The Best Soft Coolers We Tested for On-the-go Refreshments

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These insulated carriers will keep your drinks cold and your perishables fresh.

<p>Travel + Leisure / Francine Price</p>

Travel + Leisure / Francine Price

Fact checked by Rich Scherr

Whether you're planning a day at the beach, a picnic at the park, fishing at the dock, or a solo hike, you'll be glad to have a soft cooler on hand. Available in a range of sizes, these flexible, lightweight, easy-to-pack carriers can be filled with drinks, snacks, or even a full meal to enjoy on your outing. And unlike their hard-sided counterparts, they can often be slung over your shoulder or carried like a backpack.

To help you find the ideal cooler for your needs, we tried several firsthand, evaluating each for capacity, insulation, design, features, and value. (Get more details about our in-depth testing process below). Next, we narrowed it down to versatile, durable, leakproof options that are actually worth buying.

Best Overall: RTIC Insulated Soft Cooler Bag

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • Perfect for boating, picnics, and road trips, this high-quality structured cooler keeps drinks, food, and ice cold for hours.

What to Consider

  • It can be cumbersome to carry when walking across sand.

The best option we tested was undoubtedly the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler. We tried the 20-can size and were able to fit 15 cans inside, plus ice. After two and a half hours in the hot sun, the drinks were crisp and cold, and the ice had barely melted. What's more, it proved to be completely leakproof — when we shook it upside down, no water dripped out whatsoever.

When filling it with perishable food, we were able to fit quite a lot inside, along with enough ice packs to keep everything cold. We're big fans of the retro appearance and structured design too.

This cooler was comfortable to carry with the padded shoulder strap. But when filled with drinks and ice, it can be cumbersome and more difficult to haul across sand — backpack-style straps would probably make it easier. All things considered, it's an excellent portable ice chest for picnics, boating, road trips, or hanging out at the beach, as long as you don't have to carry it too far. And the price is reasonable for such a high-quality, likely long-lasting cooler.

Price at time of publish: $115 (20-can)

The Details: 12, 20, 30, or 40 cans | 2.4–5.5 pounds | Leakproof

Best Overall, Runner-up: Hydro Flask Carry Out Soft Cooler

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • This lightweight, compact cooler keeps things ice-cold in the hot sun, plus it's a breeze to carry and conveniently packable.

What to Consider

  • Since it's on the smaller side, it's best for lunches or shorter day trips.

We were also big fans of the Hydro Flask Carry Out Cooler. We tried the 12-liter size and filled it with six cans, three sandwiches, string cheese, and a bag of ice. Then we packed it again with drinks only, fitting 12 cans plus ice. After several hours at the beach on an 80-degree day, only about a third of the ice had melted, and everything inside was still perfectly cold. Not only that, but it proved to be leakproof, showing no signs of drips when we flipped it upside down with melted ice inside.

There's also a 20-liter version of the Carry Out, but even that one is on the smaller side. So it's best for lunches, picnics, hanging out at the dock, and shorter day trips. Still, we liked the compact, lightweight size. This soft cooler was a breeze to carry, thanks to the grab handles and padded shoulder strap.

Price at time of publish: $70 (12-liter)

The Details: 12 or 20 liters | 1.8–2.5 pounds | Leakproof

Best Value: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Cooler

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • The reasonably priced, durable Titan Deep Freeze has a generous capacity and keeps drinks fridge-cold all day.

What to Consider

  • It would be easier to carry with backpack-style shoulder straps, and it isn’t leakproof.

If you want the most bang for your buck, the Titan Deep Freeze might be your best bet. We tried the 16-can size (which means it can fit up to 16 cans without ice) and were able to fit 13 cans plus enough ice to keep them chilled. After a 10-hour car ride, all our drinks were still fridge-cold. Though wine bottles are likely too tall, you could also fill it with a picnic lunch, sandwiches, or snacks and juice pouches for a kids' sports game. There are spacious side pockets where you can stash your keys, phone, sunscreen, or a book as well, plus an external securing bungee.

This soft-sided cooler isn't hard to carry per se. It has a lightly padded shoulder strap, but backpack-style straps would make lugging it around much easier. The Deep Freeze seems like it's built to last, so you can expect to use it for years without needing to replace it. All things considered, we think the price range is more than reasonable.

Price at time of publish: $43

The Details: 9, 12, 16, 24, 30, or 48 cans | 1.7–4 pounds

Related: We Tested the Best Backpack Coolers to Keep Refreshments Frosty

Most Durable: Yeti Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • The compact yet spacious Hopper Flip stands up to wear and tear, plus it's completely impenetrable and even floats.

What to Consider

  • The heavy-duty build means it’s more expensive than most others, so the price might be hard to justify for some use cases.

The Yeti Hopper Flip has seriously impressive temperature retention. We took it to the beach on a sunny day that hit the upper 80s, and all the ice was still intact when the sun went down. Though it's relatively compact, the interior is surprisingly spacious. There's just one big main compartment, but it has the brand's HitchPoint Grid, allowing you to attach other things to the outside.

This soft-sided cooler is also the most durable option we tried. After packing it in a checked suitcase, swimming with it in the ocean (it floats, by the way), and throwing it on rocks, the quality wasn't compromised whatsoever. What's more, the impenetrable design passed our leakproof test with flying colors. Like most Yeti coolers, the Hopper Flip has a steep price tag. But it's backed by a three-year warranty and will likely last much longer.

Price at time of publish: $250

The Details: 8, 12, or 18 cans | 2.6–4.5 pounds | Leakproof

Best Backpack: Igloo Outdoor Pro Snapdown 42-Can Backpack

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • This cooler backpack has a sizable main compartment, several pockets, a built-in bottle opener, and adjustable padded shoulder straps.

What to Consider

  • The functional design isn't the most stylish option we tested.

Igloo's Outdoor Pro Snapdown Backpack has a deep, wide main compartment with insulated walls, plus various pockets and even a handy built-in bottle opener. We filled it with cans and ice and put it through a drop test. After a few hours, most of the ice was still intact, the cans were chilled, and the bag didn't leak at all when we flipped it over.

Even when packed to the brim with drinks, food, and ice, this cooler backpack was easy to lift and comfortable to carry. We appreciated the adjustable padded shoulder straps and chest buckle. Most adults could carry it on a hike or at least down to the beach. The Outdoor Pro prioritizes function over form — which is to say, it's not the most stylish option, but it's undeniably practical. In the end, we think it's fairly priced.

Price at time of publish: $140

The Details: 36 or 42 cans | 1.8–2.2 pounds | Leakproof

Most Versatile: Iron Flask Soft Cooler

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • Just the thing for beach days, boating, dock parties, and soccer games, this large-capacity cooler has a cushioned strap, cup holders, and a bottle opener.

What to Consider

  • The bulky design can be a little awkward to carry, and the water-sealed zipper can be hard to move.

We were able to fit 24 cans in this soft-sided cooler and enough ice to keep them cold all day. After four hours on a hot, sunny afternoon, the ice had hardly melted, and the drinks were still nice and cold. It's also leakproof, letting no water drip through the zipper or moisture penetrate the sides. Since the heavy-duty zipper is extra-tight and water-sealed, it's sometimes hard to unzip, but it comes with lubricant for this exact reason.

With cup holders and a built-in bottle opener, this versatile cooler is great for picnics at the park, day trips to the beach, boating, hanging out on the dock, soccer games, or small grocery hauls — we can confirm it'll keep ice cream cold long enough to walk it home in 90-degree weather. While we like the large size, the bulky design can be somewhat awkward to carry in that you might accidentally knock into someone if you bring it inside a store. It's not necessarily difficult or uncomfortable, though, thanks to the cushioned shoulder strap.

Price at time of publish: $140

The Details: 12 liters | 4.6 pounds | Leakproof

Related: The 12 Best Small Coolers of 2023

Best Tote: Hydro Flask 26 L Day Escape Soft Cooler Tote

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • This tote is lightweight and easy to carry but still notably spacious, and it sits upright without support.

What to Consider

  • The zipper can be finicky, and it's on the pricier side for a soft cooler.

If you prefer a tote-style carrier, we highly recommend the Hydro Flask Day Escape Cooler. We tested the 26-liter one, which is big enough to hold 42 cans. The wide base helps it stay upright without support — and it allowed us to fit a veggie tray horizontally at the bottom. After filling it with drinks, food, and ice, we took it on a sunny boat trip and were pleased to see the ice hadn't melted at all a few hours after packing it.

This lightweight cooler was easy to carry with the padded messenger-style strap. You can also use the grab handles if you'd rather not sling it over your shoulder. It's super durable, too, standing up to wear and tear while preventing water from seeping out. The only thing to note is that the water-sealed zipper sometimes gets finicky, but we figured out how to reposition it and got it to continue working.

Price at time of publish: $180

The Details: 18, 20, or 26 liters | 2.4–3 pounds | Leakproof

Best for Groceries: Igloo Switch 30-Can Backpack

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • The Switch Backpack has lots of room for various foodstuffs, and it keeps perishables reliably cold.

What to Consider

  • It's very heavy to carry when filled with cans and ice, and it's not leakproof.

Looking for something to haul groceries home? The Igloo Switch Backpack is just the thing. It has a large, slightly flared main compartment with lots of room for produce, prepared food, drinks, ice cream, milk, wine bottles, you name it. It'll keep your perishables reliably cold, even on the hottest days. However, it's not leakproof, so you'll want to be careful not to drop it when transporting liquids.

This carrier has a 30-can capacity, though when we filled it with 30 cans and ice, it was extremely heavy and a struggle to carry. If you're using it for drinks only, we suggest 20 cans, maximum, especially if you're walking more than a couple of blocks. And it's no problem with a more varied mix of foodstuff. The Switch Backpack has adjustable padded shoulder straps. You can also remove the straps to convert it into a tote-style cooler and carry it with the grab handles.

Price at time of publish: $61

The Details: 30 cans | 1.8 pounds

Best Lunch Box: Out of the Woods Dolphin Mini Cooler

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Buy at

Why We Love It

  • The Dolphin Mini can fit lunch for one or two people, and it collapses for easy packing and storage.

What to Consider

  • It's advertised as leakproof, but some water seeped through the zippers after ice melted.

The Dolphin Mini makes a great lunch box. At roughly 9.5 x 8 x 7 inches and just over a half-pound, it's conveniently compact and lightweight. We packed it with a one-person meal, including food, a drink, and ice. After a few hours on an 85-degree day, we were shocked to see the insulated lining prevented almost all the ice from melting while keeping the drink fridge-cold. If you're just using it for drinks, you can fit about 10 cans.

This soft cooler has a grab handle and an adjustable shoulder strap that won't dig into your skin. It's also handily collapsible, so you can pack it in a suitcase or stuff it in a backpack and easily store it when it's not in use. After throwing it on the ground during our tests, there were no scuff marks or visible damage. Though the Dolphin Mini is billed as leakproof, water seeped through the zippers once the ice had melted. But if you skip the ice and just fill it with food and a drink, this won't be an issue.

Price at time of publish: $29

The Details: 10 cans | 0.6 pounds | Leakproof

Best Two-in-one: Carhartt 2-in-1 Insulated Cooler Backpack

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Why We Love It

  • This double-duty carrier has an insulated bottom section that keeps things cold and a main compartment that functions as a regular backpack.

What to Consider

  • It's better for pre-chilled drinks and snacks, as melted ice may soak through.

Carhartt's take on the soft cooler is this dual-compartment backpack. The lower section is insulated for keeping drinks and perishable items cold, the upper portion is meant to hold anything else you want to bring along, and there's a front zipper pocket for small items. You could technically fit 24 cans if you put them in both compartments and didn't add any ice. But we got about 10 cans in the insulated section, with enough ice to keep them cold.

For the most part, this backpack did a good job preventing leaks, though a small amount of water seeped through once the ice melted. If you want to put electronics or dry clothes in the main compartment without worrying about them getting wet, you might want to skip the ice and just put pre-chilled drinks or refrigerated snacks in the bottom.

Price at time of publish: $65

The Details: 24 cans | 1.5 pounds | Leakproof

Our Testing Process

After researching today's best soft coolers, we selected several to try firsthand, including mini ice chests with soft-sided walls, insulated totes, foldable bags, lunch boxes, and cooler backpacks. After inspecting the coolers, we recorded our first impressions of the materials, capacity, quality, and appearance. Next, we packed them with drinks, food, and ice and brought them along to multiple outings to see how they performed in real-life settings.

<p>Travel + Leisure / William Price</p>

Travel + Leisure / William Price

Two and a half hours after filling them, we checked to see how much of the ice had melted. We considered how comfortable the coolers were to carry and whether they made the experience more convenient or enjoyable. They also went through a durability test, which involved slamming them onto the ground, throwing them down a flight of stairs, and flipping them upside down to check for leaks. We also tested 23 backpack coolers in our lab, and included the best in this roundup. Each soft cooler was rated for size, insulation, design, and value, and those with the highest overall scores are featured here.

Tips for Buying a Soft Cooler

Match capacity to your usage priorities

Soft coolers are generally smaller than their hard-sided counterparts, but they come in a range of sizes. Think about what you plan to put inside and where you'll be going. Smaller options are ideal for hiking and two-person picnics, but you'll need something larger if you're bringing lunch for a whole family or juice boxes and oranges for a soccer team.

Cooler capacities are often listed in liters or cans. Bear in mind a 24-can capacity means the cooler can fit up to 24 cans and nothing else. If you add ice, it might only fit 16 cans.

Know your temperature-retention needs

Many soft-sided coolers do an incredible job of retaining ice on hot days, sometimes for over 24 hours. This might be necessary in certain instances, but if you're using yours for a day trip and only need it to keep pre-chilled items cold for a few hours, you might not even need ice.

Think carefully about portability

Hard-sided ice boxes are typically designed to be carried short distances, lifted by two people, or potentially wheeled around. However, soft coolers are often smaller and meant to be carried by one person — potentially for longer distances. With this in mind, you'll want to think carefully about portability.

For instance, a heavy, bulky option might be awkward (or simply too hard) to carry over one shoulder. Backpack-style coolers are often the most comfortable, plus they're usually on the smaller side and can be folded flat and packed into another bag.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I pack a soft cooler?

It depends on what you're putting inside. But unlike regular hard coolers, which usually call for twice as much ice volume as drinks, soft-sided designs are often best packed like a game of Tetris — that is, with items strategically arranged to fit as much as possible.

But if you're packing drinks and food, placing the drinks at the bottom will prevent them from crushing things like sandwiches and oranges. If you're using yours for a short outing, you can forgo the ice and fill it with pre-chilled items or add a couple of ice packs.

Should I get a soft cooler or a hard cooler?

Soft coolers can typically provide several hours of temperature retention, making them an excellent choice for day trips and short outings. They're also smaller and often come in the form of a backpack or tote, so you can carry them longer distances.

Hard coolers, on the other hand, can usually retain ice longer (sometimes for up to three days), so they're better for camping and other multi-day trips. Large hard-sided coolers are also good for hosting barbecues and any time you need to keep drinks cold for a bigger group.

How much should I spend on a soft cooler?

Soft coolers can cost anywhere from $25 to $300. More affordable designs are usually smaller and not as durable, whereas pricier options are often larger and better at keeping the contents cold. That said, you can get a high-quality soft-sided cooler with a spacious capacity for around $100.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

Travel + Leisure contributor Theresa Holland is a commerce writer specializing in lifestyle, recreation, outdoor equipment, and luggage. For this story, she compiled insights from our long-term soft cooler tests, combed through product specs, and researched various types and styles of coolers.

Related: The 12 Best Coolers With Wheels for 2023

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