Hard vs. Soft-Sided Cooler: Which is Right for You?

Research has shown that 59% of all campers find places to stay within 100 miles of where they live. That means roughly 40% of campers tend to travel far from home for their camping trips.

When you’re that far away from home, you’d better have a cooler that can keep food and drinks cold throughout your entire trip.

If you’re more like the 59% and you tend to hang out closer to home you might not need a cooler that’s quite as robust.

Whichever way you like to camp out, this guide will help you determine between two major cooler types: hard-sided coolers (also called hard coolers), and soft-sided coolers.

When to Use a Soft Sided Cooler

Deciding between one kind of cooler and another comes down to how you will use it. Basically, what you’ll be storing in the cooler, how long you need to keep it cold, and in what environment.

For light, day-to-day use, soft-sided coolers are your best friend. They are lightweight and easy to carry. You can lug it around from the house to the gym to the office without much trouble.

A soft-sided cooler is made of fabric and vinyl, which is much lighter than the rotomolded plastic used for hard-sided coolers. Using one is basically like using a highly-insulated bag — all of the weight comes from whatever you choose to put inside.

Soft-sided coolers can also be used with a handy shoulder strap to make carrying them even easier still, while your hands are free to work or carry other items.

The last major benefit to soft-sided coolers is their compactness. When you aren’t using it, a soft-sided cooler can be folded, stuffed, or squashed into just about any space, without being damaged. This makes storage until reuse a breeze.

If you want a flexible, convenient cooler for day-to-day use, soft-sided coolers are the way to go.

When to Use a Hard Sided Cooler

For campers, outdoorsmen, fishermen, and all born adventurers, hard-sided coolers are likely to be the better option

Hard-sided coolers are rugged, durable, and very highly insulated. Unlike other types of coolers, high-quality hard coolers have excellent ice retention. In fact, Engel rotomolded coolers have been known to keep ice frozen for as long as ten days — something practically unheard of for other cooler manufacturers.

Additionally, hard-sided coolers can come in very large sizes, so you can bring along enough food and drinks for an entire road trip. This is harder to find in a soft-sided cooler, as those are usually made small enough to easily carry around by hand.

For camping, road trips, tailgating, hunting, and all other activities likely to take a full day or more, Engel hard-sided coolers are almost always the best option.

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