A tough, reliable soft cooler can keep your food and beverages cold while hiking, on day trips, picnics, or tailgating parties. Need to keep your lunch fresh at work? They’re great for that, as well. Best of all, unlike a traditional hard-sided cooler, a soft cooler can be collapsed down for easy storage when it’s not in use.
After researching and testing the best ice coolers we found that the Yeti Hopper Two 30(available at Amazon) is a great choice. It’s waterproof, tough and, when filled with ice and ice packs, can keep food and beverages cold for up to 12 hours. In addition to the Yeti, we also tested more affordable models such as the Arctic Zone 16 Can Deep Freeze Zipperless Cooler (available at Amazon) to help you find the right product for your budget.
These are the best soft coolers we tested ranked, in order:
Yeti Hopper Two 30
Otterbox Trooper LT 30
Arctic Zone 16 Can Deep Freeze Zipperless Cooler
Coleman 50 Can Collapsible Soft Sided Cooler Bag
Coleman 24-Hour 30 Can Cooler
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Cold hard facts: 23-can capacity; includes six tie-down points, three reinforced handles, a leak-proof waterproof zipper, welded seams; three-year warranty.
Yeti is well-known for the durability of its products. The Hopper Two 30 supports this reputation. Its handles are double-stitched for extra durability. Multiple tie-down points make it possible to mount the cooler on a hard surface. Additionally, multiple hitch points on the front and back of the cooler will allow you to add any attachments you might want to bring along, such as a bottle opener or a flashlight. The cooler’s flat bottom allowed it to sit upright, keeping ice and your edibles inside of it, where they belong. When it’s time to move the cooler, Yeti makes it easy to do so, thanks to the Hopper Two 30’s comfortable shoulder strap.
Out of all of the soft ice coolers that we tested, the Yeti Hopper Two 30 was the only cooler with a leak-proof zipper. Yeti's proprietary waterproof Hydrolok Zipper is durable and seals the cooler up, keeping warm air out and cold air inside of the Hopper Two 30, where it belongs.
However, due to the sturdy nature of the zipper, it can be tough to open at times. That the Hopper Two 30 is constructed using closed-cell foam insulation helps to guarantee the ice inside of the cooler will stay frosty for the long haul. During testing, we found that the ice inside the Hopper Two 30 lasted for an outstanding three days and 12 hours.
Hi, Kyle Hamilton, Jon Chan, and Dr. Julia MacDougall here! We’re the testing team at Reviewed, which means we designed and implemented the experiments involved in this article and most of the items Reviewed evaluates.
When testing soft coolers, we focused on performance, capacity, and how comfortable each was to carry.
Our testing team filled each of the coolers featured in this guide, halfway up with ice. The coolers were then placed in Reviewed’s humidity and temperature-controlled lab space to ensure that the coolers were tested with an outside ambient temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent relative humidity.
Two sensors designed to track temperature changes over time were placed inside of each soft cooler—internal conditions over time were placed inside. One was placed at the bottom of the cooler, wrapped in a ground pork meatball. The other sensor was placed on the ice at the top of the cooler. The sensor at the top of the cooler was removed, daily, to record its findings and simulate the temperature gains that occur when a cooler is opened during normal use. We ran these temperature tests until no ice was left inside of the cooler.
To test the portability of each soft cooler, the team walked around with each of the coolers to see how comfortable they were to carry. The coolers were all tipped upside down to see if they were, in fact, leakproof. Finally, each of the coolers was filled with soda cans to compare against their claimed carrying capacity.
The build quality and aesthetics of each cooler were also taken into consideration.
What You Should Know About Soft Coolers
Why Buy A Soft-Sided Cooler?
Because of their size, lightweight construction, and other features—like being equipped with padded handles or backpack straps—soft coolers offer more flexibility than traditional hard-sided coolers. They are better for activities like a summertime picnic in the park or a day hike. Unlike hard-sided coolers, their soft-sided construction makes them easy to store when not in use. Once a soft cooler has been emptied and wiped clean of water, it can be collapsed and stored away in your home, taking up a minimal amount of space.
What To Look For In A Soft Cooler
When shopping for a soft cooler, always look for the following:
It should have a leak-resistant or waterproof closure. Give priority to coolers with closed-cell foam insulation over ones that employ other cooling methods. A cooler should be made from puncture-resistant materials, so that it can stand up to casual (and not so casual) abuse.
Extra features, such as an exterior pocket for carrying utensils are a plus, but not at the cost of cooling capability or durability.
How Much Ice Should I Use?
According to Popular Mechanics, ideally, a cooler, by volume, should have twice as much ice or ice packs inside of it as it does food. So, if you were chilling a gallon of milk, you’d use two gallons of ice to keep it cool. That said, using more ice allows for better food preservation over a longer period of time.
To preserve food for more than a day, you will need to use a combination of ice chunks and ice chips. The chips help with immediate cooling, and the chunks keep your food fresh over a longer period of time.
How Can I Keep My Cooler Cold Longer?
Pre-cool your cooler: If you’re storing your cooler in a hot garage, bring it inside of your home so that it can reach room temperature. That way you’re not wasting ice in an attempt to lower the cooler’s temperature.
Avoid using ice that’s already melting: Using a bag of ice that is already melting won’t keep your cooler as cold as ice straight out of the freezer. This is also true of ice packs.
Keep it in the shade: During your travels, a good way to keep your food and drinks cool for longer is to keep your soft cooler in the shade, whenever possible.
Keep it Closed: Open your cooler as infrequently as possible in order to keep what’s inside cold, for longer.
Can I Use Dry Ice In A Soft Cooler?
Most soft coolers work best when cooled by ice packs or ice cubes. However, Dry ice reaches lower temperatures than regular ice and can be used in most soft coolers. It’s a good choice if you need extra cold temperatures to keep ice cream or meat not just chilled but frozen. Aside from being colder than ice, the biggest advantage to dry ice is that, as it warms up, it evaporates, instead of melting. So, you won’t be stuck cleaning up a puddle of water.
There are a few downsides to using dry ice, however. While it is colder, it won’t last as long as regular ice. Additionally, as dry ice constantly emits carbon dioxide, it must be stored outdoors or, lacking that, in a well-ventilated area.
In most situations, the best way to utilize dry ice is to place it at the bottom of your cooler, wrapped in newspaper. Place the items you’d like to stay frozen or colder, on top of the dry ice. Edibles that only need to be chilled should be placed closer to the top of the cooler.
Other Soft Coolers We Tested
OtterBox Trooper LT 30
Cold hard facts: 30-quart capacity; includes a food-grade liner, waterproof external pockets, and bottle opener; limited lifetime warranty.
If there was ever a soft-body cooler, to be described at heavy-duty, it would have to be the Otterbox Trooper LT 30. This massive ice “briefcase” is designed for short jaunts into rough terrain. In our tests, it was able to keep the temperature inside of it below 40°F for just over three days. Its wide-mouth opening makes it easy to open and access your food and drinks.
While the base of this cooler is designed to keep it sitting upright, the Trooper LT 30 is designed to be leakproof, so you won’t have to worry about getting water everywhere if it ever tips over. Its handles are durable and wide, making it easier to carry when full of ice and goodies. That said, its shape can make it awkward to walk around with. That Yeti also equipped the cooler with a padded back and backpack straps mitigate this. The two front-facing pockets are a nice addition and it’s great that they too are waterproof. Also, on the front are two mounting brackets accessories, such as a bottle opener.
Arctic Zone 16 Can Titan Deep Freeze Zipperless Cooler
Cold hard facts: 30-can capacity; includes a smart shelf, bottle opener, and zipperless open; limited lifetime warranty.
During testing, the Arctic Zone Titan Freeze cooler stayed cold for two days and 12 hours. This cooler doesn’t have a zipper to seal it up, like the Yeti coolers in this guide, do. Instead, the lid is held in place by a velcro strap, which makes it much easy to the contents of the Titan Freeze. Upon opening the lid you’ll have immediate access to the cooler’s hard-sided smart shelf, which is good for holding snacks that are easily squished. Other unique features include a removable hard plastic body liner and insulated pockets. While it can’t be worn as a backpack like our main pick, the Titan Freeze does come with a wide, padded shoulder strap and two beefy two handles to help you haul the cooler around.
This cooler from Coleman kept the ice in it from melting for just over 24 hours. We also found that it was only water-resistant, not waterproof. So, you’ll want to be careful not to tip it over. Despite these drawbacks, the bag is simple to store and easily collapsible. Carrying this cooler didn’t feel like much of a chore thanks to its handles and adjustable shoulder strap. We like that there’s a generously-sized zippered pocket on the front for holding items that don’t need to be cooled.
Cold hard facts: 30-can capacity, includes a front pocket.
Similar to its 50-can counterpart, this Coleman cooler lasted a little over a day before its interior temperature reached 40°F. It comes with two side handles and a shoulder strap. On the front of the cooler, you’ll find a pocket that can fit slim items, perfect for cutlery or drinking straws. While on the top, a velcro hatch gives easy access to the cooler without having to work the lid’s zipper.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
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