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RTIC SoftPak 20 Review

It looks impressive but it doesn't quite live up to that expectation
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Price:  $94 List | $79.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Waterproof construction, good straps, watertight seal
Cons:  Decent insulation, awkward shape, durability concerns
Manufacturer:   RTIC
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 30, 2020
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60
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 14
  • Insulation Value - 30% 6
  • Ease of Use - 25% 5
  • Portability - 25% 6
  • Durability - 20% 7

Our Verdict

While RTIC has a reputation for offering excellent products at a lower cost than many other big names out there, the SoftPak 20 didn't blow us away. It does offer watertight construction and a reasonable compromise of capacity to portability. Its stiff waterproof zipper comes with lubricant for regular maintenance. We expected better insulation performance than what it actually offers. And though it appears to have nearly "bombproof" construction, it also has some serious flaws that appear after repeated use in hot summer weather. It's not a bad cooler, but the market of soft coolers has become much more competitive and the SoftPak doesn't stand out the way it once did.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The RTIC SoftPak is a large, messenger-carry cooler with an over-the-shoulder strap and end handles. It features a watertight zipper and welded seams. It's available in several other colors and sizes both smaller and larger than the 20-can model we tested.

Performance Comparison


In the growing realm of coolers  the SoftPak is no longer as impressive as it once was.
In the growing realm of coolers, the SoftPak is no longer as impressive as it once was.

Insulation Value


RTIC claims the SoftPak "keeps food and drinks colder longer" with a minimum ice retention of 2 days. However, the fine print includes stipulations for that performance that include only opening the cooler once a day and only using it in temperatures cooler than 80ºF. In our more realistic insulation testing, with warmer temperatures and day/night fluctuations, but without opening the cooler at all, it only managed 42 hours of sub-40ºF temps. If you're only after chilled drinks, the RTIC lasted 47 hours under 50ºF. With 1 inch thick foam on the sides and a whopping 2 inches in the lid, we thought the SoftPak would be more impressive than it turned out to be. We're also baffled by the numerous dark to medium colors this cooler comes in, further detracting from potential insulation in the hot sun. We recommend keeping your cooler out of direct sun, but that can be a tough ask on a beach. That said, 42 hours of safe food is nothing to scoff at, and we appreciate the watertight zipper and exterior of this little cooler.

Despite its looks  the insulation performance of this cooler isn't particularly impressive. And its dark colors don't do it any favors in the sun.
Despite its looks, the insulation performance of this cooler isn't particularly impressive. And its dark colors don't do it any favors in the sun.

Ease of Use


As with any waterproof zipper, it's hard to open. The SoftPak comes with a stick of lubricant that does help, but will never make it as effortless as a regular zipper. Beyond that though, it's not any more or less challenging to use than the watertight zippers of other models we tested. Once it is open, the flip-top design makes it easy to load and unload. The 20 can size we tested isn't quite large enough inside to fit taller objects though - like a bottle of white wine. And if you try to force it, this "soft" cooler is rigid enough that you can easily break the zipper or bust the seams trying. The SoftPak has a single exterior zippered pocket, that's so small and thin that it's really only functional for bringing something tiny like a bottle opener and cart home your discarded bottle caps.

We never love the extra force required to use watertight zippers  but we found this one gets better after using the zipper lubricant. These T-shaped grips also help.
We never love the extra force required to use watertight zippers, but we found this one gets better after using the zipper lubricant. These T-shaped grips also help.

Portability


In terms of sheer size, the SoftPak is reasonably portable. The 20 can size we tested is a bit on the smaller side, striking an acceptable balance between capacity and carry weight. Completely empty, it weighs just 3.0 lb - on the lighter end of coolers we tested - and we measured it with a 14 quart (13.5 liters) capacity. Two end handles are straightforward to use and the shoulder strap is padded, adjustable, and long enough for crossbody wear. We're not big fans of the shape and rigidity of the RTIC for this type of carrying, however. The top and bottom edges are unpleasant if they ride against your side while you walk. To avoid that, two duffel style handles can be joined together to carry it at your side instead.

Portability is pretty self-explanatory with this pack  with a lightly padded shoulder strap or hand handles.
Portability is pretty self-explanatory with this pack, with a lightly padded shoulder strap or hand handles.

Durability


A puncture and tear-resistant heavy-duty nylon shell makes the SoftPak a rugged container. However, glued seams cover a ton of the surface of this cooler, to a degree that feels over the top. RTIC specifically says not to leave this cooler on hot surfaces, as the bottom will melt. Tons of other online users have made complaints of the bottom seams coming apart after about a year of use. We tested this cooler over several months and didn't have this issue, but most testimonies we found state their durability issues start after an entire year of use - right when the SoftPak is no longer covered by RTIC's 1-year manufacturer's warranty. Again, we did not experience this during our testing, but we read too many statements from other users to not mention it.

Though it appears well-constructed at first  there are an excessive number of seams glued all over this cooler. We didn't have any issues with this cooler  but we've seen glued seams on soft coolers fail over time.
Though it appears well-constructed at first, there are an excessive number of seams glued all over this cooler. We didn't have any issues with this cooler, but we've seen glued seams on soft coolers fail over time.

Value


It's difficult to accurately state the value of the SoftPak as its price tends to fluctuate significantly at online retailers. However, its overall performance compared to most the other coolers we tested don't give us a lot of enthusiasm for recommending this product. A good sale may make it the right choice for you, but when it comes to performance, there are other coolers that we would recommend before this one.

Conclusion


We retested the RTIC SoftPak 18 to compare it to the massive influx of rather impressive competition. Unfortunately, it doesn't stand out from the crowd for its performance. If you really want a watertight cooler of this size and shape and you've found a great deal, it's still a decent choice. But for your money, you can also purchase better insulators, easier to carry options, and coolers with less complicated functionality.

Though it's proved to be less impressive than we'd expected  there's still something to love about the SoftPak.
Though it's proved to be less impressive than we'd expected, there's still something to love about the SoftPak.

Maggie Brandenburg