We’ll always have a spot in our gear closet for a hard cooler, but soft coolers have proven to be just as essential. They weigh less and are easy for one person to grab and quickly transport from the deck to the truck bed.
There’s a broad range of sizes and softness in soft coolers. Some of these designs are actually very rigid, stout, and stackable. Others are fully collapsible and pliable, and we celebrate the space-saving option for storage.
For day-long roams, weekend adventures, road trips, or running errands, these soft coolers kept our provisions chilled without weighing us down. For more information about soft coolers, check out our buyer’s guide, comparison chart, and FAQ at the end of this article.
Otherwise, scroll through to see all of our recommended buys:
- Best Overall Soft Cooler: OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler
- Best Budget Soft Cooler: Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote
- Best Large Soft Cooler: Snow Peak Soft Cooler
- Most Compact Soft Cooler: Mountainsmith Takeout
- Most Eco-Friendly: Cotopaxi Hielo
- Best Collapsible Design for Storage: REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler
The Best Soft Coolers of 2023
- Size 14.3" x 17.5" x 10.25"
- Capacity 19L
- Weight 3,175 g (6.5 lbs.)
- Ice retention test ~3+ days
- Durable cooler in sunshine or downpour
- Leakproof lid
- Easy to transport
- Retains ice well
- We’d like a streamlined top-of-lid handle
- Closing the lid’s clasp requires attention to make sure it’s fully clamped
We took this cooler on a two-person, 3,400-mile road trip from Colorado to Washington for ski mountaineering followed by ocean surfing. Then we linked up river surf spots through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, camping along the way.
The cooler was hauled in and out of the open truck bed countless times, faced torrential downpours, withstood long days in the direct sunshine, didn’t collapse under other stacked gear, and sat in mud at camp. The cooler didn’t take up too much space in the backseat, either. When posted up, we used the cooler for day trips. But on the road, we packed it full of beverages and snacks.
This cooler’s size, shape, and rigidity are convenient. The wide opening is great for quick, easy access, and the leakproof seal prevented melted ice from dripping out (and also prevented rain from seeping in during storms).
The flat backside wall alleviates bounce when we were using the shoulder strap. We also appreciated the water-resistant exterior pocket, which is easy to open and close. We miss the top handle, but the two side grab handles are robust and ergonomic.
We were surprised at how well the cooler retained ice despite being out in the elements, due to the premium thermal insulation. The heavy-duty base also increased the chill factor while stabilizing the cooler during transport and beneath items. The staunch base also allowed us to set the cooler on variable surfaces and was easy to clean.
According to our ice retention test, this cooler is capable of holding ice for up to 78 hours, which is what the brand claims — and is also the strongest ice retention among the coolers on our list. To put the size in perspective, this cooler could fit 28 12-ounce cans. While the Trooper 20 ($250) is a bit expensive, it stands out as the best soft cooler on the market, and should last for many seasons of use.
- Great ice retention
- Two over-the-shoulder straps Velcro together alongisde an optional shoulder strap
- Includes bottle opener
- A few of us don’t prefer the look
- The lid’s zipper is not waterproof
Despite being left in the car for a full day following the river outing, the cooler still had ice and felt cold. That well-founded retention is thanks to the brand’s blend of proprietary insulation, interior radiant barrier, and thick base made of three layers of SuperFoam. We also found the water- and stain-resistant exterior very durable. The inside was easy to wipe clean.
The shape and weight feel easy to move around, and the handles are comfortable. We appreciate all of the pockets to help us keep odds and ends organized. There are two zippered pockets, including one that fits a phone, and two huge, broad mesh pockets.
According to our ice retention test, the Titan Bucket Tote is capable of holding ice for up to 70 hours. This cooler could fit two dozen 12-ounce cans. We’re quite confident it’s the best soft cooler for the price.
- Large capacity
- Supple and easy to carry
- The lid’s zipper is not waterproof
- A bit overpriced for the low ice retention but worth the cost for collapsibility
A hard cooler this size would require two hands to move. But the flexible walls allowed us to flatten and fold the cooler for easy storage, saving us space in a tight apartment.
The exterior is made of synthetic plastic and nylon, so it’s not resilient for a rugged whitewater trip but is suitable for basecamp. There’s ample space to carry multiple meals for several people. The insulated walls have an interior aluminum coat that helps trap cold air, and the ice retention is adequate for single- and 2-day adventures.
The Snow Peak Soft Cooler did well on a weekend road trip to climb in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains and camp out, but wouldn’t be able to retain ice for longer durations. Our ice retention test corroborated that experience, showing the cooler is capable of holding ice for nearly 2.5 days.
If you want a versatile cooler with a bit more volume than a traditional soft cooler, look no further.
- Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
- Has an interior zippered mesh pocket in lid for utensils
- Zippers are substantial
- Exterior pocket is great for a phone but lacks zipper for security
- Lid’s zipper leaks
The design is super lightweight and felt comfortable to carry around. It was easy to sling over our shoulders with the removable strap. The material dried surprisingly fast after it got wet while paddling. This design is too small for an all-day adventure, but for a lunchbox or outing, it’s great. And the wide shape allows easy access to the grub inside the cooler.
According to the ice retention test, the Takeout can retain ice for 21 hours. To put the size in perspective, this cute cooler could fit six 12-ounce cans.
- Saves throwaway scraps from the landfill
- Each cooler bag is one-of-a-kind
- The design process empowers employees behind each cooler pack
- The zippers, zipper pulls, buckles, and thread are tailored to each bag — so you're not totally sure what to expect
At the brand’s partner factory in the Philippines, the designers and sewers choose mixed-and-matched fabric for each pack. No two coolers bags are the same — each one is creatively unique.
What is the same: each pack features a roll-top closure that’s secured with a buckle. The interior liner of the Hielo is waterproof and the foam insulation, which is likewise repurposed, keeps the goods chilled. And there’s a water bottle pocket (up to 3 inches in diameter) on the side.
For grab-and-go, there’s a handle on the back and a carry tote-style strap. For scale, the bag can carry up to a dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Daisy chains and spacious external pocket with a zipper
- Transforms into a tote, cube, and flat for storage
- Can’t stack any items on top of this soft cooler
- Tote is wobbly and doesn’t dependably stand upright
- Top zipper is not waterproof
We loaded the Pack-Away into our jeep for navigating Colorado’s high-altitude Alpine Loop, a 65-mile route that circumnavigates old mining roads through the San Juan Mountains. The cooler held lunch meats, cheese, veggies, dark chocolate, and seltzer waters.
The eco-friendly design features a recycled polyester upper and recycled nylon bottom. It’s also Bluesign-approved, which we appreciate.
Overall, we found the Pack-Away durable, given it’s made with a tough polyester shell and abrasion-resistant nylon bottom. It also had decent ice retention. The size and insulation are ideal for a single day out. According to the ice retention test, this cooler can retain ice for 57 hours and fit 24 12-ounce cans.
- Cooler won’t leak through waterproof top zipper or seams
- Small stretch exterior pocket
- Bungee cords to hold down items
- Magnetic split handle is not comfortable to grab when divided as two straps
The insulation is a metal-coated plastic blend, which did a solid job of preserving the ice and goods. We loved the soft interior liner and the waterproof zipper that prevents any leaks from the top.
The two side handles aren’t the most comfortable to grab, and we wish they weren’t adjacent to the shoulder straps’ attachment points. The center magnetic handle is smooth and nice to grab. But when the handgrip is detached into two separate pieces, they’re not comfortable to grasp.
According to our ice retention test, the Walker 20 is capable of holding ice for up to 70 hours. This cooler could fit 20 12-ounce cans.
We also tested the Orca Walker Tote ($225), which is equally well-made but in a slightly different style. It also retained ice for nearly 28 hours. For more info, check out the full review.
- Tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
- Waterproof zipper
- Cooler is completely leakproof
- Exterior pocket is great for a phone but lacks zipper for security
- No integrated pockets
The exterior is made of a 600-denier polyester shell that’s waterproof. The zipper is completely watertight with welded seams, so leaking isn’t on the menu. We noticed the zipper is hard to pull one-handed, and we typically need to counter-pull the side handles to open or close it.
We were surprised to see the cooler’s exterior sweat quite a bit during the ice retention test. The ice melted at a faster rate compared to other coolers, lasting for about 60 hours, but well above the brand’s 36-hour stamp. The 18-liter Day Escape Tote could fit two dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
- Great for park concerts
- Zippered interior mesh pocket inside cooler lid for utensils
- Two flat pockets on the side
- We’d like the lightweight removable shoulder strap to be burlier
- Cooler bottom can absorb moisture
- Lid’s zipper is not waterproof
Inside and out, the cooler was easy to clean. It seems durable, and we like the vintage look. The haul handle is ergonomically sound and comfortable to grab. However, our ice melted fast on hot days, and with minimal room in the cooler, the food can get wet. But, the seamless liner did hold the water and showed no sign of leaks.
According to the ice retention test, this cooler can preserve ice for 25 hours. The Sixer can fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Two tote straps comfortably slide over the shoulder
- Padded removable shoulder strap
- Ice melts fast in a hot vehicle or sunny conditions
- Top zipper is not waterproof and can leak
- Fair amount of condensation appeared on cooler’s exterior
We could stuff lots of goods inside or squish the cooler down for storage. The slender shape doesn’t bounce around and feels smooth to carry over the shoulder.
We really like the exterior front zipper pocket. But we wish the side mesh water bottle pockets were hardy like the rest of the cooler — they felt flimsy and easily snagged. Also, we loved that the top entry opened wide and had a two-way zipper, though the wide rim made drying out the cooler a challenge.
Ultimately, due to the ice retention, the Pursuit Tote is a solid option for errands and small trips but be sure to cool the bag before use. According to the ice retention test, this cooler can retain ice for 40 hours. It can fit 30 12-ounce cans.
- Daisy chain webbing and bottle opener included
- Interior zippered pocket inside lid keeps food items above ice
- Strong, smooth side and top handles
- Helpful cooling tips are listed inside the pack’s lid
- The cube shape bounces off your back when using the shoulder strap
- Top zipper is not waterproof, so watch for leaks
- Exterior front pocket lacks zipper to secure items
The cooler’s exterior is made with stout ripstop nylon that easily wipes down. Inside, the insulated polyester liner is durable and removable. It’s also super easy to pull out and clean.
While adventuring, this cooler did a noteworthy job of preserving ice in sunny conditions and exceeded the capabilities of other coolers we tested. The seams are sealed to prevent leaks. A two-way zipper provides easy top access, and the cube shape nicely slides into tight spaces on a boat or in the truck bed.
According to our ice retention test, the REI Co-op Cool Haul is capable of holding ice for up to 60 hours. To put the size in perspective, this cooler could fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.
- Waterproof, leakproof zipper is comfortable to open with the wide T-shaped pull
- Tall height is nice for resting food or other items while sitting in a camp chair
- Hand straps lack padding for comfortable carry while loaded
- Shoulder strap attachments are not dependable or durable
The 1-inch closed-cell high-density foam worked well to keep our food and beverages chilled while baking under the sun during a mid-summer music festival. We’re not surprised, given RovR makes one of the best hard-side coolers, hands down. The robust zipper closure takes some effort and time to open, but the wide T-shaped pull makes the job comfortable.
With a unique spin, the cooler is compatible with a removable insert called the KeepR ($150), which organizes fare into different compartments like a golf bag. The dividers are secured via Velcro, so the compartments are adjustable. The center of the basket has a circular sleeve for the 3L Icer ($50), a double-wall vacuum-sealed ice holder with a 3.5-pound capacity.
We tested all of the accessories, and most enjoyed pulling clean, super cold ice out of the Icer to put directly into our lemonade while boogying to music all day outside. The SnackR containers were also great for pouring in fresh, chilled salsa and carrying sliced cheese. They were easy to slide in and stack on top of items inside the cooler.
While we liked the size, capacity, and shape of the TravelR, the hand straps are not cushioned or wide enough to comfortably carry this cooler when it’s loaded with all the eats, drinks, and ice.
When we picked up the cooler with the detachable shoulder strap — which is padded — the attachment point completely broke within 20 seconds — thankfully, the cooler didn’t land on our toes. So we used a different shoulder strap to carry the cooler on our 15-minute walk to our picnic spot.
But even with a pad, the strap was not comfortable for the weight-to-weight ratio of this tall cooler. So don’t plan on walking far with this softie or make sure your shoulders are covered for a little extra cushion.
Our other grievance is we wish there was an exterior pocket on this soft cooler to help carry utensils and napkins or slide in trash.
- Slim design fits well on or in a boat
- Bungee cords to hold down items
- Seams leak
- Zipper doesn’t go all the way around so access is awkward
- Lacks attachments points for whitewater travel
- Needs a removable shoulder strap to conveniently carry to and from water
- Bungee cords are at each corner — not D-rings — for tiedown points
On the positive side, the cooler is conveniently shaped to fit inside the bow recess of a boat. We took this cooler out boating, fishing, and standup paddleboarding at Taylor Reservoir in the Elk Mountains of Colorado.
The materials are high-quality with closed-cell foam insulation, a vinyl-coated polyester exterior, and snazzy YKK zippers. We liked the two muscular handles. But without a shoulder strap, it wasn’t ideal to transport the Hobie Cooler more than short distances.
Unfortunately, the seams leaked water all over the rig before we even got to the water’s edge and then drained within only a couple of hours of use. We saw the same results during our ice retention test.
Our other grievance is the zipper only goes around halfway, stopping at an awkward spot that limits access and ability to clean the inside of the cooler. Plus, the zipper isn’t waterproof. So, when you grab one of the two handles to carry the cooler, it leaks all over the place.
Ultimately, the ice retention is not as dependable as other coolers, in part because the cold water drains out. According to our ice retention test, this cooler is able to hold ice for nearly 45 hours.
- YKK zippers
- Comfortable padded, removable shoulder strap
- Small Velcro lid allows easy access when cooler’s lid is shut
- Material absorbs water and feels heavy
We also appreciate the two broad pockets on each side. One has a zip closure for security, and the other latches via Velcro.
The lid has a small pop-up Velcro door to provide easy access when the cooler is zipped shut, though we wish the small entrance was a bit larger. It’d also be great to see the door and lid closures upgraded so they don’t leak.
The cooler’s multilayer insulation didn’t keep the ice very well, and the waxed canvas is stylish and soft but soaks up water and gets heavy. According to our ice retention test, the Blizzard is capable of holding ice for close to 45 hours. It could fit one dozen 12-ounce cans.
Soft Cooler Comparison Chart
|Soft Cooler||Size||Capacity||Weight||Ice Retention Test|
|OtterBox Trooper 20||14.3″ x 17.5″ x 10.25″||19L||3,175 g (6.5 lbs.)||~3+ days|
|Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote||15″ x 10″ x 13.5″||33L||816 g (1.8 lbs.)||~3 days|
|Snow Peak Soft Cooler 38||19″ x 12.5″ x 12.5″||38L||1,724 g (3.8 lbs.)||~2.5 days|
|Mountainsmith Takeout||8″ x 9″ x 6″||7L||363 g (0.8 lbs.)||~21 hours|
Cotopaxi Hielo 12L
Cooler Bag Del Dia
|18″ x 14″ x 5.5″||12L||708 g (1.6 lbs.)||Unavailable|
|REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler||10″ x 11″ x 15″||32L||680 g (1.5 lbs.)||~2+ days|
|Orca Walker 20||14.5″ x 11″ x 13.25″||33L||1,633 g (3.6 lbs.)||~3 days|
|Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote||12.2″ x 20.5″ x 7.8″||18L||1,134 g (2.5 lbs.)||~2.5 days|
|Mountainsmith Sixer||11″ x 11″ x 6″||12L||499 g (1.1 lbs.)||~25 hours|
|Igloo Pursuit Tote||22.4″ x 3.7″ x 15.7″||21L||907 g (2 lbs.)||~1.5 days|
|REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler||14″ x 11″ x 11″||15L||1,415 g (3.12 lbs.)||~2.5 days|
|RovR TravelR||19″ x 17″ x 14″||28L||2,013 g (4 lbs. 7 oz.)||72+ hours|
|Hobie Soft Cooler Fish Bag||18″ x 16″ x 8″||19L||2,721 g (6 lbs.)||~1.5 days|
|Fishpond Blizzard Soft Cooler||11.5″ x 9″ x 10″||17L||Unavailable||~1.5 days|
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team has developed cooler guides year after year, objectively testing dozens of soft, hard, and backpack coolers in the field, from whitewater raft trips to fly fishing adventures and music festivals in the mountains.
For this soft coolers guide, we examined the most popular, innovative, highly acclaimed, and bestselling products with diverse storage and carry capacities, ice retention ability, and across a price spectrum.
Lead tester Morgan Tilton, GearJunkie Senior Editor specializing in Snow Sports Buyer’s Guides, coordinated a range of studious gear testers to test the coolers in this guide.
Our crew took these coolers through myriad conditions from summertime park BBQs to camping in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, guiding fly fish sessions on rivers, and road-tripping to ski mountaineer in the Pacific Northwest.
We also performed a controlled in-house ice retention test to verify brand claims. For the experiment, we filled each pre-cooled cooler approximately 70% with fresh, frozen cubed ice and set them in a shaded, dry indoor space at a steady average of 65 degrees.
We periodically checked, making notes regarding melt rate, condensation, and leaks. Each reported time is based on when 100% of the ice was converted to water. This data provides a benchmark. But when traveling outdoors, these controlled variables disappear and the ice will likely melt faster.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Soft Cooler
Choose a soft cooler based on the storage capacity and type of support you need for the load. A super malleable product like the Snow Peak Soft Cooler might not be the best for carrying dozens of heavy cans compared to a more rigid design like the RovR TravelR 30.
The larger the group, the more cargo space you’ll need. The soft coolers in our guide range from the Mountainsmith Takeout, which can fit six cans, to the 38 L Snow Peak Soft Cooler. Most of our choice soft coolers are either larger (30 L to 38 L) for group multiday trips or more compact (12 L to 19 L).
Compartments & Pockets
Most soft coolers are simple with a central insulated compartment for food and beverages. A handful have an interior zippered compartment inside the lid.
Various exterior pockets are available in some designs, including streamlined fabric and mesh pockets with no closure or bungee straps. Other coolers have external pockets with a Velcro latch, zipper, or waterproof zipper for security.
The weights of soft coolers are typically reflected by their size and capacity. The smallest design in our guide is the Mountainsmith Takeout, which weighs less than a pound. The heaviest soft cooler is the 6.5-pound OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler, which has a 19L capacity and the best ice retention.
Soft cooler totes are long, slender, and streamlined against your side. They’re comfortable to carry over a shoulder. However, taller coolers get trickier with access to buried items, so you have to be mindful when packing the cooler.
Soft coolers that are wider or more bucket-style are easier to access, as far as finding a specific item. But, they can feel more cumbersome to carry over a shoulder. Coolers like the OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler with a broad, flat surface that rests against you can help absorb that swing and bounce.
Boxier coolers can be easier to stack — as long as the walls and base are rigid — while sleeker coolers can more likely slip behind a seat in your car. Shorter, more compact coolers are easier to fit in tight spaces on a boat.
A soft cooler’s materials include the exterior, insulation, interior liner, and handles. A range of top closures exist. The most common are waterproof and leakproof zippers or non-waterproof and leakproof zippers.
We pay attention to that variable to know if a cooler needs to always be upright. Some unique closures include the clasp of the OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler, which doesn’t allow leaks. Other coolers have magnetic seams, like models made by YETI. Welded seams also help prevent leaks.
Soft coolers may have shoulder straps — which are typically removable — buckles, attachment points, and interior or exterior pockets. Some pockets have durable, waterproof zipper closures, but many are not weather-resistant or secured with a closure.
The quality of materials influences the waterproofness, durability, insulation value, and whether or not the face fabric produces condensation. The materials also determine the comfort, breathability, support, and overall cost.
Straps & Handles
Handles and straps are constructed with a variety of materials. Some are more ergonomic, comfortable, and durable than others.
Most soft coolers have side or top handles, two straps that swing up to secure together above the cooler, or a removable shoulder strap. A bunch of designs have a combination of handles and straps, too. For coolers on the larger side (like the RoVR 30 versus the Fishpond Blizzard Soft Cooler) it’s key to have padding on the hand or shoulder straps for comfort while carrying a fully-loaded cooler.
In our testing, we found the side handles of the Fishpond Blizzard Soft Cooler and OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler were stalwart and comfortable to grab. We liked the wide, soft material of the two swing-up straps on the Snow Peak Soft Cooler.
The handles on the Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote were a great length and easy to slide over one shoulder.
We completed our ice retention test with controlled variables. Each soft cooler was stationed indoors at around 65 degrees, shaded, and filled with the same ratio and type of ice.
Ice Retention Test Results
- OtterBox Trooper 20 Cooler – 78 hours
- RovR TravelR – 72 hours
- Orca Walker Cooler – 70 hours
- Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote – 70 hours
- REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler – 60 hours
- Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote – 60 hours
- Snow Peak Soft Cooler – 60 hours
- REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler – 57 hours
- Igloo Pursuit Tote – 40 hours
- Hobie Soft Cooler Fish Bag – 45 hours
- Fishpond Blizzard Soft Cooler – 45 hours
- Mountainsmith Sixer – 25 hours
- Mountainsmith Takeout – 21 hours
For a variety of conditions, the soft coolers in this guide provide enough cooling power to serve a range of recreation needs.
When you use a cooler outside, many factors influence a pack’s ice retention, including frequency of opening the cooler, direct sunlight, and ambient temperature. For instance, the REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler preserved ice for 60 hours during our test but only for 18 hours during one toasty car camp trip.
The price of a soft cooler is reflected by the size, durability, quality of materials, design features, and ice retention.
In that upper tier, you’ll also find the Orca Walker Cooler ($220). Soft coolers in the medium price range include the Snow Peak Soft Cooler ($170), Igloo Pursuit Tote ($120), and REI Co-op Cool Haul Soft Cooler ($100).
Plenty of soft coolers are fairly comfortable to use and reliable (as long as it’s not too sunny or scorching hot out) in the less-than-$100 category. Those choice designs include a range of designs such as the Mountainsmith Takeout ($30), REI Co-op Pack-Away Soft Cooler ($50), and Arctic Zone Titan Bucket Tote ($53).
The well-constructed, premium Hydro Flask Day Escape Tote is available at a moderate price ($150).
Additional features on soft coolers include hard clip points, daisy chains, webbing straps, and bungee cords for carrying extra gear. Some packs also include a reflective logo or bottle opener.
Many soft coolers do not have tiedown points, which would be a good feature for river or motorcycle trips.
There’s utility for both designs. Hard coolers are more durable and stout and have a larger size range, given they can hold more weight without collapsing. Hard coolers can also preserve ice for longer durations. If you’re going on a weeklong car camping trip with limited access to ice, it’s advantageous to have a hard cooler for fresh food.
On the other hand, a soft cooler is a preferred choice for being lightweight, easy to carry — especially for one person — and simple to transport. The compact sizes are great for picnics, day trips, overnight camping, and grocery shopping. Another benefit is some soft coolers are collapsible, so they occupy less space in storage than a hard cooler.
For road trips, you can separate daytime beverages and snacks into a soft cooler, which limits opening of the hard cooler and preserves ice.
If the cooler’s seams are not welded and leakproof, they can leak. Soft coolers can also leak through the lid closure if the zipper isn’t waterproof or the clasp isn’t leakproof.
Some soft coolers are superior at ice retention, which is generally reflected in the price tag but not always. Some pricier coolers offer adequate ice retention mixed with other qualities like durability and capacity.
In our side-by-side ice retention test, the soft cooler that retained ice the longest was the OttorBox Tooper 20, which is capable of holding ice for up to 78 hours, to the brand’s claim.
It was followed by the RovR TravelR at 72 hours, then the Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Bucket Tote and Orca Walker Cooler, which held ice for 70 hours. The lowest ice retention recorded was 21 hours for the small Mountainsmith Takeout.
In daily adventures, melt speed slightly fluctuates based on the frequency of opening the cooler, how long it’s open, ambient heat, and direct sunlight. A bunch of other variables influence ice retention, too, including the type and quantity of ice, extra space in the compartment (which decreases effectiveness), and if the cooler was prechilled.
For most soft coolers, dry ice will burn the interior materials. Instead, you should use freshly frozen cubed ice, ice blocks, or reusable ice packs.
For the longest-lasting ice retention and cooling capability, aim to use a 2:1 ratio of ice to contents. You can quickly prechill your cooler with a sacrificial bag of ice a few hours before loading it up, especially if the cooler was stored in a hot place. Or, bring the cooler inside a cool room to lower the temperature the night before use.
The type of ice makes a difference. Block ice and fresh cubed ice from freezers are denser than chipped ice or crushed ice from ice machines. If you get super strategic, you can use a mix of block ice — which melts slowly — and cubed ice — which cools down the container quickly.
As the ice melts, it’s ideal to retain the ice water, which helps the other ice stay cold. Limit your access to the cooler because opening it up releases the cold air.
Keep your cooler in the shade to prolong that low temperature. If you’re under direct sun, toss a towel or blanket over the cooler to help alleviate a heat spike.