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You’ll be shocked how frequently a cooler bag comes in handy. They can keep drinks frosty on a hot day at the beach, keep lunch fresh during a long work day, or prevent your frozen groceries from thawing on the way home from the store. You’ll find every type of soft cooler out there, from heavy-duty waterproof versions to simple insulated vessels meant to take minimal abuse. We’ve researched dozens of the most popular models to develop this list of the best cooler bags for every type of user and outing.

How we picked the best cooler bags

Cooler bags are a hot commodity. There are dozens of popular models on the market vying to keep your cans and lunch containers cool. We started with a wide survey of the product space and narrowed it down based on personal experience, user feedback, editorial reviews, and general reputation.

For our hands-on testing, we put several models through typical activities, including trips to the beach and toting lunches. The crew at PopSci has been testing, researching, and recommending products for years with decades of combined experience. Give us a product category to nerd out about and we won’t back down.

The best cooler bags: Reviews & Recommendations

From the boat and the beach to the jobsite or campsite, insulated bags keep your food and drinks at your desired temperature. Here are the best cooler bags for no matter where you plan to be this summer, whether it’s landscaping or playing backyard games.  

Best overall: Yeti Hopper Flip 18

Why it made the cut: With burly construction, superior insulation, and lots of carrying options, this is the champion of cooler bags.


  • Capacity: 6.2 gallons
  • Handle type: Hand and shoulder
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Price at time of writing: $300


  • Built to last forever
  • Waterproof construction includes the zipper
  • Exceptional insulation
  • Easily stands up on its own for loading and unloading
  • Works with Yeti’s optional accessories like water bottles and other bags


  • Very expensive

While the hunt for the abominable snowman may be ongoing, the search for the leading name in cooler bags stops with Yeti. And the Yeti Hopper Flip 18 tops the brand’s offerings because of its versatility and durability. The wide-mouth, 16-inch by 10.75-inch by 13-inch cooler bag has room for 16 cans and weighs only 5.1 pounds when empty. To keep ice cold and beverages frosty, the insulated cooler bag features a leakproof magnetic closing system and closed-cell foam insulation inside. Some reviewers have had problems with the zipper, however. Meanwhile, the bag’s outer shell is waterproof, prevents mildew, and is UV-resistant.

Best for lunch: Carhartt Deluxe Dual Compartment Insulated Lunch Cooler Bag



Why it made the cut: This basic lunch bag is built super-tough and keeps food cold long enough for really late lunches.


  • Capacity: 0.5 gallons
  • Handle type: Shoulder strap and carry handle
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Price at time of writing: $25


  • Extremely durable outer
  • Shoulder and hand straps
  • Extra front pocket for more storage
  • Holds a 6-pack for when you’re off the clock


  • Shoulder strap is sewn on so it’s not removable
  • Capacity may be small for some large lunches if you’re also adding an ice pack

Made of 1,200-denier polyester, this durable lunch bag is built to resist water and protect your food. The bag’s thermal insulation will keep that helping of lasagne warm, or keep up to six beers cold, until you’re ready for a break. And, clocking in at 10 inches by 9 inches by 7 inches and weighing less than 1 pound, the bag can hold whatever you crave. The lunch cooler bag also has a second insulated top compartment, as well as a zippered front pocket for your dry goods or cutlery. And a carry handle and shoulder strap make this Carhartt lunch cooler bag easy to cart, no matter where the jobsite is.   

Best for the beach: Igloo 36-Can Snapdown

Stan Horaczek


Why it made the cut: With lots of room for beverages and a very secure fold-down design, it’s an ideal way to pack for the coast.


  • Capacity: 9.5 gallons
  • Handle type: Hand and shoulder straps
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Price at time of writing: $65


  • Very spacious
  • Front pocket provides extra storage for sunscreen or other essentials
  • Sturdy handles
  • Solid insulation
  • Fold down opening makes for easy loading


  • Heavy when fully loaded
  • No dividers if you want to carry other items besides cans

This rectangular bag unfolds at the top to create a large opening for easy loading. It weighs just 1.7 pounds when it’s empty. That’s crucial because it holds up to 36 cans and ice, which makes it hefty when loaded to capacity. The sturdy hand straps feel very secure, and the included shoulder strap is removable, so it won’t flop around when you’re not using it. The large, flat front pocket is roomy enough to hold silverware, sunscreen, a Kindle, or whatever other beach essentials you might want to lug along. I brought it along to an all-day fitness competition, and it kept my lunch, some protein shakes, and a few cans of energy drinks chilled nicely, even without adding ice. The fold-down opening does a good job of keeping out sand and other debris from the environment, but the lining can wrinkle, making it tricky to clean. This is ultimately a very solid replacement for those wasteful foam coolers they sell at the super market. It’s a lot sturdier, too.

Best lunchbox upgrade: Yeti Daytrip Lunch Box



Why it made the cut: Yeti’s tough build quality and standard-setting insulation and cooling system make this the lunchbox to beat if you can get past the price.


  • Capacity: 0.75 gallons
  • Handle type: Handle
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Price at time of writing: $80


  • Exceptional insulation
  • Integrates Yeti’s ice pack system
  • Roomier than some other lunch bags
  • Folds down flat for transport when empty


  • No shoulder strap option
  • Pricey

The best thermal bags are designed to stop heat transfer, whether that means stopping your meatball sub from dropping in temperature or preventing your Coors Light from reaching Rocky Mountain high heat levels. And Yeti’s packable Daytrip Lunch Box provides all the versatility you need in a business and pleasure cooler bag. The 8.75-inch by 5.75-inch by 8.75-inch foldable bag has a closing hook that allows you to change its shape—from a standup lunch sack down to nearly flat. The Daytrip is a thermal bag lined with lightweight closed-cell foam, and it snaps closed with magnets for a tight seal.

Best budget: Coleman Soft Cooler Bag



Why it made the cut: This roomy bag provides solid insulation and lots of space to cover various uses.


  • Capacity: 9, 16, or 30 cans (depending on model)
  • Handle type: Shoulder strap
  • Waterproof: No
  • Price at time of writing: $25


  • Choose the right size for your needs, from nine cans up to 30
  • Promises 24 hours of insulation
  • Flip-open top makes for easy access
  • Folds down when empty for easy transport


  • Not waterproof or leak-proof, so best for packaged products
  • No handle for hand-carrying

Even on 90-degree Fahrenheit days, this Coleman soft cooler bag can keep 30 cans cold for 24 hours because it has heat-welded leakproof seams and robust insulation. While hardly bulletproof, the nylon exterior has an antimicrobial lining designed to keep out odor, mold, mildew, and fungus. Plus, the ripstop fabric is made to prevent tears. That’s plenty of protection for a budget buy. The soft cooler bag also features side handles and an adjustable shoulder strap for easy transport, plus a front pocket to store your keys or bottle opener. 

What to consider when shopping for the best cooler bags

Whether you need them for play or work, the best cooler bags have one main job: maintaining your food’s temperature. Bags accomplish this through insulation, leakproof seams, and other features. Just in time for you to pack that picnic, we’ve unpacked what you need to look for in a cooler bag.

How do cooler bags keep food cold, anyway? 

Insulation is the primary way the best cooler bags keep food cold—or hot, for that matter. Most bags feature thermal insulation, which keeps food or drinks at the desired temperature by stopping heat transfer. Think about it: If you place a hot mug of coffee on the counter, the beverage will slowly cool to room temperature. But suppose you put it in a concealed environment. In that case, it’ll transfer its heat energy to the inside of that space while simultaneously pulling heat energy from the air around it until the temperature of both the coffee and that concealed space settles somewhere in between.

A cooler bag’s insulation helps win the heat-transfer battle, and the best cooler bags use foam insulation. The gas bubbles in the foam, as well as the porous spaces between those bubbles, help slow heat transfer. But not all foam is the same. Open-cell foam is lighter and more flexible—making it an easier fit for soft-sided coolers. However, it doesn’t stop the transfer of heat as well as closed-cell foam, which does a better job of limiting the interaction between the gas bubbles. Brands such as Yeti have created foam insulation that’s light and soft enough for bags, bringing the best of thermal to soft-sided coolers. Of course, expect to pay higher prices for technology that so effectively keeps the temperature up (or down).  

Are there more to the seams than it seems?

Seams are critical in a soft cooler bag because they prevent leaks of all kinds. One type of leak is apparent—if the seams aren’t tight and your bag of marinating chicken spills, you’ll be cleaning your trunk, as well as your cooler. (Also, if you’re planning to dump ice into your insulated bag, weak seams could lead to a wet picnic blanket.)

While not as messy, the other kind of leak could be just as problematic. Remember, they work by creating a perfectly concealed environment to prevent heat transfer. Leaky seams compromise that environment by allowing air to flow in and out.

So what should you look for in a cooler’s seams? Rather than being stitched or glued together, the best cooler bags—the most airtight, that is—are welded together with heat and pressure. The seal on top of the bag also factors in. While zippers are most common—and perfectly suitable—Yeti has developed a magnetic seal that’s nearly as tight as a drybag. 

Do you need an especially durable cooler bag?

The outside of your cooler bag is important since that material determines waterproofing and other protections. A fabric’s deniability refers to the thickness of each thread, and anything above “1,000 denier” should provide ample resistance to water, mildew, and the sun. Many bags also feature breathable, elements-resistant linings—à la Gore-Tex.  

What size suits you?

Soft bags can have as much capacity as blocky hard coolers. But if you’re planning to use it as a lunch box rather than a camping refrigerator, you’d be foolish to opt for the 30-can model. Still, a bigger bag can accommodate more ice, giving you the option of keeping food chilled for longer. Plus, the advantage of the best soft cooler bags over hard coolers is that they are packable, often folding down or rolling up in a way that lets them take up just a fraction of the space when they’re empty.

Would extra pockets or handles be handy? 

When your cooler bag is loaded with a case of beer and a bag of ice, you may need an extra set of hands. Models with handles, as well as shoulder straps, offer more ways—and more places—to grab and lift. Extra pockets are useful, too. Some bags have two insulated pockets, allowing you to keep your leftovers warm on top and your beer cold down below. Front and side pockets provide the perfect places to stash your dry goods or your keys. 


Q: Are soft coolers waterproof?

Many soft coolers are waterproof. They feature protective shells or linings that also keep mold, mildew, and the sun’s rays at bay.

Q: Can I put ice in an insulated bag?

You can absolutely put ice in an insulated bag. The interior linings of the best options are completely leakproof, with seams that are welded together. Some even include pourable spouts, letting you easily drain water as the ice melts without requiring that you take out all of your food or drinks.

Q: How long does food stay cold in an insulated bag?

Depending on the cooler bag you choose, your food can stay cold for hours or days. As a reference point, Coleman’s budget bag boasts that it can keep 30 cans cold for 24 hours. Of course, the quality of the insulation technology is important—with Yeti’s closed-cell foam, such as in the Yeti Hopper M30, leading the way—but size also matters. The bigger the bag, the more ice it can hold and, therefore, the longer your bag will have ice to keep your food cold.  

The final word on shopping for the best cooler bags

Whether you’re looking for frosty beers or fresher produce, an insulated bag is like a portable refrigerator that packs up easily when it’s emptied. With thermal bags’ foam insulation systems and airtight seals, the best cooler bags can keep your hot food warm and your cold cuts cool. The size and style you need depend on what you want to eat and drink and where you want to consume it—maybe at a pier or a picnic table. But no matter if you’re looking to tip back a few cold ones on a boat deck or eat a hot sandwich while constructing a client’s back deck, there is an option that’s right for you.  

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.