The REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 is a very functional soft cooler with a simple yet effective design that's pleasant to use. Despite lacking a waterproof zipper and an airtight seal, the Haul offers decent insulation that's nothing to scoff at. Its flip-top lid and soft, malleable body make it easier to accommodate oddly shaped items. Exterior slip pockets and an internal pocket on the bottom of the lid hold a few extras close at hand. The entire insulated interior comes out of the body of the cooler, though we're not sure that adds a whole lot. We have no qualms with this cooler, and appreciate its ability to come close to the performance of the best in the soft cooler class.
REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 Review
Cons: Exterior and zipper not waterproof
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Cool Haul 18 is a messenger style cooler with a flip-top lid and an over-the-shoulder strap. It features two exterior pockets, one interior pocket, and an attached bottle opener. It also comes in smaller and larger volumes.
In our insulation testing, the REI Haul lasted a respectable 58 hours below 40ºF and an additional 3 days below 50º. Though this might not sound impressive against the claims and performance of some other models, it's an above-average performance. The internal insulated box (that can be removed from the body of the cooler) boasts a polyester lining and is leakproof, unless you spill water over the top edges of the cooler, of course. The zipper and body of the cooler are not leakproof, airtight, or water resistant in any way.
Ease of Use
The Haul is simple to use. Its flip-top design stays open for easy loading and unloading and its interior is an uncomplicated box shape. Unlike many of the heftier models we tested, the Haul has flexible walls, helping it to easily accommodate tall or long or oddly shaped objects better. The lid also adds more height to the internal capacity, and this cooler can easily hold an upright 2L bottle of soda or standard bottle of wine. Though the "normal" zipper looks less impressive than chunky watertight ones, unlike those zippers, this one is easy to use. Two external slip pockets on the front and back sides (one includes an attached bottle opener that actually works) allow for some additional, non-cooled storage. One final zippered pocket on the inside of the lid holds small items that may be easy to lose among the ice cubes.
We tested the Haul 18, which we think is a pretty good compromise of capacity and a size that's not awful to carry totally loaded. We measured the internal capacity of the body at 18 quarts (17 liters), not including the space added by filling up the lid, which is another few quarts. A long shoulder strap that can be adjusted on either side of the shoulder pad makes it simple to wear on one shoulder or crossbody. It can also be attached at 8 different points on the cooler's body, for a more specific fit. A handle on either end lets you easily grab your cooler and walk away. The 18 doesn't have a top handle, but it's a bit too large and flexible for one to be useful anyhow.
This is another area in which the Haul is a very sensible, functional cooler, but doesn't quite stand out from the crowd, especially when that crowd is full of some exceptionally burly models. Its ripstop nylon shell and removable liner, and all the pieces attached to them are solid and sturdy and don't give us any big fears of something awful happening a year down the road. Our only minor concern is that the liner inside the insulated section is quite floppy and a little bit awkward. It makes it more difficult to clean and takes much longer to dry all those little crevices.
The REI Haul isn't horribly expensive but also isn't the cheapest model we tested. We think it's a decent performer and fairly versatile. It costs well below the high-end coolers, settling smack in-between the expensive and inexpensive models. It has good, but not outstanding, value.
The REI Co-op Cool Haul 18 is an uncomplicated cooler with just the right number of helpful features without being over the top. It's useful and does what you'd expect from a soft cooler. It may not be a knockout, but it's a solid contender.
— Maggie Brandenburg