Few things are as handle for car traveling than a cooler. In the past many of us preferred large, heavy “hard” plastic coolers, but soft coolers are often less expensive and more practical.
What You Can Do With A Soft Cooler
That big, heavy, red plastic Colman cooler we all owned at one point or another was great, but it’s an history artifact at this point. Moderns cooler come in all shapes and sizes and they don’t need to be as large as your car truck or weight 80 pounds when they have a little ice in them.
Top Affordable Soft Coolers
Here are our picks in a soft cooler.
Coleman 54-Can Collapsible Cooler
We’ve been using this cooler for months and have tested it on dozens of car trips, spanning over a hundred ours of driving. It’s helps up great, without a tear, leak, or any significant mishaps.
The number one selling point of the Colman Collapsible 54-can cooler is, admittedly, its price: about $25. This cooler is like a big, insulated backpack, measuring in at about 15 inches wide, 15 inches tall, and 10 inches deep. It is mainly carried with a shoulder strap which is a real weakness of this cooler because it can accomodate at least 30 pounds of food and putting all that weight on a tiny strap can lead to some shoulder chaffing. Even so, the strap has held up and I’ve yet to break any glass inside the cooler, despite it being pretty lightly insulated.
In my experience, with two ice packs and filled with cool food out of the fridge this bag is good for at least 6 hours of excellent cooling. Coleman says the cooler can do as much as 32 hours of cooling at 90 degrees heat, but that’s more than I’ve needed.
The interior of the cooler is lined with a vinyl-like materials that holds up great against condensation and is totally leak-proof. It’s also mold- and mildew-resistant, so mine has held up great despite being used at least twice a week.
Coleman 40-can Soft Cooler Bag
While a 54-can cooler is nice for transporting food for a family (or moving a lot of seltzer), Coleman does sell a number of other products, all of which are reasonably priced and most of which offer more structure than the collapsible design that we prefer.
The Coleman 40-can is a soft cooler bag that is not collapsible, so it’s a good deal less floppy than the 54-can, which is really more of an insulated bag. This means transporting the 40-can design is easier and items inside are less prone to shifting around, which is good for delicates. This model is still technically collapsible, but it’s not as small or compressible as the floppy model.
This 40-can design has some other perks, like a storage compartment at the top, side pockets, and more comfortable handle than the larger model. It’s smaller and about $10 more, but it’s overall a nicer cooler.
Yeti Hopper M30 Portable Soft Cooler
As you can tell from above, we prefer our colors to be light and affordable, but so many people love their Yeti coolers that it would be crazy not to mention the Yeti M30 Soft Cooler.
Yes, it costs 10x more than a Coleman, but having bought one of these for a gift (despite thinking it was a bit crazy at the time) I have seen its performance firsthand and can say with confidence that it is a difference class of cooler than the sub-$50 models. If you are going out for a day of surfing or a weekend of camping and you want a cold drink on Saturday or Sunday, then you need a serious cooler.
The Yeti is big (25 inches wide by 12 inches deep and almost 18 inches tall), it’s heavy (over 7 pounds), and it’s seriously insulated. It’s rate for 20 cans, which isn’t a lot, but the bag can support about 30 pounds of ice, which means serious cooling over time, especially when combined with the foam insulation and magnetic seal closure.
This is a super durable cooler that you can just pack with ice and keep whatever you want cold for days. It’s ideally suited for camping, boats, RVs, and vans where the ruggedness of the Yeti will make a difference and the cooling performance is important to you.