RTIC SoftPak 20 Review
Cons: Decent insulation, awkward shape, durability concerns
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Maggie Brandenburg