If you need a soft-sided cooler for your camping or fishing trips, sports events, and outdoor adventures, or to keep your meat and food cool before placing it on the grill or smoker, or use it as a faux cambro for keeping the cooked food warm, then read on through our detailed list of the best soft-sided coolers for 2021.
Soft-sided coolers are preferred by many due to their easier storage, lower prices, and easier use than hard-sided coolers.
Here are the top-rated coolers with soft sides on the market this year.
Best soft-sided coolers in 2021
This bestselling cooler by Arctic Zone has some of the highest ratings by satisfied customers.
It is reasonably priced and comes in different sizes, including 9, 16, 30, and 48 can sizes. You can buy it in different color options too.
Thanks to its zipperless lid and its leak-proof lining, and reliable insulation, you will have easy access to your drinks and snacks, or other food items, while ensuring that they stay cool, fresh, and safe to eat.
- The larger 30 and 48 can options will hold ice for up to 3 days, and the smaller ones – for two days
- Available in different sizes of 9, 16, 30, and 48 can capacities
- It is made of puncture and abrasion-resistant, and durable TPE Ripstop
- Features a patented easy access flip-open zipperless lid
- An FDA-compliant hard body liner and radiant heat barrier to keep your food and drinks cool and fresh, and safe to consume
- A removable smart shelf for better organizing
- An ergonomic and adjustable shoulder strap with a pad
- The liner is leak-proof, and water and stain-resistant, and very easy to clean
- There is an insulated front pocket too
- You can buy it in four different colors
- It is designed to fit canned drinks rather than bottles (vertically)
This reasonably priced soft-sided cooler by CleverMade is an excellent choice for a lunch bag, a bag for camping and picnics, as well as for grocery shopping. You can also use it to let your smoked and cooked meat and other food rest and stay warm until it is time for serving it.
- It is reasonably priced
- The capacity is up to 8 gallons, which is sufficient for fitting up to 50 cans and the added ice
- It has an insulated leak-proof interior which will keep the temperature cool and the water from the ice inside the bag
- Its SnapHinges on each side offer structural support to protect the items inside
- It folds flat for easy storage
- There is a zippered exterior pocket on the front, a large mesh one on the back, and an added bottle opener
- You will need to pay extra for a cooler with a shoulder strap from the same series, as this one has top and side carry handles only
Best small soft-sided cooler
If you prefer a smaller cooler, then this soft cooler bag by Coleman for 16 cans is one of the best options you can find right now on the market.
- A compact and affordable choice
- Insulated main compartment with leak-proof heat welded seams
- A removable liner that has been treated against microbes and fungus
- Adjustable padded shoulder strap
- It is only 11.81 x 11.81 x 6.69 inches in size
- It fits up to 16 cans
- Bungee storage on top, side mesh pockets, and a large zippered compartment on the front
- Sold in five different colors
- It may be too small for some users
- There is no grab handle on top of the bag
The high-end option
The Yeti Hopper M30 is the best soft-sided cooler for those of you looking for a top-of-the-line cooler for camping, cooking, outdoor adventures, and others.
- The capacity is 7.2 gallons which can fit up to 20 cans or up to 28 lbs. of iceMade by one of the leaders in the cooler industry – Yeti
- It has a durable DryHide shell which is also mildew proof and water-resistant
- A leak-proof HydroLok zipper to keep the cold or heat in
- Reliable insulation made of ColdCell rubber foam will help hold ice for days
- The opening is large for easy and quick access
- Thanks to the MOLLE hitch point grid, you can attach all types of accessories to the exterior of the bag
- You can buy it in one of the size available colors
- It is significantly more expensive than most other soft-sided coolers on the market of this size
Best backpack soft-sided cooler
A backpack soft-sided cooler like this will allow you to enjoy your hiking or another trip while having your hands free along the way.
- It can keep your drinks and snacks cool for up to 48 hours
- The backpack design allows for hands-free carrying
- FDA grade and BPA-free liner
- The liner and welded seams, and Aquaseal zipper will protect your back from leaks
- The cooler is made of puncture and abrasion-resistant lightweight material, and it has a rigid base
- Available in two sizes of 15 and 22 liters
- It is sold in five color options
- Backed by a 5-year warranty
- It will not fold flat like many of the other soft-sided coolers
The rest of the best soft-sided coolers
This soft-sided cooler is an excellent choice for people looking for a reliable, premium quality soft-sided cooler with a high ice retention performance.
- It can hold ice for up to 4 days
- A full length, waterproof zipper for better ice retention and easy access
- A generous capacity of up to 30 liters
- Durable TPU exterior
- An ergonomically adjustable shoulder strap and top and side carry handles
- It comes with zipper lube and a bottle opener
- The bag is fully waterproof
- It is pricier than other soft-sided coolers of this size and type
The Yeti Hopper is yet another premium quality soft-sided cooler if you have a sufficient budget and want a compact high-end cooler.
- A compact size of only 12.63 x 11.5 x 10 inches
- It can fit up to 12 cans along with the ice to keep them cold
- The weight of the cooler when empty is 3.1 lbs.
- It has durable and efficient ColdCell closed-cell foam insulation
- The HydroLock zipper is leak-proof
- Thanks to the wide mouth flip open opening, you can easily view and access all contents in seconds
- The bag has a DryHide water-resistant puncture and abrasion-resistant shell
- As with all Yeti coolers, the price of this one is much higher than that of other coolers of this type
The RTIC soft cooler bag comes in three different size options and is a durable cooler that can keep your drinks and food ice-cold for up to 5 days.
- It is offered in different capacities and sizes, including 8, 20, 30, and 40 cans
- The cooler is puncture resistant and leak-proof
- Its zipper is leak-proof
- The insulation is 2 inches thick and made of closed-cell foam for very long ice retention
- The vinyl shell is durable and will not sweat or collect condensation
- It is reasonably priced for the value and quality offered
- There are several different fun color options available
- You can choose among three carrying styles – via the shoulder strap, the side handles, or the grab handle on top
- It has only one exterior pocket
This cooler by Tourit is among the most durable soft-sided ones and will survive all kinds of weather conditions and years of wear and tear.
- A capability of keeping drinks and food cool for up to 3 days
- 3-layer premium quality foam insulation
- It is available in 20 and 30 can options and in different colors
- The shell is impact, puncture, abrasion, and UV resistant
- Its liner is BPA-free
- 3 different carry styles are available, including a grab handle, side handles, and a shoulder strap
- It comes with Tourit zipper lubricant and has a bottle opener
- The cooler is backed by a lifetime warranty
- Some users find that the zipper can be tricky to close, especially when the cooler is still new
What’s important to consider when choosing a soft-sided cooler
If this is the first time buying a soft-sided cooler, you may want to find out which features to look for when picking the most suitable one for your needs.
Here are the key features to pay attention to when choosing a soft-sided cooler.
The main advantage of soft-sided coolers as compared to hard-sided chest coolers is their lighter weight and easier storage and portability.
So, you may want to check out how much the cooler weighs, whether it folds flat, and how much space it will take when in use, as well as when it is not in use.
Also, if you are planning on carrying the bag at longer distances, weight can be the key factor to keep in mind.
Naturally, it would be best if you chose a cooler which has a large enough capacity to fit the drinks, snacks, or other food items you are planning on carrying.
There are soft-sided coolers of all sizes, starting from the personal ones up to larger capacity coolers which can fit food and drinks or large cuts of meat as well.
Don’t forget to check whether the advertised capacity of the cooler includes the added ice or is just for the cans which can fit in it.
The insulation is essential for the retention of cold or heat inside any cooler, so choose a soft-sided cooler that offers higher quality, multi-layered or thicker insulation. The better the insulation, the longer the ice retention of the cooler bag will be.
It is always recommended to pick the cooler which offers the best value for the money you have prepared for buying one. Set a budget and stick to it when choosing the most suitable soft-sided cooler for your needs.
A cooler with a more extended warranty is a better choice if you want to be sure that your money will be well spent and that you are making a good longer-term investment.
If you can afford one, we recommend that you opt for a cooler made by a reputable brand.
The added extras and features of the soft-sided cooler can be very useful for some and overkill for others, so think about what types of additional features will make your purchase more worthwhile when choosing the best cooler.
Some of these products come with extras such as bottle openers, additional storage compartments and pockets, removable shelves, adjustable shoulder straps, ice packs, removable liners, and more.
Soft-sided or hard-sided cooler bag
If you are still deliberating whether to spend your hard-earned money on a soft-sided or on a hard-sided cooler, you can read through the main pros and cons of soft coolers as compared to the hard-sided ones.
- They are lighter than the hard-sided ones, which makes them more suitable for hiking, long walks, and for easier portability.
- They are collapsible, so you can easily fold them and transport or store them when they are empty and not in use.
- The shells and materials of the soft-sided coolers can take more bumps than many of the hard-sided coolers.
- Soft-sided coolers are generally easier to clean.
- These coolers are more suitable for use on a daily basis, as lunch bags, gym bags, grocery shopping, or for other similar everyday needs.
- The soft-sided coolers offer shorter ice retention than hard-sided ones.
- They will not protect your food and drinks, as well as hard-sided coolers, will especially when transported, dropped, or bumped by heavy objects.
- Soft-sided coolers are not as durable as most hard-sided ones.
- The soft-sided coolers are generally smaller than the hard-sided alternatives.
How to take care of a soft-sided cooler bag
If you want to enjoy using your soft-sided cooler for longer and also to make sure that it is sanitary and safe for carrying food, then you will need to clean and maintain it properly and on a regular basis.
Since all soft-sided coolers are different, you should first check the instructions by the manufacturer for the appropriate cleaning methods to use.
Some of these coolers have removable and washable liners which have antimicrobial and antifungal treatment.
Overall, it is recommended that you wipe the interior of your soft-sided cooler with a soft cloth that is dampened into warm water and a mild dish soap solution after each use.
If the liner can be removed, take it out and wash it or wipe it according to the instructions.
After wiping the interior, make sure you leave the lid open so that the liner can air dry completely before closing the cooler. This will prevent the development of mold and fungus.
It is recommended that you abstain from carrying food that is not very well wrapped in your cooler, especially when carrying raw meat, poultry, and fish for grilling.
You can remove odors with the help of some diluted chlorine bleach or by placing a cloth with some vanilla extract on it inside the cooler for a day.
Tougher stains from the inside can be removed with baking soda and water.
Use zipper lubricant to ensure that the zipper works properly for longer.
Tips for the next time you pack a soft-sided cooler
Since soft-sided coolers are often smaller and have more limited capacity than hard-sided ones, you should pack them wisely in order to fit more stuff and keep your food and drink safe during your trip.
Here are some useful tips for packing your soft cooler:
- Chill the drinks and the food before packing them so that they can stay cool for when you need them.
- Ensure that the ice packs are completely frozen before placing them in the cooler, and place the largest of them on the bottom and the top of the soft-sided cooler. The smaller ice packs can be placed in between the drinks or food items.
- You can chill the cooler itself by placing it in your freezer overnight before use.
- Make sure that you fill the cooler with at least twice as much ice as compared to the food. In other words, the ice to food ratio should be 2 to 1.
- If you are going to freeze water in a bottle, make sure that it is not completely full to prevent spillage as a result of the accidental splitting of the plastic.
- If you are using the cooler as a faux cambro to keep your smoked meat warm, then make sure to wrap the meat with aluminum foil or place it in a covered dish, and use towels on the bottom and top of it to ensure that it remains juicy warm, and safe to eat.
We really hope that we have managed to help you make the best choice for the most suitable soft-sided cooler for your needs.
So, good luck with your purchase, and enjoy having an easy and reliable way to make sure that your drinks are cold and your snacks are fresh at all times!