but also quite a bit of straining and muttering through clenched teeth. The watertight zipper that performed the best is that of the Engel HD30.

The Yeti M30 cuts out the cumbersome zipper for an easy magnetic strip closure instead. While we like the innovation, we aren't convinced the M30 design nailed it. It's the only soft cooler we tested that actually snaps closed around your hand while you try to grab a beverage, making it frustrating to load and unload without using something to prop it open—like a wooden spoon or a friend.

Though robust and watertight, its zipper is much easier to use and comes with zipper lubricant included, helping it to remain explicative-free. The Yeti Flip and the RTIC SoftPak also come standard with zipper lubricant that helps their zippers glide more easily, though they aren't as smooth as the Engel. The Igloo Reactor doesn't come with zipper lubricant, but when we put some on, as we expected, it helped massively in the operation of this tough zipper. Lubricant needs to be reapplied to zippers frequently, especially in dry, hot, outdoor environments. All of these coolers feature extra handles for additional carrying options, tie-downs to attach them to your ATV or truck bed, and even some extra features like daisy-chain webbing to clip on your bottle opener or car keys.

soft cooler - the igloo reactor has a fine-toothed zipper covered by a rubber seal...
The Igloo Reactor has a fine-toothed zipper covered by a rubber seal that effectively keeps it from leaking. However, it's one of the few models we tested with a waterproof zipper that doesn't come with any lubricant to make unzipping it smoother.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Some other models are easy to use because of the excellent design or features they have. The IceMule Pro is one of our favorites once you get used to it because of its simple roll-top design and comfortable straps that make carrying this bag a breeze. The REI Trail Pack is one of our favorites for fully loaded distance missions, offering all the comfort of a backpacking backpack with its perfectly padded weight-bearing waistbelt. If you're ready to ditch the zip for a model that's both user-friendly and seals, the plastic latch and flip-open lid of the OtterBox Trooper are where it's at.

soft cooler - the roll-top design of the icemule is pretty easy to use - no zipper...
The roll-top design of the IceMule is pretty easy to use - no zipper lubricant is ever required.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The REI Cool Haul, Trail Pack, and Pack Away, and the AO 24 Pack all have traditional zippers that are easy to use and just the right amount of additional design elements or features that make them quite handy. The AO and REI Pack Away are as easy to use as a simple duffel bag. The AO 24 features clips on the ends of the top zipper and a single long external pocket with plenty of space to bring along dry items. The Pack Away adds onto this design with four 3-loop daisy chains located around the body of the bag and the ability to fold flat — adding capacity (albeit in an awkward shape without a good, structured bottom) and making it easier to store when not in use.

soft cooler - reminding us of a gym duffel bag, the rei pack away has a...
Reminding us of a gym duffel bag, the REI Pack Away has a canvas-like exterior and a convenient two-way zipper.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The REI Cool Haul features several webbing loops, two exterior pockets, and an internal zippered pocket to keep you organized. It has a bottle opener (that works) attached to it, so you'll never have to worry about forgetting one again. The interior insulation also slides out of the cooler's main body, making it even easier to load on the counter or clean in the sink after a spill. Both the Otterbox Trooper and Arctic Titan Zipperless also come with bottle openers on the outsides of the bag, though we struggled to effectively use the one on the Titan. The bottle opener on the Otterbox is actually a flat multi-tool, which we found useful occasionally but not enough to be a deal-breaker. The REI Trail Pack has several extra pockets around the outside and top of the bag, aiding in your long-distance adventure. Additionally, the entire cooler component can be removed, converting the entire thing into an uninsulated backpack when you need it.

soft cooler - the rei cool haul is full of useful features from its flip-top lid...
The REI Cool Haul is full of useful features from its flip-top lid and removable liner to numerous pockets inside and out and a bottle opener that actually works.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Portability


If you wanted to stay home, you'd use your fridge. For an adventure, you need a cooler. But where do you want to go with your cooler, and how do you want to get there? Depending on the size and type you're planning to take with you, you may have already put some limitations on your adventures. Are you heading from the parking lot to the beach nearby? Are you carting around lunch all day at the zoo? Are you hiking five miles to your secret fishing hole? Without considering overall capacity, the most portable coolers will be more comfortable to carry for longer distances and amounts of time.


The clear winners in this category are the backpack-style coolers, as this distribution of weight across both shoulders and resting behind you will almost always beat out a unilateral carry. However, not all backpack coolers are equally comfortable. We've tested several of this style, and the IceMule Pro is hands down our favorite for sheer carrying comfort. It has soft, wide shoulder straps, a longer torso for more even weight distribution, and a flexible shape that accommodates whatever you've filled it with. The walls of the cooler can also be inflated or deflated with a simple valve, adding both insulation and comfort against your back. In the face of some innovative competition, for years now, the IceMule remains the most comfortable model we've tested for carrying moderate provisions on a multi-mile hike.

soft cooler - where will you go with your new cooler?
Where will you go with your new cooler?
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The REI Trail Pack is another noteworthy competitor here. By adding a fully supportive, weight-bearing waist belt, this cooler is ideal for relieving your shoulders when you need your cooler filled to the brim with delicious picnic provisions. While the IceMule is our favorite for smaller and medium loads because of its comfortable straps and flexible body, the Trail Pack is our go-to choice for heavy cargo. It's comfortable like a daypack and really saves your shoulders over the long haul. If you're planning to bring a handful of snacks and beverages for you and a few buddies, the comfort of the IceMule is top-notch. If you're scheming to supply a full picnic and afternoon full of refreshments for everyone in your party, that extra weight is better handled by the Trail Pack.

soft cooler - if you're hitting the trails with a fully-loaded cooler, the rei...
If you're hitting the trails with a fully-loaded cooler, the REI Pack Away is the only model we tested with a fully padded, weight-bearing waist belt that helps save your shoulders no matter how far you roam.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Among the many tote and messenger style options we tested, we have our favorites. Models with flexible shapes, adjustable straps, and extra padding go a long way toward making these something you don't mind carrying. Some of the other reasonably portable bags like the Yeti Flip 12 scored well thanks to their well-padded shoulder straps and additional options to hand carry or partner carry them when they're loaded down. The REI Cool Haul is also a favorite, with its soft, malleable body and long padded shoulder strap that makes it far more pleasant across your body when weighed down. The softer canvas exteriors and flexible insulated walls of the AO 24 Pack and REI Pack Away are both much more comfortable bouncing against our sides and wear like an old favorite duffel bag.

soft cooler - the ao 24 pack has a padded shoulder strap and malleable exterior...
The AO 24 Pack has a padded shoulder strap and malleable exterior that make it more comfortable to carry.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


If you're going to spend your money on gear, you want it to last. This fact is just as true for coolers as anything else you own. Any gear's durability comes down to a few simple factors—the quality of its materials and components, the method of construction, and the overall design. The coolers we tested feature a wide variety and quality of materials. We assessed durability over months of use, paying attention to how they handle daily rigors. We threw them around, dropped them on the ground, and filled them to the brim with heavy drinks. We also packed, emptied, repacked, and bounced them around in back seats and truck beds, left them out in the sun for hours, strapped them into water-logged boats, and anything else we could think of.


The models that scored lower in our durability tests use light to mid-weight nylon or canvas with middle-of-the-road zippers and regular seam construction. The higher-end models feature heavy rubber or treated nylon, have heavy-duty zippers and components, reinforced and welded seams, and more robust designs and construction. All of these aspects affect the overall durability and lasting power.

some seriously sturdy construction means that soft coolers can be...
Some seriously sturdy construction means that soft coolers can be just as durable as their harder counterparts.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The most durable coolers we tested are the Engel HD30, Yeti M30, and Yeti Flip 12. All of these coolers feature incredibly tough, wear-resistant outer fabric, durable components, sturdy zippers, reinforced stitching, and a design made to be used and abused. Even after several years of regular use, all three of these models work just as well as when they were new and still look nearly as nice.

the yeti flip 12 is one of several coolers we've been using...
The Yeti Flip 12 is one of several coolers we've been using regularly for years now. Aside from a few minor cosmetic complaints, it's holding up exceptionally well.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The OtterBox Trooper and Igloo Reactor are durable contenders as well. Both have thick, waterproof exteriors and fully sealed openings — the Trooper with its rubber gasket around a plastic flip-top lid and the Reactor's waterproof zipper. Both of these models also feature protective layers on their undersides to help protect against abrasion.

The Igloo Reactor has an extra layer helping to protect its bottom...
The Igloo Reactor has an extra layer helping to protect its bottom side from the inevitable abrasion of regular use.
The Coleman 16-Can may not be a "beast mode" cooler that can...
The Coleman 16-Can may not be a "beast mode" cooler that can withstand a beating, but it's also relatively inexpensive, making it less painful to replace if and when it does finally give up.

The IceMule Pro is relatively durable and resistant to our abuse, though the straps' attachment points seemed perhaps not quite as reliable or as robust as we'd like them to be. Not surprisingly, some of the coolers that performed the lowest in this category also have the weakest material. However, these coolers (the Coleman 16-Can and Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze) are also some of the least expensive we tested, so you might not be so upset about replacing them when they bite the dust.

there are tons of interesting, unique, and impressive soft coolers...
There are tons of interesting, unique, and impressive soft coolers available today. We can help you swim through the sea of options and pick your perfect picnic partner or adventure buddy.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Conclusion


While reviewing these products, we went out of our way to imagine the many ways in which they may be used. Then we put them to the test, toting them along for summer trips into the desert, long hikes on hot days, picnics in the park, sunny beach days, rainy camping weekends, and impromptu BBQs and dinner parties. We hauled these coolers around, putting them through plenty of use and abuse, and we've compiled what we believe is the most comprehensive review of soft coolers available. We hope that the information presented here helps you find the right cooler to fit your lifestyle.


Maggie Nichols

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