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The Best Soft Coolers

Soft coolers are lighter and more portable but can they compete in cold-retention with hard coolers? And which brand is best?

By and

Last Updated Jan. 30, 2023.

Update, February 2023

Our former Best Buy by Coleman was discontinued, so we tested a few additional models to find a good inexpensive option. The Arctic Zone Titan Guide Series 36 Can Cooler is our new Best Buy.

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

Soft coolers are ideal for shorter trips or when you don’t want to lug a heavy hard-sided cooler. Often much lighter, soft-sided coolers still promise to keep food and drinks cool for days, if needed. Our winner, the Engel HD20 22qt Heavy-Duty Soft Sided Cooler Tote Bag, kept ice frozen for three full days. Our Best Buy, the Coleman 30-Can Portable Soft Cooler, Space Blue, kept ice frozen for two and a half days—great performance for a fraction of the price. 

What You Need to Know

During the warmer months, there’s nothing better than sitting on a beach or in a park with a cold can of something refreshing and some chilled snacks to munch on. While we’ve previously tested hard-sided coolers, we decided to focus on soft-sided coolers, which promise to keep food and drinks cold without the heft and bulk. 

All the coolers in our lineup held between 16 and 20 liters (and 23 to 36 cans, without ice packs). They were all lightweight (the heaviest weighed 6.5 pounds—nearly 20 pounds less than our favorite hard-sided cooler) but still had enough insulation to keep ice frozen and its contents cool for a few days. The soft coolers came in two shapes: box-shaped and tote-shaped. To open a box-shaped cooler, you unzip the lid on three sides and flip it open. To open a tote-shaped cooler, you unzip the single, straight zipper that runs across the top.

In addition to testing soft coolers on their own, we also compared their performance with those of insulated shopping totes and hard coolers. On the whole, we found that the soft-sided coolers we tested kept things colder longer than an insulated shopping tote, but not quite as long as a large hard-sided cooler. This makes them ideal for a day at the beach or a few days of camping, but not for longer trips or when just running a few errands (where insulated shopping totes really excel). The best models were extremely portable and kept ice frozen for three days—impressive for a soft-sided cooler. Here’s what separated the best from the rest.

What to Look For

  • Thick, Closed-Cell Foam Insulation: Closed-cell insulation is made by forcing gas into foam, creating isolated cells that impede the passage of heat. This foam is dense, which also makes it less permeable than open-cell foam with interconnected cells. The best-performing coolers were insulated with closed-cell foam, and they usually kept ice frozen for about a day longer than coolers insulated with open-cell foam; the best models kept ice frozen for three days. And the thicker the closed-cell foam, the better. One cooler insulated with very thin closed-cell foam didn’t perform much better than a cooler insulated with open-cell foam...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Sarah Sandler

Sarah is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews who is deeply passionate about anchovies and sourdough bread.