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The Best Soft Coolers of 2024

From picnics to standup paddleboard trips and road tripping up the coast, soft coolers have a solid place in our lineup of on-the-go refrigeration tools. Here are our favorite picks.
Senior Editor Morgan Tilton testing soft coolers; (photo/Eric Phillips)
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We’ll always have a spot in our gear closet for a hard cooler, but soft coolers have proven to be just as essential. They weigh less and are easy for one person to grab and quickly transport from the deck to the truck bed.

There’s a broad range of sizes and softness in soft coolers. Some of these designs are actually very rigid, stout, and stackable. Others are fully collapsible and pliable, and we celebrate the space-saving option for storage.

For day-long roams, weekend adventures, road trips, or running errands, these soft coolers kept our provisions chilled without weighing us down. For more information about soft coolers, check out our buyer’s guide, comparison chart, and FAQ at the end of this article.

Otherwise, scroll through to see all of our recommended buys for 2024.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Soft Coolers buyer’s guide on June 14, 2024, to dial in the awards and our selection, which remains the best available.

The Best Soft Coolers of 2024

Best Overall Soft Cooler

YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler


  • Size 14.3" x 10.7" x 12.0"
  • Capacity 12L
  • Weight 1361 g (3 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
Product Badge The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Waterproof
  • Great Insulation
  • Floats


  • Pricey
  • Zipper is not the most durable
Best Budget Soft Cooler

Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote


  • Size 15" x 10" x 13.5"
  • Capacity 33L
  • Weight 816 g (1.8 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Great ice retention
  • Two over-the-shoulder straps Velcro together alongisde an optional shoulder strap
  • Includes bottle opener


  • A few of us don’t prefer the look
  • The lid’s zipper is not waterproof
Sturdiest Soft Cooler

Orca Walker 20


  • Size 14.5" x 11" x 13.25"
  • Capacity 33L
  • Weight 1,633 g (3.6 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Cooler won’t leak through waterproof top zipper or seams
  • Small stretch exterior pocket
  • Bungee cords to hold down items


  • Magnetic split handle is not comfortable to grab when divided as two straps
Best Large Soft Cooler

Snow Peak Soft Cooler 38


  • Size 19" x 12.5" x 12.5"
  • Capacity 38L
  • Weight 1,724 g (3.8 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Large capacity
  • Supple and easy to carry


  • The lid’s zipper is not waterproof
  • A bit overpriced for the low ice retention but worth the cost for collapsibility
Most Eco-Friendly Soft Cooler

Cotopaxi Hielo 12L Cooler Bag Del Dia


  • Size 18" x 14" x 5.5"
  • Capacity 12L
  • Weight 708 g (1.6 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test Unavailable
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Saves throwaway scraps from the landfill
  • Each cooler bag is one-of-a-kind
  • The design process empowers employees behind each cooler pack


  • The zippers, zipper pulls, buckles, and thread are tailored to each bag — so you're not totally sure what to expect
Best Collapsible Design for Storage

REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler


  • Size 10" x 11" x 15"
  • Capacity 32L
  • Weight 680 g (1.5 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2+ days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Daisy chains and spacious external pocket with a zipper
  • Transforms into a tote, cube, and flat for storage
  • Lightweight


  • Can’t stack any items on top of this soft cooler
  • Tote is wobbly and doesn’t dependably stand upright
  • Top zipper is not waterproof
Best Soft Cooler Tote With Bike Attachment

Icemule Impulse


  • Size 11" x 4.25" x 9"
  • Capacity 4.5L
  • Weight Not Available
  • Ice retention test Not Available
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Super adaptable cooler
  • Interior sleeve for ice pack or food item
  • Fits on bike handlebars super well
  • Cross-body tote is comfortable


  • Not quite large enough for a picnic for two with bevies
Best of the Rest

Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Convertible Cooler Tote


  • Size 15" x 15.1" x 9.8"
  • Capacity 30L
  • Weight Not Available
  • Ice retention test ~2.3 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Inexpensive
  • Compactable
  • Made from recycled materials
  • Storage capacity


  • Shorter ice retention
  • Exterior is not waterproof
  • Not leakproof

Yeti Hopper M15 Tote


  • Size 20.3" x 16" x 9.2"
  • Capacity 49L
  • Weight 2,268 g (5 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test Not Available
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Comfortable, smooth shoulder strap
  • Powerful magnetic closure stays shut
  • The closure doesn't snap shut when you're shuffling items in and out
  • Excellent ice retention


  • Narrow closure toward the top means it's hard to see collectibles at the bottom of the tote
  • Premium build means high price

RovR TravelR


  • Size 19" x 17" x 14"
  • Capacity 28L
  • Weight 2,013 g (4 lbs. 7 oz.)
  • Ice retention test 72+ hours
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Waterproof, leakproof zipper is comfortable to open with the wide T-shaped pull
  • Tall height is nice for resting food or other items while sitting in a camp chair


  • Hand straps lack padding for comfortable carry while loaded
  • Shoulder strap attachments are not dependable or durable

Mountainsmith Takeout


  • Size 8" x 9" x 6"
  • Capacity 7L
  • Weight 363 g (0.8 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~21 hours
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
  • Has an interior zippered mesh pocket in lid for utensils
  • Zippers are substantial


  • Exterior pocket is great for a phone but lacks zipper for security
  • Lid’s zipper leaks

Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote


  • Size 12.2" x 20.5" x 7.8"
  • Capacity 18L
  • Weight 1,134 g (2.5 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
  • Waterproof zipper
  • Cooler is completely leakproof


  • Exterior pocket is great for a phone but lacks zipper for security
  • No integrated pockets

RTIC 20 Can Soft Pack Cooler


  • Size 13.5” x 9.5” x 13.75”
  • Capacity 12L
  • Weight 1360 g (3 lbs)
  • Ice retention test ~3 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Multiple handles for carrying options
  • Great insulation
  • Ability to float


  • Narrow storage makes it difficult to organize and see cooler items at the bottom
  • Additional pocket is small and tight

Booe 30L Waterproof Insulated Tote


  • Size 22.5" x 14.38" x 8"
  • Capacity 30L
  • Weight 975 g (2.15 lbs)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Waterproof
  • Storage capacity
  • Doubles as a dry bag


  • Difficult to clean
  • Difficult to organize and see inside with how wide the zipper opens

Mountainsmith Sixer


  • Size 11" x 11" x 6"
  • Capacity 12L
  • Weight 499 g (1.1 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~25 hours
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
  • Great for park concerts
  • Zippered interior mesh pocket inside cooler lid for utensils
  • Two flat pockets on the side


  • We’d like the lightweight removable shoulder strap to be burlier
  • Cooler bottom can absorb moisture
  • Lid’s zipper is not waterproof

Igloo Pursuit Tote


  • Size 22.4" x 3.7" x 15.7"
  • Capacity 21L
  • Weight 907 g (2 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~1.5 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
  • Padded removable shoulder strap


  • Ice melts fast in a hot vehicle or sunny conditions
  • Top zipper is not waterproof and can leak
  • Fair amount of condensation appeared on cooler’s exterior

REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler


  • Size 14" x 11" x 11"
  • Capacity 15L
  • Weight 1,415 g (3.12 lbs.)
  • Ice retention test ~2.5 days
The Best Soft Coolers of 2024


  • Daisy chain webbing and bottle opener included
  • Interior zippered pocket inside lid keeps food items above ice
  • Strong, smooth side and top handles
  • Helpful cooling tips are listed inside the pack’s lid


  • The cube shape bounces off your back when using the shoulder strap
  • Top zipper is not waterproof, so watch for leaks
  • Exterior front pocket lacks zipper to secure items
woman standing with cooler tote on shoulder
Instead of a hard shell, soft coolers are, well, softer; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Soft Cooler Comparison Chart

Scroll right to view all of the columns: Price, Size, Capacity, Weight, Ice Retention Test.

Soft CoolerPriceSizeCapacityWeightIce Retention Test
YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler$25014.3″ x 10.7″ x 12.0″12L1361 g (3 lbs.)~3 days
Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote$5315″ x 10″ x 13.5″33L816 g (1.8 lbs.)~3 days
Snow Peak Soft Cooler 38$18519″ x 12.5″ x 12.5″38L1,724 g (3.8 lbs.)~2.5 days
Mountainsmith Takeout$308″ x 9″ x 6″7L363 g (0.8 lbs.)~21 hours
Cotopaxi Hielo 12L
Cooler Bag Del Dia
$10518″ x 14″ x 5.5″12L708 g (1.6 lbs.)Unavailable
REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler$5510″ x 11″ x 15″32L680 g (1.5 lbs.)~2+ days
ICEMULE Impulse$10011″ x 4.25″ x 9″4.5LUnavailableUnavailable
Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Convertible Cooler Tote$8015″ x 15.1″ x 9.8″30LUnavailable~2.3 days
Yeti Hopper M15 Tote$30020.3″ x 16″ x 9.2″49L2,268 g (5 lbs.)Unavailable
Orca Walker 20$25014.5″ x 11″ x 13.25″33L1,633 g (3.6 lbs.)~3 days
Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote$15012.2″ x 20.5″ x 7.8″18L1,134 g (2.5 lbs.)~2.5 days
RTIC 20 Can Soft Pack Cooler$9913.5” x 9.5” x 13.75”12L1360 g (3 lbs)~3 days
Booe 30L Waterproof Insulated Tote$20022.5″ x 14.38″ x 8″30L975 g (2.15 lbs)~2.5 days
Mountainsmith Sixer$3511″ x 11″ x 6″12L499 g (1.1 lbs.)~25 hours
Igloo Pursuit Tote$10022.4″ x 3.7″ x 15.7″21L907 g (2 lbs.)~1.5 days
REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler$10014″ x 11″ x 11″15L1,415 g (3.12 lbs.)~2.5 days
RovR TravelR$30019″ x 17″ x 14″28L2,013 g (4 lbs. 7 oz.)~3+ days
two women sitting next to lake with soft cooler
Senior Editor Morgan Tilton testing the Orca Walker Cooler; (photo/Eric Phillips)

How We Tested Soft Coolers

Our team has developed cooler guides year after year, objectively testing dozens of soft, hard, and backpack coolers in the field, from whitewater raft trips to fly fishing adventures and music festivals in the mountains.

For this soft cooler guide, we examined the most popular, innovative, highly acclaimed, and bestselling products with diverse storage and carry capacities, ice retention ability, and across a price spectrum.

Lead tester Morgan Tilton, Senior Editor specializing in Snow Sports Buyer’s Guides, coordinated a range of studious gear testers to adventure with and examine the soft coolers in this guide from ultrarunners and ski mountaineers to fly fishing and whitewater rafting guides.

Gear tester Makena Gross is the assistant ski patrol director, and a ski and bike patroller, at Brian Head Resort, alongside teaching Wilderness Medicine courses. While adventuring throughout the Southwest, Groos took these coolers on a multitude of activities ranging from day trips to the lake to go fishing and swimming to multiday road trips. Gross always tests the coolers across a range of conditions. 

Our crew took these coolers through myriad conditions from summertime park BBQs to camping in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, guiding fly fishing sessions on rivers, and road-tripping to ski mountaineer in the Pacific Northwest.

We also performed a controlled in-house ice retention test to verify brand claims. For the experiment, we filled each pre-cooled cooler approximately 70% with fresh, frozen cubed ice and set them in a shaded, dry indoor space at a steady average of 65 degrees.

We periodically checked, making notes regarding melt rate, condensation, and leaks. Each reported time is based on when 100% of the ice was converted to water. This data provides a benchmark. But when traveling outdoors, these controlled variables disappear and the ice will likely melt faster.

best soft coolers stacked by a lake
Our GearJunkie team thoroughly tested a range of soft coolers including a controlled ice retention test; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Soft Cooler

Storage Capacity

Choose a soft cooler based on the storage capacity and type of support you need for the load. A super malleable product like the Snow Peak Soft Cooler might not be the best for carrying dozens of heavy cans compared to a more rigid design like the RovR TravelR 30.

The larger the group, the more cargo space you’ll need. The soft coolers in our guide range from the Mountainsmith Takeout, which can fit six cans, to the 38L Snow Peak Soft Cooler. Most of our choice soft coolers are either larger (30 L to 38 L) for group multiday trips or more compact (12 L to 19 L).

soft cooler attached to cruiser bike handlebars
A wide variety of soft coolers exist including small, packable, and adaptable designs; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Compartments and Pockets

Other than the main storage pocket, which typically has an insulated liner inside, there are plenty of other pocket and storage features to consider when choosing a soft cooler to fit your needs. 

Some coolers like the Booe 30L Waterproof Insulated Tote only have the main storage compartment with no other pockets or mesh liners to put extra objects in. However, this cooler offers dry side storage with the ability to take out the liner where you can add items in between the exterior shell and the liner.

Other coolers such as the RTIC 20 Can Soft Pack Cooler have an additional exterior zip-up pocket that fits small items, like your phone, keys, and wallet, and is waterproof for extra safekeeping. Some soft coolers even have a mesh pocket that may hold a water bottle nicely. 

You may also see coolers with a hitchpoint grid, like the YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler, which has daisy chain loops that you can clip your keys, other carabiners, or straps to for additional items or maybe secure your cooler down on the boat.

clipping buckles on Yeti tote
Buckles, zippers, clasps, or magnets are all possible latches for a soft cooler; (photo/Eric Phillips)


The weights of soft coolers are typically reflected by their size and capacity. The smallest design in our guide is the Mountainsmith Takeout, which weighs less than a pound. The heaviest soft cooler is the 4-pound, 7-ounce RovR TravelR, which has a 28L capacity and the best ice retention.

Even the heaviest soft cooler in our guide is lighter than a hard cooler. For comparison, the YETI Tundra 45 Cooler weighs 23 pounds, and the RovR Products RollR 45 weighs more than 37 pounds.

sliding phone into tote side pocket
Pockets are often available on the exterior of a soft cooler and some have zippers while others don’t; (photo/Eric Phillips)


Soft cooler totes are long, slender, and streamlined against your side. They’re comfortable to carry over a shoulder. However, taller coolers get trickier with access to buried items, so you have to be mindful when packing the cooler.

Soft coolers that are wider or more bucket-style are easier to access, as far as finding a specific item. But, they can feel more cumbersome to carry over a shoulder. Coolers with a broad, flat surface that rests against you can help absorb that swing and bounce.

Boxier coolers can be easier to stack — as long as the walls and base are rigid — while sleeker coolers can more likely slip behind a seat in your car. Shorter, more compact coolers are easier to fit in tight spaces on a boat.

woman holding interior shoulder pad of tote bag
Some straps are removable while others are fixed and the designs can be softly padded for comfort and absorbing sweat; (photo/Eric Phillips)


A soft cooler’s materials include the exterior, insulation, interior liner, and handles. A range of top closures exist. The most common are waterproof and leakproof zippers or non-waterproof and leakproof zippers.

We pay attention to that variable to know if a cooler needs to always be upright. Some unique closures don’t allow leaks. Other coolers have magnetic seams, like models made by YETI. Welded seams also help prevent leaks.

Soft coolers may have shoulder straps — which are typically removable — buckles, attachment points, and interior or exterior pockets. Some pockets have durable, waterproof zipper closures, but many are not weather-resistant or secured with a closure.

The quality of materials influences the waterproofness, durability, insulation value, and whether or not the face fabric produces condensation. The materials also determine the comfort, breathability, support, and overall cost.

woman pulling grab handle with hand
Wider handles are generally more comfortable to grab than narrow handles and some are more ergonomic than others; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Straps and Handles

Handles and straps are constructed with a variety of materials. Some are more ergonomic, comfortable, and durable than others.

Most soft coolers have side or top handles, two straps that swing up to secure together above the cooler, or a removable shoulder strap. A bunch of designs have a combination of handles and straps, too. For coolers on the larger side (like the RoVR 30), it’s key to have padding on the hand or shoulder straps for comfort while carrying a fully loaded cooler.

In our testing, we liked the wide, soft material of the two swing-up straps on the Snow Peak Soft Cooler.

The handles on the Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote were a great length and easy to slide over one shoulder.

sliding buckle on ICEMULE cooler
Smaller coolers are great for half-day periods and offer ample cooling power for that purpose but aren’t built for multi-day prowess; (photo/Eric Phillips)


The base of a soft cooler can play a significant role in the integrity of your cooler. A strong base keeps your cooler walls from collapsing, while a flimsy base could result in the walls caving in.

Another factor is how well-insulated the base is. A thicker, more insulated base can keep your contents cooler for longer while it is sitting on a hot truck bed, dock, or boat.

Both the RTIC 20 Can Soft Pack Cooler and the YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler are more box-shaped and have a thick, sturdy base that provides stability and insulation support.

Tote-style coolers including the Booe 30L Waterproof Insulated Tote have welded seams on the base that prevent leakages and keep the cold insulation from escaping.

opening tote cooler to view drinks in ice
The narrower the mouth of a cooler, the harder it is to see the items at the bottom of the load; however, the shape can be comfortable to carry under arm; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Ice Retention

We completed our ice retention test with controlled variables. Each soft cooler was stationed indoors at around 65 degrees, shaded, and filled with the same ratio and type of ice.

Ice Retention Test Results

For a variety of conditions, the soft coolers in this guide provide enough cooling power to serve a range of recreation needs.

When you use a cooler outside, many factors influence a pack’s ice retention, including the frequency of opening the cooler, direct sunlight, and ambient temperature. For instance, the REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler preserved ice for 60 hours during our test but only for 18 hours during one toasty car camp trip.

soft cooler on bike with mountain backdrop
Many soft coolers are made with a nylon, polyester, or canvas exterior that is easy to wipe clean; (photo/Eric Phillips)

Extra Features

Additional features on soft coolers include hard clip points, daisy chains, webbing straps, and bungee cords for carrying extra gear. Some packs also include a reflective logo or bottle opener.

Many soft coolers do not have tiedown points, which would be a good feature for river or motorcycle trips.

woman showing contents of soft cooler
Senior Editor Morgan Tilton testing soft coolers; (photo/Eric Phillips)

How to Care for Your Soft Cooler

Some soft coolers have materials that are mildew-resistant and antimicrobial like the interior liner of the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler. YETI also treats the interior and exterior of its Hopper Flip soft coolers to be mildew resistant, which helps with keeping your tote sanitary while extending the life of the product. 

Between uses, you can clean the interior of a soft cooler with a sponge, lukewarm water, and standard dish soap. You can wipe down the exterior and zipper, too — don’t miss the feet and bottom, which touch ground surfaces. Let the interior completely air dry or use a towel to wipe down before zipping shut for storage. 

The most airtight, temperature-regulated, and waterproof soft coolers boast burly zippers that take hand grease to open and close. A handful of brands even send you home with zipper lubricant, like RTIC and YETI. 

For instance, YETI advises applying the lubricant to the front and back of the zipper including the teeth and seal. RTIC says to add a couple of drops, and then open and close the zipper a few times. The moisturizer can be applied every 6 months to help protect the zipper teeth — around the time you head in for an oil change. Easy. 

two women sitting next to river with soft cooler and drinks
Most soft coolers are built with foam insulation; (photo/Eric Phillips)


Checking the tags, the prices of soft coolers in our guide range from the $30 Mountainsmith Takeout, which is the smallest cooler, to the Orca Walker Cooler ($220) or $250 with the YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler with top-shelf ice retention. You’ll also find the RovR TravelR 30 ($300) at the premium end. The Booe 30L Waterproof Insulated Tote at $200 is near that high tier, too.

The price of a soft cooler is reflected by the size, durability, quality of materials, design features, and ice retention.

Soft coolers in the medium price range include the Snow Peak Soft Cooler ($185), Igloo Pursuit Tote ($120), REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler ($100), and the RTIC 20 Can Soft Pack Cooler rounds out this segment at $99. The well-constructed, premium Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote is available at a moderate price ($150).

Plenty of soft coolers are fairly comfortable to use and reliable (as long as it’s not too sunny or scorching hot out) in the less-than-$100 category. Those choice designs include a range of designs such as the Mountainsmith Takeout ($30), REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler ($55), and Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote ($53). Also on the cheaper end of the spectrum, the Eddie Bauer Recycled Bygone Convertible Cooler Tote ($80) is an affordable option and provides awesome storage capacity and cool design features, such as an exterior pocket and recycled materials. 

hand adding cans to soft cooler
The lids of some soft coolers can zip shut while others roll over and are clasped or buckled down; (photo/Eric Phillips)


Are hard or soft coolers better?

There’s utility for both designs. Hard coolers are more durable and stout and have a larger size range, given they can hold more weight without collapsing. Hard coolers can also preserve ice for longer durations. If you’re going on a weeklong car camping trip with limited access to ice, it’s advantageous to have a hard cooler for fresh food.

On the other hand, a soft cooler is a preferred choice for being lightweight, easy to carry — especially for one person — and simple to transport. The compact sizes are great for picnics, day trips, overnight camping, and grocery shopping. Another benefit is some soft coolers are collapsible, so they occupy less space in storage than a hard cooler.

For road trips, you can separate daytime beverages and snacks into a soft cooler, which limits opening of the hard cooler and preserves ice.

Do soft coolers leak?

If the cooler’s seams are not welded and leakproof, they can leak. Soft coolers can also leak through the lid closure if the zipper isn’t waterproof or the clasp isn’t leakproof.

woman holding tote bag by side
You can use ice cubes or ice packs to cool the inside of a soft cooler; (photo/Eric Phillips)
How effective are soft coolers at retaining ice?

Some soft coolers are superior at ice retention, which is generally reflected in the price tag but not always. Some pricier coolers offer adequate ice retention mixed with other qualities like durability and capacity.

In our side-by-side ice retention test, the soft coolers that retained ice the longest were the RovR TravelR, YETI Hopper Flip 12 Soft Cooler, RTIC 20 can Soft Pack Cooler, which are each capable of holding ice for up to 72 hours, to each brand’s claim.

It was closely followed by the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Bucket Tote and Orca Walker Cooler, which held ice for 70 hours. The lowest ice retention recorded was 21 hours for the small Mountainsmith Takeout.

In daily adventures, melt speed slightly fluctuates based on the frequency of opening the cooler, how long it’s open, ambient heat, and direct sunlight. A bunch of other variables influence ice retention, too, including the type and quantity of ice, extra space in the compartment (which decreases effectiveness), and if the cooler was prechilled.

Can you put dry ice in a soft cooler?

For most soft coolers, dry ice will burn the interior materials. Instead, you should use freshly frozen cubed ice, ice blocks, or reusable ice packs.

opening up soft cooler tote to see drinks inside on ice
As with any cooler, pre-cooling is recommended for the best ice retention on your trip; (photo/Eric Phillips)
How can I make my soft cooler stay colder, longer?

For the longest-lasting ice retention and cooling capability, aim to use a 2:1 ratio of ice to contents. You can quickly prechill your cooler with a sacrificial bag of ice a few hours before loading it up, especially if the cooler was stored in a hot place. Or, bring the cooler inside a cool room to lower the temperature the night before use.

The type of ice makes a difference. Block ice and fresh cubed ice from freezers are denser than chipped ice or crushed ice from ice machines. If you get super strategic, you can use a mix of block ice — which melts slowly — and cubed ice — which cools down the container quickly.
As the ice melts, it’s ideal to retain the ice water, which helps the other ice stay cold. Limit your access to the cooler because opening it up releases the cold air.

Keep your cooler in the shade to prolong that low temperature. If you’re under direct sun, toss a towel or blanket over the cooler to help alleviate a heat spike.

clipping soft cooler next to river
Not all soft cooler are airtight, meaning not all can be submerged in water or tipped over with melted ice; (photo/Eric Phillips)
Are soft coolers better than hard coolers?

Both soft coolers and hard coolers have their strengths and weaknesses. Hard coolers tend to be better for longer trips or catering to larger group sizes, while soft coolers are great for shorter trips for fewer people. 

The benefits of hard coolers are that they typically are more durable, sturdier, and keep ice longer than soft coolers. Some downsides to hard coolers are that they are more difficult to move and carry, and they can be harder to store since they don’t compact like soft coolers do.

On the other hand, the benefits of soft coolers are that they are more compact, store well, are more lightweight and easier to carry. Although they don’t preserve ice for as long as hard coolers, there are several neat design features, like extra pockets, hitchpoints, and additional carrying methods. 

It really is ideal to have options to choose from depending on what adventure you’re planning. Having a hard cooler designated for food for the trip and having a soft cooler to get your drinks separated can be a helpful way to organize and keep your things cold and fresh.

holding tote soft cooler against side
Certain soft cooler designs are totally leakproof, meaning the lid does not allow liquids to leak in or out; (photo/Eric Phillips)

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