Soft-sided coolers are versatile and easy to store. They come in handy on hot summer days when you are out sailing. It keeps your food cool and fresh, a feat that is normally challenging outdoors on summer days. You can use it to carry food and drinks for a few people.
You can go for the size you need with some models carrying up to 48 cans. They are also highly portable, so you won’t have a problem carrying one off your boat. The unit allows you to cool your food for up to three days.
Are Soft Coolers As Good As Hard Coolers?
The need to enjoy a day out in the waters makes coolers so popular. With a cooler, you are able to bring perishable food items such as salads so that you are not stuck with a loaf of bread. Hard-sided coolers have been the most popular for many years. However, there have been several advancements in soft-sided coolers that the hard-sided units have lost their popularity.
The choice between a soft- and a hard-sided cooler rests in how you intend to use the cooler. If you need to use the cooler for a few hours or a few days, you do not need to bring a bulky hard-sided cooler.
If you intend to hold a boat party in the middle of the waters, you need a large cooler that can keep drinks cool for everyone. Hard-sided coolers can be large enough to hold drinks, meat, water, sandwiches, and several other perishables.
Below are some factors to consider if you are not sure whether a soft-sided cooler is what you need:
Soft-sided coolers are very light. The difference in weight is so huge that you are tempted to stuff everything in a soft-sided cooler than bring the bulky hard-sided cooler. However, note that the weight of the food you put inside the cooler matters more than the weight of the empty cooler. If you fill a soft-sided cooler to the brim, it will still be heavy.
Today, you can find a soft-sided cooler that takes as much as a hard-sided cooler. When you are carrying heavy food items, the hard-sided cooler will be sturdier than the soft-sided unit though both can accommodate the same amount of food.
You can also consider the amount of space the cooler takes in and out of your boat. Soft-sided coolers are collapsible when not in use. Even when they have food items in them, these units still take up less space.
Ease of Carry
You may have a long road from where you park to your boat. As such, you need a cooler that is easy to carry. If you live close to the marina, you will need to carry the cooler to the boat on your back or hang it on your hand.
If that is what you need, a soft-sided cooler will meet your needs. Some come in a backpack-style that you can hang on your back and move with ease. If the cooler doesn’t accommodate all the items you need, you can bring two. You could bring a hard-sided cooler with wheels, but these do not roll well on grass and on sand, so, again, the soft-sided cooler wins.
Which Soft Sided Cooler Keeps Ice The Longest?
Soft-sided coolers come in several styles and designs. They are available as shoulder bags, backpacks, or as lunch boxes. A lunch box is a small cooler that can only carry lunch for one or two. These boxes have a thin insulation that doesn’t allow it to keep ice for long periods.
The backpack and the shoulder bags have a thicker insulation. A thicker insulation means less heat gained and so the ice stays on for a long time. The ice retention quality of a cooler is also dependent on the technology that the manufacturer uses to insulate the bag.
With that said, most soft-sided ice coolers keep food fresh for between a few hours and four days. The Engel HD30 can hold ice for four days, making it the best in ice retention.
You have to keep the bag closed so that warm air doesn’t get in and break the ice.
What Are The Best Soft-Sided Coolers?
Coleman 16-Can Cooler – Best Value
One of the main features of the Coleman 16-Can Cooler is the removable hard liner that allows it to maintain its shape once you load it with drinks and food items. It also features adjustable straps that make it the best choice for when you need a cooler to carry every day.
The 16-can cooler is the most optimum size for several uses, but you can go for the smaller or bigger coolers, depending on your needs. On the sides of the cooler are additional pockets that you can use to carry more items.
The strong zipping mechanism makes the cooler leak proof and enhances its insulation for longer ice retention. Better yet, the cooler has antimicrobial properties, which means it adheres to the regulations set by the FDA for food safety. It will grow no mold or mildew.
• Mold and mildew resistant
• Meets FDA food safety requirements
• Hard liner makes it easy to pack
• Large capacity
• You may carry less than the stated capacity so as to fit ice packs
YETI Hopper Two Cooler – Best for Rough Conditions
The YETI Hopper Two Cooler is one of the premium and most effective cooling options among soft-sided coolers. It is available in several sizes, so you can pick one that meets your cooling needs.
One of the best features of this unit is the Dryhide shell, which uses a high density fabric for strength and durability. This fabric also makes the cooler mold and mildew resistant, waterproof, and leak-proof. It will also keep the bag safe from damages from UV rays and the rugged outdoor environment.
Inside, the cooler has closed-cell foam for insulation. This gives it an ice retention capability of a few days. If you need an ice cooler that will last for a long time and one you can use in a rough adventure, the YETI Hopper is a great choice.
You will pay more for a YETI. Are expensive coolers worth it? Only if they have the right features as the YETI does.
• HydroLock Zipper
• FDA-approved materials for food safety
• Tough for use in rugged conditions
• Relatively pricey
Pelican Elite Soft-Sided Cooler – Best in Durability
The Pelican Elite Soft-Sided Cooler is another hard wearing cooler. It was designed for adventure. You can use it in rough weather and environmental conditions and still expect it to keep your food and drinks fresh. Its outer layer is a double-coated TPU fabric that makes the unit strong and tough to last long.
Further, it has a duel-lock buckle, string side handles, and high quality closed-cell foam insulation. These features not only make it durable but also great in ice retention and easy to carry around. There is an external pocket to hold the gear that you need to access quickly.
The smallest unit holds 12 cans while the largest can accommodate 48 cans. This way, you can use it for all sorts of outdoor activities.
• Features FDA-approved materials for food safety
• Lightweight and with a large capacity
• External pocket and easy-carry design
• Available in multiple sizes
• You will pay more for this one
Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series – Best for Customizability
I love adventure gear that I can customize too. The Polar Bear Cooler offers customizability, but it also offers much more than that. It features high quality nylon material for its exterior and interior fabric. The nylon makes it highly durable. Whether you take it on your boat or bring it in your next hiking expedition, the cooler will survive scratches, the sun, and tear and wear from ordinary every-day use.
It is available in several sizes with the additional choice of a backpack style cooler. The unit is sweat-proof and leak-proof, and you can easily condense it, thanks to its soft design. Like the YETI and other soft-sided coolers in this list, the Polar Bear features open-cell foam insulation that gives it great ice retention qualities.
• High quality 1000D nylon
• Can hold ice for a full day, 24 hours
• Easy-to-carry backpack style design available
• The zipper might leak water if you turn the bag upside down
AO Coolers Canvas – Best for Hot and Cold Food
If you want to carry hot food for a day in the waters, this cooler allows you to do that. It is also effective as a cooler if you want to bring cold drinks to the water. You can buy the cooler in multiple sizes and colors, depending on your needs and preferences.
The smallest unit holds 12 cans while the largest can take up to 48 cans. The largest is enough to carry drinks for a small nautical party. Inside, the cooler has a TPU fabric liner that makes the unit leak-proof. Outside, the unit has an external pocket that you can use for dry items or any other gear you may need in your boat.
If you need a lightweight cooler, this may be a great choice. It combines versatility with 24-hour ice retention capability. It is easy to pack and easy to carry, thanks to its removable shoulder strap.
• Lightweight and with a removable shoulder strap
• Available in multiple sizes
• Great insulation to retain ice for 24 hours
• Versatile for hot and cold foods
• The larger coolers can be very bulky
Are soft coolers waterproof? Yes. They all are, thanks to their rugged construction. I have only used the YETI Hopper soft cooler, but through research, I have learned so much more about these coolers.
While shopping, it is okay to consider ice retention, but you also need to consider durability, portability, and versatility. If you sail alone for a day or two, you do not need the large 36-can or 48-can coolers. A smaller cooler will come in handier. If you travel in a group, these large units will meet your needs more.