There’s nothing worse than looking forward to a delicious ham sandwich with all the fixin’s only to reach your hand into your brown paper bag at lunch time and find that it is warm. It’s enough to ruin your day! A soft cooler can be the messiah to all of your warm lunch woes.
Or, what about when you are going on a camping trip and the only cooler you have is a big bulky thing that is a pain to carry around? Lightweight soft coolers can replace those bulky, heavy monstrosities, allowing you to save your energy so you can enjoy your outdoor activities.
In this article, we are going to shed some light on this mystical bag that can keep beer frosty and cold foods tasty. By the end of our little article, we’re sure you’re going to ditch the brown paper bag and upgrade to the best soft cooler your money can buy!
What Is A Soft Cooler?
As the name would imply, a soft cooler is a cooler that has soft sides. These coolers are generally made from a durable nylon material that is lightweight and can take quite a beating.
The interior of these coolers are generally made from an FDA approved plastic material that is resistant against mold and mildew and is easy to clean.
The insulation material that is used in one of these versatile coolers is generally a closed-cell foam insulation that is used in wet suits to keep the wearer warm and dry. There are several different styles of soft coolers:
Shoulder Bag Style Cooler
This is one of the more common forms of soft coolers and often preferred because they provide you with the flexibility you may need from a regular cooler, but it has a convenient shoulder strap (some will also have handles so you can carry it like a briefcase, too) for easier transportation.
These coolers generally provide you with quite a bit of space for storing your drinks and ice, but they can still be folded up into a neat compact design when you aren’t using the cooler anymore. Most of the time, these coolers will have several pockets for additional storage.
Lunchbox Style Cooler
These coolers are the most common type of soft cooler. They’re about the size of a paper bag, except these coolers will usually have a plastic inner lining that can be removed for easier cleaning.
These coolers are usually best suited for one person’s lunch or carrying a couple of beverages. You aren’t going to want to rely on one of these coolers if you intend on going camping or to the beach, but they are useful for packing a lunch or if you’re going on a long road trip and you don’t want to make any unnecessary stops.
These coolers look very much like a backpack that you’d take for a hiking excursion, except the inside is lined with insulation and you can store quite a bit of food and drink inside. These are excellent options if you want a hands free cooler that is going to be able to store most, if not all, of your goodies.
These coolers are generally preferred by campers and hikers because they can carry the backpack on their back, freeing their hands for other tasks. This kind of cooler will usually have padded straps so you can carry the pack over long distances without being uncomfortable.
Cooler On Wheels
These types of coolers are generally decent sized and can carry quite a bit of goodies. The only difference between these coolers and the others is that they are on wheels and have a handle. If you’ve got a lot of stuff to pack inside the cooler, it’s going to get quite heavy.
This type of cooler can be a life saver (figuratively speaking, of course) if you don’t want to (or unable to) carry a cooler full of drinks, food, and of course, ice.
What To Look For When Choosing A Soft Cooler
Maybe you’re interested in purchasing a soft cooler for yourself, but you aren’t sure what to look for in a good quality item. That’s understandable because there are so many coolers on the market, all claiming to have the ability to keep your ice frozen for hours, some even make the claim of keeping the ice frozen for days!
So, what qualities should you be looking for when searching for that perfect cooler? Well, the first is what style you want, but also the size and capacity.
Size And Capacity
The size of your cooler is going to depend on the intended purpose. If you’re going backpacking and want to bring a lot of water and several days’ worth of food, you are probably going to want to choose a backpack soft cooler because they are going to be able to accommodate all your supplies and ice, while still being comfortable and easy to carry.
If you’re going to the beach with friends, you can get away with a shoulder cooler. However, depending on how many friends you’re going with, you may want to opt for a large, 24 to 48 can unit—if you can carry it. If you haven’t eaten your Wheaties in a while, you may want to forego the shoulder cooler and opt for a rolling one instead.
Then, of course, if you’re just looking to pack lunch for work or need a few drinks while watching your kids’ baseball game, a lunchbox style cooler will suffice.
Most soft coolers are made from a military grade nylon material that is going to be able to withstand a fair amount of abuse. There are some coolers that are impenetrable and puncture proof—if you plan on doing backpacking, whitewater rafting, or other activities and you’re worried about the cooler getting damaged, look for coolers that use this material.
However, if you aren’t so much concerned about wear and tear because you only intend on using the cooler for low-key activities like picnicking or going to the beach, you can get away with a nylon cooler.
For the interior, soft coolers usually use a FDA approved plastic material that is antimicrobial and resistant against mold and mildew. This plastic material is going to be easy to clean and it’s going to prevent any water from leaking out of the cooler.
In order to keep the coldness from the ice inside the cooler, you want to have a cooler that is going to create a good seal. Most soft coolers will feature a YKK zipper that is waterproof and leak-proof.
You may find some coolers that just use a locking mechanism to hold the cooler closed, but that doesn’t always create a good seal, this compromising the effectiveness of the insulation.
When looking at soft coolers, you’re going to want to choose a cooler that is going to be easy to carry, but is also going to be light enough for you to carry when it is at full capacity. As mentioned above, your physical strength is an important factor to consider because when large coolers are full with product and ice, it’s going to be quite heavy.
A Rigid Or A Soft Sided Cooler?
Often when it comes to choosing between a rigid cooler and a soft cooler, people prefer one over the other. But, why? Both are capable of keeping items cold so why does it matter which one you choose?
Well, rigid coolers are a lot heavier than soft coolers when they are empty—just imagine how much heavier they will be when it’s full of stuff! You’re not going to want to carry that out of the house, let alone to the beach (unless you’ve got a rigid cooler that has wheels).
Also, a hard cooler is going to take up a lot of precious space in the car, but also in your home when it isn’t being used.
With a soft cooler, they are much lighter and when they aren’t being used, they can usually be folded up pretty compact, which is a huge space saver.
In terms of which can hold more, that’s subjective. You can find large rigid coolers that can hold a lot of drinks, food, and ice, and still have space for more. Naturally, these types of units are generally best reserved for back yard barbeques or tail gating.
With a soft cooler, depending on the style, you’re limited to how much it can store. The largest models can hold up to 48-cans and have room for ice.
Popular Cooler Manufacturers
So, with all this talk about coolers, where can you get one of these magical things? Well, there are a few companies that specialize in creating fantastic coolers—some focus on soft coolers, while others do both. Let’s take a look at these companies:
The Yeti soft cooler is the industry leader in terms of quality and performance. The Yeti company has several different cooler types in their product line up. They create large ice chests, small personal sized coolers, drink tanks that you can put a keg into, drinkware, and a submersible duffel bag for those going out on the water.
The RTIC soft cooler is often touted as an affordable option to the Yeti brand. The company’s slogan is “Over Built, not Over Priced,” and there is no question that these are high quality products. In their product line up, you’ll find the soft cooler, but also roto-molded coolers, drinkware, travel bags, and other accessories that you may need along the way.
When it comes to outdoor activities, people are very familiar with the Coleman brand. Not only do can you find a variety of Coleman soft coolers in their product lineup, but you’ll find everything from sleeping bags, tents, stoves and grills.
You’ll even find furniture pieces for outdoors, games, and lighting solutions too. Needless to say, Coleman is your one-stop shop for any outdoor activity.
If ever there was a company that was synonymous with coolers, Igloo would be a top contender. For over 70 years, people have been using Igloo coolers for all of their keep-drinks-cold needs.
Along with the Igloo soft coolers, the company offers a variety of hard coolers, drinkware, and coolers that are made specifically for a particular activity, such as boating, entertaining, sports, backpacking, lunches and even tailgating!
When you hear someone mention that they have a Polar Bear soft cooler, you know they are toting a high quality cooler. The products in the Polar Bear line up include coolers (naturally) and drinkware, but you can also find other items such as hats, wine totes, containers, thermometers, and urban canteens, too.
How To Pack A Soft Cooler
Once you’ve decided the cooler that will best suit your needs, you’re going to want to know how to pack the cooler so that you can store all the stuff you want to take with you, but also so that everything is chilled properly. Here are five tips on how to pack your cooler:
To keep everything cold, you’re going to want to use blocks of ice, instead of small cubes which will melt easily. You can use ice packs, but if you haven’t had the chance to purchase them, or if you just don’t want to spend the money on them, you can fill up bags or bottles of ice and freeze them.
Be sure to leave some room in the bag/bottle for the ice to expand so that it doesn’t burst the container.
Depending on the size of your container and the contents, you may want to use various sized bags/bottles so that you can fill up any empty space with ice. For example, fill up small snack sized Ziplock bags to fill the small spaces in between bottles.
Always put the fragile items on the top of the cooler. This means juice boxes, food like fruit, sandwiches, eggs (if you’re camping), and lettuce. Basically anything that can be broken easily.
Don’t leave excess space inside the cooler. If what we mean by this is instead of taking a whole box of juice boxes, only pack a few. Instead of taking a full carton of eggs with only 6 in it, cut the carton in half.
Bring to-go condiments or fill baby food jars with the desired condiment. In a cooler, regardless if it is a soft cooler or hard, every inch of the cooler should be filled for maximum efficiency.
Keep everything dry, neat, and organized. If you go the Ziplock bag or bottle route for your ice, you don’t really have to worry about keeping things dry except for condensation. However, you’ll find that when your cooler is neat and organized, it’ll just be one less thing to worry about. Of course, if you have a cooler full of just one beverage, it isn’t a problem.
Never leave your cooler in the sun. This may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people forget to bring an umbrella when they go to the beach, or leave the cooler in the trunk of the car, which has been parked in a sunny area, instead of under tree cover.
The temperature on the outside of the cooler is going to have a big impact on how well the cooler’s insulation works. To keep your ice around longer and your food nice and cold, always put the cooler in the shade.
How To Care For A Soft Cooler
To get the most use out of your soft cooler, you’re going to have to be mindful of how you care for it. Here are a few bits of sage advice that will help you keep your cooler in pristine condition so you can use it for years to come.
After each use, make sure the cooler is free of any food particles or dirt on both the inside and outside of the cooler. Take a damp sponge or cloth and wipe the cooler. Make sure you get in the seams!
If you notice any stains on the inside of the cooler, you can remove them by applying a mixture of baking soda and water to the stain. Gently rub the stain with a sponge or brush. Then wipe away the mixture with a clean, dry cloth. If the stain is still there, repeat the process.
If you notice there is an odor coming from your cooler, you can remove the smell by spraying the inside of the cooler with a weak solution of bleach and water. Wipe the solution away with a clean, dry cloth and then let it dry completely.
If you’re uncomfortable using bleach in the cooler, you can use the baking soda and water mixture and gently wipe down the entire inside of the cooler. Let the mixture dry completely before wiping it away with a dry cloth.
You can also use antibacterial cleaning cloths to clean the cooler, both in the inside and out. These wipes can be great for minimizing odors and doing quick cleanings without breaking out the baking soda or bleach.
When you’re done cleaning your cooler, store it in a cool, dry closet until you are ready to use it again!
As the weather becomes warmer, there’s more opportunities to go outside for longer periods of time. Camping trips, fishing, sporting events, and trips to the beach are just a few reasons why someone may want or need a soft cooler.
The type of cooler that you need will be dependent on several factors, such as how much stuff you intend on putting inside, how strong you are, and what kind of activities you intend on doing. You’re not going to want a rolling soft cooler if you’re packing a lunch for work, nor would you want to use a lunchbox cooler if you plan on going a long hike.
We understand that trying to choose which cooler is going to work for your needs is a bit challenging because things change and your needs may change depending on the activity.
Not only that, but with so many options on the market claiming to be the best value, choosing one that is going to perform as you’d hope can be frustrating. No one wants to spend money on a cooler that isn’t going to keep their food stuffs cold!
We hope that this article provided you with enough information so you can make an informed purchase. Leave us a comment below and tell us what are your favorite outdoor activities that you might need a soft cooler for! We’d love to know!