5 Best Soft Sided Coolers of 2021 [YETI, IceMule, Coleman]

Get barbecue grilling done right on the road. These portable and easy access soft coolers will complete your next tailgate or camping trip.

best soft sided coolers

No roadtrip, RV camping excursion, or tailgate party is complete without a reliable soft cooler.

They’re not just the best way to keep your food or drinks fresh, and are the perfect utility belt to backup your portable grill.

They can be doubled up as a cooling container to help your grilled or smoked meat rest, which can help you preserve the juices and flavors within.

Whichever way you want to use them, we’ve put together a list of the best soft sided coolers out there today for all uses. Our list of features to look out for will help ensure that you’ve chosen the right one for you.

Let’s get into it!

  • Best Soft Cooler: YETI Hopper Flip
    100% waterproof with a rigid and puncture-proof exterior, and offers up to three days of ice storage
  • Runner-Up: IceMule 1014-OL Pro
    Breathable mesh shoulder straps for heavy loads and incredible insulation, able to hold ice for up to two days
  • Best Budget Option: NorChill Voyager
    Slim and space-efficient with great build quality, the 600D is robust and well-insulated despite its low price

YETI Hopper Flip Portable

YETI Hopper Flip 18 Portable Cooler

See prices on Amazon

Widely considered the leader in the cooler industry, YETI offers some of the best soft-sided coolers you can find on the market. Their pricing is very steep and isn’t justifiable for everyone, but if you want the best quality no matter the money, then have a look at Hopper Flip.

The highlight of the YETI Hopper Flip is its build. The DryHide Shell is completely waterproof, and so is the HydroLok Zipper. The cooler’s zipper is pretty hard to open, but this is a standard thing for waterproof zippers.

The outer shell of YETI Hopper Flip is fairly rigid and is puncture-, abrasion-, and mildew-resistant as well. The closed-cell rubber foam insulation offers ice retention for days too – with proper packing, you could expect to get 2-3 days of ice storage out of this thing.

What stands out in the Hopper Flip is the Hitchpoint Grid accessory attachment system. You may use it for YETI accessories such as the MOLLE Zinger Bottle Opener, or any other accessory that can fit on the loops.

Pros

  • Excellent quality and insulation
  • Waterproof
  • Accessory attachment grid
  • Neat design
  • Plenty of colors and sizes

Cons

  • Really expensive
  • The zipper is difficult to open and close
YETI Hopper Flip
2,759 Reviews
YETI Hopper Flip
  • The Hopper Flip 18 has ColdCell Insulation, a closed-cell foam that offers superior...
  • The Hopper Flip 18 features a 100% leakproof HydroLok Zipper and the wide-mouth opening means...
  • Its DryHide Shell is waterproof and resistant to punctures and abrasions so it will hold its...

IceMule 1014-OL Pro

IceMule Pro Cooler

See prices on Amazon

The IceMule Pro cooler is far less expensive than YETI’s Hopper Flip, but it nonetheless has a few interesting things to offer.

This is a backpack cooler, first of all – it has breathable mesh shoulder straps to make carrying heavy loads easier.

Next, the shell of the Pro cooler isn’t as rigid as in Hopper Flip. When empty, it may even be collapsed, delivering excellent space efficiency.

In terms of construction, the IceMule Pro cooler offers a leakproof body along with a zipper-less closure. Given that you properly seal the closure, this cooler will not let water get inside. The Pro cooler is buoyant as well.

For some added storage, the IceMule Pro cooler also has bungee straps on the front that you could use for paddles, a fishing rod, or the likes.

Insulation-wise, the Pro cooler should retain ice for one or two days, maybe longer if you don’t open the cooler often throughout the trip. However, do note that how well you seal the cooler is paramount to its insulation ability.

Pros

  • Easy to carry thanks to the backpack design
  • Waterproof
  • Foldable when empty
  • Bungee straps on the front for accessories

Cons

  • The water tightness of this cooler depends on how well you seal the closure
IceMule 1014-OL Pro Large Collapsible
86 Reviews
IceMule 1014-OL Pro Large Collapsible
  • RUGGED AND BUILT FOR THE OUTDOORS: Engineered for portability and high-performance, this large...
  • EFFORTLESS HANDS-FREE CARRY: Lightweight, backpack-style cooler with 2 padded, airmesh shoulder...
  • EASY ACCESS INTERIOR: Accessible roll-top design opens wide, letting you load up and find what...

Coleman Soft Cooler Bag

Coleman Soft Cooler Bag

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If you don’t need a super-durable cooler, then this model from Coleman might be the best soft-sided cooler for you. It’s considerably cheaper than YETI and IceMule coolers and has inferior quality, but for single-day trips, it should work just fine.

Coleman promises up to 24 hours of ice retention with this cooler – in reality, you will have to work very hard to get to the 24-hour mark. Most of the time, you’ll get no more than 12 hours. And that’s fine for the price, but Coleman should have been more accurate.

Although this cooler bag doesn’t have fancy accessory attachment points, it does have a small front pocket for dry storage. Its lid features a small built-in hatch too that allows you to access your items without opening the whole cooler.

The build of the Coleman cooler is fine but offers nothing remarkable. It won’t withstand abrasion or water, so be very careful with where you take it.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • Great for day trips
  • Top hatch for easier access to your food items

Cons

  • Not the greatest insulation
  • Not nearly as durable as our previous picks
Coleman Soft Cooler Bag
3,544 Reviews
Coleman Soft Cooler Bag
  • Keeps ice up to 24 hours at temps up to 90°F
  • Holds 30 cans
  • Zippered main compartment is insulated to keep contents cold; front pocket provides extra...

NorChill Voyager

NorChill Can Voyager Series Insulated Soft Sided Cooler

See prices on Amazon

The NorChill Voyager soft cooler is a slim and space-efficient cooler with great build quality. The 600D canvas shell makes this cooler wear- and tear-resistant, while the thick insulation retains ice for 1-2 days.

Although Voyager is highly durable, it’s not its toughness that makes it remarkable. The Voyager cooler offers several features that you won’t find in other soft coolers.

One of these features is the spout on the corner that allows you to easily pour melted ice out of the cooler. The liner can be pulled out as well, dramatically facilitating cleaning.

What’s also nice about the NorChill Voyager soft cooler is that it may be folded down when empty for added space efficiency.

Best of all, the Voyager cooler is fairly inexpensive. Needless to say, it won’t deliver the same level of protection as something like YETI coolers, but for the money, the Voyager is solid and should work for most needs.

Pros

  • Good price
  • Collapsible when empty
  • Wear- and tear-resistant shell
  • Great insulation
  • Several sizes available

Cons

  • Less capacious than other coolers of similar size
NorChill Can Voyager Series
246 Reviews
NorChill Can Voyager Series
  • 600 denier canvas shell is stain, wear and tear resistant along with puncture resistant...
  • Fusion welded liner seams virtually eliminates the possibility of leaking from melting ice
  • Dual temperature insulation system keeps food and drinks hot or cold

Pelican Elite

Pelican Elite Soft Cooler

See prices on Amazon

The Pelican Elite soft cooler offers great performance for a not too steep price. The Elite cooler is by no means cheap, but it’s certainly not as outrageously expensive as the YETI Hopper Flip cooler.

This soft cooler has a design that resembles that of Hopper Flip. The Elite cooler has a semi-rigid shell that is resistant to abrasion and tearing. The insulation in the Elite cooler is high-density closed-cell foam too – similar to what Hopper Flip has. In terms of ice retention, the Elite is good for around 2 days.

The Pelican Elite soft cooler is also completely waterproof, partly thanks to the leakproof zipper. The zipper is like in Hopper Flip – it does its job but is hard to open and close.

Interestingly, the Pelican Elite soft cooler has dedicated stainless steel tie-down points on the front too. With these, you may securely anchor the Elite cooler to your car or kayak. The tie-down points double as bottle openers as well.

All in all, the Elite soft cooler is a worthy competitor to Hopper Flip, though it probably isn’t as rugged and high-quality. It doesn’t have an accessory attachment system too. But all in all, it’s an excellent choice if you don’t want to overpay for YETI coolers.

Pros

  • Waterproof and very durable
  • Excellent insulation
  • Tie-down points that double as bottle openers

Cons

  • The zipper is difficult to use
Pelican Elite Soft Cooler
184 Reviews
Pelican Elite Soft Cooler
  • PELICAN 48 CAN SOFT COOLER

soft sided cooler containing drinks and ice resting on bench with fishing outdoor gear

We all like a good soft-sided cooler. The best purchasing decisions for them are underpinned by sound research. The more you know, the higher the chances are of buying a good one. In this guide, we tackle some key questions and provide information about these coolers.

Features to look out for

Soft-sided coolers are a fantastic way to keep your food fresh and your drinks cold when you are out and about. If you are an avid outdoors lover looking for the best gear for your camping or the perfect add-on to your portable RV grill, you will certainly enjoy having one of these as part of your arsenal. There are certain features that you need to look out for in a soft-sided cooler. You need it to be efficient and do what you need it to. Let’s take a look at some of these features. 

Lining material

Soft-sided coolers need to have a particular lining for them to be effective. They are made of soft materials that allow you to fold the cooler and carry it more manageably. This is why they are called soft-sided coolers. The lining material needs to have insulating properties and lightweight so that it doesn’t weigh the bag down. It should also be water-resistant and easy to clean if something spills on it. 

Most linings are made of polyurethane and foam. Others can be made of TPU double-coated nylon, which is known for its durability. It has anti-microbial properties, and it is also anti leakproof. The best materials that make inner lining include kavas, PVC types (polyvinyl chloride), and types of TPU( thermoplastic polyurethane).

Weight and portability

For the cooler to be easy to move around with, you will need it to be lightweight. The materials that it is made of contributes significantly to the overall weight of the cooler. If it will be portable, it needs to be lightweight so that it is convenient to carry on the road, in the car, at the beach, or wherever you need to go where there’s a chance that your drinks and food may get hot. 

When it comes to exact numbers, some of the lightest coolers on the market weigh about 3 pounds when empty, and this can carry about 14 liters. Accessories that come with the bag make it easier to move around. For instance, extra padded shoulder straps make it easy to carry more weight. Sturdy handles also help hold the cooler. 

If you are getting an extra-large cooler, then you may do well with wheels on the cooler so that you can quickly move it without throwing out your back. 

Storage space

When it comes to storage space, check on the collapsed dimensions and how many liters or ounces the bag can take. The collapsed dimensions will give you an idea of how easily you can carry the bag when it is not in use. The less bulky it is, the better. Cooler bags that are considered large should hold between 16, 18, or 24 cans. 

Some coolers can even take up to 48 cans. But if portability is essential for you, this may not be the one for you. Just remember that the advertised capacity may be less or more, depending on the size of cans or bottles you will be putting in the bag.

Insulation

All coolers need to have some sort of insulation. It’s some foam, placed between two walls. Manufacturers employ different technologies to come up with the right type of insulation that has the most efficiency. Coolers use closed-cell insulation foam to keep temperatures low inside the bag. 

The best insulation comes about as a combination of the right materials and also proper construction. By this, I mean that you want to ensure that the cooler keeps excess heat out as much as possible. The moment heat is introduced when you lose cool temperatures, and the purpose is defeated. 

Most bags are insulated using foam, which has gas bubbles trapped inside. Gas will not conduct heat in the same way that other materials do. In general, you will find that many coolers on the market can keep low temperatures for up to a couple of hours. Very few can pull through many days. A soft cooler can keep stuff cold, at 90˚ for about 4 1/2 days.

Add-ons 

Durability is critical when looking to buy an efficient cooler. You want to make sure that the cooler is made of durable material. This includes the inner and outer layers as well as the handles. Nylon is a standard fabric used for the outside of soft side coolers because it is strong and will not break easily. 

Shoulder straps are a handy feature that you can often find on cooler bags. Look for a soft and flexible strap that is also strong. If you are hiking with the cooler, you may do well with a cooler with double straps, allowing you to carry the cooler on your back. Vacuum valve technology helps keep the cold in. as such, this is a feature that you ought to be on the lookout for. 

Hard-sided vs. soft coolers

To go for hard-sided or soft-sided, that is the question. These are the two classifications that you will probably come across when you shop for a cooler. They are both great options, but your choice should be guided by what you will want to use the cooler for and for how long. But what’s the difference?

Pros of soft-sided coolers

  • Keep food and drinks cold for when you are out and about
  • Ffold easily
  • Cheaper than hard-sided coolers
  • Easy to carry compared to hard coolers
  • Lightweight

Cons of soft-sided coolers

  • Don’t have a lot of protection.
  • Not as much capacity and space as hard coolers.

Pros of hard coolers

  • Adequate insulation.
  • Robust exterior.
  • Large capacity.
  • More durable and can be placed just about anywhere.

Cons of hard coolers

  • More expensive
  • Can’t be folded or collapsed.
  • Heavy to carry

Last update on 2021-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


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