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How to Choose a Soft Cooler

Despite being one of the largest soft coolers we tested  the Engel HD30 has a surprisingly comfortable shoulder strap.
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday May 20, 2019

Seeking a portable option to get your cold goods from the fridge to the forest, beach, or bar-b-que? Soft coolers are a great way to keep your beer, cheese, and other items cold without lugging around a large, hard-sided cooler. While these cold-bags used to be more of a niche market, they're becoming more prevalent these days with more excellent options out there that can keep your refreshments chilled just as well as some hard coolers. They are also more portable than hard coolers and easier to pack into your minivan. But with the recent influx of options on the market and the insanely wide price range, it can be challenging to figure out which cooler is the best for your purposes. While in years past, a higher price tag has been a reasonably good indicator of the quality of cooler you're getting for your money, it's no longer that simple. Have no fear, though; we're here to help.

Want to roam farther with your cooler? Try out one of these backpack models for size.
Want to roam farther with your cooler? Try out one of these backpack models for size.

Which Cooler is Coolest?


While we could talk about all the different types of carrying methods, fasteners, materials used, and all that jazz found in today's soft coolers, what matters most is how it works. We tested each of these coolers to their limits and rated them based on their insulation value (most important), ease of use, durability, and portability. You can read more about how we tested each cooler and a full overview of which ones performed best in each category in other sections of this review.

The top scoring coolers for insulation value are our Editors' Choice, Engel HD30, and Best Buy award winner, the Homitt 30 Cans. Both of these models outcompeted the two models we tested from the well-known, high-end outdoor cooler giant, Yeti. During testing, these coolers were the easiest to use, while the most durable were the Yeti Hopper Two 30 and Engel HD30. And the winner of the most portable model we tested was the Ice Mule Pro, a backpack-style cooler that took home our Top Pick award.

Cool drinks on a hot day at the beach? Yes please!
Cool drinks on a hot day at the beach? Yes please!

But what you really want to know is…

Which is the Best Value?


While you could walk into any outdoor recreation shop or even grocery store and snag a cheap soft cooler, if you're reading this review, you're probably seeking something more. But is it worth it to shell out hundreds of dollars on a soft cooler? Well, it depends, but you might not have to! We found some excellent cooler options that are much less expensive than you may think.

The Homitt 30 is the best value of all the models we tested, which is why we awarded it our Best Buy award. This cooler not only scored one of the highest overall scores in this review, but it retails for around $100. Compared to the Yeti Hopper Flip 12, with which it tied scores, the Homitt costs about a third the price and holds over three times the amount of food and beverages. The visually similar, RTIC SoftPak costs slightly more, yet scored significantly lower in our side-by-side testing. The previous Best Buy winner, the Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack is somewhat cheaper, but also scored even lower than the RTIC. Yes, the Homitt 30 is our absolute top choice for getting the most out of your money.

Keeping things on ice even when the weather is hot.
Keeping things on ice even when the weather is hot.

But if you're looking to settle for nothing but the best, then we think you'll be happy with the value of the Editors' Choice Engel HD30. Not only did this cooler beat out all the rest, including dethroning the Yeti Hopper Two 30 from its previous spot as our Editors' Choice, it's also much cheaper. While the Yeti retails around $300, the better-ranked Engel is just $200. We realize that's still a large chunk of change for a cooler, but the insulation value and durability of the Engel are seriously impressive. It's the largest soft cooler we tested, meaning you can bring snacks for all your friends to the beach or even keep a whole weekend's worth of barbecuing meat chilled until it's time to eat!

With several well-performing and reasonably affordable soft cooler models, perhaps now is the time that you'll feel prepared enough to finally take the plunge and leave the old chest cooler in the basement with the other relics of days past. We found lots to love about the soft coolers available on today's market, and we hope that this review has been helpful for you to find one too!

Having a soft cooler is a versatile way to keep your cold things cold without sacrificing as much portability as most hard coolers.
Having a soft cooler is a versatile way to keep your cold things cold without sacrificing as much portability as most hard coolers.


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