Whether you’re on a picnic or out camping, being able to keep your stuff cool means less time spent debating the viability of your mayonnaise (or warm beer), and more time focusing on fun. Having one of the best soft coolers on board will let you easily chill and carry your desired amount of items without leaks or messes. Some coolers will even come with bonus features that turn your cooler into a practical all-purpose pack.
Soft coolers range significantly in terms of storage size. Capacity is usually indicated by the number of 12-ounce cans a vessel can comfortably hold. Keep in mind that you need to allow room for ice or ice packs. Smaller coolers of 12-20 cans can typically pack enough food for two or three people and are easy to haul.
If you need something that can hold enough for a slightly bigger group, or to supplement a weekend adventure like music festivals and road trips, larger coolers from 20-40 cans can hold enough food (or beer or ice) to do the job nicely. However, they’re bulky and can be hard to manage for just one person. Look for adjustable shoulder straps or additional carrying handles to make this larger cooler size less unwieldy when it's fully stocked.
For longer events, you might want to consider an additional large hardside cooler that packs in more insulation so your ice lasts, since hardsides are able to hold a chill longer.
Once you've determined the capacity you need, it's time to talk features. You'll want a cooler with a leakproof liner to prevent messes — and ones with heat-welded seams (instead of regular stitching) will offer the most sturdy seal. A structured base or removable plastic hardshell basket provides extra reinforcement where you need it, without making your cooler so bulky and rigid as to defeat the purpose. And exterior pockets are especially useful on coolers where you might want to keep dry items separate.
It’s smart to have a go-to soft cooler on hand, and these five choices are backed by thousands of Amazon reviews for keeping your drinks cold on days when the temperature spikes.
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