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Soft Cooler Vs Hard Cooler

Soft Cooler vs Hard Cooler

Hard of Soft Cooler – How Do You Choose?

So, you decided that you’re going to use a cooler, good for you! No, seriously, we mean it! What you may not know, is what type of cooler you need to take on your trip or pack your food in. You can choose from a hard cooler or a soft cooler. Either way though, depending on which one you need, and what your goals are for using the cooler, then you’re going to want to choose a hard or soft one. What’s the difference? Well, it’s like asking if a bazooka is better than a rifle… Well, that depends on what you’re hunting now doesn’t it? Hard and soft coolers are the same way though.

Do You Need Portability or Durability?

If you’re going to go on a humongous camping trip, then you may want to consider having a durable cooler that can definitely keep your food cold. However, you do have things to consider. First off, is the weight of a hard cooler. They essentially weigh more, and they can keep your food cooler longer. However, if you’re in the need more for portability for a small party or picnic, a soft cooler may be the better option. You’ll want to have something light, and essentially have ready to eat foods that don’t have to remain cool as long. But you’re sacrificing security and durability. 

It doesn’t mean that they’re better than the other, but it does mean that hard and soft coolers have different purposes. On a positive note though, a hard cooler will break easier than a soft cooler if its dropped, which is somewhat of a confusing thought since they’re essentially more durable and sturdier.


The cost is an important factor many times when people choose a cooler. By choosing a hard cooler, you’re probably going to spend a little more money. But you need to do need to consider the cost of cooler you’re going to need. The more you spend on a cooler like a Yeti, then you’ll know they’re packed full of insulation that will help keep your food cool, and be a lot stronger than a typical cheaper one. This means that you may have a more expensive initial investment, but one that’ll save you from having to buy more coolers in the long run.

When it comes to soft-sided coolers, you have to know that the cooler you choose is waterproof and as airtight as possible. Of course, you can always choose to have smaller lunch box coolers, but they’re often not watertight (and the material often frays easily). Most cheap brands also don’t have insulated material like Kevlar, so you don’t get the cooling that you need to keep ice and foods frozen for more than an hour or two. 

What Holds Ice Better?

Well, obviously, unless you have a high-quality lining that is waterproof on the inside, you don’t want to choose a soft cooler. However, a soft one won’t hold ice as well as a hard cooler – and it won’t keep it frozen as long. The reason is simple – there is a thick layer of insulation in a hard cooler, along with the hard plastic that helps to act as an insulation wall itself. The lids are also often insulated to keep the heat out. This super-pressurized insulation is the reason that hard coolers (primarily the bigger names out there) can hold ice for up to 7 days. That’s the same as those expensive drink coolers. The reason why they hold ice water for up to a week is all of the insulation in them.

Soft coolers don’t have the same insulation, but they do have a puncture resistant lining on the inside. It doesn’t really insulate the same as a hard cooler though. Some soft sided coolers have a foam that is still pretty flexible (which allows you to collapse them), and all of that air is good at keeping food cool, but you can’t hold ice in them as long (about 2-3 days tops). If you’re using a smaller lunchbox style cooler, then you’re only going to get a couple hours out of it staying frozen.

Portability: Soft Takes the Cake

This is something that you need to sacrifice if you’re going to take a hard cooler. You can’t store as many things in a hard cooler and take it along with you without taking up more room. It’s kind of the difference between taking a plastic bag versus taking a box. The box is going to take up more room (obviously). Portability is something that you may need for shorter trips, so you may want to bring a soft cooler since they’re lighter and can be carried a lot easier.

Soft-sided coolers are also a lot lighter because of their lack of insulation. Sure, you may think that an empty cooler is light, but once you start packing food in it, you’re going to realize just how heavy it is. Fabric and soft coolers don’t have a lot of bulk to them, plus the materials are often lightweight – so you don’t have to worry about it weighing much more than the food you pack into it. A hard cooler that is durable and high quality may weigh up to 5 lbs., and some are even heavier than that. So, you may want to consider this when it comes to packing your cooler. Do you really need to carry that extra ten pounds if all your doing is packing some lunchmeat, sandwiches, and some cold beer for your afternoon fishing trip?


This is one that is universal, but all in all, hard coolers often take the cake. It’s a lot easier to keep your food stationary and pack a hard cooler compared to a soft one. This makes hard coolers great for longer trips where you need to keep food cold for long periods of time, or if you have a lot of mouths to feed. Don’t ever forget that you should always choose a cooler that will fit as much food in it that you are actually going to need. You don’t want too much space that can turn into warm air in it, but you want to have enough food and room to pack that food for yourself and others. 

Along with portability, soft coolers win the battle, because they often have straps that makes them easier to carry – you can even carry them hands-free. This may be important if you have to do some walking. Sure, if you’re going to pack a humongous dinner party, you might want to have a large cooler, but if you’re backpacking up a mountain, then a soft cooler is definitely the way to go – that is unless you want to hold onto both handles the whole time you hike. Yowch!

Conclusion – Soft Coolers vs Hard Coolers Debate

So, there you have it. Coolers are often what they are – coolers. Whether you choose a hard cooler or a soft cooler is essentially up to you, and both of them have their own benefits and downsides. Basically, it is completely situational. You don’t want to end up taking your lunch box on a very long trip, but you want to keep your food cold. And essentially, you’ll be able to keep your food cold with a good soft cooler – just not as long as you would if you chose a hard cooler. Some coolers made by Yeti (hard and soft) also have additional features you may want to look into, such as portable refrigeration fans that help to keep your ice frozen and food cold.

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