Grabbing some bottles and cans from the fridge and heading out with friends means proper beverage transport is necessary. And soft-sided coolers are often smaller, more portable options than their hard-sided counterparts.
Modern coolers are a combination of form, function and technology. Many manufacturers are eager to make a strong visual impression but also must back up boasts of keeping ice frozen for days. Some cooler manufacturers will talk about how many cans a container can hold, but often this means 12-ounce cans, not the more common-to-craft beer 16-ounce size. Pack accordingly.
Much of the innovation and specialty features that appear on coolers, from pockets to materials, patterns and built-in bottle openers, come from listening to customers, says Mel Mogil, president and CEO of California Innovations, which owns cooler brand Arctic Zone.
“Listen to the people who use the product and you’ll be rewarded,” he says.
Mogil says that the soft-sided cooler category has expanded as materials and advancement in temperature studies has evolved. Not only are coolers now designed to keep things chill, but often can be used to keep food or drinks hot or warm.
When it’s time to BYOB: Taiga Bottle Skin
With a strong liner and durable padding, this holds two 750-ml bottles and can keep them cold for hours without sweating or leaking. A comfortable, padded handle or shoulder strap makes it easy to carry. They also make larger and customizable soft-sided coolers perfect for smaller bottles, cans or meals.
A veteran-owned company, Taiga offers discounts to former military members with each purchase.
For the Weekend Hike to the Campsite: Yeti Hopper Backflip 24
Yeti has become a recognizable name in the cooler arena thanks to its durable, rigid and well-insulated coolers. The Backflip 24 can easily hold four 4-packs of 16-ounce cans, or 20 12-ounce cans, when adhering to the company’s beverage-to-ice metric.
This pack offers transport options with sturdy back straps, a top handle and tote handles on each side for dual carrying. When the toothy zippers are joined and it is well iced up, the drinks will stay cold all weekend long.
For Those Who Entertain: Rovr Keepr
This durable tote is deep enough to carry several 750-ml bottles, and a vacuum sealed cylinder that can hold ice for hours fits snugly into the center. With enough storage for cups and other drink accoutrements, this is ideal for cocktail parties on the go.
The thermoplastic polyurethane body is rigid but still flexible and is easy to clean.
For the Budget Conscious: Coleman Xpand
Reasonably priced, and able to keep cans cold for at least half a day, the Coleman Xpand line is no-frills functional that keeps cans snug and has top-flap space for ice packs.
The smallest Coleman Xpand model can hold nine 12-ounce cans and could also double as a lunch bag on weekdays.
For Beach Days: IceMule Jaunt
Designed after a dry pack, this bag is waterproof and does the admirable job of keeping ice solid, even on hot days in direct sun. A squared-out bottom makes it suitable for glass bottles— some padding in between might be needed—or for stacking cans.
A side valve allows for air to be added to the insulation layer, which increases the pack’s cold retention time and allows the bag to float should it fall in the water. A cell-phone sized water-proof pocket keeps electronics dry as well.
A Hands Free Six Pack: Mountainsmith Cooler Tube
This soft sided tube perfectly holds a six-pack of 12-ounce cans with a little bit of give on either end for contouring when strapped to your back. Well insulated, lightweight and durable, this cooler is also a conversation starter.
For Weekend Roadtrips: Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze
Soft on the outside, but with a ridged insert, the Titan Deep Freeze has an easily flipable top flap for quick access to beverages. With excellent ice retention and a shelf for food, this is the perfect cooler for a weekend road trip.