If you’re pressed for time, my favorite soft cooler is Engel’s HD30.
Cracking open a cold one is a staple of the camping experience for many.
However, to do the analogy justice, you need to keep the cold one…well…cold!
The best way to do that is by getting yourself a reliable soft cooler.
Compared to hard-shell coolers, these products are lighter, but will still keep your brews Colorado cold.
Let’s get right into it!
The Top 5 Soft Coolers
Today, there are more soft coolers on the market than you could count.
To save you time (and energy), I’ve found the top five available right now. Choose one of these coolers, and your beer (or water, or snacks) will be kept cold no matter what.
ENGEL – HD30
Let me start off by saying that the design of this cooler is absolutely fantastic. It seems like something that would come right out of Star Trek. You’ll be happy to know that it functions just as well as it looks, and that’s really saying something.
I’ve brought this cooler along with me on multiple camping trips. When I say that it will hold ice for up to four days, I’m basing that off my personal experience rather than the manufacturer’s claims.
A neat feature of this cooler is the front accessory pocket. It serves as an excellent spot to store small items that you don’t want to lose track of during your hike to the camping spot.
The patent-pending vacuum valve takes the insulation to a whole new level as well.
The outer wall is made of TPU, so you don’t have to worry about damaging the cooler. I’m not the delicate type of person when carrying gear around — often pushing sharp branches out of the way with my cooler — but it still looks good as new.
- Cool design
- Holds ice for up to four days
- Accessory pocket
- Vacuum valve insulation
- TPU construction
- Not the most affordable cooler on the market
Best for: campers who want to invest in a cooler that’ll last for years.
AO Coolers – Original Soft Cooler
If you like the storage capacity of the HD30, but don’t have enough cash to accommodate its premium price tag, then go for this model from AO Coolers. It too can hold up to 24 cans but is a fair bit cheaper.
This product from AO Coolers comes in various colors and patterns, meaning that there’s something for everyone. I personally prefer the solid red since it makes the cooler easy to spot even in the dark or under rainy conditions. It also matches my red solo cup.
AO Coolers, much like ENGEL, understands that there’s no shortage of small gear you need to store. That’s why they’ve fitted their model with a side pocket to store your accessories in.
Sadly, you get what you pay for, so you can’t expect equal insulation when buying a cheaper cooler such as this one. While it won’t hold ice for four days, it does guarantee 24 hours in weathers up to 120 degrees. Not quite as long, but still decent.
- Affordable price
- 24-can capacity
- Various colors and patterns available
- Accessory pocket
- 24-hour ice holding time
Best for: campers looking for an affordable cooler to take on a short trip.
YETI – Hopper BackFlip 24
I’ll be the first to admit that this model is relatively pricey, but it’s well worth the cost. Much like the HD30, the Hopper BackFlip also looks like something straight out of Star Trek. The gray and blue variant seems like it should be a fuel cell for the USS Enterprise.
If you prefer a tactical look, then go for the matte black variant of this cooler. Of course, there’s more to this stunning model than its aesthetics. The HydroLok™ zipper is both leak-proof and waterproof, ensuring that no moisture gets in or out of this cooler.
The DryHide™ shell on this bad boy is made out of high-density fabric, making it resistant to punctures, mildew, and UV rays. It’s also completely waterproof and made out of food-safe material that’s approved by the FDA.
Weighing in at only a pound, you’ll be surprised to hear that this cooler can hold up to 20 cans, even with a 2:1 ratio of ice to can. You’d be hard-pressed to find a model at this weight that has more storage and insulation.
- Legendary YETI cooling technology
- Fresh design (two variants)
- HydroLok™ zipper
- DryHide™ shell
- 20-can capacity
- Lightweight at one pound
- The premium performance will cost you a premium price
Campers who want a high-end cooler that uses the latest technology to optimize performance.
OlarHike – 30 Liter Large Cooler
If the coolers that I’ve listed to this point didn’t have enough capacity for your taste, then you’ll love this cooler from OlarHike. It can hold up to 40 cans and has a load limit of 50 pounds. You’d probably think that something with so much capacity would be pretty expensive, but it’s not!
As a matter of fact, despite having the highest capacity, this cooler is one of the most affordable here.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect cooler. The main drawback of this cooler is the fact that it can only hold ice for 12 hours, but if you’re going on a short trip or tailgate, then it’ll be fine.
The cooler also has two handles that you can switch between depending on the weight you’re carrying. If the load is relatively light, then go for the top handle. For beefier cargo, you can use the side handles.
With a two-year warranty to boot, this cooler is definitely a prime choice for any camper who wants to get the most bang for their buck. Sure, it doesn’t feature insulation equal to some of the more expensive options, but you can’t expect perfection at this price range.
- 40-can capacity
- 50-pound load limit
- Affordable price
- Two-year warranty
- 12-hour ice holding time
Best for: campers who need high capacity at an affordable price for short trips.
TOURIT – 30-Can Leak-Proof Soft Pack Cooler
TOURIT has always been known for producing top-notch coolers, and this model is certainly no exception. With a 30-can capacity and three-day hold time, this masterpiece can fill your needs regardless of trip duration or cargo volume.
This is also one of the most durable coolers you’ll ever see. Its impact-resistant shell can withstand UV rays and any sharp object that may seek to puncture it.
It’s also absolutely leak-proof and waterproof. You know the durability is on-point since TOURIT provides a three-year warranty.
If you were impressed by the dual-handle functionality on the OlarHike cooler, then you’ll love TOURIT’S triple-handle. You can use the shoulder strap, top handles, or side handles to carry your cargo.
It’s worth noting that you should clean the interior (handwash only) after each use to keep the cooler in peak condition. This is even more important if you use it in saltwater environments, such as a picnic on the beach.
- 30-can capacity
- Holds ice for up to three days
- Impact, UV, and puncture-resistant shell
- Waterproof and leak-proof
- Three-year warranty
- Susceptible to damage if the interior isn’t cleaned after use in saltwater environments.
Best for: campers looking for a durable cooler at a reasonable price.
Choosing a Soft Cooler
When it comes to choosing a cooler for your camping trip, there are quite a few factors to consider. In the interest of making it easier for beginners, I’ve written up this guide that will cover all the essential details.
The first thing that you should look at is the weight of the cooler itself. After all, you’re going to be carrying quite a lot of cargo within it. If the cooler weighs a lot on its own, you could struggle to get all that mass up to your camping spot.
Higher-end coolers, while pricey at times, tend to be lighter since they use cutting-edge materials. These fabrics can be durable without getting too heavy.
A great example of this is the YETI Hopper BackFlip. Despite being tough as nails, it only weighs a pound.
Finding a cooler that’s light will be well worth the cost since you’ll be able to take more cargo along without being over-encumbered. Lighter coolers tend to be more durable, too, because they’re usually made of premium materials.
Unlike a cooler that you might have at home, you should pay attention to portability when choosing a model to bring along on your next camping trip. While the weight is definitely a factor, other things like the shape of the cooler can come into play as well.
The handle arrangement can also make a particular model easier to carry around. Some of the options that I covered above have two or even three separate handles that you can use. The ability to switch between multiple handles depending on the weight of your cargo is handy.
If you’re lucky enough to have some camping buddies who already own coolers, then see if you can borrow them. Taking different models out into the field for a live test is the best way to gauge its performance in a real-life environment.
Of course, what good is a fancy cooler if it can’t accommodate all your cargo. When picking out a model, you should ensure that it has enough storage capacity to fit everything that you’ll need to store during your camping trip.
The amount of storage required will vary depending on how long you’ll be residing in the great outdoors, but a safe estimate is nothing lower than 20 cans. It’s worth noting that high storage capacities also make it possible to bring more ice along.
The ability to take extra ice with you means that your cooling time will increase, even if you’re camping in particularly hot spots. This is why I often advise that campers go for large coolers when they’re going on summer trips.
By the way, these air conditioners are great for summer trips.
DOs and DON’Ts
There are some best practices that you can do to make the most of your cooler. Likewise, there are some things you shouldn’t do as they can hamper the performance. Here’s a concise list of all the things to keep in mind:
- Pre-chill the cooler with what I like to call a “sacrificial ice pack”
- Freeze your food and drinks before storing them in the cooler
- Use a 2:1 ice-to-cargo ratio
- Fill the cooler completely as any air pockets will speed up the melting process
- Block ice will last longer but won’t chill your cargo as quickly
- Drain melted ice as it will create air pockets
- Repeatedly open the cooler to check on the ice status as this will let hot air in
- Stick your hand in the cooler (body heat rapidly melts ice)
When you look at all the variables like weight, portability, and storage, it becomes rather clear that the HD30 is the best cooler of the lot. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and you’re welcome to go for any of the other options I covered in this article.
For me, however, nothing can beat the four-day holding time of the HD30. The 24-can capacity is also more than enough for most campers. Its TPU construction ensures that the cooler will stay intact and chilled no matter where you go.
Lastly, you can’t argue with the fact that it looks fantastic. Sure, it’s not the cheapest cooler out there, but I’d repurchase it in a heartbeat.