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How to Choose the Best Soft Sided Cooler

The biggest advantage of a soft sided cooler is the portability. When not in use, most soft cooler bags can be folded and put away, occupying a faction of the space of a rotomolded cooler. However, the biggest concern with these coolers is how long they can maintain ice. Surprisingly, in our testing [our video & results embedded below] soft sided coolers can hold ice longer than we initially thought, up to 4+ Days in the middle of a Florida Summer. So which is the best bang for your buck? We have a whole heap of information on this below.

Jump To> Soft Sided Cooler Reviews

Jump To> RESULTS: Top Soft Sided Performers

Top Ten Soft Sided Cooler Comparison Chart

Cooler

Capacity

Material

Liner?

Available?

Coleman

Coleman 16 Can Soft Sided Cooler
 

Capacity

16 Can
  

Material

Soft PEVA Liner
 

Liner

Yes
 

 

Polar Bear

 

Capacity

12-48 Can
  

Material

Nylon, 1000 Denier Cordura
 

Liner

No
 

 

AOCoolers

AoCoolersSS
 

Capacity

12-48 Can
  

Material

Canvas
 

Liner

No
 

 

Koolatron

Koolatron
 

Capacity

32 Can
  

Material

Soft Sided W/ Motor
 

Liner

No
 

 

NorChill

 

Capacity

24-48 Can
  

Material

Tarpaulin
 

Liner

No
 

 

Engel
Engel Tote
 

Capacity

24 Can
  

Material

Puncture Resistent
 

Liner

No
 

 

Igloo Marine Ultra Marine Bag

 

Capacity

24-36 Can
  

Material

Puncture Resistent
 

Liner

No
 

 

Yeti Hopper Hopper Tote Bag

 

Capacity

18-36 Can
  

Material

Dryhide Shell
 

Liner

No
 

 

RTIC

Square RTIC
 

Capacity

20-40 Can
  

Material

StayDry
 

Liner

No
 

 

Yeti Flip Flip By Yeti

 

Capacity

12 Can
  

Material

Dryhide Shell
 

Liner

No
 

 


Soft Sided Cooler Performance-Our Ice Challenge Test

Updated Test Results (We’ve found the best)

Soft Sided Cooler Ice Challenge

Our Soft Sided Cooler Ice Challenge

Our first Soft Sided Cooler Challenge [results & video just below] was conducted during cooler temperatures, so we wanted to test again in the midst of summer. For this round we tested in June in central Florida, where afternoon temperatures were into the mid-90°’s. The tops of the coolers were regularly reaching above 100°.  Coolers remained outside, on the concrete, throughout the duration of testing. Needless to say, the environment we tested in is likely to be the most extreme for a soft sided cooler.

Outcome: Up to this point Polar Bear coolers were THE soft sided coolers to beat. In this challenge, we found a couple coolers to compete with Polar Bears. The Orca Pod and the two Engel bag coolers gave Polar Bear a run for their money. In fact, the Engel TPU cooler (coming soon to the public) is the best soft cooler we have tested to date, lasting a full FOUR Days. However, just about every soft cooler can last between two or three days of moderate use. See the exact results below.

Top Performers

Ice MulePolar BearOrca PodEngel
Ice Mule XXL

 

 

Orca Pod Backpack

Leak Proof

Most Durable

Longest Lasting

Most Versatile

Price: $$Price: $$$Price: $$$$Price: $$$
Holds Ice: 2.5 DaysHolds Ice: 2.5-3 DaysHolds Ice: 3+ DaysHolds Ice: 2.75 Days
Sizes: 20-30LSizes: 12-48 CansSizes: 28QtSizes: 23Qt
Rating: 4.2Rating: 3.9Rating: 3.3Rating: 4.1
Backpack: Backpack: Backpack: Backpack:

WATCH: Latest Soft Sided Cooler Challenge

More Videos⇒

Previous Ice Challenge Findings

In our Soft Sided Cooler Ice Challenge test we noticed outstanding results from the Polar Bear Coolers H20 Series. We tested three soft sided coolers (the most popular on this site) the AO Coolers Vinyl series, Polar Bear Backpack Cooler, and the Polar Bear H20 Series 48 Pack. Although all three coolers lasted three full days of moderate use (opening three times a day) the Polar Bear 48 Pack lasted nearly FIVE DAYS! This is almost as long as many of our hard sided roto molded coolers. We found this very impressive for a soft sided cooler. In terms of performance, these soft sided coolers are more than capable of maintaing ice for days and serve their purpose with ease. See the video comparison below:

More Videos⇒

Why Is A Soft Sided Cooler Best?

Most choose a soft sided cooler when they are looking for a more portable option. These are often used for day excursions, hiking, a trip to the beach, etc. Foldable or soft sided coolers are usually much easier to carry. Most have backpack straps or tote style handles, offering a hand-free carry. Most importantly these coolers take up a fraction of the real estate (especially when not in use/storing) compared to a roto molded cooler. Also, they are significantly lighter than hard bodied coolers. Many offer a waterproof zipper, or even an entire waterproof cooler design. Thus, these can double as a dry pack.

Check Out Our Ice Mule Vs Polar Bear Here:

More Videos⇒

Reasons to Go Soft Sided 

Soft sided coolers are less likely to sweat all over the carpet in your trunk. These coolers have the ability to resist odors where hard coolers tend to absorb them. They are easy to clean and resist mildew or mold as well. If they do get dirty, you can simply wash them out.  Additionally, we have specially designed fish cooler bags to keep your catch cool and separate from your beverages and snacks.

Versatility Of Soft Sided CoolerA lot of these coolers also have other compartments such as a mesh side pocket that you can put sunscreen or extra cups and snacks. They may also have small zippered pockets for you to keep your keys, cell phone, or other items that you do not want to have to hang on to, but do not want wet either. Needless to say, the biggest reason for a soft sided cooler is the versatility.

Will They Work for Beach Bumming?

These coolers are ideal for any situation. They are especially great on the beach. With a soft sided cooler bag that has extra compartments, you can carry a single cooler and have everything that you need. Your keys, the sunblock, bug spray, and all other items that are necessities can fit into this cooler. You will have no reason to ever carry 2-3 bags down onto the beach with you again. However, perhaps before you consider making the switch to a new soft sided cooler, you should have a look at what many consider to be the very best that you can have. These cooler reviews will also give you a great idea of the different soft sided coolers that are available.

Best Soft Sided Coolers-Reviews

Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler with Hard Liner

With the hard liner in place, this cooler can easily hold 16 cans of soda or your other favorite beverage. This hard plastic liner resists odors due to the fact that it is antimicrobial. It will resist mold and mildew that can sometimes be a major problem in a soft cooler. It also has a double zipper on its lid, a zippered front pocket, mesh pockets on the side, and an adjustable shoulder strap that has a pad for further comfort no matter how much you are carrying.

Coleman 16 Can Soft Sided Cooler

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Polar Bear Coolers 24 Soft Sided

Multiple Color Choice Polar Bear

Multiple Color Choice

This soft cooler is 18 inches long and 10 inches wide. It is able to keep ice frozen for up to 3 Full Days (as shown in our test) if sitting in 100 degree temperatures. It is also able to be used as a warmer as it can keep things that are 200 degrees hot for hours. It is sweat proof and leak proof, built with only quality materials that are guaranteed to last. The outer shell of it is made with 1000 denier Cordura nylon and high density foam. When not in use, you simply fold it up and store it easily. You can also carry it with ease thanks to the adjustable shoulder straps and a convenient carry handle. See Color Schemes⇒Polar Bear Soft Sided Cooler

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AO Coolers Soft Cooler

Multiple AO Cooler Colors

Multiple AO Cooler Colors

This cooler can hold up to 48 cans of soda or beer depending on the size that you choose. AO Coolers have a removable shoulder strap as well as a carry handle. AO Coolers are able to keep ice frozen for up to 24 hours in 120 degree temperatures. This makes it ideal for most people regardless of whether they are on their boat, on the beach, hosting a party, or simply enjoying a picnic with their kids in the back yard. It has a side compartment for items that need to stay dry and features more insulation than most other soft sided coolers. It is also leak proof thanks to the liner inside of it. See Color Schemes⇒AO Soft Sided Cooler

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Coleman 42-Can Wheeled Soft Cooler W/ Hard Liner

This is a very large, 42 can soft sided rolling cooler. The wheels make it easy to move about. It works the same way as roll-able luggage, backpacks or other coolers with wheels. However, the wheels are smaller, so be cognizant of this when rolling over gravel or rough surfaces. It has a hard plastic, removable liner on the inside, zippered closures on the lid, a large front zippered pocket, side pockets that are mesh, and even a mesh pocket in the lid for snacks and other items that can get wet. If you need more storage area inside, no problem; the lid can be bungeed closed if needed. It also resists odors as well as mildew and mold.Coleman Soft Sided Cooler With Wheels

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RoadPro Soft Sided Travel Cooler Bag

This cooler works by hooking to a cigarette lighter plug in on your vehicle. This is also known as a 12 V Electric Cooler.  It can cool items down an additional 30 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. It has an adjustable strap for your shoulder and zippered pockets for extra storage on the sides. This cooler is able to hold up to two 2 liter bottles of soda or twenty-four 12 ounce cans. When empty it only weighs four pounds, which makes it one of the lightest weight large soft coolers, even with the ability to cool itself.RoadPro SoftSided Cooler

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NorChill Boatbag Cooler Bag

Boat Bag Soft SidedWhereas most soft sided coolers are made of cloth, the NorChill is different. This cooler bag is designed to be tough enough to handle virtually anything you throw at it. It is made of durable tarpaulin. Tarpaulin also ensures that it is waterproof so you do not have to worry about it sweating. It is a cooler that will not heat up, even in extreme heat. Most importantly, it is a cooler you can trust not to damage your boat or kayak when you are on the water. Some of its other features include a YKK zipper, gator-skin liner, and leak-proof fusion-welded liner seams. It promises to hold ice for days, especially if you use the zero-degree freezer pack by NorChill with it. This cooler is easy to clean both inside and out. It is comfortable to carry thanks to the comfort cushion carry straps. One truly amazing feature of this cooler,  is the fact it is backed by a two-year, no questions asked warranty. If it fails you at any point, simply give the word and it will be fixed with no cost to you. It measures in at 10 x 18 x 12 inches, which means it can hold up to 24 cans and weighs only 3.3 pounds.  There are also various other sizes and styles, including a 48 can version of the BoatBag. It does not contain any toxins, so you can safely use it for food or drinks. The price also makes it a cooler worth considering because it is cheaper than many other high-end, soft-sided cooler brands.

Norchill Bag Cooler

Norchill Bag Cooler-Opened

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Engel USA Cooler Backpack

-Top Performing Soft Sided-

Backpack Cooler Engel

Multiple Color Schemes

The Engle USA is a soft bag cooler that is available in white, kryptek highlander camo and Realtree Xtra camouflage. Its exterior is puncture resistant and anti-microbial. It is filled with polyethylene foam and has a variety of pockets for you to store things in. This includes 2 interior slip pockets and six exterior storage areas. It has a full 23-quart capacity which can hold 24 cans. It measures in at 17.25 x 7.75 x 18.75 inches and weighs only 2.85 pounds. In terms of ice retention, this is one of the best soft sided coolers we have ever tested. Lasting a full 3 days, this soft sided cooler can almost keep up with its’ rotomolded counterparts.

The zippers on this cooler are water resistant. Although they are not completely water proof, they are a heck of a lot easier opening compared to watertight zipper. We show this in detail in our Engel Cooler Video Review. This cooler can also lay almost completely flat when not in use. We have even taken this cooler in suitcase to have a cooler with us after a flight. The point being, this is a very portable and long lasting cooler.  See Color Schemes⇒
Engel Tote

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Igloo Marine Ultra Square

This cooler is available in a variety of sizes and as owner reviews show, most people agree that it is a great bag to own. It is easy to clean and can hold ice for up to 2-days. This is ideal for weekend trips out. The Ultra Square is designed to handle the sometimes-harsh marine environment. Needless to say, you can feel confident that it will not corrode in the salt spray. Lastly, and most important for marine environments, it is stain and odor resistant.Ultra Marine Bag

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YETI Hopper Portable Cooler

Yeti is one of the most popular coolers that many people love owning, even if it does come at a price. It is one of the most expensive cooler brands, but more often than not, people feel it is worth it. This portable cooler is no different. It is 100% leak-proof and puncture-resistant. It is designed to keep cold in and heat out, while holding up to 20-pounds of ice or 18 cans. If you are not sure if it is worth owning, you can read our full review here to see if it is what you want, but keep in mind it does have a hydrolok zipper, coldcell insulation, and of course, looks great.

Con: The biggest issue we (and many others) have with the Hopper is the zipper system. Yes, it is leak and waterproof. But because of this, the zipper is incredibly difficult to zip and unzip. Also, This thick zipper track can be very rough against your arm when reaching into the cooler. This is because the opening to the cooler is very narrow. For some this isn’t an issue, but for a couple hundred dollars, people need to know this.

Hopper Tote Bag

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RTIC 30 Soft Pack

If you want a soft bag that can keep items cold for a long time, but prefer to not spend a full paycheck on it; the RTIC could be ideal for you. It is drastically different in price, but comparable in quality to the Yeti Hopper. This bag can keep ice for up to 5-days and holds 30 cans at a time along with ice. It does not leak nor sweat thanks to the 2” of foam that insulates it and the vinyl shell exterior. Exterior pockets keep dry items dry. It has an overall 4.3-star rating to show that it is comparable in quality according to most owners. Square RTIC

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Yeti Hopper Flip 12

Water Tight Zippers

Water Tight Zippers

One thing people love about this soft Yeti cooler is the cubed shape. The shape makes it very unique among soft coolers because it is easy to haul around or store when not in use. It has a very large mouth opening to give you easy access to all the contents inside, while the dry hide shell is durable enough to handle anything your adventures throw at it. This is a huge improvement (in our opinion) compared to the original hopper. Although the zipper is still rather tough to unzip, it is provides access to the entire cooler. This is a stark contrast to the Hopper which usually requires your arms to slide past a rough zipper.

This personal sized cooler measures in at 14 x 11.5 x 14 inches and weighs 4 pounds. It is able to hold ice for about 3 days, even if the temperatures are extremely warm outside. Some owners say you can fill it with water, flip it, and water will not leak through the zipper. That is perhaps why it holds such a high rating.Flip By Yeti

Orca Pod

-Longest Lasting Soft Cooler-

Orca Podster

Multiple Colors Available

Last but certainly not least is the Orca Pod. In fact, the Orca finished at the top of our soft sided cooler challenge. The pod is a rigid soft sided cooler. In our video review below, we describe it as a turtle shell. In other words, it won’t lay completely flat like the Engel or other bag or tote style coolers. However, because it does have superior insulation when compared to others, this cooler can last 3 Full Days. At 28 quarts this is also one of the larger soft sided coolers available.

What we like most about the Pod is the way the cooler opens. Although it offers a waterproof zipper, we found it easy to open. Most importantly though, the lid opens entirely. In fact, the lid can open a full 180°. This is biggest difference when compared to say the Yeti Hopper. Wearing this cooler is super comfortable. To us, it feels just like a hiking backpack due to the added supports and padding. The Pod comes in a variety of colors⇒.

BackPack Pod by Orca

Our Orca Pod Video Review

More Videos⇒