The Best Soft Coolers of 2024 | The Inertia

Some of our favorite coolers from RTIC, Hydroflask and Orca. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

A cold drink sure is nice, but an ice cold one is even better. When the sun is high, it can be tricky to keep your beverages icy – a good cooler can help. Lately, hard coolers have been flying off the shelves due to their rugged design and serious insulation. While there’s no debating the effectiveness of hard coolers, they are big, bulky, and heavy, making them difficult to transport and store. Underbench ULT Freezer

Soft coolers, on the other hand, tend to be lightweight and portable, making them a great pick for day trips or one to two night outings. They also are easier to store and tend to be much more affordable. We rounded up some of the best soft coolers in the game and have done our time loading and unloading them with ice and drinks, and lugging them to the park, beach, and beyond. After weighing the pros and cons of each, here are the best soft coolers of 2024.

If you want to learn more about how these coolers held up against one another, check out our Comparison Table, below. Or, if you want to know what to look for in a good soft cooler, head over to our Buyer’s Guide.

Best Overall Soft Cooler: YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler

Runner-Up Best Overall: Orca Wanderer 24 Cooler

Best Budget Soft Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler

Best Tote-Style Soft Cooler: Hydro Flask 35L Insulated Tote

Top-Pick Eco-Friendly Soft Cooler: REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler

Most Versatile Soft Cooler: RTIC Soft Pack Cooler

Pros: Super durable, great insulation Cons: Zipper can be difficult to work at times

Weight: 3 lbs. 6.4 oz. Capacity: 11.7 L Insulation: Days

It’s a well known fact that YETI makes some of the best coolers out there. They may not be cheap, but they’re well made, durable, and keep their contents cold for a long time. The YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler is no exception.

The Hopper has a wide opening, so it’s easy to stash and retrieve beverages. The Hydrolock zipper is great at keeping the cold in and preventing leaks, but it can be a little tricky to work at times (YETI includes a lubricant to keep it functioning at its best). The cooler includes two side handles, a shoulder strap, and multiple attachment points for securing extra gear.

The waterproof, DryHide shell is incredibly durable, meaning the Hopper will last you a long time. The liner is made of FDA-approved food-grade material and the wide design makes it easy to wash out at the end of the day. With multiple color and size options, there’s a Hopper for everyone.

The Hopper sits at the top of our list due to its construction, insulation, and irrefutable brand reputation. Our tester has been using the Hopper for years and despite not being the most gentle handler, it’s held up perfectly. Finding a cooler that is durable, leakproof, and extremely well insulated is hard to come by, but the Hopper checks all of our boxes.

Pros: Super durable, hooks for opening/closing Cons: Heavy

Weight: 6.75 lbs. Capacity: 24 cans Insulation: N/A

The Orca Wanderer 24 is one of the most rugged coolers on our list. The Wanderer is like a blend between a soft and a hard cooler – the body is hard, with a soft padding on the outside.

The Wanderer is the perfect size. It’s not too bulky, but it’s tall enough that it can hold a bottle of wine, which is a nice option to have. Instead of a zipper, the Wanderer closes with hooks, which proved to be a lot easier for opening and closing. Plus, the hooks are whale tales, which is adorable.

The Wanderer has two side handles and a detachable shoulder strap, which was helpful when the cooler was fully loaded and heavy. Although the cooler didn’t come with a specified cold, we did leave ice and drinks in it overnight and there was still ice the next day. Although the price is a little steep, the Wanderer is incredibly well made and durable, with a fun pattern to boot. It finished just behind YETI’s Hopper, simply we can’t vouch for its durability seeing as we’ve only had it for a few months where we’ve had the Hopper for years. As we continue to update this review, it may surpass the Hopper–only time will tell.

Pros: Lightweight, packs flat, great price Cons: Not the largest capacity

Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz. Capacity: 17 L Insulation: 32 hrs

The Pack Away 12 is everything you need in a soft cooler, and nothing that you don’t. Its claim to fame is that it will keep 12 cans below 40 degrees for up to 32 hours (with ice). Not bad for a highly packable soft cooler. True to the name, the Pack Away 12 has small hooks on either side that let it transform from a cube-shape to a tote to completely flat in seconds.

An integrated shoulder strap makes carrying a breeze, and like many products that bear the REI Co-op label, the cooler is made with recycled materials and is extremely durable. Our tester has had this cooler for over two years, and it has yet to spring a leak. It’s worth noting the cooler is a fairly small design, so if you’re looking for a larger capacity, for only $15 more the Pack Away 24 doubles the can capacity.

Pros: Straightforward design, spacious interior Cons: Only keeps drinks cold for 4 hours

Weight: 1 lb. 4.8 oz. Capacity: 35 L Insulation: 4 hours

They Hydro Flask Insulated Tote sports a super straightforward design that gets the job done. As the name suggests, it’s simply a tote with added insulation. The spacious bag has a zipper on top for easy access, making it a great option for storing and transporting groceries or beverages. The zipper is a little tricky to slide along, but not terrible.

The Insulated Tote sports two side handles and a detachable shoulder strap, which is nice for when you’re hauling a heavy load. The tote also includes a mesh pocket on the back, which was useful for stashing keys and other essentials. For a cooler, the tote has minimal insulation and can only keep things cold for 4 hours, so you don’t want to use it on lengthy trips. But the material is waterproof and durable and the interior is leakproof, so you don’t have to worry about messy spills. We really enjoyed the Insulated Tote for quick trips to the store and beach, but if you’re planning an overnight camping trip you may want to look elsewhere.

Pros: Sustainably made, daisy chains for attaching gear Cons: Only comes in one color

Weight: 4 lbs. 7.5 oz. Capacity: 28 L/24 cans Insulation: 65 hours

Available at an affordable price, the REI Co-op Cool Haul 24 Soft Cooler has everything you could want in a soft cooler. It’s lightweight, can hold a generous 24 cans, and has lots of attachment points for extra gear.

The Cool Haul includes two side handles, two carrying handles, and a detachable shoulder strap, making it easy to transport. It also has daisy chains across the front and back, which we found super handy for clipping on water bottles and extra items that wouldn’t fit inside the cooler. It also has a small exterior storage pocket that’s perfect for stashing keys, sunscreen, surf wax, and other small items.

Made using recycled and Bluesign approved materials, you can rest easy knowing the Cool Haul was sustainably made. We love the blue design, but wish this cooler was available in more colors. The zipper is easy to work and the Cool Haul keeps beverages cold for days.

Pros: Lightweight, floats Cons: Zipper takes a little bit of work to open

Weight: 2.4 lbs. Capacity: 30 cans Insulation: 24 hours

RTIC has cooler design dialed in with the Soft Pack Cooler. Available in 12 can, 20 can, 30 can, and 40 can options and seven different colors, there’s an option for everyone.

Although it is a soft cooler, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is well built and super durable, almost feeling as rugged as a hard cooler. Despite its bullet proof design (don’t take this literally), the Soft Pack Cooler is still super lightweight. The best part? It floats. Our tester is a big standup paddler and enjoys paddling to some of the outer islands near her home in Oahu and loved that she could bring it along on adventures without having to worry about it sinking should it fall off.

The zipper takes a little bit of work to open, but the cooler is completely leakproof, which we greatly appreciate. The cooler comes with two handles on the sides, two carrying handles, and a removable shoulder strap, making it easy to transport. It also has an exterior pocket for stashing essentials. The cooler sports two inches of closed cell foam, allowing it to keep drinks cold for 24 hours. While 24 hours is generous, we wish it were closer to 48 so we could take it on two-night camping trips.

Pros: Packs down small, iceless design Cons: No shoulder strap, small

Weight: 0.7 lbs. Capacity: 12 cans Insulation: 7 hours (without ice)

The Kanga Insulated Cooler Bag was specifically designed with 12-packs in mind. Where most coolers open on the top, this one opens on the side, so you can easily slip a 12-pack inside.

Most coolers operate with ice, but the Kanga is designed to be an iceless cooler. It has a four layer insulating membrane, a reflective liner, and a closed-cell foam shield to help everything stay cold inside. It’s nice to not have to worry about ice and just throw everything in the cooler and go. If you prefer to store your drinks loose inside the cooler, you can add ice for extra cold time.

The Kanga is incredibly lightweight and packs down small for easy storage. There is a padded handle on top, but we wish there was a side handle or shoulder strap as well. This cooler is on the small side, but it’s perfect for day trips to the beach or bringing a 12-pack to a party.

Pros: Affordable, spacious Cons: Doesn’t keep things cold for too long, only one color option

Weight: 2 lbs. 3.2 oz. Capacity: 26 L/30 cans Insulation: N/A

The Stoic Heavy Duty Cooler sports a tote style design, perfect for shuttling home groceries or packing up drinks for the beach. It’s got a wide opening on the top with a zipper that is easy to open and close, which is nice for quick access to your drinks.

The Heavy Duty Cooler has a handle on top as well as a shoulder strap, so you have options for carrying. It also has two clip straps on the side–at first we thought these converted into backpack straps, but we couldn’t actually figure out their exact purpose. We’ll let you know if we get to the bottom of it, but for now we’re stumped.

The Heavy Duty cooler is insulated and padded, but it doesn’t keep drinks long for day, more like hours. It’s a good option if you’re planning a beach day or picnic, but not a great pick if you’re going on an overnight or multi-day trip. The cooler comes in a shiny grey color, which we didn’t love or hate, but we wish Stoic offered a few additional color options. At a price that doesn’t break the bank, the Heavy Duty cooler is simple but definitely gets the job done.

Pros: Affordable, sleek design Cons: No extra attachment points, not many color choices

Weight: 1.9 lbs. Capacity: 12 L Insulation: 36 hours

We don’t know what it is about this cooler, but it just looks super sleek and sporty and like something you’d want to tote around. At 12 L, the Hydro Flask Carry Out Soft Cooler is the perfect size for packing your lunch or for stashing a few drinks for you and buddy.

The opening is large and it’s easy to zip and unzip, making accessing and stowing beverages a breeze. The material feels well made and durable, yet still has a little give to it. The cooler features two side handles, a shoulder strap, and a small, front pocket for stashing essentials. It’s a simple yet functional design that gets the job done for a price that doesn’t break the bank–we only wish it came in more colors!

Pros: Lifetime warranty, durable Cons: Only one color option, zipper snags sometimes

Weight: 1.8 lbs. Capacity: 18 L Insulation: N/A

In our expereince with Snow Peak, their gear is great but their prices are usually incredibly steep. Luckily, the Snow Peak Soft Cooler delivers the quality we know and love from the brand at a price that’s fairly affordable.

The Soft Cooler has multiple grab handles, so you can carry it alone or with a buddy. Constructed from a PVC polyester material, the cooler is super rugged and durable and we didn’t encounter any issues with leaking. Although the zippers weren’t difficult to pull, we did find that the material got snagged in them occasionally, so you need to make sure everything’s lined up when zipping.

Our tester didn’t take this cooler on any overnight trips. She found it was great option for day trips and kept everything cold, but worries that things might get warm if left overnight. The tan color is fine, but it wasn’t our tester’s favorite–she’s hopeful that Snow Peak will add more colors to their color collection down the line. The Snow Peak Soft Cooler is well made and is backed by a lifetime warranty, which is kind of incredible.

Pros: Provides easy access to food and drinks Cons: Heavy, no shoulder strap

Weight: 7 lbs. Capacity: 1.6 L Insulation: N/A

One of the more unique coolers on our list, the RovR KeepR Cooler Caddy is made to transport drinks in style. The cooler features a center storage area for ice with section dividers around the outside for storing and separating food and drinks.

The center ice storage container is similar to a giant Hydro Flask. Instead of putting ice in the body of the cooler, you put ice in the container, which helps keep everything dry and clean. There are section dividers to help you stay organized, but you can remove them if you need more space.

The padded foam handle is comfortable to carry, but we wish they included a shoulder strap. The molded base grips well to surfaces and allows the cooler to stand up on its own. The idea is a little funky, but if you’re only going to be out for a few hours and want easy access to food and drinks it’s a great option.

Pros: Includes bottle opener and ice pack, side pockets Cons: Only one color option

Weight: 3.21 lbs. Capacity: 24 cans Insulation: 48 hours

The OtterBox Cube Cooler is a big, open cooler with lots of room for storing drinks and food. The rectangular cooler opens on the top and has a big, open compartment capable of holding 24 cans or a combination of food and drinks.

OtterBox was very thoughtful with their design when it comes to external pockets. The Cube Cooler has a big front pocket and two side pockets that are perfect for stowing water bottles. It also has two side handles and a detachable shoulder handle for easy transport. This cooler is super lightweight, which is nice, because it quickly gets heavy when loaded up with drinks.

The Cube Cooler copes with a built in bottle opener and a reusable ice pack, which was super nice. The lining is FDA food-grade and BPA-free, which we appreciate. The zippers were easy to work and it kept things cold for a couple of days. The Cube Cooler has everything we could want in a soft cooler, we only wish it came in more colors.

Pros: Fun colors, folds up small, lifetime warranty Cons: No extra zippered compartments, no padding on shoulder strap

Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz. Capacity: 12 cans Insulation: N/A

Cotopaxi’s Heilo Del Dia Cooler Bag is a head turner. The 12 L bag sports a bunch of fun, bright colors and is a cooler you won’t easily lose or misplace.

The Del Dia design is wonderfully simple. It features a zippered opening that opens up to a wide, 12 L storage compartment. But, if you’re not storing anything in the cooler and wish to save on space, the opening folds into itself and seals with a buckle, making it much easier to store and transport.

The Del Dia features a side shoulder strap–it’s not padded, but for such a small bag, such padding isn’t critical. The cooler features one external water bottle holder, but no small, zippered compartments, which could be nice for stashing keys and other essentials. The cooler keeps food and drinks perfectly cold for a day at the beach or a picnic in the park, but you might want to look elsewhere when camping as it won’t keep things cold for multiple days.

Nothing beats an ice cold beverage on the beach. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

For this review, we combined our personal knowledge and outdoor experience with some research on the web to find which soft coolers seemed the most popular this year. We reached out to the top brands and got a cooler or two from each in order to bring you our favorites and top picks.

Our tester lives on Oahu, Hawaii where there is no short supply of sunshine and warm weather. In order to test out these coolers, she headed to the beach with friends and packed along drinks and snacks. She also filled up the coolers with lunches and packed them along for solo beach sessions and work days. Additionally, she left the coolers out overnight with ice and drinks still in them to see how well the ice held up overnight.

There are three main types of coolers: hard coolers, soft coolers, and backpack coolers. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons of each and it’s ultimately up to you (the buyer) to decide what best suits your needs.

The most classic and oldest type of cooler is the traditional hard cooler. Hard coolers tend to offer better insulation and keep things cold for longer, making them a good option for camping and multi-day trips. The downside of hard coolers is that they are typically larger, heavier, more difficult to store, and are expensive.

The Cotopaxi Heilo Del Dia Cooler Bag is perfect for day trips to the beach or park. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

As the name suggests, soft coolers sport a soft shell. They tend to be lighter and more packable than their hard cooler counterparts and are often much more affordable. On the flipside, they don’t things cold quite as long but they’re an amazing option for day trips to the beach or park.

Backpack coolers are essentially a soft cooler with some straps. They don’t typically pack down small but they are probably the easiest coolers to transport due to their backpack straps and sometimes waist and sternum straps.

If you pack a cooler to the brim, it’s not light. Straps and handles come in super handy for lugging heavy coolers around. We really appreciate when the cooler has some sort of handles on the sides to make it easy to grab and move around. We also are big fans of the shoulder strap; it really comes in handy when walking any distance with a heavy cooler.

Some of the best soft coolers out there. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

Soft coolers come in all shapes and sizes, so storage space varies from cooler to cooler. Most of the coolers on our list either the size of the storage compartment and/or the amount of cans each can hold. Consider whether you plan to use your soft cooler for solo adventures or with a large group and factor that in when choosing the size of the cooler you want.

Some coolers, such as the Hydro Flask Insulated Tote are lightly insulated, while others, such as the Orca Wanderer 24 have more heavy duty insulation. If you simply plan on using your soft cooler for trips to the market or day trips to the park or beach, you probably don’t need something that keeps things cold for more than a few hours. But, if you plan on taking your cooler camping or on extended trips, you’ll want a cooler that’s heavily insulated and can keep your drinks/snacks cold for days on end.

In order to keep the cold in and the heat out, most soft coolers have a well constructed closure system. Most coolers these days utilize zippers, which work well in ensuring everything is fully sealed, but they can be a little difficult to open and close at times (especially if sand or dirt gets in the zipper tracks). Other coolers use buckles, which tend to be easier to use but might not be as reliable for fully sealing the cooler. If you’re purchasing in person, you may want to open and close the cooler a few times to make sure you’re happy with how it operates.

Heading to the beach to test out the best soft coolers in the industry. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

Coolers can run you a pretty penny, so you want to make sure you’re purchasing one that will last for years to come. In our experience with soft coolers, you get what you pay for. Cheaper coolers don’t work as well or last as long, while pricier coolers tend to be more durable and better overall. This isn’t always the case, but it was fairly consistent across the board in our testing.

For the most part, you’ll be using your cooler to store food and beverages. But it is nice if your cooler has at least a small extra storage pocket or compartment for stashing small things like keys or surf wax. Slots for water bottles on the outside are nice as well.

While most coolers make it well past the warranty date before any issues arise, we appreciate when brands offer a warranty. Just in case. Sometimes a zipper breaks prematurely or another issue arises – in those cases a warranty is super helpful.

The RTIC Soft Pack Cooler floats, making it one of the most versatile options. Photo: Rebecca Parsons

If you’re planning a day trip, keeping the contents for your cooler cold for a long time isn’t as essential. For day trips, we recommend using ice from your freezer, purchasing a party pack from you local supermarket or gas station, or using artificial ice (think reusable ice cubes or cooler packs like the YETI Thin Ice). If you’re going on a multi day trip buying block ice is a good ideas as it takes longer to melt and will keep your goods cold for longer.

It may seem like a no brainer, but if you pre-cool your items in the refrigerator or freezer at home they will stay cold longer. When you go to load your cooler, put in your drinks and food first and then put the ice on top (this will add an extra layer of insulation). Fill your cooler all the way to the brim with ice. Your ice will melt more slowly if it has less extra space.

As your ice begins to melt, don’t drain. We know it’s tempting, but having some water in your cooler which actually work in your favor and help keep your items colder. If you’re trying to keep things cold for a long time, try and minimize the amount of times you open and close the lid. Finally, store your cooler in the shade as much as possible.

Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here .

Return to Top Picks | Return to Comparison Table

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