Ice chests and hard-sided coolers are ideal for their durability and ice retention, but they’re not beloved for their ease of carrying. Regardless of whether you own an affordable Igloo or a premium YETI, coolers can be hard to haul. That’s why, in addition to hard coolers, you should consider the best soft coolers. A soft cooler has a fabric exterior and can be shaped like a tote, backpack or lunchbox. That makes them much easier to carry and pack. If you’re heading off for a beach day or a picnic and can’t park right where you’re hanging out, a soft cooler will make it easier to get your hard seltzer and snacks to the hangout spot. Small soft coolers can also be used to carry your lunch to work.
We’re all about making the most of summer, which is why we’ve written extensively about coolers recently. We’ve been hard at work testing and reviewing the best wheeled coolers, backpack coolers, hard coolers and, now, the best soft coolers.
There are tons of options on the market, and as enthusiastic as we are about premium brands like YETI and ICEMULE, we’ve also found plenty of affordable cooler bags by brands like Coleman and Igloo that have impressed us with their ice retention and convenience.
Beyond coolers that we’ve used ourselves, there are great options from brands we’ve researched and used in the past, even if we haven’t tested that specific product. When picking the best soft coolers of 2022, we considered a range of different categories so you can more easily find the one that works best for you.
Here’s how we choose the best soft cooler:
- Ice retention and leakage: The ability to keep things cold is the most important job a cooler has, and whether or not it leaks factors into that.
- Size: Coolers are often measured in either cans or liters, and we’ve picked out options that can keep the whole party satisfied, as well as options that are suited for solo lunches.
- Features and design: Additional pockets, straps for carrying in different positions, and webbing straps can all enhance the convenience of the soft cooler. Plus, how it looks and what colors it comes in are all worth factoring in.
Read on for our picks for the best soft coolers you can buy, including insulated totes, cooler backpacks and soft-sided lunch boxes.
1. YETI Hopper Soft Sided Backpack Cooler
YETI’s coolers are notoriously expensive, but they’re some of the best when it comes to keeping ice frozen for a long time. This backpack comes in a variety of colors and has a stylish design, and when we tested it, we found it to be leak-proof and impressively insulated. One drawback is that, in addition to the price, this cooler is heavy.
2. Hydro Flask Tote
If you don’t need to pack food for the whole soccer team, then consider this tote from Hydro Flask. It’s a compact option that’s the right size for carrying your lunch or a few drinks. Or, you can use it on a trip to the grocery store. It’s stylish and sleek, too, and several colors are available.
3. RTIC Soft Pack Cooler
RTIC is a brand that’s giving YETI a run for its money, largely because it offers impressive insulation and durability for a fraction of the cost. This bag is stylish and can be carried in a range of ways, including in the hand or over the shoulder.
4. ICEMULE Collapsible Soft Cooler
Packable, portable and cool-looking, the ICEMULE’s Collapsible Soft Cooler was our “Runner Up” selection when we reviewed the best backpack coolers, and it’s one of the best soft coolers overall. Our testing yielded long-lasting ice retention, and we found the bag to be sturdy and leakproof. It has a unique design with a single shoulder strap, so you can sling another bag on your other shoulder if needed.
5. Carhartt Vertical Insulated Lunch Cooler Bag
One option that’s great for everyday use is this cooler bag from Carhartt, a brand whose cooler products we’ve reviewed positively in the past. It has a cylindrical design with one outside zippered pocket, and one mesh pouch for a water bottle.
6. Coleman 28-Can Backpack Soft Cooler
This cooler backpack could be confused for a regular backpack, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s affordable and has a variety of pockets for stashing your cold essentials, as well as your everyday items. While it’s not quite as leak-proof as our top picks, it’ll still manage to keep your food and drinks frosty.
7. Igloo The Retro Square Lunch Bag
Igloo is one of the earliest cooler brands, and they’ve dug into their archives for the Retro series of coolers. They’re eye-catching, but they’re not just for the novelty. They deliver great insulation, affordability and convenience. This cooler bag has a shoulder strap and handle for easy carrying, and there’s a handy outer zippered compartment. It’s just large enough for a few cans and a packed lunch.
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