If you have to carry your cooler more than 100 yards, go soft. You'll thank us.
IceMule Pro Large ($100)
IceMule’s newest offering proved to be the sleeper of our test—and not only for its looks. One tester strapped the drybag impersonator to a raft for a 14-mile Class IV stretch of California’s Smith River. The 20-liter Pro kept beverages cold, thanks to half an inch of insulation wedged between two layers of nontoxic vinyl, not to mention a valve for pumping in extra air to insulate any dead space. The padded shoulder straps proved surprisingly comfy during a half-mile hike.
Kelty Small Folding ($55)
Ideal for space-crunched apartment dwellers heading out on day trips, the Small Folding cooler packs down to the size of a three-ring binder. The polyester ripstop walls expand outward around an insulated pouch, growing to a size that can stow 20 cans along with a couple of pounds of ice.
Yeti Hopper Two 30L ($350)
The original Hopper was one of our favorites, except for one feature: the tight opening made it difficult to clean and to fit large items inside. Yeti tweaked the Hopper Two series, moving the zipper to the side and widening the top to take it from nearly perfect to full-blown faultless. And it’s still as leakproof as a submarine.
Mountainsmith Growler Sling ($22)
Bring this to your next backyard barbecue to boost your connoisseur cred. The large main compartment carries a 64-ounce growler, and the pack’s slick design has user-friendly details like a removable shoulder strap and a phone-size exterior pocket. We didn’t think it could fit much else besides the beer, but the Sling also accommodated ice packed to the brim.
Pelican Elite Soft 24-Can ($280)
Pelican made its name with its bomber waterproof camera cases, and we weren’t let down by its first foray into the world of soft coolers. Ample closed-cell foam insulation (1.25 inches on the sides and 1.5 inches in the lid), in addition to reinforced clips over the zipper enclosure, metal D-ring anchors, and a burly TPU exterior, made this the sturdiest soft cooler we tested. It was also first in class for ice retention, delivering frosty 37-degree Cokes after 24 hours.
Igloo Daytripper ($100)
This backpack is quite possibly the most handsome and practical cooler we’ve laid eyes on. The Daytripper’s insulated canvas exterior looks like the stylish nephew of our parents’ picnic set, and it boasts two pockets, a built-in bottle opener, a Kindle-size cutting board, a corkscrew, and a stubby cheese-knife set. The plush back panel made it a comfortable companion on a bike ride while filled with a six pack of beer, a bottle of chardonnay, and ice.