Posted by in Gear Categories: Camping and Gear tests.

A good soft cooler bag must be lightweight, collapsible and east to pack. We put eight to the test.


How we put them to the test

Coolers aren’t complicated. They should be easy to travel with, clean and keep stuff cold. In our ice test, all soft-sided cooler bags were simultaneously filled with equal amounts of ice and left in the same place in the shade at the same temperature. Every half an hour the bags were opened and checked. When a bag’s contents turned completely to water it was eliminated from the test so we could identify the best. All these coolers are leakproof when upright (leaks still occur through the zippers).


1. 24-Can Cape Union 25-Litre Tote Soft Cooler



Weight: Under 100g
Special features: Fits two-litre bottles upright, comes in bright colours and folds away neatly thanks to strategic straps.
Ice test: 7hrs 30mins
Our verdict: Incredibly lightweight, it packs away into a compact package. The straps are a little flimsy.


2. Seagull 12-Can Cooler Bag



Weight: Under 100g
Special features: Two storage pockets
Ice test: 6hrs 30mins

Our verdict: The fully welded inner liner held its own and it’s a good basic buy if you don’t want to spend too much. Use it for an afternoon braai or short excursions.


3. Bushbaby 30-Can Extreme Cooler Bag



Weight: 800g
Special features: Three storage pockets, sturdy base and padded shoulder strap.
Ice test: 8hrs
Our verdict: The top choice because of the best test time and exceptionally affordable price for a bag of this durability and size.


Freeze a two-litre bottle of water or juice before your trip and use it as both ice block and hydration.


4. Camp Cover 24-Can Canvas Cooler Bag



Weight: 600g
Special features:  Heavy-duty ripstop canvas webbing handle and a padded interior holder to keep two-litre bottles upright.
Ice test: 7hrs
Our verdict: The tough welded PVC lining and canvas exterior make this a hardwearing travel cooler that’s great for overlanding. However, while it took seven hours to totally disappear, most of the ice was already gone after just five hours.


5. Natural Instincts 12-Can Soft Cooler



Weight: Under 100g
Special features: Exterior stash pocket and folds down into a neat package with strategic Velcro straps.
Ice test: 7hrs
Our verdict: Despite its small size this cooler lasted seven hours in the ice test. For short trips or solo adventures this little guy is a winner.



Make cooler bag lasagne and pack it in layers for optimal cooling – a row of beers, then a layer of ice rather than filling it with cans then chucking the ice over afterwards. Cooler bags work better when completely full, ice in a half-filled cooler melts quicker because of the warm air pockets.


6. Woolworths 20-Can Basket Cooler Bag



Weight: 800g
Special features: Picnic basket handle with support structure to help keep shape and stability.
Ice test: 6hrs 30mins
Our verdict: A great design, I use this padkos basket on all my trips as it has a comfortable grip handle and the hinges are tight so it doesn’t swing over and leak.



Add salt to your ice and a bit of water to create an ice bath that keeps stuff cooler for longer. Salt lowers the freezing point of water and when beers are submersed in sub-zero water it maximises cooling. Without salt, water remains at temperatures above zero degrees. You’ll need a couple handfuls of table salt for this to work effectively though.


7. 18-Can Kaufmann 15-litre Cooler bag with Table



Weight: 1800g
Special features: Pop-up side table, two storage pockets and comfortable padded handles.
Ice test: 8hrs

Our verdict: You can immediately tell this cooler will do the job as it’s got the thickest insulation walls of the lot and it’s innovative with a pop-up side table (roughly the size of this mag) to perch the snacks on. A durable EVA base (like the Bushbaby bag) makes it very stable and the handles are easily the comfiest of all featured here.


8. Cape Union 30-Can Collapsible Cooler



Weight: 600g
Special features: Easy access lid, outside pocket, bungee expansion storage and folds down into a neat package with strategic Velcro straps.
Ice test: 7hrs 30mins
Our verdict: The only cooler here featuring a lid for easy access to cans inside, I thought it might compromise on cooling ability. However, it did well in the ice test, is dark, which will wear well and holds upright two-litre bottles.


Can you keep a beer cold without ice?

Forgot the ice (why, why, why)? Here are four methods that’ll help eke a few degrees out of your warm beer.

  1. The Windsock Method

Place the beer into one of your socks and wet completely. Place the sock and beer in a place with lots of wind – like suspended from a tree branch – and leave for half an hour. It does work, but only a little.

  1. The River Method

Camping near a river? Anchor a six-pack using rocks and leave it in cool, flowing water. Depending on the area, this is an effective method – I tried it in the Orange River, but the heated shallows didn’t do much, however if you’re close to cool mountain streams it’ll do the trick nicely.

  1. The Burial Method

Find shady damp wet soil, or wet the ground under a tree. Dig a hole for the beer and bury it up to the lid (so you can find it later). You’ll probably need a spade, but it does cool it by three or four degrees.

  1. The Newspaper Method

Tear newspaper into long strips and wet the paper. Wrap the bottle and wait for the water to evaporate. The paper transfers cold to the bottle and your beer will be a few degrees cooler (don’t expect anything drastic).


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