This large, durable cooler from Engel outperforms our expectations of insulation, is easy to use, and handily outcompetes all the rest to remain our Editors' Choice Award winner as the best soft cooler on the market. It boasts one of the best insulation values on the market, maintaining a temperature of or below 40F for over four full days in our torture tests. With incredibly durable construction and an easy to use design, this cooler is a favorite among our testers. The shoulder strap is surprisingly comfortable to use, despite being the largest cooler we tested, and the removable bottle opener comes in handy on so many occasions. Whether you pack it to the brim and lug it with friends or throw a picnic inside and cart it to the beach, we think you'll come to love the Engel HD30.
Engel HD30 Review
Cons: Zippered exterior pocket not waterproof, very large
Manufacturer: Engel Coolers
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We tested these coolers climbing over rocks, wandering down to the beach, picnicking outside and just about any other way we could. The HD30 stands out from the pack with its sturdy construction and incredible insulation value. It is surprisingly comfortable to carry for its size and impressively easy to use, and it remains our Editor's Choice award winner for the second year running.
Insulation is the most important quality of any cooler, and as such, we weighted this category more heavily than any other. Not only did we test insulation in the field by lugging food and drinks around during our travels and adventures, but we also systematically tested each cooler under the same conditions to be able to tease apart the differences between them. This area is one place where the Engel shines brightly. During our torturous insulation testing, the HD30 held temperatures at or below the FDA-recommended safe temperature of 40°F for just over four full days! When examining the design of the Engel, it's easy to see why.
The Engel appears to have either one complete, unbroken layer of thick insulation, or a few well-connected pieces of insulation, which act as a unit. The top zipper is waterproof, protecting the contents of your cooler from the heat outside. The Engel also features a patent-pending vacuum-valve on the side; you can further insulate your beverages by sucking out excess air from between the insulation and outer, waterproof layers with your household vacuum hose. You can also keep the cooler relatively closed while grabbing a brew for your buddy or snack for yourself, by keeping the ends of the top zipper clipped down into place. The only complaint we could come up with when it comes to the insulation value of this cooler is that the zippered back pocket isn't waterproof. After sitting out in the rain completely closed for several days, there were several inches of water collected in the narrow side pocket. Overall, we are seriously impressed with how handily the Engel keeps food fresh.
Ease of Use
The Engel is easy to use. We were initially concerned about the small slit opening on the top of this cooler, but once you unclip the side buckles, it is quite easy to get food and beverages in and out. It's also one of the largest coolers we tested and can fit a ton of variably shaped things inside - up to 48 cans, full gallons, 18-packs of eggs and all sorts of goodies! Engel also includes a handy tube of zipper lubricant, with instructions on how to apply it to keep your zipper smooth and clear. That, combined with a handy pull tab make this cooler very easy to open - a common complaint about many similar style zippers.
There are also many easy to use handles all over the Engel, from an adjustable shoulder strap to side handles that can attach for a more comfortable carry. There are even rounded handles on either end when you require a friend to carry the other side of a heavy load. The detachable bottle opener is also a great touch. Not only does it mean you are never without one when you need it, but the ability to be removed and passed around the group and then reattached is a great asset. And unlike some other competitors, this little feature is included automatically - not just another expensive accessory.
That said, the Engel's style of zipper will always be a little harder to get in and out of than a flip-top cooler or a non-watertight zipper. Yet, for this beefy of zipper and this particular style of opening, the side clips of the Engel make a big difference in putting things in, getting them out, and keeping the cold air contained inside in the meantime. The HD30 is incredibly easy to use and has all the amenities we want in a cooler.
Portability is the only category where the Engel didn't receive top-notch scores. As the largest cooler in this review, it makes sense that it is a bit more challenging to carry around - especially when full. All things considered though, we are pleasantly surprised with the portability of this model, especially when you take its overall size into account. The shoulder strap makes for a fairly comfortable messenger-style carry. Rather than being attached to the ends of the cooler, like most others with a shoulder strap, the Engel's strap is attached near the ends but on the front and back of the cooler. This arrangement allows the whole thing to sit closer to your body to avoid bashing into the backs of your knees with every step. It can also be reversed to carry just as easily over the opposite shoulder when the first one gets tired. Even better, the shoulder pad attached to the strap has seams sewn across the padding to prevent it from all being squished unhelpfully to the ends after years of use. We also like how the Engel has four hefty plastic D rings near the top that can be used as tie-down points to the rack on the top of your Jeep or back of your quad, making this more than just a carriable cooler.
Compared to other models in this review, the Engel is rather large. When it's packed to the brim with game-side beverages and snacks for you and all your friends, it can be incredibly cumbersome to carry. It's not our first choice on a five-mile hike to a waterfall for a romantic date, as you'll likely be so sweaty and tired when you get there, and you'll have no energy left for your date. However, if you have packed the entire thing to the brim with food and drinks, the end handles will come in handy. Just grab a buddy to help you lug all those delicious delights to the best patch of sand or hottest seat in the house! When you break it down, it's a tad less portable, but what you lose in portability is worth what you gain in insulation value and durability.
Durability is yet another category where our Editors' Choice Award-winner stands out. The Engel is made of thick, abrasion-resistant fabric. Even after a week of sitting out in intermittent spring rain showers, this cooler showed no signs of being waterlogged, beyond some water standing in the exterior pocket. All the carry straps are thick and strong, and we can't find any points of weakness. Even the stitching is doubled and tripled in places of high tension, adding not only to the durability but also the aesthetic value of this fetching soft cooler. The padded section for shoulder carry is well-designed and up to the task of helping you carry your cooler and refreshments around for years to come.
After months of testing, we can't find any complaints about the durability of this hardy cooler. Our only potential concern is the plastic clips holding the shoulder strap to the rest of the bag, but we never experienced any issues with them.
This information is all too good to be true, you may think. A cooler this good must cost an arm and a leg or the life of a firstborn. Though it's not cheap, it's not even remotely as expensive as several other coolers we tested with much less impressive performances. Even if it was the most expensive option we tested, we think the performance of this cooler is worth it. Since it's not the most expensive, we think this cooler is definitely worth the cost.
We had a hard time finding anything to not love about the Engel. As far as soft coolers go, this one is top-notch. It's an excellent choice for packing a family picnic, spending the day tailgating, or bringing along yogurt or brews on your weekend camping trip. If you're looking for a cooler to hike with or something to cart your work to lunch, the Engel is likely not going to be your first choice. But for a large capacity soft cooler, this one is versatile, durable, easy to use, and has one of the best insulation values available today.
— Maggie Brandenburg