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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1. A Small 12-Can Soft Cooler With An Ultra-Strong Liner
- Capacity: 12 cans (featured), also available in 6-can and 24-can sizes
This 12-can cooler features a pliable molded liner that’s FDA-approved and stronger than conventional soft-sided coolers. The leakproof liner resists snags, while a quick-access lid means you can grab a drink without letting too much cold air escape so your food (or cider) stays cool. It comes with one adjustable shoulder strap and one slim mesh exterior pocket. "It is a absolutely terrific 3-4 hour cooler that holds ice reasonably well, cannot leak and is super durable," wrote one shopper who owned two, adding, "I abuse the hell out of them and they both perform well and last."
- Available colors: 4
2. This Minimalist Backpack Cooler
- Capacity: 28 cans
Almost 2,000 Amazon shoppers have raved about this low-profile soft backpack cooler, noting the ergonomic fit felt wildly comfortable to wear for hours while keeping their gear cold through it all. There’s a main cooler big enough for large bottles with small interior compartments, and an external insulated zippered pocket so you can keep fragile food or snacks separate. You'll find heat-welded seams for leakproof, secure hauling of all your contents. Exterior mesh pockets on either side are a great place for stashing napkins or an umbrella, and there's a front elastic bungee cord for tethering extra items. Lastly, the shoulder straps and waist belt are padded and fully adjustable to distribute carrying weight for long-distance walks. Plus, the lining has antimicrobial properties to prevent funky smells.
- Available colors: 1
3. A Large (But Collapsible!) Cooler With A Removable Hard Insert
- Capacity: 30 cans
This Coleman soft cooler combines the best features of hard and soft coolers in one versatile insulated bag you'll use for years. There’s a removable plastic basket insert for when you need a structured tote, and the bag itself has a permanent PEVA lining that’s antimicrobial so nothing grows inside with heat-welded seams to ensure a watertight seal. And both hard and soft liners are FDA-approved to be food safe. Carry it via the two side handles or a padded adjustable shoulder strap (although some reviewers did think the strap was a bit short). This Coleman also stands out for its storage: there are plenty of pockets and two bungee straps on the lid for securing additional items.
One fan noted just how much this cooler could haul, "I went through 5 other coolers in 2 months looking for this cooler. Fits 4 tupperwear containers, 2 large waters, 4 sodas, one ice pack and chips in the lid. Not to mention the great front pouch for a book, papers, gloves, towels or anything that can’t get wet. The mesh sides are good for sanitizer, sunscrean, flashlights, napkins and pens. [...]"
- Available colors: 2
4. This Luxury Soft Cooler To Keep Things Cold For *Days*
- Capacity: 30 cans
The rough and tumble RTIC soft cooler is famous for its ultra-durable body with two solid inches of insulating foam that can keep your food chilled for up to five days, according to the brand. Reviewers had success keeping items cold for varying time periods, with one noting "This cooler is very portable and works amazingly well at keeping things cold. I first used it on a summer camping trip in central Texas where highs were around 100 and lows were in the high 70s. It kept ice intact for two days! We used ice packs rather than ice cubes and they stayed frozen without an issue, despite regular opening and closing. Worth every penny!"
The cooler's leakproof lining is heavy-duty enough to withstand punctures and fights off mildew, while the hard-wearing vinyl exterior features a UV treatment to resist sun damage over the years. There are two short side handles, carrying straps, and a detachable padded shoulder strap, with plenty of loops for secure tie-downs and two exterior pockets.
- Available colors: 3
5. An Extra-Large Soft Sided Cooler With Two Included Ice Packs
- Capacity: 40 cans
This outsized cooler comes with two ice packs that promise to stay cold longer than plain cubes. It can hold up to 40 cans (or 20 bottles) and collapses down flat for storage. The whole thing is lined with a layer of insulating foam that's five millimeters thick and topped with a sheet of leakproof industrial foil. The heavy-duty exterior is woven from rip-resistant 1680-denier Oxford fabric that repels water, and features an adjustable removable shoulder strap plus padded carrying handles. The lid features a smaller opening so you get inside without releasing all of the cold air, while three very generous exterior pockets hold everything else you need. There's even a pocket for the ice packs so that the internal compartments are reserved just for food and drinks.
- Available colors: 3
Also Consider: These Flexible Reusable Ice Packs
Even if your cooler comes with ice packs (or you have old ones stashed in the freezer), you might want a few extra on-hand to avoid any chance of warm drinks. These cute little sweatproof ice packs hardly take up any space and are made with a nontoxic gel core that stays somewhat flexible when frozen for a perfect fit (you can bend them around cans). The gel is locked in a BPA free plastic envelope with a moisture-wicking nylon sleeve that mops up any condensation. One reviewer wrote of them, "The fabric is sweat-proof, so there’s not a big mess when I am ready to eat. The packs are easy to keep clean, don’t take up much room in the freezer and add a little cheer to my mundane packed lunches."
- Available colors: 3