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The 9 Best Soft Coolers of 2024

We tested soft coolers head to head from brands like Yeti, Engel, REI, and more to find which will keep your refreshments cold best.
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Best Soft Cooler Review
Credit: Abriah Wofford
By Genaveve Bradshaw, Rebecca Glades, and Maggie Nichols  ⋅  May 2, 2024

The Best Soft Coolers for 2024


We've vetted, purchased, and tested over 30 soft coolers since 2017. Our most recent test compares the best models available today. Soft coolers offer portability and versatility that traditional hard coolers can't. From lunchboxes to beach days, we meticulously put these soft-shelled sidekicks through the paces, side-by-side, to discover which are the best insulators, the supremely rugged, and the sensationally portable. We fully loaded these coolers, walked with them for miles, and went through hundreds of pounds of ice. No matter your budget or needs, our exhaustive testing will help you identify the perfect cooler for you.

If you're looking for the best cooler for keeping ice for days on your next camping trip, we've also tested and outlined our favorite hard-sided models. We've got recommendations for a plethora of other camping accessories. From the best camping stoves and top portable fire pits to the best camping tents and coziest and top-rated sleeping bags, we've got the scoop on the gear that's worth your money (and the stuff that isn't).

Editor's Note: We updated our soft cooler review on May 2, 2024, to add several new coolers to our lineup from CleverMade, Yeti, IceMule, and Lifewit.

Top 19 Soft Coolers - Test Results

Displaying 6 - 10 of 19
 
Awards Best Buy Award     
Price $63 List
$62.99 at Amazon
$100 List
$99.00 at Amazon
$120 List
$119.00 at Amazon
$85 List
$59.39 at REI
$220 List
$189.99 at Amazon
Overall Score
71
61
66
59
68
Star Rating
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Pros Affordable, easy to use, zipperless, great featuresWaterproof construction, good straps, watertight sealFloats in water, multiple color options, easy to load and unloadComfortable to carry, convenient design, good features, tons of dry storageRigid and stays upright, durable, massive capacity, good insulation performance
Cons Lacks durability, not watertightDecent insulation, awkward shape, durability concernsZipper is difficult to use, mediocre insulation performance, bulkyZipper not leakproof, disappointing insulation, less durable, no hip beltNo hip straps, sits uncomfortably on waist, roll top access is awkward
Bottom Line A unique flip-top cooler that keeps its contents cool and is convenient to use, all while keeping your wallet happyIt looks impressive but it doesn't quite live up to that expectationThis lunchbox-style cooler is large and rugged but didn't impress us with its insulation performanceThough not as hardy as some others, this design combines cooler space and dry storage for an all-in-one packA hefty backpack-style cooler that can pack enough drinks and snacks for a big group outing
Rating Categories Arctic Zone Titan D... RTIC SoftPak 20 RTIC Soft Pack 30 REI Co-op Cool Trai... Engel Roll Top BP25...
Insulation (30%)
5.2
4.6
4.2
2.4
6.7
Convenience (25%)
9.5
5.4
7.0
7.9
5.7
Portability (25%) Sort Icon
7.9
7.8
7.7
7.5
7.4
Packability (10%)
7.5
5.5
7.2
9.1
6.1
Durability (10%)
4.0
9.1
9.4
4.0
9.0
Specs Arctic Zone Titan D... RTIC SoftPak 20 RTIC Soft Pack 30 REI Co-op Cool Trai... Engel Roll Top BP25...
Measured Capacity in Cans 30 cans 24 cans 30 cans 16 cans 52 cans
Measured Capacity 19.4 L 13.1 L 18.0 L 10.4 L 25.3 L
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 2.1 2.0 1.8 1.4 2.5
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.3 2.1 2.0 1.5 2.7
Carry Style Lunchbox Lunchbox Lunchbox Pack Pack
Can a standard sized wine bottle fit? Yes Yes Yes, but only horizontally Yes, but it causes the liner to deform Yes
Measured Dimensions L x W x H 15.1" x 11.3" x 12.1" 14" x 9" x 13.8" 15.6" x 12" x 12.8" 12" x 7.5" x 19" 14" x 8.8" 20.4"
Measured Weight 3.6 lbs 3.1 Ibs 3.7 lbs 2.6 Ibs 4.3 lbs
Closure Method Zipperless Zipper Zipper Zipper Roll Top
Available in Different Sizes? Yes Yes Yes No No
Exterior Fabric Polyester Vinyl Heavy-duty coated fabric Recycled ripstop nylon 840 denier fibers and an outer wall constructed with Thermal Plastic Urethane (TPU)
Additional Storage Yes No No Yes Yes
Removable Liner? Yes No No Yes No


Best Overall Soft Cooler


AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 5.8
  • Convenience 7.7
  • Portability 6.7
  • Packability 8.8
  • Durability 7.3
REASONS TO BUY
Simple design that's easy to use
Decent insulation
Duffel style handles
Folds flat for storage
REASONS TO AVOID
Zipper and exterior are not waterproof
some durability concerns
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 23.4 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 36 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 2.3
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.5
Carry Style Lunchbox
At first glance, the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler may not look like much. It doesn't have the snazzy laminated exterior and waterproof zipper that many others boast. Yet underneath this unassuming exterior is a great soft cooler that's simple to use and easy to love. The thick foam surrounding the entirety of your contents provides reliable insulation for an above-average amount of time.

We particularly like the features and thoughtful design on this cooler. A single long opening makes it uncomplicated to load and easy to search. On the outside, a large zippered pocket provides a good amount of dry storage, and its duffel-style handles can be joined together for easy transportation. Its flexible shape allows you to fold it flat for storage or clip it into a structured box shape (a unique feature that most of the competition can't claim) and easily accommodates tall objects, such as 750 ml wine bottles.

For someone looking for an easy-to-use cooler with a solid performance across all metrics at an accessible price, the AO is a solid bet. All in all, this cooler performs well above its price tag. While it's not as aesthetic as some of the others on this list, it still comes in a variety of colors, and ultimately, it gets the job done.

The AO loses some points since its exterior and zipper are not waterproof, though the regular zipper is much easier to use than waterproof ones, which typically require a lot more tugging. And though its hull isn't as stiff and impenetrable as some of the others we tested, it's still pretty strong and well-constructed. We wish the shoulder strap was longer for cross-body wear for tall users, but average and small users likely won't have complaints. Lastly, this model lacks the high-end look of the more premium models in our test, but that may not matter to you. These drawbacks are minor. If you're looking for a model with a waterproof zipper, check out the Yeti Hopper Flip 18.

Read more: AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler review

The AO also includes a longer strap for carrying longer distances.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Premium Soft Cooler


Engel HD30


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 8.8
  • Convenience 6.3
  • Portability 8.1
  • Packability 6.6
  • Durability 9.0
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely durable
Top-notch insulation
Convenient handles and features
Comfy shoulder carry
REASONS TO AVOID
Exterior pocket not waterproof
Quite large
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 41.8 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 63 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 3.0
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 3.3
Carry Style Tote
We are continually impressed by the Engel HD30. In our lab tests, it provides top-notch insulation, keeping raw foods appropriately cold (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days. That's impressive for a cooler of the soft variety.

This Engel HD30 is remarkably easy to use, too. While many soft coolers have bulky zippers that are difficult to use or narrow openings that hinder access, this one does not. Despite being water-tight, the zipper isn't hard to use and the tote-style access isn't too tricky for packing. On top of that, this is one of the largest coolers we tested, fitting an impressive 48 cans, making it a solid contender to guard your food and drink for a long weekend of camping. Despite its bulky size, the Engel is more portable than we expected, featuring an easy two-person carry using the end handles.

If you're looking for a cooler for a day or weekend trip—and insulation and durability are your priorities—this is a cool and comfortable option. After many years, its durable construction has proven worth the investment, with consistent performance, unchanged over time, and even looking like we bought it last week.

Of course, large capacity always comes with a trade-off of how far you're willing to carry it. Even with a friend to help, this fully loaded bag isn't the ideal cooler to cart a mile down the beach. But with all sorts of additional helpful features like extra handles, a removable bottle opener, and an additional pocket, the Engel HD30 continues to outcompete even the newest models for yet another year, remaining one of our favorite soft coolers. It may not be cheap, but it is impressive. That said, if you want good performance that isn't hard on your wallet, the AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler would be a better option.

Read more: Engel Coolers HD30 review

The Engel HD30 comes with a welded waterproof zipper.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Soft Cooler on a Budget


Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 5.2
  • Convenience 9.5
  • Portability 7.9
  • Packability 7.5
  • Durability 4.0
REASONS TO BUY
No zippers
Comfortable
Inexpensive
REASONS TO AVOID
Leaky lid
Not durable
Middling insulation performance
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 19.4 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 30 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 2.1
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.3
Carry Style Lunchbox
The Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 offers great utility for a steal. Despite having some of the thinnest insulation of any model we tested, it maintained recommended food temperatures for a little over two days, which was right around the group average.

We also appreciated this cooler's strategic design, which made it very convenient and portable. The zipperless design for the main compartment makes it completely painless to use, and the hard plastic interior makes it simple to pack. A removable plastic shelf adds functionality, keeping sensitive items out of melted ice, and numerous pockets adorn the outside for wine corkscrews, napkins, and silverware. It even comes with a bottle opener clipped to one end.

If you're in the market for a versatile cooler with all the fun aforementioned features, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 might be for you. But it's worth noting that this cooler didn't perform quite as well in the durability or insulation tests as it did in convenience and portability. The low price tag does come at the cost of some durability, in particular. However, for anyone who isn't lugging this cooler around through tough terrain or planning on using it every single weekend (making it more susceptible to wear and tear from regular use), this cooler works well. This isn't the model we recommend for hardcore use, but for occasional use (and to spend the least) this model offers a lot of value.

Overall, this is not the model we would expect to last the longest, as its materials and craftsmanship are not top-tier. The additional features also ride the line between being handy and excessive. The shelf is easy to knock loose and fall into the main chamber, and the bottle opener is not the best. For another low-cost option that's more durable, check out the IceMule Jaunt.

Read more: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30 review

The zipperless Arctic Zone opens up without much trouble for easy access to its chilly contents.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best on the Tightest of Budgets


Lifewit Large Insulated 24


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 3.4
  • Convenience 9.0
  • Portability 7.0
  • Packability 9.1
  • Durability 7.3
REASONS TO BUY
Inexpensive
Water repellant exterior
Packable
Portable
REASONS TO AVOID
Moderate insulation
Flimsy zipper
Not so durable
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 13.2 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 24 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 1.6
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 1.8
Carry Style Lunchbox
The Lifewit Large Insulated 24 is one of our favorite budget coolers, coming in at a fraction of the price of the others on this list. While you won't get premium performance for your buck with this cooler, you won't spend a lot of bucks. This cooler is equipped with convenient exterior pockets and is incredibly easy to pack. You can think of it like a big lunchbox (but we wouldn't recommend it for multi-day trips).

With a capacity of 13.2 liters, this cooler can fit 24 cans and a standard-sized wine bottle if you place it horizontally. You can carry it like a cross-body bag, over the shoulder, or like a handbag with its removable strap or velcro handle. The Ripstop Oxford fabric with PU coating is also repels water, and the combination of an extra-thick PEVA liner and hot-pressed seams make it leak-proof. Though it can get wrinkled, the material is quite easy to clean.

If you're looking for an easy knock-around cooler that won't break the bank, this is an easy option. Don't expect the world from this cooler, but it will get your produce from Point A to B. We only recommend this cooler if you're looking for a super-affordable lunchbox or single day usage.

Ultimately, you do get what you pay for with this cooler. The insulation isn't ideal, and we have some durability concerns. The zipper feels flimsy, although it does seem to be waterproof since the cooler's interior stayed dry when we dunked it in a lake or when we tossed it in a water-filled tub for hours. For other budget-friendly options, also be sure to check out the Maelstrom Backpack 35, which is our second-cheapest budget option. The Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 (which we found to be more squishable for those with storage concerns) is not much more than the Maelstrom, and it's better insulated. The REI Co-Op Pack-Away 24 is also better insulated and more durable than the Lifewit in a similar price range.

Read more: Lifewit Large Insulated 24 review

We recommend the Lifewit if you're in need of a top-notch lunchbox cooler.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Best Insulation


Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 10.0
  • Convenience 3.5
  • Portability 9.6
  • Packability 3.3
  • Durability 10.0
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent insulation
Water-resistant
Comfortable to carry
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Complicated closure
No extra pockets
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 20.1 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 36 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 3.6
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 4.0
Carry Style Pack
The Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack is a top performer when it comes to insulation. Ice retention was second to none. Temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit lasted 3.6 days, and below-50-degree temps lasted four days, which was far above the other coolers. So you can be sure that this burly cooler will keep your food and beverages chilly for those longer excursions.

We also found this cooler to be highly portable. With one set of padded, adjustable backpack straps and a removable chest strap (made to be clipped onto the daisy loops on either strap to customize the strap height), this cooler was comfortable to carry. It also has a padded back panel that is smooth and feels more like cloth than burly neoprene. In addition, you have two sturdy nylon handles at the top of the pack and one handle between the backpack straps and back area. These all come in handy for lifting the backpack.

If insulation and carrying comfort are key for you, you can't beat this cooler. For anyone needing to carry a cooler to places far away from the parking lot, this one is ideal due to the many adjustable handles and straps. For how big and bulky this cooler can be—especially when it's fully loaded with goodies—it's well-designed to distribute the weight evenly.

However, this portable top-notch insulator has its drawbacks. You open the pack at the top with two buckles and a hard magnetic strip below a lip that folds over it. The buckle straps are not adjustable in any way. We were not fans of those top buckles, as we found them to be extremely difficult to open and close, especially when the cooler was fully packed. Plus, while the backpack does maintain its shape without collapsing or falling over, it's quite deep to reach inside. Overall, this is a durable, portable workhorse with incredible insulation, although the tight top buckle closure system could use improvement. If you love the M20 but find it to be too big and bulky, the Yeti Hopper M12 Backpack is another compact option.

Read more: Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack review

The Yeti Hopper M20 is the longest-lasting cooler in our insulation tests.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Best Personal Adventure Pack


IceMule Jaunt 15


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 7.6
  • Convenience 8.0
  • Portability 6.4
  • Packability 6.1
  • Durability 6.9
REASONS TO BUY
Great insulation
Comfortably portable
Nearly waterproof
REASONS TO AVOID
Small
Pricey for its size
Small exterior pocket
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 15.7 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 28 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 2.7
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 3.0
Carry Style Pack
The IceMule Jaunt 15 did great in terms of the convenience this cooler offers. With a drybag-stye opening at the top, all you have to do is roll it a few times and buckle it shut. The Ultra-Tough Muleskin™ Exterior material is thick and sturdy, but you can also use the valve to puff some air into the bag to give it a rounded (and less lumpy) shape.

Overall, this pack is well insulated, portable, and comfortable, with a padded back and adjustable straps. It's also easy to wipe clean and fold flat when you're done with it. We found that this cooler can float in water, and there's an exterior pocket for your phone or other small items.

If you're in the market for a comfortable cooler that you can sling over your shoulders like a backpack, the Jaunt is a great option. It's lightweight enough to lug around and small enough to stash with your gear. Just note that because it's not the biggest pack, we only recommend it for day trips—and certainly not for the whole family.

It's also worth mentioning that this bag isn't completely waterproof. It disappointed us as a dry bag, although it did serve as an adequate cooler. And even though the price tag on the IceMule Jaunt 15 isn't anywhere near the more expensive ones on this list, it still seems pretty pricey for its small size. It has just 15.7 liters of space, which can fit 28 cans and a standard-sized bottle of wine. It is 9 by 8.5 by 17 inches in size, which is actually the shortest length of the coolers we've tested. If you're looking for a slightly larger backpack that you can take along your adventures, take a look at the RTIC Backpack 30. This alternative is heavier but is also bigger and offers much more space.

Read more: IceMule Jaunt 15

The IceMule Jaunt is easy to wipe clean and fold flat when you're done using it.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Best Drybag Cooler


IceMule Pro 33


66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 6.1
  • Convenience 7.2
  • Portability 6.3
  • Packability 3.9
  • Durability 9.6
REASONS TO BUY
Floats in water
Waterproof exterior
Decent insulation performance
REASONS TO AVOID
Rubs against bare skin
No waist belt
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 31.4 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 56 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 2.3
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.5
Carry Style Pack
With many exciting dry-bag coolers now on the scene, the IceMule Pro 33 handily holds its own among the rest. It proves itself incredibly easy to use and comfortable to carry. The large roll-top design allows easy access to its contents, so you won't have to remove everything on top to reach that last cold soda at the bottom.

Best of all, this cooler is waterproof and floats. Toss this on the kayak or paddleboard, or tug it along on your next float trip. Regardless, if it topples overboard, you can rest assured it won't get soaked or sink. It also performs quite well among backpack models in our insulation testing and is solidly durable.

If you're someone who spends a lot of time doing water sports, the floating capabilities of this cooler alone could make it your ideal choice. With a lightly padded back panel, breathable mesh, and a more flexible structure, we had no trouble transporting this cooler around—from land to water and back again (but if you're wearing a swimsuit, be aware that it tends to rub against bare skin.) We personally enjoy using the IceMule Pro 33 for bringing a few refreshments along for multi-mile hikes or any destination a little further from the parking lot. It also features a valve for puffing up the body with air or deflating it for better storage when it's time to put the cooler away.

While this cooler pack is waterproof, it's important to get enough rolls in when using it. With just one or two, the bag will not be leak-proof. That said, the more you roll, the less internal capacity available. When fully loaded with a whopping 39 cans, we wish we had a waist belt to take some weight off our shoulders. We also wish it had more pockets on the outside for extra items. For another backpack option, consider the RTIC Backpack 30, which boasts a big capacity with that coveted waist strap. It has a zippered top that may be easier to close, and our items inside still stayed 100% dry throughout our adventures.

Read more: IceMule Pro 33 review

The more rolls, the more tightly sealed the IceMule will be when coming into contact with water.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Top Eco-Friendly Cooler


CleverMade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 4.5
  • Convenience 9.3
  • Portability 6.5
  • Packability 7.7
  • Durability 2.4
REASONS TO BUY
Made with recycled materials
Large capacity
Snap-into-place walls
Small footprint
REASONS TO AVOID
Below average insulation
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 18.5 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 38 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 1.9
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.1
Carry Style Lunchbox
Whether you're headed to the beach or carrying some treats for a long journey, the Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 is packable, convenient, and easy on the wallet and the environment. This collapsible cooler can keep 38 cans cool. Better yet, it's made from recycled and has a impressively tiny storage footprint.

For its size, this cooler offers a lot of capacity, with 18.5 liters of space. Plus, this cooler is very easy to open and close with two zippers that open the entire top (which stays open). The side walls snap into place, too, to keep the cooler standing upright and sturdy when you're loading up all those cans or bottles—which you can crack open with the built-in bottle opener. There's also an open front pouch to fit a smartphone, keys, or a slim wallet.

For anyone looking to make a more eco-friendly cooler purchase, this one is definitely a good go-to. This cooler is made from recycled materials that amounts to eight plastic bottles.

Lastly, it's worth noting that there are some drawbacks to this cooler and the material from which it's made. The cooler only offers mediocre insulation. Temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit only lasted 1.9 days, and below 50 degrees lasted 2.1 days. When dunked in water, this cooler got completely saturated and soaked. In fact, it ranked the worst in this test. Even though this cooler did seem to dry rather quickly, we don't recommend this cooler for days out on the water, boating, or kayaking if you're worried about keeping its contents dry. If you're looking for a cooler that you can use out on the lake, along the river, or in the ocean, we suggest you check out the Yeti Hopper M20 instead. Even the bargain Lifewit Large Insulated 24 surprised us with keeping its contents dry, compared to other cloth-based soft coolers.

Read more: Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 review

The Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag can fit at least 38 cans, shown in our testing above.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Best Multi-use Backpack


Maelstrom Backpack 35


58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Insulation 4.3
  • Convenience 6.6
  • Portability 5.9
  • Packability 9.4
  • Durability 4.0
REASONS TO BUY
Plenty of storage
Inexpensive
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Not durable
Not water resistant
Subpar insulation
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Capacity 20.0 L
Measured Capacity in Cans 36 cans
Food Shelf Life (Measured Days Below 40ºF) 1.8
Cold Beverages (Measured Days Below 50ºF) 2.0
Carry Style Pack
Another great backpack-style cooler is the Maelstrom 35. This lightweight pack resembles a traditional school backpack, with plenty of pockets and mesh bottle holders. However, when you open the main zip, you'll find one large insulated compartment for all the best goodies.

What we love most about this cooler is how versatile it is. The Maelstrom is large enough to hold a wine bottle inside or outside in the mesh pockets. With comfortable straps and plenty of storage, there's not much you can't do with this bag. Take all your favorite goodies to the lake, pack up for a barbeque, or carry a lunch to the zoo. The exterior pockets provide ample space for cutlery, keys, a wallet, and a phone. Additionally, a bungee strap can hold onto a beach towel or jacket, and the daisy chains can clip on extra gear.

The Maelstrom is an excellent budget-friendly option. For its price tag, it's also surprisingly comfortable to carry. So if an inexpensive and easy-on-the-shoulders cooler is what you need to tow to the beach every now and then, this cooler could very well be your best bet.

However, it's important to note that this cooler is not the most durable. Its insulation performance is also lacking. Though we didn't see any major issues throughout our tests, we found the attachment points and zippers to be on the weaker side. It also lasted just under two days in our insulation tests. With this in mind, the bag isn't waterproof, and the zipper tends to leak. During our cleaning test, we had a bit of trouble with this backpack. The soft internal material tends to get soggy and needs extra time to dry out. All things considered, the bag is fairly inexpensive, so if you're only needing the occasional soft cooler, this will do the trick. And if you're looking for an even more affordable cooler, you can also check out the Lifewit Large Insulated 24.

Read more: Maelstrom Backpack 35 review

Like a traditional backpack, the Maelstrom 35 has plenty of pockets for extra goodies or daily essentials.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
78
Engel HD30
Best Premium Soft Cooler
$240
Editors' Choice Award
76
Yeti Hopper M20 Backpack
Best Insulation
$325
Top Pick Award
75
Yeti Hopper Flip 18
$300
72
IceMule Jaunt 15
Best Personal Adventure Pack
$110
Top Pick Award
71
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30
Best Soft Cooler on a Budget
$63
Best Buy Award
70
AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler
Best Overall Soft Cooler
$86
Editors' Choice Award
69
RTIC Backpack 30
$180
68
Engel Roll Top BP25 Backpack
$220
67
Lifewit Large Insulated 24
Best on the Tightest of Budgets
$30
Best Buy Award
66
IceMule Pro 33
Best Drybag Cooler
$145
Top Pick Award
66
RTIC Soft Pack 30
$120
63
CleverMade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30
Top Eco-Friendly Cooler
$40
Top Pick Award
63
REI Co-op Pack-Away 24
$55
61
RTIC SoftPak 20
$100
59
REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack
$85
59
IceMule Classic 15
$85
58
Maelstrom Backpack 35
Best Multi-use Backpack
$40
Top Pick Award
58
Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 24 Backpack
$45
56
Hydro Flask Insulated 20
$65

We put our soft coolers through countless, rigorous tests to find the best.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

How We Test Soft Coolers


Before we started timing how long our drinks stayed cold, this review began with market research into which soft coolers are even worth testing. Every year, the number of impressive-looking soft coolers grows, and we've been expanding our selection of test-worthy models since 2017. Testing consists of a quantitative ice melt test and extensive field use. The ice melt test was carried out in a controlled environment with the internal temperature of the coolers monitored and analyzed in accordance with the USDA's Refrigeration and Food Safety Guidelines. Field use takes place in various environments, from hot desert hikes to road trips from muggy Minnesota to sunny California, for a well-rounded set of conditions. All this adds up to a comprehensive review, which will thoroughly equip you to make a well-suited soft cooler purchase. See our full How We Test article for additional testing details.

Our testing of soft coolers is divided between five rating metrics:
  • Insulation (30% of total score weighting)
  • Convenience (25% weighting)
  • Portability (25% weighting)
  • Packability (10% weighting)
  • Durability (10% weighting)

Our coolers were kept in a temperature controlled environment during our insulation testing.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Why Trust GearLab


Our expert panel consists of Maggie Nichols, Genaveve Bradshaw, and Becca Glades. Maggie is the GearLab cooler guru and has been testing coolers and other gear since 2017, personally having tested over 60 different coolers, from traditional ice boxes to the latest and best powered coolers. Genaveve balances her time between full-time gear testing and exploring the great outdoors through the means of adventure sports. Whether it be setting off on a surf trip in her van or hanging out by the crag, she always has a cooler full of goodies to keep her company. Rebecca's STEM background helps her bring an analytical mindset to the table, along with a passion for finding the best gear out there. Together, this team searched far and wide to find the best soft coolers available on the market.

We used iButtons to log the internal temperatures of each of our...
We used iButtons to log the internal temperatures of each of our coolers.
We measured every last detail of each cooler.
We measured every last detail of each cooler.
We even had to fend off our coworkers from stealing our test supplies.
We even had to fend off our coworkers from stealing our test supplies.
All of the test supplies used for our soft cooler review.

How to Pick the Best Soft Cooler


If you're interested in a cooler to keep your frozen items and perishables fresh, here are three types to consider.

Here we are loading bags of ice into each cooler for insulation testing.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Tote Bag Cooler


If you have a long commute to and from the grocery store and find that your meat defrosts or ice cream melts by the time you get home, you need a soft cooler to keep your food fresh. Tote-style coolers are great for the grocery store as they often fold up easily to stow away in a cabinet or the glove box in your car. You can easily carry these around at the store or keep in your cart. That said, we don't recommend these for anything other than grocery store runs or picnics, as they can be tiresome to carry and don't often insulate as well as other soft coolers.

Tote and lunchbox style coolers are great for quick jaunts down to the beach or grocery store.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Backpack Cooler


If you find yourself camping for several nights, hiking long trails, or require your cooler to keep your food fresh for more than one day, backpack coolers are the way to go. And, if you need something that will keep your beverages cool while paddling on the lake or floating on a river, a dry-bag style cooler, like the IceMule Jaunt 15 or IceMule Pro 33 are great options that will keep your items dry. 

Dry bag style coolers are perfect for river floats.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Hard Cooler


If you need to keep your food fresh for more than four days without refilling it with ice, you're in need of a hard cooler. Hard coolers are also designed to hold up in harsh conditions, but the tradeoff is that they are often less compact and portable than soft coolers. If you need a hard cooler for camping check out our review of the best coolers.

soft cooler - hard coolers have the best insulation power, bar none.
Hard coolers have the best insulation power, bar none.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Analysis and Test Results


Each contender's overall score is carefully calculated through a myriad of tests spanning four crucial, mutually exclusive metrics. In order to discover the best cooler for every use, we broke down our testing into specific individual and comparative assessments of every model's Insulation Value, Ease of Use, Portability, and Durability. All four of these metrics include numerous tests and evaluations that inform each cooler's score in that metric. We weighted each metric according to its overall importance to the general experience of using a soft cooler. When the metrics' scores are totaled up, each cooler ends up with a score between 1 and 100. Here we break down those metrics individually and discuss the best performers across individual tests and full metric scores.

soft cooler - all coolers undergoing our timed soak test.
All coolers undergoing our timed soak test.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw


Value


When it comes to performance in soft coolers, you often get what you pay for in terms of durability and insulation value. Some of the most expensive products we tested offer some of the most impressive insulation powers and are made of impressively durable materials. However, this category continues to explode with innovations at competitive prices, and the correlation of price to performance is not a perfect linear relationship. Several models we tested challenge the idea that more money equals a better cooler, offering exceptional values and some impressive niche performances.

The AO 24 Pack is a functional and well-priced cooler. Though not completely waterproof, we still find ourselves reaching for its straightforward functionality and above-average insulation time and time again. For just a little bit less, you could also buy the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze 30, which packs away nicely and comes with all kinds of convenient features.

soft cooler - we love the abundance of storage features on the arctic zone.
We love the abundance of storage features on the Arctic Zone.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The most inexpensive cooler we recommend is the Lifewit Large Insulated 24. It's surprisingly easy to pack and convenient for infrequent use at a bargain price.

soft cooler - the lifewit works perfectly as a lunch box.
The Lifewit works perfectly as a lunch box.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Insulation


The FDA recommends keeping perishable foods that require refrigeration at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; this helps prolong their freshness by slowing down the bacteria and other such nasties from growing inside. Keeping a larger cooler cold will require putting more ice or ice packs inside versus keeping a smaller cooler cold, as most coolers recommend at least a 1:1 ice-to-food ratio, if not even more ice. Making sure your items are cold before they go into the cooler is another way to add insulation value to any cooler. Keeping your food or beverages cold is the number one reason to purchase a cooler; thus, it is the most rigorous metric in our testing. Our head-to-head hot room insulation tests highlight which coolers provide the greatest insulation value.


We noted two critical temperature thresholds during our testing: 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While 40 degrees is the food-safe threshold recommended by the FDA, 50 degrees represents the average ideal max temperature for serving beer. Of course, the ideal beer-drinking temperature depends on the beer you enjoy and your preference. The American Homebrewers Association provides the optimal beer serving temperatures. We chose 50 degrees as the maximum beer serving temperature and as a second benchmark temperature to easily grasp the rate of temperature increase as the ice melts in each cooler.

soft cooler - overall insulation ranking chart
Overall Insulation Ranking Chart
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

The Yeti Hopper M20 lasted an incredible 3.6 days below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and four days below 50 degrees. The Engel HD30 also performed admirably in our intensive hot-room challenge, lasting a full three days below 40 degrees. It then continued to maintain an internal temperature sub 50 degrees for 3.3 days.

soft cooler - from dry bag to classic backpack style, this chart covers the...
From dry bag to classic backpack style, this chart covers the performance of all pack coolers in our line-up.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Among the smaller coolers, the IceMule Jaunt 15 and Yeti Hopper Flip 18 were also top performers. The IceMule Jaunt 15 kept temperatures below 40 degrees for 2.7 days and below 50 degrees for three days. The Flip kept temperatures below 40 degrees for 2.4 days. It maintained sub-50 degree temps for just a little longer at 2.6 days.

soft cooler - this graph compares the performance of all tote and lunchbox style...
This graph compares the performance of all tote and lunchbox style coolers we tested.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Among backpack models, the Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 and the Engel Roll Top BP25 Backpack reign supreme. The Clevermade pack stayed under 40 degrees for 1.9 days and 2.1 under 50 degrees. The Engel BP25 follows close behind, only differing in the 50 degree test, lasting 2.7 days. Rather than a zip top, the BP25 has a roll top, resembling a dry bag opening with a traditional backpack body style.

soft cooler - this chart tracks the insulation results for coolers that have a...
This chart tracks the insulation results for coolers that have a capacity of 20 liters or more.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

As soft-sided coolers have become increasingly popular, the market has become more and more innovative. At one time, the presence of an airtight zipper and waterproof exterior indicated solid insulation. Now, various closure solutions continue to impress us with their ability to keep things chilled. Models with the now old-school approach of having a water/airproof zipper include the Engel HD30, RTIC SoftPak, and Yeti Hopper Flip. The IceMule Pro 33 has a roll-top (like a dry bag).

soft cooler - this chart follows the insulation journey of coolers with a 19 liter...
This chart follows the insulation journey of coolers with a 19 liter or less capacity.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

In an interesting twist, the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze has neither a zipper nor a roll-top — it's not even fully sealed. It closes like an old-school hard cooler, with a plastic lid that nestles snugly into the top of its plastic body. It's lined on the outside by a thinly insulated fabric bag. Despite not being airtight or leak-proof, it managed to hold ice for 40 hours during our testing. Other coolers have more traditional zippers that aren't watertight yet still provide effective insulation, like the RTIC Backpack, REI Pack Away, and AO 24 Pack.

We use iButtons and their companion software to log the internal temperature of each cooler.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Convenience


To evaluate this metric, we focused on how easy the coolers are to load and unload, how they open, how challenging the zipper or closing mechanism is, and if they stay open while you pack them full or require a second pair of hands. We also looked at the features each came with and evaluated their actual usability. We discovered that just because a bottle opener is clipped onto the end doesn't mean it will reliably open bottles. Finally, we wiped down the interior to see how easy it was to clean each cooler after a long day of use.


One of the most frustrating qualities of many models we tested is their challenging zippers. So far, manufacturers haven't been able to produce a zipper that's both fully waterproof and easy to use. Many soft cooler zippers not only require two hands to open and close but also involve quite a bit of straining and muttering through clenched teeth. However, some are easier than others, like the Lifewit Large Insulated 24 and the Engel HD. In fact, the Lifewit performed almost perfectly in our convenience tests. There are two easy zippers and we didn't find any alarming water intake during our soak test.

In our dunk test, we put a paper towel inside to see if any moisture was found in each bag.
Credit: Genaveve Bradshaw

Though robust and watertight, the Engel HD zipper is also much easier to use than most, and it comes with zipper lubricant, helping it remain explicative-free. The Yeti Flip and the RTIC SoftPak also come standard with zipper lubricant that helps their zippers glide more easily, though they aren't as smooth as the Lifewit or Engel. Lubricant needs to be reapplied to zippers frequently, especially in dry, hot outdoor environments.

soft cooler - the lifewit's zippers are easy and water-resistant.
The Lifewit's zippers are easy and water-resistant.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Some other models are easy to use because of their excellent design and features. The Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 reigns supreme in terms of convenience—largely because of how easily you can collapse and store it. The soft sides, which snap into place when you open it, can fold into the strap at the base of the cooler when you're done. The Hydro Flask Insulated 20 is another one of our Convenience favorites thanks to its simple tote-style design and quick internal cleaning. Load it up, zip it tight, and you're all set. Additionally, it packs down flat, not taking up much space when not in use. We also like the air valve on the IceMule Jaunt 15, which allows you to remove air and squish it down. The REI Trail Pack is one of our favorites for fully loaded distance missions, offering all the comfort of a backpacking backpack with its perfectly padded weight-bearing waist belt.

The Clevermade Pacifica Collapsible Bag 30 folds up flat.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

The Trail Split, Pack Away, AO 24 Pack, and the Maelstrom Backpack 35 all have traditional, user-friendly zippers and just the right amount of handy design elements and features. The AO and REI Pack Away are as easy to use as a simple duffel bag. The AO 24 features clips on the ends of the top zipper and a single long external pocket with plenty of space to bring along dry items and your favorite binoculars. The Pack Away adds to this design with four 3-loop daisy chains located around the body of the bag, and the ability to fold flat — adding capacity and making it easier to store when not in use. Meanwhile, the Maelstrom and the Trail Split have a traditional backpack style that's easy to get in and out of.

soft cooler - the pack-away can either be carried as a tote or a cube. plus, it...
The Pack-Away can either be carried as a tote or a cube. Plus, it has a handy front pocket.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Many of these coolers have handy features that add to their overall convenience. Both the Engle Roll Top and Arctic Zone Titan Zipperless come with bottle openers on the outsides of the bag, though we struggled to effectively use the one on the Titan. The Engel and IceMule models include air valves, which help eliminate excess warm air within the bag. Additionally, a handful of these float in water, so you can tug them along on your next river day. These include the RTIC models, IceMule dry-bags, and the Yeti Flip.

soft cooler - the icemule jaunt's air valve allows you to remove air to flatten it...
The IceMule Jaunt's air valve allows you to remove air to flatten it out.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Portability


Depending on the amount of perishables you plan to take with you and how far you're going, you may have already put some limitations on your adventures. Without considering overall capacity, the most portable coolers will be more comfortable to carry for longer distances.


Backpack-style coolers are clear winners in this category due to weight distribution across both shoulders, which will almost always beat out a unilateral carry. However, not all backpack coolers are equally comfortable. We've tested several of these styles, and the Yeti Hopper M20 was the best when it comes to portability. It features two sturdy nylon handles at the top of either side of the pack and a handle between the top of the backpack straps on the back area. They are all padded and help distribute the weight evenly. Meanwhile, the IceMule Jaunt 15 was our favorite adventure pack of the ones we tested. While the straps are not as comfortable as other coolers, they are adjustable, and you can carry the shoulder straps or dry bag rollover top, too. The RTIC Backpack 30 is another favorite for sheer carrying comfort. And the Engel HD also did well in this metric. It features padded carry handles and a comfy over-the-shoulder sling. The bag felt surprisingly secure, with no contents jostling around.

soft cooler - the yeti hopper m20 performed best for portability.
The Yeti Hopper M20 performed best for portability.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

The REI Trail Pack is another noteworthy competitor here. By adding a fully supportive, weight-bearing waist belt, this cooler is ideal for relieving your shoulders when you need your cooler filled to the brim with delicious picnic provisions. While the IceMule is our favorite for smaller and medium loads because of its comfortable straps and flexible body, the Trail Pack is our go-to choice for heavy cargo. It's comfortable like a daypack and saves your shoulders over the long haul. If you're planning to bring a handful of snacks and beverages for you and a few buddies, the comfort of the IceMule models is top-notch. If you're hoping to supply an afternoon picnic full of refreshments for everyone in your party, the Trail Pack will handle the extra weight better.

soft cooler - the lifewit is the lightest cooler we tested.
The Lifewit is the lightest cooler we tested.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Among the many tote and messenger style options we tested, we have our favorites. Models with flexible shapes, adjustable straps, and extra padding go a long way toward making these something you don't mind carrying. Some of the other reasonably portable bags, like the Yeti Flip, scored well thanks to their well-padded shoulder straps and additional options to hand carry or partner carry them when they're loaded down. The RTIC Soft Pack is also a favorite, with its soft, malleable body and long padded shoulder strap that makes it far more pleasant across your body when weighed down. The softer canvas exteriors and flexible insulated walls of the AO 24 Pack and REI Pack Away are much more comfortable bouncing against our sides and feel like a duffel bag.


Packability


To test these soft coolers' packability, we headed out to trails, picnics, and backyard barbeques to see which were the easiest to get around. We considered how adaptable each cooler is to different sizes and shapes of contents: can it fit a carton of eggs for a breakfast cookout or a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio for that fancy picnic? All of these coolers feature extra handles for additional carrying options, tie-downs to attach them to your ATV or truck bed, and even some extra features like daisy-chain webbing to clip on your bottle opener or car keys.


The Lifewit Large Insulated 24 and the REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack were exceptionally packable. The Lifewit lid unzips from the top and fully flips to the side of the cooler for total access. It stays open and upright on its own, and it has a large zippered external pocket, as well as two large mesh water bottle pockets on either side. The REI Co-op Cool Trail Split Pack top flap stays open for easy loading. The top half of the bag is a normal non-insulated pocket that can be used for hiking layers or cutlery. The bottom half of the bag is the cooler. The cooler itself can hold 16 cans and can even pack in a wine bottle, though it does cause the pack to bend a bit.

The Maelstrom also packs a punch when it comes to this metric. It has pockets galore, with the main cooler compartment, two mesh bottle sleeves, and multiple zipper pockets. With this many options, you can easily pack up for a picnic, cutlery included. We specifically appreciated the hidden zipper pouch along the backside of the pack that could stealthily fit your phone or keys. It's worth noting that all coolers in our lineup can hold a wine bottle.

soft cooler - the lifewit large insulated 24 tied insulates well for a short time.
The Lifewit Large Insulated 24 tied insulates well for a short time.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

The AO is one of the easiest to pack as well, opening nicely for easy loading. It has an excellent internal capacity, fitting 36 cans. The REI Pack Away and Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 30 also impressed us with their storage features and capacity. The Pack Away has gear hooks scattered throughout the pack, so there is no need to ditch the travel mug or bottle opener at home. The Deep Freeze holds up to 30 cans, and its ribbed inside helps keep them settled in place. Additionally, it has stretchy mesh side pockets and a bungee cord for holding a blanket or jacket.

Carrying 22 cans, the Arctic Zone Deep Freeze 24 Backpack is a smaller cooler that still manages to pack a ton. This is thanks to its stretchy side pockets, top flap zipper pocket, and bungee. It's also able to fit a wine bottle inside or within one of the external side pockets. The Engel HD30 and RTIC Soft Pack include small low-profile pockets great for keys or a phone. The HD30 is the largest in our lineup and will fit just about any odd-shaped food item you could take on your picnic. The Soft Pack features a wide lid that stays wide open for easy packing of all those refrigerated goodies.

soft cooler - though on the smaller side, the deep freeze 24 packs enough for a...
Though on the smaller side, the Deep Freeze 24 packs enough for a quick day trip.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Durability


When we spend money on gear, we want it to last. This fact is just as true for coolers as anything else. Any gear's durability comes down to a few simple factors—the quality of its materials and components, the method of construction, and the overall design. The coolers we tested feature a wide variety and quality of materials. We assessed durability over months of use, paying attention to how they handle daily rigors. We threw them around, dropped them on the ground, and filled them to the brim with heavy drinks. We also packed, emptied, repacked, and bounced them around in back seats and truck beds, left them out in the sun for hours, strapped them into water-logged boats, and anything else we could think of.


The models that scored lower in our durability tests use light to mid-weight nylon or canvas with middle-of-the-road zippers and regular seam construction. The higher-end models feature heavy rubber or treated nylon, have heavy-duty zippers and components, reinforced and welded seams, and more robust designs and construction. All of these aspects affect the overall durability and lasting power.

soft cooler - some seriously sturdy construction means that soft coolers can be...
Some seriously sturdy construction means that soft coolers can be just as durable as their harder counterparts.
Credit: Maggie Nichols

The most durable coolers we tested are the Yeti Hopper M20, followed by the Yeti Flip and the RTIC Soft Pack. These models feature incredibly tough, wear-resistant outer fabric, durable components, sturdy zippers, reinforced stitching, and a design made to be used and abused. Even after several years of regular use, they work just as well as when they were new and still look nearly as nice. They remained bone dry after hours of soaking in water.

soft cooler - the yeti hopper m20 crushed our soak test.
The Yeti Hopper M20 crushed our soak test.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Both Engel models scored well in our durability tests. They each have a thick, waterproof exterior that can handle being tumbled around. These models also feature a protective layer on their undersides to help prevent holes and abrasions. Additionally, both Engels were dry inside after our submersion test, indicating they have watertight zippers.

soft cooler - the engel backpack has a unique roll top as opposed to the...
The Engel Backpack has a unique roll top as opposed to the traditional zipper.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The IceMule Classic and IceMule Pro 33 were both relatively durable and resistant to our abuse, though the straps' attachment points seemed perhaps not quite as reliable or as robust as we'd like them to be. These dry bag coolers did great in our submersion tests, and they float, making these a great option to take along on the kayak.

soft cooler
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Conclusion


While reviewing these products, we went out of our way to imagine the many ways in which they may be used. Then we put them to the test, toting them along for summer trips into the desert, long hikes on hot days, picnics in the park, sunny beach days, rainy camping weekends, and impromptu BBQs and dinner parties. We hauled these coolers around, putting them through plenty of use and abuse, and we've compiled what we believe is the most comprehensive review of soft coolers available. We hope that the information presented here helps you find the right cooler to fit your lifestyle.

Genaveve Bradshaw, Rebecca Glades, and Maggie Nichols