Coolers are an essential piece of kit for days out with the family, tailgating, camping, fishing, partaking in watersports, for faux cambro use after smoking, and so much more.
The problem is that they are often heavy and unwieldy to carry and transport. The solution would be to find the best soft-sided cooler that will meet your exacting requirements.
These coolers are often lightweight and versatile. Some will even pack down when you’re finished, making them easy for storage and transportation. However, how well do they perform in comparison to their rigid counterparts?
Let’s take a look at some of the features and benefits of a soft-sided cooler. We’ll see how they stand up to a rotomolded one and what to look for when buying one. We’ll also detail our top six picks of the best soft sided coolers and a couple of collapsible ones.
At a Glance: The Best Soft Sided Coolers Discussed in our Guide
- YETI Hopper Flip 18 Portable Cooler
- IceMule Pro Cooler
- Coleman Soft Cooler Bag Keeps Ice Up to 24 Hours
- Polar Bear Coolers 24 Pack Original Soft Cooler
- NorChill Can Voyager Series Insulated Soft Sided Cooler
- Pelican Elite Soft Cooler (12 Can)
- Coleman 75 Can Collapsible Sport Cooler
- Picnic at Ascot Original 24 Can Collapsible Cooler
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- 1 A Detailed Look at our Top Recommended Products
- 2 Best Collapsible or Folding Coolers
- 3 Features and Benefits of a Soft-sided Cooler
- 4 Soft-sided Vs Rotomolded / Solid Coolers
- 5 How to Choose the Right One for You?
- 6 Wrapping it up
A Detailed Look at our Top Recommended Products
A soft-sided cooler has to be portable enough for you to take where you want. It also needs to be large enough to hold enough drinks and food.
These are our top six picks of the many soft-sided coolers available.
Yeti Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
Soft doesn’t mean unable to stand up to days when you want a bit more adventure. No matter what your outdoor escapades include, you want one that will function for your needs.
Stylish but sturdy, the Hopper Flip is made from Yeti’s trademarked dry hide shell. This is great if you take the cooler with you any place where water is involved. It’s fully waterproof, resistant to UV rays, puncture proof and mildew resistant.
The inner liner is made from FDA-approved food grade material. Your food and drinks will remain cold for when you need them, with the closed-celled foam rubber insulation system.
Need quick and easy access to your goodies? There will be no issues with the wide opening, secured by a leakproof HydroLok zipper. You are even supplied with zipper lubricant to use when storing your Hopper, to keep it in good working condition.
The empty weight of this cooler is 5.1 pounds, and it will hold up to 16 cans, as well as ice. Just want the ice? It can hold up to 20 pounds.
There are smaller versions available which can hold up to eight or 12 cans. These could be ideal for shorter trips, or if you are already loaded up with other heavy bags to carry.
Talking about carrying, it has a single handle on the top, and a detachable shoulder strap. It also has a hitch point grid which you can use to attach accessories, such as a bottle opener.
- Outside measurements: 10.75 inches by 13 inches by 16.25 inches.
- Inside measurements: 8.5 inches by 10.25 inches by 14.25 inches.
- Unloaded weight: 5.1 pounds.
- Dryhide exterior.
- FDA approved lining.
- Mildew resistant.
- UV resistant.
- Leakproof zipper.
- Hitch point grid.
- Closed cell foam insulation.
- Made by a well-known brand with a good reputation.
- Durable materials.
- Lightweight and easy to clean.
- The zipper can be a little stiff to
If you’re heading out for a day of adventure on the trail, this cooler could be what you need. It will carry enough beverages and food to keep you going, and is waterproof and leakproof.
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Icemule Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag
I do a lot of scuba diving; sometimes from shore, sometimes from small boats. A cooler that is not only portable, but also waterproof and floats, would be ideal. It means no more worries about where to put the large coolbox, or what happens if it falls overboard or the tide comes in.
Icemule is one of the newer kids on the block when it comes to coolers. The company’s aim was to create a non-conventional cooler that could be carried comfortably and easily.
To that end, this cylindrically shaped model has double-padded backstraps and a steadying chest strap. It’s worn pretty much the same as you would a backpack, leaving your arms free to carry your surfboard or kayak.
There are three sizes, starting with Large at 23 liters capacity, X-large at 33 liters capacity and XX-large at 40 liters capacity. This equates to 18, 24, or 30 cans, plus ice. You can also choose from five different colors, including a cool leaf pattern.
All the seams are welded, meaning there’s no stitching to let in water. It’s made from material Icemule calls Muleskin. It lines the inside and outside, protecting the pack from the weather, water, salt, sand and other environmental factors.
Between the two layers of Muleskin lies the polar insulation foam, which works to keep the contents cold. If you want more insulation, or to provide floating ability, you can add air to this central layer, via the IM Air valve. Another benefit of this valve is that you can release all the air and roll the cooler up when it’s finished with.
There are no zip closures on this cooler. The top folds over several times and secures with a snap buckle. This adds to the waterproof capabilities. Another useful built-in feature is an elasticated bungee; good for fastening things you don’t want to keep inside your bag, like maps, keys or bottle openers.
- Dimensions (Large): 17 inches by 11 inches by 14 inches.
- Dimensions (X-large): 20 inches by 11 inches by 14 inches.
- Dimensions (XX-large): 23 inches by 11 inches by 14 inches.
- Capacities: Large 23 liters, X-large 33 liters and XX-large 40 liters.
- Weights: Large 3.2 pounds, X-large 3.5 pounds and XX-large 3.8 pounds.
- Patented Muleskin outer and inner layers.
- Polarlayer foam insulating layer.
- IM Air valve to add and release air in the insulating layer.
- Rolls up for storage.
- Padded shoulder straps and retaining sternum strap.
- Elastic bungee.
- Snap lock top closure.
- Welded seams.
- Comfortable to carry.
- Easy to pack.
- Ice remains solid for up to 24 hours.
- Padded straps appear a little insecure when filled to capacity.
- Need to make sure the top is sealed properly to ensure it’s watertight.
This cooler steps outside the norm, it’s good for activities next to, or even on the water. What’s even better is that when you have emptied all the goods out, it packs up small to take home.
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Coleman 30-Can Insulated Soft Cooler With 24-Hour Ice Retention
The problem that may arise with many soft-sided coolers is the ice just doesn’t last as long as in their more rigid counterparts. One with good ice retention is a plus when you are headed out for the day and want to guarantee your food and drinks stay cold.
The Coleman name is synonymous with all things camping: from tents and lights to gas stoves, grills, sleeping bags and, of course, coolers. This soft-sided cooler comes in two sizes, a 30-can option and a 16-can option.
Forget the smelly residue left in coolers when you empty them. The inner lining on this is antimicrobial, making it resistant to mold, mildew and unpleasant odors.
A zippered main compartment has an easy access top hatch to get at the goodies inside. It is insulated to keep both the ice and contents cold for up to 24 hours.
There is also a handy front zippered pocket, giving you additional storage space for things like bottle openers or dry goods. Mesh pockets and a bungee provide further external storage.
It has large side handles and a padded adjustable shoulder strap. This is great as you can share the weight when it’s full, and carry it easily on your own when it’s not.
Worried you might end up with a wet patch on your clothes from melting ice? The seams are heat-welded, making them leakproof.
Coleman 16 Can Soft-sided Cooler
This smaller size is ideal for a packed school lunch, or for snacks and drinks at the lake or beach for two people.
It has a hard, plastic liner for use with regular ice or to provide more rigidity and protect the contents from bumps. The liner can be removed if required, allowing the cooler to fold flat for storage. This version doesn’t have an easy access hatch in the top, but it has bungees for attaching items.
- 16-can or 30-can capacity
- 30-can model has side handles for more carrying options
- 16-can model has a removable, hard plastic liner for rigidity.
- Padded adjustable shoulder strap.
- External storage pockets
- Antimicrobial flexible lining.
- FDA approved soft liner which is safe for drinks and food.
- Leakproof heat welded seams.
- 30-can model measures 12.2 inches by 9.65 inches by 13.78 inches.
- 16-can model measures 11.8 inches by 11.8 inches by 6.7 inches.
- Made in China and assembled in the USA.
- The hard liner is made in the USA.
- The flip top allows access without losing too much chill from inside.
- Lightweight and easy to carry, even when fully loaded.
- Available in two sizes.
- Might not keep ice frozen for 24 hours.
- Velcro fastening on the lid hatch may wear with time.
The smaller size of this cooler is a good option for using as a lunch box, while the larger one would suit for family days out. The padded shoulder strap makes them both easy to carry.
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Polar Bear Coolers the Original Performance Soft Cooler
Many manufacturers use catchy phrases and words to draw us to a product, “performance” being one of them. When it’s used to describe this cooler from Polar Bear, it’s packed with features which actually back up that claim.
There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination and finding your cooler full of water, instead of ice. This one has 1-inch thick, high-density, 10-gauge foam insulation, to keep your food and drinks cold for up to 24 hours.
There will be no nasty odors, as a result of an antimicrobial lining which is FDA food grade. The lining is also made from double-coated nylon and thermoplastic polyurethane. This makes it durable and strong, and resistant to scrapes and cuts.
Talking about materials, the outer shell is similar to that you would find in suitcases. It’s a 1000-denier nylon that will stand up to rugged use, and all the seams have been anchor stitched and double-hemmed. It also has UV protection, helping keep your cooler cold for longer, even in direct sunlight.
The main closure is secured with a rust-proof, heavy duty, YKK zipper. A handy aluminum bottle opener is attached to the zipper. No more fumbling around trying to find one, letting your beer get warm while you do so.
There is a further zipped pocket area on the outside for storage of dry goods or your keys, phone, etc.
Carrying the cooler is a breeze, with the two handles that can be secured as one, or a padded shoulder strap. There are side-release buckles to keep your zipper tied down, and four additional tie-downs.
- Luggage grade 1000-denier polyurethane coated nylon outer.
- Thick high-density 1-inch foam insulation.
- Sweat proof and leakproof food grade liner.
- YKK heavy-duty weatherized zipper.
- Padded shoulder strap and quality hardware adjustments.
- Nylon heavy-duty bottom saddle.
- Pocket with zipper closure on the side.
- Two tie-downs on each side.
- Available as a 12 pack or 48 pack.
- External measurements (12 pack): 14 inches by 7 inches by 12 inches.
- External measurements (48 pack): 21 inches by 13 inches by 13 inches.
- Internal measurements (12 pack): 12 inches by 5 inches by 10 inches.
- Internal measurements (48 pack): 19 inches by 11 inches by 11 inches.
- Weight is 2 pounds for the 12 pack, and 4 pounds for the 48 pack.
- Lifetime limited warranty.
- Heavy-duty construction.
- Zipper opens the full width of the bag for easy access.
- Water can leak through the zipper if the cooler tips over.
- Some find the internal space too narrow.
This durable cooler comes in two sizes, giving you a choice depending on how much you plan to carry. It’s also lightweight and easy to carry.
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Norchill Voyager Series Soft Cooler
Any cooler is only as good as the workmanship when it’s made. If you happen to get one with a weak spot in the zipper, or clips that break, it’s rendered useless. Norchill offers a two-year warranty against manufacturer defects. They state, “If you break it, we’ll fix it.”
When heading out, you never know what the elements might throw at you. Slippery trails with muddy puddles or the branches of trees getting in your way. This won’t pose a problem for this rugged 24-can cooler, with its 600 denier, wear and tear and stain resistance.
It’s not only the outside that can stand up to rough and tumble. The inner lining, made from the company’s G8TRSkin, is puncture resistant. It also has fusion welded seams, preventing most leakages.
A dual temperature insulation helps keep your ice frozen and your drinks cold. It seals with a heavy duty YKK zipper, which buckles down to keep the cooler streamlined. It also has a zippered pocket, giving external storage for sunglasses or keys.
There is a removable shoulder strap with a padded cushion for easy, comfortable transportation. When you have emptied your cooler of its treats, you can just roll it up and take it home.
- 600-denier canvas outer shell.
- Welded seams.
- Puncture-resistant inner lining.
- Trademarked dual temperature insulation.
- YKK zipper which is heavy duty.
- Zippered external pocket.
- Padded removable shoulder strap.
- Fold down clips for streamlined square shape.
- Rolls up for compact storage.
- Measures 18 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches (24-can capacity).
- Also available in a 12-can or 48-can size.
- Choice of colors.
- Toxin-free construction.
- Two-year warranty.
- Slim briefcase-style design.
- Rugged and durable.
- Good size to be used as carry-on luggage on an airplane.
- Two-year warranty and good customer service.
- The thick insulation cuts down on internal space.
This slimline cooler is ideal as carry-on luggage for an airplane. Use the padding to protect your laptop and then use it as a cooler once you reach your destination.
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Pelican Elite Soft Cooler
Pelican has been making protective cases for all sorts of things for over 40 years. Whether it’s protecting cameras, EMS supplies, weaponry or lighting, the company has a hand in it. It also produces the Elite range of coolers to keep food and beverages cold when you’re out adventuring.
The 13-quart or 12-can capacity of this cooler makes it perfect for days out on the lake, at the beach or practicing water sports. It’s durable, with a rugged 840D double-coated thermoplastic polyurethane outer casing.
A really useful feature of this case is the molded anti-slip base. Use the side handles to strap it down to your boat, kayak or paddle-board and be safe in the knowledge it’s not going to move about. The lid is made from the same material, giving it some stability if you want to stack things on top of it.
The thermal protection of this cooler lies in the waterproof, leakproof zipper and dual buckle closures, as well as the high density, closed cell foam. The seal is sufficient to keep your ice and contents cold for up to 48 hours. Great for a weekend away in the great outdoors.
Carrying is easy, with a padded shoulder strap or two side handles. There is a convenient zipper pocket on the front, which can be used for cell phones, keys or dry goods.
Pelican stands behind the quality of its product, offering a three-year limited warranty.
- Outside measurements are 14 inches by 7.5 inches by 12 inches.
- Interior measurements are 12 inches by 5.5 inches by 7.25 inches.
- Double-coated 840D thermoplastic polyurethane casing.
- Polypropylene latches.
- Closed cell foam insulation.
- Padded shoulder strap.
- Waterproof, leakproof zipper.
- FDA approved material liner which is food grade.
- Weighs 3 pounds.
- Non-slip base and top.
- Available in larger, 24-can and 48-can sizes.
- Robust enough to be used as checked luggage.
- Anti-slip base and tie-down capability.
- Stylish all black finish.
- Can accumulate condensation on the inside.
- Cannot be collapsed or folded.
Pelican is associated with quality waterproof storage solutions for many things. The company supplies goods to the emergency services, so if it’s good enough for Pelican, then it should be good enough for us.
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Best Collapsible or Folding Coolers
Storing a cooler can sometimes be an issue. Especially when you have been out for the day and it’s now empty. Where does it go through the cold seasons, when there’s no need for a cooler?
Having one that collapses or folds up makes transporting it home easier and takes up less space when it’s not in use.
Coleman C002 Soft 75 Can Eva Molded Cooler
When the weather gets inclement and days out with the family or camping trips are over until next year, where do you store all your gear?
Tents and sleeping bags fold down to small sizes, but your cooler is generally large and bulky, and takes up space. One that folds down flat and is about 3 inches thick would be much easier to find space for.
Just because it’s collapsible doesn’t mean it misses out on a ton of features. It is available in two sizes: a massive 75-can version and a smaller 40-can one.
Insulation for this cooler is provided by a 0.24-inch thick enhanced polyethylene (EPE) foam. This is flexible and recyclable, as well as having thermal properties.
The lining has antimicrobial properties to resist mildew, mold and odors. A bonus when you pack this cooler away: it will stay fresh until you need it again.
The outer casing is strong and durable, made from 300D polyester fabric. There are also four molded cup holders in the lid. Handy for popping your drink down without worrying about spillages when the children are running around.
Heat welded seams keep moisture inside the cooler and not on the floor of your trunk. It will retain insulation for up to about eight hours and will hold enough food and drink for a family day out. The main compartment is accessed via a zippered closure, and there is a mesh pocket on the front for more storage.
There are side handles for carrying the cooler and an integrated bottle opener on the zipper. Additional clips will hold the cooler in place when it’s collapsed.
Coleman 40-Can Collapsible Cooler
This smaller cooler has all the features of it’s larger counterpart, but doesn’t have the rigid top and base. What it does have is an external pocket on the lid for extra storage. It collapses just as easily when not in use.
- Two sizes, 75 cans and 40 cans.
- 75 can measures 20 inches by 14 inches by 16 inches.
- 40 can measures 16 inches by 12 inches by 18 inches.
- Four cup holders molded into the lid.
- Main compartment is zippered.
- Integrated bottle opener.
- Mesh pocket for extra storage.
- Side handles.
- Heat welded seams on the antimicrobial liner.
- Compact when collapsed for storage.
- Big enough for a family of four when in use, but compact for storage.
- Can be kept in the car for grocery runs.
- No shoulder strap for carrying on the 75-can option.
This cooler is a bit of a hybrid, with a solid base and top and soft sides. Unlike a rigid model, it packs away flat for storage. It has a large capacity and good cooling retention.
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Picnic at Ascot 24 Can Collapsible Cooler
There are times when you need to take a cooler with you to a concert, or a day at the track, but you want something stylish. A choice of colors to match your outfit as well would be perfect.
Maybe you want a cooler that won’t take up all your luggage space if you aren’t using it—this one might just fit the bill.
Resembling a hat-box, this cooler, from Picnic at Ascot, measures 13.5 inches in diameter by 9 inches high. When collapsed, it has a depth of just 3 inches. There is a built-in spring to help it hold its shape.
Choose from five different colors: black, navy, red, houndstooth check and apple green. Pick the one you like best or that will complement your outfit.
The cooler, while stylish, is still sturdy. It’s made from 600-denier polyester and the inner PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) lining has heat welded seams. This helps prevent leakages and makes it easy to clean.
There is even a handy corkscrew and bottle opener included, which you can clip onto the zip.
To keep your drinks at an optimum cool temperature, there is a small access panel in the lid. This means you don’t have to completely unzip it and let the cold out each time you want something from inside.
It is large enough to pack a picnic for four people with drinks for your next day out.
- 5-inch diameter and 9 inches high when open.
- Collapsed, it measures 3 inches high.
- 600-denier polyester outer shell.
- PEVA lining.
- Heat-welded seams.
- Built-in spring to retain shape.
- Collapses easily for storage.
- Roomy enough for drinks and food for four people.
- No shoulder strap, making it harder to carry.
This tasteful cooler is a great accessory for days out when you have to dress up a little. It is also good for packing in your suitcase when going on vacation.
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Features and Benefits of a Soft-sided Cooler
Maybe you think of a soft-sided cooler as being a nylon type bag with a PVC interior and a bit of foam for insulation. They might have kept groceries cool on the trip home from the store, but wouldn’t have worked for a long day out.
Now fast forward to current day soft-sided coolers – they have transformed in leaps and bounds. They are now better insulated, more durable, and offer an alternative to a rigid hard-sided model. The benefits and features include:
- Portability: Soft sided coolers are lightweight, making them easier to transport, even when full of ice, drinks and They have sturdy handles for carrying, and often a shoulder strap as well. Some can even be worn backpack style.
- Storage capacity: The amount you can fit into them will often exceed expectations. Some will hold as many as 70 cans, although the average sizes tend to be between 12 and 30 cans. The flexible outer casing also means you can squeeze items into small gaps, which you can’t with a rigid cooler.
- Cooling capability: They rely on ice or ice packs to keep their contents cold. The type of insulating materials they use, such as closed cell rubber foam, can keep your beers cold for up to 24 hours or more.
- Durability: The materials used are strong and designed to last. The outer casings are usually high denier polyester type materials, like those found in quality suitcases. The inner linings are designed to resist cuts and scratches, and seams are often welded and not stitched, making them leakproof.
- Maintenance: Many soft-sided coolers have stain-resistant exteriors and antimicrobial They can just be wiped over with a cloth, or even hosed down. The odor-repelling linings will keep them smelling fresh.
- Flexibility: Having a pliable exterior means they can be stored in places where you would struggle with a rigid model. You can squash them into small hatch openings on kayaks and small boats, or fit them into a footwell of the car when traveling. Some will even pack up small enough to fit in a suitcase when going on vacation.
- Additional storage compartments: Mesh or zippered compartments, as well as bungees and hitch point grids, are often a bonus feature. These are ideal for storing keys, cell phones, maps, bottle openers and more.
- Cost: These coolers can often offer a cheaper alternative to a rigid cooler, while still performing a good job in keeping your goods cold.
Soft-sided Vs Rotomolded / Solid Coolers
Deciding between a soft sided cooler and a rotomolded or solid cooler depends on what you plan to use it for?
They will both serve the same purpose, but will one perform better than the other? Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each type.
These coolers are best suited to daily use, for fishing, golf, concerts, picnics, kayaking and so on. They’re ideal when you don’t need ruggedness or need to keep your drinks and food chilled for an extended period of time.
They are also easier to carry, with straps to just throw them over your shoulder.
- Easy to store.
- Antimicrobial linings.
- Generally smaller capacity.
- Shorter ice retention times.
Rotomolded / Solid Coolers
This type of cooler is generally the choice for extended camping trips, hunting and tailgating. They are more rugged and will withstand knocks and scrapes better than a soft-sided one.
They will often have a much larger internal storage capacity and longer ice retention times.
- Good ice retention.
- Durable and sturdy.
- Larger storage capacity for food and drink.
- Heavy to carry.
- Harder to transport.
- Bulkier to store when not in use.
How to Choose the Right One for You?
When you start looking for a soft sided cooler, you might be thrown by the amount of choice on offer. Knowing what to look for will help you make an informed selection of what will best suit your needs.
What are You Going to Use it for?
There are different styles of soft-sided coolers. Some are small and suitable for use as a lunchbox, with ice packs to provide cooling. Larger models may have shoulder straps for transportation: these are easy to carry and have a decent internal capacity.
Then there are those that can be carried in the same way as a backpack. These have padding to make them comfortable, and sometimes a sternum strap for added stability. They also leave your hands free.
Finally, there are collapsible coolers which take up much less space when being stored; these could be ideal for taking on vacation.
Whichever type or size you choose, remember you’ll have to carry it when it’s fully loaded.
Think about how much you will be putting in your cooler and what you’ll be using it for. Some have stronger outer casings, and others will even float. Too much abuse on one that’s not designed for rugged use will likely shorten its lifespan.
Different types of insulating materials can be used in soft-sided coolers. Check the specifications to ensure that the one you choose will keep the contents cold for the length of time you need. Look for closed cell rubber foam, it has good thermal properties and is malleable.
Closures and Access
Think about how you are going to pack and unload your cooler, and how secure and durable the closures are. Some have strong YKK zippers, while others will have a roll and clip top.
There may also be a small hatch in the top, allowing easy access to the contents. A flip top style cooler will likely be easier to pack than a straight zipper style
Possible Extra Features
External pockets for additional storage come as standard on many soft sided coolers. Some are zippered and others are mesh, but either way, they give you somewhere to put dry goods, bottle openers, keys, cell phones and more.
Some have bottle openers attached to the zippers, or bungee straps and hitch grids for clipping things onto.
Some models will come with ice packs to use in your cooler, to extend the time food and beverages can be kept cool. Many however do not. If you can get them free with your cooler, it can save a few dollars.
Size and Volume
Most manufacturers will list the unloaded weight, as well as the external and internal sizes and capacity of a cooler. This way you can check that it will meet your requirements, and how much weight it’s going to add to your load.
Just like rigid coolers, soft-sided ones vary in price. It goes without saying that you generally get what you pay for. Choose the best cooler you can to fit your budget and needs.
If you only plan to use it occasionally or going to and from the grocery store, then a cheaper option might be fine. If you’ll be using it regularly for outdoor pursuits, then it might be better to invest a bit more money.
Brand Recognition, Quality and Warranty
Some companies are confident in their product and its quality so will offer a warranty against defects. These can vary from 90 days up to three years or even a lifetime.
Some names are synonymous with producing quality coolers and equipment for camping, fishing and hiking. All our recommendations are for coolers made by companies that are recognized and respected in the market.
Wrapping it up
There are times when nothing but a rigid cooler will do, like if you’re planning an extended trip. However, the benefits of a soft-sided cooler are certainly tempting for shorter outings.
They’re lighter to carry, easier to store and yet still offer a good level of coolness for your drinks and food. Ideal for a day’s outing to the beach, lake, fishing, hiking or tailgating. They will probably be lighter on your wallet as well.
We hope you found our guide to the best soft-sided and collapsible coolers useful. We would love to hear your questions, thoughts or experiences. Please leave us a comment and we will get back to every one of you.