Best Soft Sided Cooler Bags For The Money – Top 7 Reviews and Buyers Guide
A cooler is a wonderful thing to have at a barbecue or any outdoor event. From tailgating to camping, you'll want to have all your food and drinks protected from the sun. Of course, the downside is that a cooler is quite bulky and even heavy depending on how much you fill it or what you're carrying. This is where soft sided coolers come in.
Think of a soft-sided cooler as a mix of a bag with the insulation of a cooler, because that's what it exactly is. Today, we'll be going over the best soft coolers on the market, along with our handy guide on why you should invest into a soft sided cooler bag, the pros and cons, and how to pick out the best one for you if our list doesn't catch your eye!
At a Glance of Best Soft Sided Coolers
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7 Best Soft Sided Cooler Bags Review
The first bag on our list is undoubtedly one of the best soft sided coolers under 100 dollars. Now, it's still a really good bag, don't get us wrong. We're going to cover all the positives that this bag has to offer in a bit, but we need to talk about the price. Because a bag of this quality should really cost more then it does, yet it's one that's affordable to anyone!
The bag itself is a 16 x 11 x 12, with an interior compartment that's a 12 x 7 x 10. The interior can be removed if you want to use the full space on offer in the bag, although we only recommend doing so with lighter items. Like sandwiches, or alternatively meats if you need to bring them to an outdoor grill or outdoor event.
The Arctic Zone Titan can hold around thirty cans of your favorite drink along with the accompanying ice, and the ice inside can stay good for around three days. With its insulating properties included, which we'll cover below, we measured the bag to around three inches thick. The interior part, made of hardened plastic, was around two inches thick.
Now, let's talk about the "zipperless" feature that's advertised. Yes, there are zippers on the bag, but what the zipperless feature is referring to is that the main lid seals itself shut after you close it. Much like a rolling cooler, and on that note it holds pretty well. We don't recommend turning it upside down and shaking it, but for on-the-go, the contents will be safe and secure.
Plus, without a zipper, you don't have to worry about leaving the bag open and warm air sinking in. On a final note, the bag includes plenty of pouches and even an insulated front pouch. Perfect for storing light objects like bags, plastic cutlery, electronics, etc. There is even an attached bottle opener, so you don't have to bring one!
We highly recommend this bag, and it might be the best soft sided cooler for the money spent on it. Or the very least the best soft-sided cooler under 100 dollars. There's plenty of features, a good carrying capacity, and the bag is easy to clean!
Whereas the Arctic Zone Titan focuses on being, well, a titan the CleverMade focuses on being clever. Trust us, this will make sense in a moment. One of the best soft sided coolers made in the USA, the CleverMade is a collapsible bag although the name might have given that away. Let's explain how that works before we start talking features.
The inside of the bag is supported with steel wireframes and a patented "SnapHinge". The bag is collapsed by pushing down, causing the SnapHinge to fold inward. This is followed by pulling the interior of the bag to the side, and then folding it down and finally into the rest of the bag. This means that the CleverMade is very portable and easy to store unlike other bags.
This feature is all well and good, but how does the CleverBag hold us as a soft sided cooler bag? Well, actually pretty good. The bag can hold around fifty cans with accompanying ice, or assorted items that are the same size and weight which is around fifty pounds total. The size of the bag's interior is around 17 x 11 x 11, with the bag itself being 18 x 12 x 12. When folded down it is only 1 inch tall, although still eighteen inches long.
With three layers of insulation, and being leak-proof, this bag is perfect! Well, perfect for certain scenarios. This might be the best soft sided cooler for the beach, but it's not one you'd take hiking. Perfect for tailgates and picnics, but not for the wilderness. What's more, the storage captivity of non-food and drink is small, just a single front pouch. But you still get the bottle opener on the upper strap, so that's a bonus!
Overall, if you need a soft-sided cooler bag with great capacity, that won't break your bank, that can store easily, but at the same time one you're not planning to take into the wild, the CleverMade bag may be right for you. See what we mean about it being "clever" now?
Sometimes you need your drinks to remain cold as long as possible. Or maybe you have meat that needs to be transported and you need it to remain cold before grilling. If you need the best soft sided cooler for ice retention, look no further than the RTIC insulated soft cooler bag. The ice inside can last, from our testing, up to five days in warm weather. And no leaking either!
This said, there is a downside to keeping your drinks and food cold so long; the carrying capacity is small, only twenty cans with the accompanying ice. While the walls are two inches thick, this makes the insides 10 x 11 x 4, which isn't very much. There are bigger options available, but those cost more. And we're also here to talk about the size 20 anyways.
Now, outside of the size capacity and ice retention, there isn't much more to say for the RTIC. It's built like a tank, and is perfect for outdoor use. What's more, the interior has an anti-microbial mat weaved in to protect against mildew and mold, although you'll still want to clean it often. Best of all, it can even float if the bag isn't too heavy.
All and all, the RTIC doesn't have much in the way of bells and whistles. No bottle opener, only one front pouch, but these are really minor compared to what its purpose is. To keep your food and drinks cold. And on that end, it excels.
Tailgates, as you more than likely know, can be quite competitive. Everyone wants to show off their team spirit, and if you're not into painting yourself the same color as your teams' mascot, Coleman and the NFL have you covered with the perfect soft-sized cooler bag for a tailgate! Because this can also double as a lunch box when you need to let everyone in your office know which team will be the one to beat during the season.
With twenty-three teams to choose from, this is an officially sponsored bag by the NFL and made by Coleman. Not some cheap dollar store bag that'll fall apart if you so much as look at it. This being said, it is a small cooler bag. Coming in at only 11 x 10 x 8, this bag can carry up to nine cans with accompanying ice, or six cans with a lot of ice.
The walling is around one and a half inches thick and will keep your drinks cold for about a day depending on how much ice you pack into the bag. Cleaning is pretty easy as well, and the bag is leak-resistant. While the bag might be generic, you still have Coleman making the bag so it's going to be quality you can trust.
We do recommend this bag only for drinks and not so much for meats. It makes a good lunch box, and with the right amount of packing you can carry lunch for two inside the bag. You can even use this bag as a gift for football fans in your life, or just keep it for yourself to show off team spirit!
The Tourit is one beast of a cooler bag, having more in common with a wheeled cooler than one that's carried. The outer shell is still technically a bag, just one that's resistant to UV rays and punctures. What's more, the cooler can even be strapped onto your back like a backpack if you feel the need to or if you're carrying a full load for two and they wanted to carry the food and drinks.
The interior, as you imagine, is spacious, at a 15 x 9 x 9, and the exterior is 17 x 11 x 13. It can carry either 22 bottles with accompanying ice, or 30 cans with accompanying ice. And it can also carry food, and even meats. Need your ribs safe and secure? The TOURIT will have you and your food covered. However, the ice will only remain for around three days. Which is certainly not bad, but we felt it could have been longer.
To make up for the shorter ice retention, the insides stay cold all the way through. Most bags have that issue whereby the end of the ices' life, most of the food and drinks are just kinda cool. Not with the TOURIT. Your food and drink will remain nice and cold for all three days. This is thanks to the three-layered, and two-inch thick, insulation.
The outer layer prevents "sweating", which is condensation, while the middle layer is a foam substance, and the interior is a leak-proof lining. Together, they keep the contents cold and more importantly your back dry if you decide to carry it like a backpack. There is even a built-in bottle opener, which is adjustable to boot!
While the retention isn't as great as RTIC, this doesn't mean you should overlook the TOURIT either. It's a heavy-duty bag perfect for outdoor events like tailgates, camping, large family gatherings, RVing, or just very long weekends when you decide to go fishing. Whatever the need, the TOURIT will more than provide for you, your friends, and your family.
The Engel seeks to provide the cutting-edge technology with a soft-sided bag. We feel this might be overkill, but after having tried out this bag, we feel that the people at Engel might be onto something. So let's look at the dimensions first. The bag is quite large, coming in at 18 x 7 x 13 for just the interior while the exterior is 20 x 10 x 13.
So what makes the Engel so good, and also expensive? It's because of the vacuum valve you find on the side, which does look like the drainage access you'd see in regularly wheeled coolers we must admit. How it works is that the valve sucks the air out of the bag. The more area that has to be cooled, the less effective the ice will be at cooling and the faster it'll melt. By removing excess air, there is now less room to cool keeping the contents colder.
The ice retention is an impressive four days, and like TOURIT, the contents stay cold the entire time. They don't gradually become warmer as the ice melts. Construction-wise, the Engel is very rugged while still being light thanks to TPU construction. And the bag can carry around 32 cans, which while not impressive compared to other bags is still really good.
The Engel bag is perfect for all your outdoor needs, and with that neat vacuum feature, you'll have cold drinks, food, or your meats nice and cold for days.
Finally on our list, is YETI. When it comes to coolers, cups, containers, basically anything to keep your foods and contents cold, you know YETI will have a product on hand. YETI is well known for its quality, each of their products being exceptionally crafted, and if you're unhappy or something broke you can contact them to have a replacement or receive a refund.
This said, the YETI is smaller then we expected it to be. It's 12 x 10 x 11, with a interior of 11 x 9 x 10. So around twelve cans with accompanying ice, or anything similar in size and weight. As you expect from YETI, the craftsmanship is wonderful. Ice retention was four days, everything was cold, and the loops on the front can be used for attachments like a bottle opener. To our disappointment, you had to buy the bottle opener separately.
The YETI is a fine cooler that doesn't have that many bells and whistles, but makes up for it in quality. If you have YETI products already, look to add this cooler to your collection.
A Guide To Soft Sided Coolers
Now that you've seen our opinion on what we consider the top seven best soft sided cooler bags lets go over the facts and figures on a soft-sided cooler bag!
Feature And Benefits Of A Soft Sided Cooler?
So this varies between the bags. The main selling point of a soft-sided cooler bag is that they're portable and can be easily stored due to their non-ridged structure. This said, the bells and whistles can vastly vary between bags. For example, take the Arctic Zone bag we reviewed; it had tons of outside storage space that other bags lacked.
But the overall main benefit of a soft sided cooler bag is that they're easy to carry, don't take up a lot of space, and can be packed in a variety of ways. Speaking of which, let's move onto our next topic!
What's The Best Way To Pack A Soft Sided Cooler?
Much like a hard-sided cooler, you want to use the 2:1 ratio when packing. Twice as much ice for each item in the bag. A good way to visualize this if look at the inside of a cooler bag and split it into three sides. A Left, Right, and Center. Picking either the left or right side, fill that side with your drinks or food and then add ice to the two remaining sides.
This is how the 2:1 works. One side for food and drinks, the rest given to the ice. Because the more ice you have in your bag, the colder it'll be, and the longer it'll remain cold. Packing your cooler to the brim with food and drinks and only a little ice will cause the ice to melt much faster and leave the contents lukewarm at best.
So remember the 2:1 rule. Even if you can't pack as much, it's better for the contents to remain colder for longer.
How Long Will A Soft Sided Cooler Last?
With proper cleaning, and assuming you're not running it over with your car or accidentally throwing it onto your grill, your bag will last you years if not decades. Generally speaking, the more rugged and higher-quality the bag, the longer it'll last. We mentioned, cleaning, so let's look at that next!
How To Properly Clean A Soft Sided Cooler?
Cleaning is important, and you need to do this every single time you use your bag. See, leak-proof also means water residue. If you just pour out the contents and leave your bag like that, pockets of water and moisture will remain; perfect breeding grounds for mold, mildew, and bacteria. If you think this is gross, you're right! No one wants to reach into a dirty cooler, after all.
So after each and every use, you need to dump the contents of your bag away. Next, use warm water and a bar of mild soap to scrub the inside of the bag. Some recommend only using sponges, others suggest paper towels or washcloths. We use sponges when cleaning out our bags, personally. Once you've scrubbed your bag down, let it dry with the top open so moisture doesn't escape.
Once the bag has dried, wipe the interior down with paper towels or a dried towel to remove and excess moisture. This might seem like a lot of work, but if you want your bag to last you then this is necessary work. Much like cleaning a grill, it's not pretty work but it has to be done.
How Do They Work?
Now, you can write an entire thesis paper on how convection plays a role in keeping the contents inside cold, and how the different layers come into play, and so on. Unfortunately, and fortunately for you, we don't have time to write such a long paper. In simple terms, soft sided coolers work by keeping warm air away from the contents.
As we mentioned in the Engel review, warm air and cold air will try to fill up the available space until the air is a set temperature. Ice will gradually melt as it attracts more energy, which is heat. As the heat is absorbed, the interior remains cold while the ice slowly melts. Insulation, usually a mix of foam, fabrics, and TPU which is a type of plastic, keep the cold air and hot air from mixing,
However, no bag is perfect, and due in part to just how heat works ice will slowly melt regardless of how often you open the bag or not. So that's the very short and simplified answer to how soft sided cooler bags work. It's not really that complicated when you think of it as simply keeping the outside air away from the ice as long as possible.
Soft Sided Vs Hard Sided Coolers: How To Choose Between A Soft Sided Cooler And A Hard Sided Cooler
So, why pick a soft sided cooler over a hard sided cooler? Or, is there really a difference? Well, there is which is why we're looking over the strengths and weaknesses of each. To clarify, a soft-sided cooler is one that uses fabric while a hard sided cooler uses hard plastic. Both can have different layers of insulation, or practically no insulation at all, and both are made to keep your food and drinks cold.
The main difference is of course size and carrying capacity. Hard-sided coolers are quite large, and normally need to be carried by more than one person or rolled around. This makes them perfect in some outdoor events like tailgating or picnics. However, because of their bulk, they're not reliable for camping, hiking, and possibly boating depending on the size of the boat.
Soft sided coolers, while not having the same carrying capacity, are smaller and much more portable. They can be taken just about everywhere and best of all can easily be stored anywhere since they're normally made of fabric and aren't ridged like a hard sided cooler. This means that where you go, you can take a soft sided cooler.
However, due to the less ridged construction, a soft sided cooler will lose its ice much faster than a hard sided cooler. At best, you can expect around five days with a soft sided cooler. Whereas a hard-sided cooler can last you for well over a week, even in hot weather. They can also provide you with seating, due to the hard plastic, and storage for your drinks namely with cup holders built into the lids.
Price and cleaning are generally the same. You can get good hard and soft sided coolers for relatively the same price, and cleaning is about the same. So is one better than the other? No. Both have their uses, and here's what we have to say on the matter;
Soft Sided Coolers: These are perfect for camping, hiking, boating, for the RV, practically everywhere. You want a soft sided cooler with you if you're not expecting to be out in the open for long. Day trips or long weekends are perfect uses for a soft sided cooler
Hard Sided Coolers: These are perfect for when you going to be outside for days on end or you're going to have a lot of mouths to feed. Cabins, RVing, larger boats, or tailgating with friends are perfect times to bring out the hard sided cooler.
The choice is up to you, but we do recommend owning at least one soft sided cooler and one hard sided cooler, so you can have the right tool at your disposal when you need it. After all, no one said anything about buying the most expensive cooler either.
Buyers Guide: Features to consider while buying a soft cooler bag
What You Expect To Do With Your Cooler
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what are your plans for the cooler? Tailgates? Hiking? Do you want to use it at home or on the go? Will it be used for the barbecue? Remember that the biggest selling point for these coolers is their portable. If you're planning to use it exclusively at a tailgate or at home, then a regular hard-sided cooler is going to be right for you and not so much a soft-sided cooler.
As seen in our reviews, prices vary. A good quality cooler will cost you around fifty dollars, while high-end coolers can cost well over three hundred dollars. You want the price to justify its usage, so if you plan on using the cooler a lot, you may want to invest in a higher-end cooler as they're more rugged and reliable.
Carrying Capacity And Weight:
We talked a lot about the carrying capacity, because it's very important when picking out your cooler. Soft-sided coolers generally work well for around four-to-six people, and smaller ones for one-to-three people. So knowing how many people you'll be supplying drinks for should be one thing to consider.
Another thing to consider is the weight of both the ice and drinks or food. Unlike a hard-sided cooler, you have to carry this with you. If you over-pack, you might feel exhausted really quickly. And this isn't helped if the cooler is also large like the TOURIT we looked at. Remember, only stock it with how much you'll actually need, not how much you want.
How Can It Be Carried?
Generally speaking, there are three ways to carry a soft sided cooler bag. By the handle, with a strap over your shoulder and or back, and like a backpack. Pick the cooler that you'll be comfortable carrying, and if you're carrying it for long distances, invest in one you can carry like a backpack or that has a strap.
Finally, we have warranties. Most have limited warranties and if something breaks or if yours arrives in bad shape, you can contact the company and they'll replace it or refund you. The more expensive the bag, the bigger and better the warranty. A good rule of thumb is to take the full coverage warranty for more expensive bags, or see if the company even has a warranty to begin with.
Q: Which soft cooler keeps ice longest?
From our reviews, the RITC kept ice the longest. On average, a soft-sided cooler bag will retain ice for around two days
Q: What is the best soft cooler bag?
Honestly? The YETI, but being expensive ruled it out of being the best.
Q: What soft coolers are comparable to Yeti?
Speaking of the prices, Arctic Zone and TOURIT both have great bags that are only a fraction of the cost of a YETI.
Q: Are hard coolers better than soft coolers?
No. As we established, neither is better than the other. Both have their own pros and cons, and scenarios in which they thrive.
Q: Do soft sided coolers work?
Yes. They keep food and drink insulated, but because of being made with fabric, the insulation doesn't last as long as hard sided coolers.
Q: Is a cool box better than a cool bag?
While it keeps the contents colder longer, it's also bulkier. So no. Much like a hard sided cooler, there is no "better" or "worse" when comparing the two. They both have different functions and different environments they thrive in.