Best Soft-Sided Coolers For Chilled Outdoor Adventures In 2022

Support us! Explorersweb may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn more.

Easy to store, practical, and versatile, soft-sided coolers are handy to have around. From picnics in the park to long hikes, they make carrying food and drinks a breeze.

With so many soft-sided coolers on the market, it can be difficult to find the right one to suit your needs. To help, we have put together a list of the best soft-shelled coolers for every occasion.

The best soft-sided coolers

Editor’s pick: ICEMULE Jaunt 15L Cooler

  • Backpack strapsicemule jaunt 15l cooler
  • Waterproof
  • Dry bag style fold down
  • Front zippered pocket
  • Floats even when full
  • More than 24 hours of ice retention
  • Collapsible design packs down small

As someone who spends a lot of time on the water and in her van, I need a durable cooler with excellent ice retention and waterproofing. The ICEMULE Jaunt 15L ticks all these boxes. I love the dry bag style that is easy to pack and roll, and the 15L capacity is enough space to carry four days of perishables for two people.

I use cold packs to keep my food cold, and this cooler boasts more than 24 hours of ice retention. While I haven’t run a controlled test, that seems about right. After a few days, your food may not be ice cold, but it will still be fresh.

The cooler includes accessories like the ProPack and Dry Bag. You can pop in items that can’t get wet and then keep them in the cooler so you aren’t stuck carrying multiple bags.

See ICEMULE Jaunt 15L Cooler on Amazon

See ICEMULE Jaunt 15L Cooler on REI

See ICEMULE Jaunt 15L Cooler on ICEMULE

Best for lunches: Stoic Gear Sling Cooler

  • Adjustable shoulder strapstoic gear sling cooler
  • Padded back for carrying
  • Insulated PEVA lining
  • PU-coated 60D polyester exterior
  • Nine can capacity
  • Zippered front loader, side stash pocket

One of the smallest soft cooler bags on our list, but it still includes a host of features and excellent ice retention. This nine-can cooler is perfect for solo beach days, but I used it to carry snacks to the boulders while rock climbing. I leave a larger cooler in my van and take what I need for lunch in my sling cooler.

There is an adjustable shoulder strap, side pockets, and a padded back. It is very compact. However, I would prefer a larger opening for the main compartment versus the current design. The PU-coated polyester exterior is water-resistant and the PEVA lining is easy to clean.

See Stoic Gear Sling Cooler on Backcountry

Best for multi-day outings: Coleman 16-Can Soft Sided Cooler

  • 16-can capacitycoleman 16 can soft sided cooler
  • Leak-proof
  • Adjustable straps for shoulders
  • Front pocket, two side mesh pockets, a dry storage pouch
  • Removable liner
  • Antimicrobial properties

Designed by Coleman, the 16-Can Soft Cooler is a versatile soft-sided cooler with adjustable straps. The cooler comes in multiple sizes, with the 16-can model the optimum size for days out; with handy additional side storage for snacks and gear.

The cooler is incredibly flexible with a removable hardliner, is leak-proof thanks to the strong zipping mechanism, and has antimicrobial properties that adhere to the FDA requirements. For a simple but practical cooler that is resistant to mold and mildew, the Coleman 16-Can Soft Cooler is a wonderful choice.

See Coleman 16-Can Soft-Sided Cooler on Amazon

See Coleman 16-Can Soft-Sided Cooler on Coleman

Best small cooler: YETI Hopper TWO 30 Portable Cooler

  • Waterproof and leak-proofyeti hopper two 30 portable soft sided cooler
  • Hydrolok Zipper
  • Coldcell insulation
  • Removable shoulder strap
  • UV Ray protected
  • Mildew resistant
  • Hitchpoint grid
  • Bottle opener included

One of the most interesting features of the YETI Hopper TWO is its DryHide shell, which is crafted using a high-density fabric that is resistant to mildew, damage from UV rays, and punctures.

This waterproof cooler is insulated with rubber closed-cell foam, features a highly durable HydroLok Zipper, and comes with a Hitchpoint grid so it can be easily attached to most things.

See YETI Hopper TWO 30 Portable Cooler on Amazon

Best for the lake: AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler

  • Removable shoulder strapao coolers canvas soft cooler
  • External pocket
  • Very thick insulation (3/4 inch)
  • Suitable for hot or cold food
  • 24-hour ice holding
  • Leak-proof TPU lining

In need of a cooler for hot and cold food? The Canvas Soft Cooler is available in multiple colors and sizes, from the 12-can capacity cooler to the 48-can capacity cooler.

The main compartment is designed with a leak-proof TPU fabric liner, while the external side pocket is ideal for dry items and gear. This cooler perfectly combines a lightweight design with advanced features, like the ability to hold ice for up to 24 hours.

See AO Coolers Canvas Soft Cooler on Amazon

Best for camping: Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series Soft Cooler

  • Exterior made from 1000D nylonpolar bear coolers nylon series soft cooler
  • Holds ice frozen for 24+ hours
  • Interior made from TPU double-coated nylon
  • Unbreakable zippers
  • Adjustable shoulder pad
  • Open-cell foam insulation
  • Leak-proof

If you’re looking for excellent soft cooler ice retention, the Nylon Series Soft Cooler from Polar Bear Coolers is a fantastic choice. With high-density foam insulation, this cooler keeps ice frozen for 24 hours or more in 100°F+ heat.

Luggage-grade nylon has been used for both the exterior and interior, giving it durability and resistance to scratches and rips. It can easily withstand everyday wear and tear, and is an ideal choice for outdoor activities, coming in multiple sizes with the additional choice of a backpack-style cooler. It is sweat-proof, leak-proof, and easily packed thanks to the soft design and open-cell foam insulation. It also has a zippered front pocket that can be monogrammed or embroidered for personalization.

See Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series Soft Cooler on Amazon

See Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series Soft Cooler on Walmart

Most leak-proof: Coleman 30 Can Soft Cooler

  • Adjustable shoulder strapcoleman 30 can can soft cooler
  • 30-can capacity
  • Antimicrobial liner
  • Multiple pockets
  • Lid bungees
  • Heat-welded seams
  • Leak-proof

Featuring a simple but highly effective design, the 30-can capacity cooler from Coleman is a practical choice. The multi-compartment design, with two mesh exterior pockets, a zipper pocket, and the main compartment, makes it perfect for carrying a variety of food at once.

The adjustable strap ensures that it’s easy to carry. Like many of the top soft-sided coolers, it is resistant to mildew and mold and is fully leak-proof.

See Coleman 30 Can Soft Cooler on Amazon

Best for picnics: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Insulated Tote

  • 30-can capacityarctic zone titan deep freeze insulated tote
  • Cold block base
  • Water-resistant
  • Deepfreeze insulation
  • Antimicrobial protection
  • Therma-Flect interior
  • Carrying straps, plus side straps
  • External pocket

The perfect cooler doesn’t have to compromise style for effectiveness. The elegant, minimalist design of the Titan cooler is a strong selling point.

A Therma-Flect interior and Deepfreeze insulation give this cooler excellent insulation. It also has antimicrobial protection and is water-resistant. The cooler tote comes equipped with a cold block base with three layers, is very easy to clean, and is one of the most affordable coolers around. The only minor con? The zipper is not leak-proof.

See Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Insulated Tote on Amazon

Best for tailgating: Rawlings NFL Soft-Sided Cooler Bag

  • Padded shoulder straprawlings nfl soft-sided cooler bag
  • 16-can capacity
  • Branded NFL team logo
  • 24-hour cold technology
  • Foil antimicrobial liner
  • Interior pocket

If you’re a fan of the NFL, then this Rawlings NFL Soft-Sided Cooler Bag from Coleman is going to be a winning choice. The cooler is compact, with a 16-can capacity.

No matter which team you support, there is a matching cooler in this collection for you.

Despite its small size, the antimicrobial liner made from foil will keep your drinks cool for 24 hours.

See Rawlings NFL Soft-Sided Cooler Bag on Walmart

Why trust us

I spend the bulk of my time outdoors, and my coolers are my right-hand man. I love soft coolers because of how easily they pack and I’ve got a couple of different soft-sided coolers for day trips, paddleboarding, climbing trips, and more.

Who this is for

This guide is for anyone looking for a soft-sided cooler for their next picnic or outdoor adventure. We have plenty of options, with features like zippered pockets, shoulder straps, waterproof zippers, backpack straps, and compartments for dry goods.

How we picked

We started with our favorite soft cooler bags. From there, we started digging into the Amazon bestsellers list.

How we tested

These coolers have gone on weekend camping trips, climbing trips, paddleboarding, skiing, and more. I almost always have a cooler with me.

using soft-sided cooler on the beach

Features to look for in soft-sided coolers


One of the things that attract so many people to the soft-sided cooler is how much lighter they are than a standard hard-sided cooler. The difference is often so pronounced that, even if they’re heading out to a major get-together that might typically call for a big hard-sided chest, folks will try and get away with over-stuffing their softie, just so they don’t have to lug the big plastic cooler around all day.

But even though hard-sided coolers will almost always weigh more than their soft-sided counterparts, most of the weight associated with a cooler comes from what you put inside it. The weight itself might, and perhaps should, play some part in determining which one is right for you, but if you stuff that Yeti Hopper to the gills it’s still going to be heavy.

Bottom line: the weight of the cooler itself is definitely a consideration if you only plan on taking a few items with you. But if you plan on taking 18 drinks and various barbeque items, then you’re going to be weighed down whatever the cooler.


The soft cooler is not going to be able to accommodate as much as some of the bigger hard-sided coolers. So, take some time and think about how many items you are likely to pack before deciding on a soft or hard-sided cooler. The shape and flexibility of a soft-sided cooler can allow you to take more oddly shaped items. If you’re a lone wolf then there’s no need for a big, heavy hard-sided cooler. If, however, you never venture out without the family or a gaggle of friends, you’ll have to decide if you need the larger volume of the hard cooler.


Meeting friends at the beach on the 4th of July might mean lugging the cooler half a mile or more from the car. By the time you arrive, your back is howling and your arms are jelly. The soft-sided cooler is the hands-down portability winner. Just toss it over your shoulder and get on with it. Some soft coolers can be carried backpack style which makes things even easier. If you’re concerned that your backpack cooler won’t accommodate enough items for your group, then bring two.

Some people will say: “Why not just get a hard-sided cooler with wheels?” While that may seem like a nifty solution to the portability problem, have you ever tried rolling a fully loaded hard cooler across sand?


While hard-sided coolers have their place, one thing they are definitely not noted for is their versatility. They’re a big hard box that keeps things cold and that’s about it.

Soft-sided is all about versatility. Short on space in the car? They have you covered. Need something that’s easy to carry around? No problem. Many soft cooler bags can pack smaller and fold down until you need them. You have a variety of options for carrying soft coolers, including:

  • The shoulder bag – This is the most popular style. You just fling it over your shoulder and get a move on. These tend to fold down to almost nothing when not in use.
  • The backpack – The backpack style is gaining in popularity because it distributes the weight evenly between your shoulders and back and therefore allows you to carry a bit more than you would want to carry with a shoulder bag cooler. If there’s a drawback it’s taking it on and off when it’s full.
  • The lunch box – The lunch box cooler is perfect for that lone wolf type who likes to hit the beach alone with a couple of cool drinks, and a snack or two.

Some storage pockets are located inside the cooler and some are located on the outside for things like sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. Some of these bonus pockets are zippered. These additional pockets are another big reason people prefer the soft-sided cooler to the hard-sided cooler.

No sweating

It’s bad enough when you’re sweating on a hot summer day but when the cooler does it too, things can really get uncomfortable. Hard coolers are prone to sweating and that’s bad news for other things that must coexist with them in the trunk or the back seat. Soft coolers, on the other hand, are constructed to discourage sweating. As such, they won’t leave a big sweat mark on your clothes after you put them down and they won’t leave your trunk or back seat smelling musty.

Ice retention claims

Generally, hard coolers are constructed with heavy-duty foam and have longer ice retention times. Soft coolers often have slightly lower ice retention but this is often still 24 hours or more. I’ve personally found that a cooler bag with a 24-hour ice retention rating often lasts longer.

Soft-sided vs hard-sided

Deciding whether you’re going to need a soft-sided or hard-sided cooler today often comes down to answering the question: “How do you intend to use it?”

For example, if you just want something to keep a few things cool for a few hours while you picnic in the park, there’s no need to have a big, heavy, hard-sided cooler. On the other hand, if you’re meeting your crew at the seashore to celebrate the 4th of July, chances are you’re going to want one of those big heavy hard-sided coolers to accommodate everyone.

man holding soft-sided cooler

Soft-sided cooler FAQ

Q: Do soft coolers absorb odor?

Soft-sided coolers are less likely to retain offensive odors than hard-sided coolers. They’re also less likely to play host to bacteria and mold than hard-sided coolers. But while it is less common for a soft-sided cooler to end up smelling bad, it can happen. To get rid of odors, you’ll need to know the right way to clean your soft-sided cooler. Which we’ll go over next.

Q: How to clean a soft-sided cooler?

While they have their drawbacks, hard-sided coolers also have a few advantages over soft-sided coolers. One is capacity and another is cleaning. Just open the top, aim your garden hose, and let the water fly. With the soft-sided cooler, you typically won’t need to clean it after every use (as you should with a hard cooler) but you should clean it periodically.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to clean the soft cooler. Simply opening it and hitting it with the garden hose certainly qualifies as the wrong way. The right way:

  1. Remove food, food particles, dirt, or other debris from inside the cooler. Then take a damp cloth and wipe the entire inside.
  2. After thoroughly wiping the interior and letting it dry, inspect it carefully for stubborn stains or mold. If you see any, mix a bit of baking soda with some warm water and, using a clean cloth, wash out the inside again. The cloth doesn’t need to be sopping wet, just damp. You don’t want to leave baking soda residue behind.
  3. Once you’ve removed any nasty stuff using the baking soda solution, mix a little bit of dishwashing detergent with water and wash out the inside again using a clean sponge. Make sure to get everything. Then let it air dry completely before putting it away.

Q: What’s the best way to pack a soft-sided cooler?

When packing, make sure you keep things that don’t need to be refrigerated separately. If you put your onions in the cooler with your other items, everything, including your cooler, is going to wind up with a nice onion scent before the day is over. Here are a few more tips about packing.

  1. Precool everything before it goes into the soft cooler. That is, make sure that everything that goes into the cooler is coming straight out of the refrigerator. Coolers are not designed to cool things down, just to keep them cool.
  2. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.
  3. Use ice packs to keep the interior cool rather than ice cubes. Ice cubes are going to melt and create a mobile bath. Cold packs will eventually warm up but they won’t make a mess when they do. Keeping your cooler free of dirty melted ice will also help prevent the growth of bacteria.

Q: How long will a soft-sided cooler last?

We mentioned above, the hard-sided cooler has a few advantages over its soft-sided cousin. One of them not yet mentioned is longevity. The same cannot necessarily be said for the soft-sided cooler.

A hard-sided cooler is able to last so long because its design is typically very simple: a rigid insulated box with a lid. Soft-sided coolers have more variables. All the lifting, twisting, folding, sagging and stuffing that the soft-sided cooler endures takes a toll. The material begins to wear, zippers break, seams begin to come apart and the shoulder straps eventually become hard to bear. Even so, if you take care of the best soft-sided coolers they should last for many years before needing to be replaced.

Q: Do soft coolers leak?

Most soft coolers do not leak and have features like a waterproof zipper to prevent this. But any cooler can leak when beat down enough, so look after it.


  1. 5 Tricks That Will Forever Change The Way You Pack A Cooler for Camping – Country Living
  2. How To Keep Your Ice From Melting So Quickly In Your Cooler – Real Simple

Tuesday Kirby Kahl

Tuesday Kirby Kahl is a native Texan now residing in Portland, OR. In addition to her work as a writer, she’s a competitive climbing coach for youth and adult athletes. When she’s not working, you’ll find her rock climbing, exploring, skiing, and paddle boarding all over the Cascades. When at home, she’s usually tending to her collection or houseplants or painting with a cup of tea in hand.