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Best Soft Sided Coolers In 2021 [Buying Guide]

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Whether you’re camping, tailgating, or having a picnic by the beach, you need a reliable cooler to keep your food fresh and your drinks cold. Soft-sided coolers are perfect for keeping your food fresh and your drinks cool especially in hot weather and unlike their hard-shelled counterparts, they are more portable and lightweight. If you’re in the market for a soft cooler, be sure to check out our review of the best soft-sided coolers on the market.

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What Are Soft-Sided Coolers?

Soft-sided coolers are known for their versatility. They are ideal for short camping trips and can be used on a daily basis like going to the gym, for office lunch, or a day of fishing. 

They are named “soft-sided coolers” because they are made of softer materials, unlike their hard-shelled counterparts. Think of it as a bag with the cooling and freezer style lining to keep things cold and fresh. You can put almost anything you want inside like your drinks, ice, snacks, sandwiches, and more.

Soft Sided Coolers Vs. Hard Sided Coolers

There are a number of qualities that make a soft-sided cooler unique compared to its hard-shelled counterparts. Here are the most important things to take note of, so you’ll know if these soft-sided coolers are suited for your needs

Weight

Soft-sided coolers weigh less than hard-sided coolers, mainly because of the materials used in constructing these coolers. Soft-sided ones are usually made of fabric or vinyl which is more lightweight compared to the rotomolded plastic shell of the latter. 

Mobility

Since soft sided coolers generally weigh less, this makes them easier to transport and move around compared to hard shelled coolers where you’ll need some kind of vehicle to transport it. Features such as straps make the soft sided coolers more portable and easier to bring wherever you need them.

Storage

With it being collapsible, the best soft-sided coolers take up less space in contrast to the hard-shelled coolers. You can fold or even roll these coolers when not in use so you can store them in tight spaces where hard-sided coolers won’t exactly fit. 

Ice Retention

Hard-shelled coolers are known to have better ice retention than soft-sided coolers, but this feature greatly depends on brand and type. For example, rotomolded coolers are known as the best coolers for ice retention, but they are also quite pricy. Although soft-sided coolers don’t have a longer cooling capacity, it is still perfect for day trips and other outdoor activities.

Capacity

Since soft-sided coolers are made to be more portable and lightweight, the amount of things you can put inside is quite limited compared to the hard-sided coolers. For the most part, soft-sided coolers are tailored to carry drinks most of the time, and comparisons between these coolers are often based on the number of canned drinks they can carry.

Hard-sided coolers on the other hand have a greater capacity that can be used to hold both food and drinks at the same time.

Durability

Soft-sided coolers are ideal for use on a daily basis, perfect for lighter and less demanding activities outdoors. Hard-sided coolers of high quality are more heavy-duty and can be used for longer trips outdoors and are designed to be durable even on rugged terrains.

What Are The Things To Consider When Buying A Soft Sided Cooler

When choosing a soft-sided cooler you should base it off on features that work best for you and your needs. Make sure you Look at the following things to consider before choosing a soft-sided cooler.

Materials

There are a number of materials that make up the shell and lining of soft-sided coolers. Make sure that you are choosing coolers that are made from lightweight, tough, and easy to clean materials. High-quality soft-sided coolers are usually made of nylons, PVC, and TPU. Added treatments are done on the materials to further their durability should also be taken into consideration.

Construction 

Construction is equally important as the materials from which these coolers are made of. A soft-sided cooler with flimsy construction won’t last long for sure. So make sure that you are getting well-constructed coolers and keep an eye out for quality multi seam stitching, heat and laser welding as well as reinforcements. 

Size And Weight

Many types of soft-sided coolers come in different shapes, sizes, and weights. The perfect cooler for you greatly depends on its purpose and your needs. With these things in mind, you’ll be able to choose what size is ideal for you. And Usually, soft-sided cooler manufacturers quantity sizes by 12-ounce can capacity so choosing a perfect fit for you won’t be that hard. 

Insulation

The most important thing you should look into is the cooler’s insulation or cooling capacity. Since there are different materials used in making these coolers, their capacity to keep your drinks and food cool may vary. 

Keep an eye out on how many layers of insulation there is and ideally, the more, the better it is in keeping your drinks and food cold for a longer period of time. 

Mobility

Be sure to check for features such as conveniently placed straps and handles that make it easier for transport and movement. Choose a cooler that is easy for you to carry and won’t drag you down when you finally use it.

Features

There are added features that you should keep an eye out for, as they can also contribute to the overall performance of your coolers.

  • Pockets- Extra pockets provide more space for other utensils or things that you need. 
  • Buckles- properly placed buckles add more security and protection when you carry your coolers.
  • Shelf- some soft-sided coolers come with a shelf that lets you organize and sort the things you put inside the coolers.
  • Tie-downs- It also works for added security for your bags and you can even use it to attach other accessories you need for your activity.

What Are The Best Soft Sided Coolers?

Now that you know qualities and factors to take note of when choosing a soft sided cooler, it’s finally time to pick one that suits you best.

Based on our comprehensive research, here are the best soft-sided coolers on the market that you shouldn’t miss!

Best Soft Sided Coolers

How Do You Pack A Soft Sided Cooler?

To make sure that you maximize its use and keep your items cool for a longer time, make sure you follow these simple and easy tips in packing a soft-sided cooler.

  • Chill your cooler– Before packing your cooler, it’s best to let it sit for a night in a freezer if you have access to one. This works great to keep the ice frozen and extend the cool temperature inside your coolers.
  • Chill or Freeze your food and drinks– It helps when you chill your food and beverages before putting them inside your coolers. If you’re planning to eat meat on your trip make sure you also freeze them before packing. These steps will also prolong the cooling capacity of your coolers.
  • Ice packs go at the bottom– The biggest ice pack goes to the bottom of the cooler and if you have other smaller ice packs, put them in between your drinks or food. You can also put thin sheets in between the layers of ice and food/ drinks to keep your food from sleeping in between the ice.
  • Use Sealed Containers– To keep your food separated from each other you should use sealed packs like zip locks that are leak proof to prevent the inside of your coolers from getting messy.
  • For best results fill your coolers with a 2:1 ratio of ice-to-food/ drinks
  • Fill up your cooler completely– As much as possible make sure that you fill up your soft-sided cooler completely to prevent air pockets that can make the ice melt faster.
  • Avoid opening and closing your coolers frequently for long periods.

Caring For Your Soft Sided Coolers

There are different ways to maintain the quality and extend the life of your soft side coolers. And with proper cleaning and caring, you’re sure that your coolers won’t develop bacteria or molds over time that will leave your food and drinks unsafe for consumption.

  • After each use, make sure that you leave no traces of food and liquid residue inside your coolers. Before washing it out totally, take a damp cloth or sponge and wipe the inside compartment making sure that you remove all dirt and food particles.
  • When washing, use water + mild soap and use it to clean the inside of your coolers( handwash only).
  • To remove tough stains inside, use a mixture of baking soda and water.
  • If there are unwanted odors that won’t go away, try using a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water, or wipe the inside with a cloth saturated with vanilla extract, leave the cloth inside overnight.
  • Don’t forget to rinse it with clean water after cleaning.
  • Make sure that your air-dry your coolers with the lid open before storing them to lessen the chances of them developing bacteria and molds.

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