When it comes to finding the best soft sided cooler these days, it boils down to one question: RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper—who makes the best soft cooler?
Both YETI and RTIC are among the most well-known premium cooler brands on the market now.
YETI is more established and was the ground breaker for introducing well-made and tough-as-hell coolers.
RTIC is a younger company, but produces equally well designed and built coolers at a fraction of the price.
If you are in the market for one of the best soft coolers are there you have probably already asked yourself this question—the RTIC SoftPak or the YETI Hopper?
Well ponder no more, in this guide I set out to breakdown everything you need to know between these two killer soft coolers on the market.
So grab a hot cup of joe (or a cold brew) and dive in!
RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper Comparison
What is the Best Soft Cooler: RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper
YETI has long been the forerunner of premium coolers, but RTIC (among other brands) are closing in on YETI’s market domination. RTIC coolers has a wide range of quality products that give YETI a run for its money.
When it comes to soft coolers, if you are looking for a collapsible cooler that is easy to transport, you’ll likely going to consider the YETI Hopper vs RTIC SoftPak coolers. These are two of the best soft coolers on the market.
RTIC seemingly found the right balance between durability, lightweight and ice retention with their SoftPak coolers.
The RTIC SoftPak is made in 4 sizes:
Made with durable, puncture resistant materials and a stout closure system, the RTIC SoftPak is built for any outdoor adventure you can throw at it. This is not your average soft cooler. It’s built for the rugged.
When is comes to the RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper the differences lie in the details. Both are excellent coolers, however their price tags differ significantly.
Construction & Features
The design and construction between the different size models is similar. Built with durable, puncture resistant StayDry material you don’t have to be afraid of what you put inside.
With it’s heavy duty vinyl shell you don’t have to worry about placing it on rougher outdoor surfaces. It’s resistant to puncture and tears, plus UV protected. It does feel slightly less sturdy than the YETI Hopper models, but still a strong cooler nonetheless.
The cooler is 100% leakproof with welded seems and a waterproof zipper to protect from water entering from the top. It’s antimicrobial liner ensures that you get funky growth or smells inside. It’s also resistant to smells.
Similar to the YETI Hopper, the RTIC SoftPak has a easy access flip-top lid which makes it easy to both place and retrieve items. It also allows you to easy inventory what you have inside and locate what you need to get.
For cooling performance the cooler features closed-cell insulation, with 2″ on top and 1″ on it’s sides. In my opinion the more insulation the better, but it always comes at a cost of size and weight. When full you can fit 30 beers in the SoftPak 30 and expect to get up to 75 hours of ice life, which is up there with the best-of-the-best.
The RTIC Softpak finds a good balance between ice retention and lightweight. When empty the SoftPak 30 cooler weights just 4.0 pounds.
The bottom line is the RTIC SoftPak cooler line is a great choice for anyone who wants to venture a little further with their coolers. With the sizes choices, this soft cooler can be perfect for fishing, hiking, boating, and road trips.
Sizes & Pricing
Where are RTIC Coolers Made?
The RTIC SoftPak line is made in China which is probably what you expected, but certainly you’d rather see them be made here in the USA. Well for the price point of RTIC coolers that would be hard to achieve. After all RTIC cooler’s motto is “over built not over priced”.
That said, at the price point the RTIC SoftPak coolers are hard to beat when it comes to value. They are among the best soft coolers out there for the money.
What are RTIC Coolers Made From?
The RTIC SoftPak coolers are made form a mix of durable materials. High-strength nylon is used to cover the closed-cell insulation. This material is resistant to both rips and punctures, plus UV resistant.
The handles are made from high density nylon webbing and securely to the cooler itself to withstand heavy loads.
What is RTIC’s Warranty?
RTICs warranties all their soft sided coolers for 1-year, which falls short of YETI’s 3-year warranty. Personally I think that a 1-year warranty is not quite sufficient when it comes to outdoor gear that is built to last. It often takes more than one season to put it through the wringer and really test it out. On the flip side, although I hasn’t had to test out RTIC’s customer service first hand, I’ve heard good things about them standing behind their products.
YETI introduced their first soft sided cooler on the market in 2016 as the Hopper. The Hopper was built for anyone who heads out on adventures on a whim or wants to carry along cold brews well into the wilderness.
Since then YETI has improved the design and now offers two variations of their soft sided cooler: the Hopper Flip and the Hopper Two. Both are an incredibly well designed portable cooler that is 100% leakproof and will keep ice for days. Not to mention they will probably out live you given their burly materials and design.
The Hopper Flip is smaller and built to be a bomb-proof lunch box cooler, but is versatile and given it’s size, easier to carry than it’s larger Hopper Two counterpart.
In Spring 2018 YETI released their first cooler backpack called the YETI Hopper Backflip 24. This is desinged as a tough, ready-to-rumble backpack that is made to keep your brews (of fresh fish) on ice while out on the trail. The best part is that it works exceptionally well and a cross-over soft cooler, but has the added backpack straps when you want to transport your goods farther.
Construction & Features
Built from tough dual lamination of 840 denier-nylon fabric inside and thermoplastic polyurethane the YETI Hopper a bombproof, FDA-approved food-grade material cooler. This construction technique makes it waterproof and resistant to mildew, punctures, and UV rays. The winkle-free mildew-resistant plastic liner makes it easy to clean and easy to find items.
Radio frequency welds make it leak proof, which means water can’t get out or in. Plus, these welds are simply tough and built to last.
For insulation YETI uses it’s proprietary closed-cell rubber foam Coldcell™ insulation which is among the best technologies on the market.
The closure system on the YETI hopper is a Hydrolock zipper which is basically an oversized, durable airtight zipper. It’s easy to open and tough. Note that the Hopper Flip opens via a zippered flip-top lid and the Hopper 20 and larger opens with a single top zipper closure.
For carrying options all Hopper models come with top handles and a removable padded shoulder strap. Additional features include a Hitchpoint™ grid for attaching extra items and six D-ring tie-down points for when the journey gets rough.
Sizes & Pricing
Where Are YETI Coolers Made?
If you are looking for a USA made cooler, depending on the model you may be in luck buying a YETI cooler. YETI manufactures some of their coolers in the Philippines, China, and the USA. Unfortunately only a select few models are made here in the USA.
Here is what YETI has to say on their FAQ page:
“Our Tundra coolers are manufactured in the USA at facilities located in Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as at a facility located in the Philippines. Our Hopper coolers, Panga duffels, and Rambler drinkware are manufactured in China. The LoadOut 5 gallon bucket is manufactured in South Carolina.”
So although it’s possible to get a USA made Tundra hard cooler from YETI, at this point all their Hopper soft coolers are manufactured in China. This is disappointing, but expected at this point in the game. Maybe in the future YETI will see a high demand for USA made goods and have more of their models made in the USA.
What is the YETI Hopper Made Of?
How do you make the toughest cooler on the market? Well for YETI it was simple—built a soft sided cooler from the same material used in whitewater rafts and HazMat suits. Trust me, this material is strong, it’s the same durable material used in expedition duffel bags that people lug up to Everest base camp. If it can survive that, it will darn sure keep you beers safe!
What is YETI’s Warranty?
When it comes to buying any sort of outdoor gear, you want to make sure the company stands behind their product. And if it does fail, that they will replace for repair it. YETI has an impressive 3-year warranty on their soft sided coolers which includes all the Hopper models. This is less than their 5-year warranty on their roto-molded coolers, but still provides enough protection in most cases.
Soft Sided Cooler Buying Guide
Benefits of Soft Sided Coolers
When it comes to portability, a hard sided cooler is not the best option. The good news is that there are some great soft sided coolers on the market these days, most have been released just in the last few years.
Soft sided coolers have a host of benefits over roto-molded cooler, including:
- More versatile
- Lighter weight
- More packable (E.g. easy storage)
- Easier to carry
- Watertight design
The top soft sided coolers on the market today are built tough and offer impressive performance when it comes to keeping ice cold. And this is what matters when you are kicking back by the lake on a hot 90 degree day, right?
The two factors to consider when it comes to choosing a soft sided cooler over a roto-molded cooler are:
- Do you need to move your cooler long distances? (E.g. portability is a must)
- Do you have limits space for storing your cooler? (E.g. you don’t have real estate in your garage to give up for a large cooler)
You should consider a soft sided cooler when portability is a must. These coolers come with backpack and/or shoulder straps and comfortable haul handles for trekking your cooler over long distances. This makes it possible to carry your load hands free over longer distances.
Additionally, when you need to find a place to store your cooler a soft sided cooler can be easily folded and compress into a small place. This way your cooler occupies a fraction of the space that a full size hard sided cooler would.
When to Use a Soft Cooler?
Large roto-molded coolers are excellent for camping, hunting and backyard BBQ’s. Built in behemoth sizes they can practically fit your whole fridge in them and offer the best ice retention performance out there. However for times when you want to carry your cooler on an outdoor adventure or quickly pack a cooler on the go, a soft cooler is the ideal gear choice.
Before you go out and buy a soft sided cooler, you should decide exactly how you will be using your cooler. Here are some prime examples of what soft sided coolers are designed for:
- Kayaking & rafting
- Short hikes & picnics
- Outdoor sporting events
- Outdoor music festivals
- A day at the beach
- Hanging out in the park
- Packing lunch on a day trip
- Keeping groceries cold on hot days
- Any other on-the-go adventures…
The bottom line is that soft sided coolers are ideal for any activities when you’re on the move. Plus, they give you the best of both worlds and can double as a lightweight camping and hunting cooler.
What Do You Need: Hard vs Soft Cooler
There are pros and cons of both soft coolers and hard coolers with both having their best intended use. Depending on how you will primarily use your cooler, going with one type of the other will be much more functional.
For one a soft sided cooler is the most portable option, apart from a cooler backpack, and gives your more freedom to haul your cooler farther distances from your vehicle. This makes them the ideal cooler choice for road trips, outdoor excursions, hiking, rafting trips, beach hangouts, and adventurous picnics.
Most soft coolers have durable haul straps or even backpack straps, which makes it possible to carry the cooler hands free—which is a must over rugged terrain. Just trying lugging a 45 quart hard cooler over rocky terrain and you will think twice about it.
If you are going to be staying put for awhile or need to secure your goods away from bears, then a roto molded cooler may be the better option. Built from durable hard plastics, hard sided coolers are generally tougher as well. So, if you are looking for a bombproof cooler to haul around in the back of your pickup, this may be the right pick.
Soft sided coolers are also easy to clean and wash. With anti-mildew materials that can be easily wiped clean, soft coolers are a breeze to maintain. They generally tend to absorb smells less than hard sided coolers.
If you need extra storage, such as utensils, etc then soft sided coolers come in handy since they offers additional compartments outside of the cooler area. You can keep wipes, extra snacks, sun screen or anything else you may need on the cooler itself without the need to pack along another bag.
What are the Best Soft Sided Cooler Brands
Over the last several years there have been a huge uptick in premium soft sided coolers hitting the market. The forerunners on the market are YETI and RTIC, which both produce exceptional products. Other cooler brands to consider are Icemule, Engel, Polar Bear, Coleman and Orca.
Almost every well-respected cooler manufactures produces a soft cooler and each has their own benefits and drawbacks. When comparing models aside from YETI and RTIC be sure to consider what features you want and overall design to make sure it fits your needs.
What To Consider When Picking the Best Soft Cooler
Typically cooler sizes are in quarts, or how many liquids quarts the cooler can hold in volume. This number doesn’t help much when you’re trying to figure out how many beers or how much food you can fit inside. A great way to get an idea of what size cooler you need is to think of what sized items you’ll be placing in your cooler. Just beer cans? A white wine botte? Brats and kraut for the grill?
If you’re going to be using the cooler to keep extra large items cold then you need to consider this before total volume of the cooler. Once you figure out the max dimensions you’ll need from a cooler, you can narrow it down by shear capacity. When it comes to soft sided cooler sizes you’ll find models from smaller 10 quart models and larger models of up to 30 to 40 quarts.
Choosing the right sized cooler will allow for more versatility and personally I like going with a rectangle or oval shaped cooler vs a square since it gives you the added length in one direction.
For capacity sake you’ll need to narrow down how portable you want it and how many people will be using it. The larger the harder to carry when loaded, however you can keep a lot more food and beverages cool for large groups. If you are in need of a cooler for solo camping trips, you can likely get away with a lunch box cooler. For larger groups and road trips you will want to focus in on mid to large sized models.
When it comes to coolers, insulating performance is certainly a top factor to consider. After all if a cooler doesn’t keep you goods cold, what good is it. The questions is: just how much insulating performance do you need? You can opt for cheaper models with less insulating performance if you just need a cooler for 1-2 days. However if you want ice left in your cooler up to 5+ days, then you’ll want to look into a premium cooler that offers commercial grade insulation.
With coolers there is no quick and fast rule as to how well a cooler actually insulates, and it’s even more rough when it comes to prices vs performance. Insulation thickness is a good indicator, but in the field tests and ratings are really the only way to get true results of how well a cooler insulates. And these tests can surprise you at just how well coolers can perform in comparison to their price tag.
Materials & Durability
Durability is one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing the best soft cooler. This is even more important depending on how you plan to use your cooler. If you’ll be taking you cooler on rafting trips and camping in rough terrain, you will need a tough cooler that can withstand everyday outdoor abuse.
High-end soft coolers are made from tough materials—think white water raft material. A strong material combined with reinforced seams makes the cooler leak-proof and will last for years to come. Look for heavy rubber or rubberized fabrics on the expternal of the cooler, something that will resist punctures and abrasion.
For straps, zippers and seams, look for thick and wide. It may look overbuilt, but the bigger they better in this case. Seams should be stitched and reinforced to ensure they don’t burst under pressure.
In terms of the RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper, both are incredibly well-built. Both use tough materials and utilize strong welds to hold the external materials together. I do like that the YETI Hopper offers a simpler zipper style, which in my opinion means less chance for something to go wrong. But both models use a high-quality zipper.
Having a cooler that is too large or cumbersome to transport defeats the whole purpose. This is why you want to consider which cooler works for your intended use and it not only portable, but versatile so you have it when you need it. Going with a well designed cooler that is easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to transport will pay dividends and make you a happy camper. Plus, you have other things to worry about anyways. Like choosing what kind of beer to fill it up with.
A smaller more compact cooler is great for short uses and quick adventures. Also consider coolers with multiple carrying options, which will make it easy to transport no matter how heavy it is. At the end of the day it’s all about finding a cooler that gives you both the cooling performance you need and can be used in a wide array of situations.
In general soft coolers come in three varieties of closure systems: roll-top, Velcro and zipper. Each has it’s benefits and drawbacks, so depending on how you will use the cooler you may want to opt for a model that offers one over the other.
You will generally find Velcro closure systems on cheaper soft cooler models and although it does it’s job it does have it’s shortfalls. For one, it won’t be waterproof. Secondly, it can be difficult to clean around the seams, etc. I just find that they get grimy after extended use. Lastly, unless the craftsmanship is bombproof, there is a good chance that the stitching will come looks at the Velco attachment after long-term use.
More premium coolers offer a durable zippered design or roll top closure system. The bigger the zipper the better in my opinion. With larger parts and construction there is less chance that something will break or get caught. Roll-top designed are almost foolproof and the best option for creating a fully waterproof cooler. That’s why almost every waterproof backpack and dry bag on the market utilizes this design.
Handles & Straps
Depending on the design soft sided coolers come with several different carrying options. The most common is dual strap hand carrying handles which is found on lunch box coolers. Most coolers will come with this type strap, plus an additional carrying strap.
For hands free carrying there are shoulder and backpack style soft coolers. Both of these are great when you need to navigate uneven terrain while lugging along your cooler. A should carry bag is among the most versatile designs since they come in larger sizes and have a flat bottom. Backpack style coolers are generally smaller, but ideal for longer treks.
Storage Pockets & Extra Features
What else do you need to pack? Wine opener? Utensils? Snacks? A huge benefit of soft coolers is that many have integrated storage pockets that allow you to pack all your items in one bag. Look for zippered pockets or sleeves to keep extra items stored away on your cooler. You can even keep must have items in your cooler at all times so you’ll never leave home without them.
Some other things to look for are additional removable straps for alternate carrying options, waterproof pocket for smart phones, D-rings for lashing gear to, self standing designs, mesh pockets for wet storage, and bungee straps for towel or blanket storage.
What is your budget? Are you after a top-of-the-line model to take on all your adventures or looking for a cheaper cooler to use on some weekend trips?
You can spend anywhere from $30 to $400 on a soft cooler. Deciding on a price point can help you eliminate more pricey models up front and lets you focus in and compare feasible options. As far as a sweetspot, in my opinion you can grab a great quality soft cooler for $80 to $150 that will perform well and last for years.
When it comes to the YETI Hopper vs RTIC SoftPak the price is one of the largest factors.
Our Verdict: RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper
Let’s face it, when it comes to the RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper it’s a tough choice. Even when we have everything laid out on the table—both of these soft coolers are well built and ready for the wild.
The biggest consideration is how much you are willing to spend for a high quality soft cooler. Apart from that there are subtle differences that set the RTIC SoftPak vs YETI Hopper apart.
If you are willing to spend the extra coin, going with the YETI Hopper will get you the best soft cooler out there. With six size options, plus the new YETI Hopper Backflip backpack cooler, you have a wider range of cooler sizes to choose from. Plus, YETI still wins in my books for being the front running of producing the best quality coolers on the market today.
But don’t let that you shy away from the RTIC SoftPak cooler. This thing is still one hell of a cooler. It gives the YETI Hopper a solid run for it’s money, plus you’ll save some of yours if you choose it. The new updates to the RTIC SoftPak are impressive and improvements over it’s predecessor.