Most of us don’t think about a cooler, until we need one that is. We may be going on a rare camping trip, a weekend outing or cookout, or simply need to keep something cold for limited amount of time. Whatever the reason, we may grab one of those cheap Styrofoam coolers for a couple of bucks with the intention of throwing it away after a one-time use (if it doesn’t break in the meantime that is), or if we will be using a cooler several times a year we may take the time in invest in one.

So how do you decide which kind? Soft or traditional molded hard shell? Expensive or cheap?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

A hard-shell cooler, beyond those cheap Styrofoam ones of course, are probably what many people recognize. If you are boating and have room, most of the well-made hard-shell coolers work great; many have scales molded to the top to measure fish, or cup holders, and work great as extra seating. They can also be useful if you are camping and don’t have to carry anything too far; you are parked close to your campsite for example.

However, if space is a premium, you are on a small boat, or hiking some distance to get to your campsite, or that favorite fishing spot, a soft side cooler has many advantages. When empty they can be rolled up or folded to save space; and even when filled will take up less space than the hard-shell cooler. They are also far more portable then a hard-side cooler, most have shoulder straps and the ability to conform to the shape of whatever they are resting against making them hands free for carrying.

The best part of course is the lack of space a soft sided cooler takes up when being stored away for next time.

NorChill Soft-Sided Cooler Rollup Demo

Soft-Sided Coolers roll up for easy stowing

It’s perfect for storing away in a trunk to be used as a nice insulated bag that will keep frozen foods frozen on the trip home from the grocery allowing you to stop along the way if you need to without worrying about something thawing out.

Soft-sided coolers run the gambit and price ranges; from under $10 for a thinly insulated bag good for keeping groceries cold on the ride home, to very well insulated bags with proprietary materials and linings that will keep ice from melting for days, and cost over $100, even more for some of the top of the line models.

The best soft sided coolers have features such as heavy-duty zippers like those made by top of the line manufacturer YKK, along with heavy canvas outer shells, and tough puncture resistant inner linings. These features make most soft sided coolers waterproof, and sweat proof meaning that outside condensation isn’t an issue; no worries about getting your trunk, backseat, or your backside damp when the cooler is filled.

soft sided coolers

The best soft sided coolers have features such as heavy-duty zippers like those made by top of the line manufacturer YKK, along with heavy canvas outer shells, and tough puncture resistant inner linings.

These abilities also allow a soft sided cooler to double as a waterproof, or dry, bag. And most have outside pockets that can be used for storage. And being waterproof makes them great coolers for the beach since they can keep out sand as well as water.

Another big plus of a good soft sided cooler is the ability to resist odors, stains, mold and mildew. Most traditional hard-shell plastic coolers absorb spillage odors and retain them, even after a thorough cleaning.

Most of the top of the line soft side coolers (usually those with an MSRP over $40), have linings that not only insulate but that can be wiped out and kept clean. Most manufacturers put a great deal of time into designing the inside lining of the bag with many using proprietary methods to keep ice cold.

Keep in mind however, soft sided coolers aren’t just for keeping things cold. Many companies offer soft side coolers with heavy duty features that will work great on a boat, or have camouflage for hunting. Combined with the ability to not absorb stains and odors, and given the fact that they are waterproof, soft sided coolers are perfect for keeping things warm, and fresh. You could conceivably carry a hot meal out to the bush and expect it to keep warm; clean your fish dockside or field strip your deer or other animal on a hunting trip and carry the meat home without worrying about it spilling or ruining your cooler.

NorChill Coolers

You could conceivably carry a hot meal out to the bush and expect it to keep warm.

So you’ve decided to purchase a soft sided cooler, what do you look for?

Most of the high quality soft side coolers will cost you over $40 MSRP, up to over a $1000 for a large (animal sized) one. Look for welded (heavy duty sewn) seams, YKK zippers, and heavy duty, marine grade canvas.

Perhaps most importantly look for a soft sided cooler with some sort of warranty. While some companies offer “lifetime” warranties, most of those have heavy restrictions. For most consumers a one to two-year warranty will suffice. Many times, by the end of two years if something is going to go wrong it will usually have already surfaced. And when it comes to warranties perhaps nothing is more important that making sure the company you are dealing with is here in America. Should you need to make a warranty claim, being able to pick up the phone and call someone here in the United States can make a warranty exchange a much less frustrating experience.