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The RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is a soft-sided cooler that comes in five size options that range in capacity up to 40 cans. They all have a classic cube-shaped design with a full-size lid.
To get us a closer look, RTIC sent Man Makes Fire a size 30 review unit. After testing the RTIC on multiple day trips, this is what we learned:
RTIC Soft Pack 30 Cooler Review
The soft cooler competition these days is intense. There are several companies who are creating some really great soft coolers — but there’s also been an influx of cheap department store brand coolers, too.
If you’re reading this review, you’re likely trying to find the right price-to-value ratio for your soft cooler investment. You’re probably wondering if the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is a good buy?
The short answer is yes, but the long answer might be more helpful. Let’s take a closer look.
RTIC’s marketing motto is “Overbuilt. Not overpriced.” Originally (and maybe even still today) that was a bit of a dig toward YETI, which is arguably the rugged cooler industry leader. Indeed, YETI coolers cost more than most — and often cost two-to-three times as much as RTIC coolers in similar categories and designs.
To help keep costs down, RTIC is a direct-to-consumer retailer. This means you can typically only buy legit RTIC coolers directly from RTIC online or via RTIC’s Amazon store.
In any event, what most people are looking for when cooler shopping isn’t always the so-called “best” cooler — it’s the best soft cooler for what they need and the price point they’re able to pay. So is the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler right for you?
RTIC Soft Pack Cooler Features
The RTIC Soft Pack series of coolers is built from a heavy-duty nylon shell that can take abuse. Inside you’ll find up to two inches of closed cell insulation that also gives the cooler structure.
One set of features I particularly appreciate are the multiple grab handles and carry options. You can use the over-the shoulder strap, the tote handles, or even the side handles when the cooler is packed heavy.
The fit and finish overall is very good. The liner is antimicrobial. What about the zipper?
The RTIC Soft Pack Zipper
One key to a great soft cooler is how it opens and closes. If it uses a zipper, is the zipper rugged? Is it easy to use?
The RTIC Soft Pack zipper is waterproof and reasonably easy to use. Why reasonably? All waterproof zippers are stiffer than regular zippers, and they all require two hands to open and zip shut.
The Soft Pack zipper is a small-toothed waterproof zipper that, in my experience and testing, is easier to use than more rugged large-toothed waterproof zippers. It starts out stiff, but it gets better with use, assuming that you also apply the included zipper lubricant when you first get the cooler. Just remember that you’ll need to use two hands to zip and unzip.
Ice Retention and Insulation
If you’re looking for a soft cooler, you should know that you’re not going to get truly excellent results compared to high-quality hard-sided coolers. Some manufacturers claim multi-day ice retention, but you need to use a lot of ice — at least a 2-to-1 ice-to-contents ratio. You’ll also need to pre-chill the cooler and the contents, and then rarely open the cooler at all. And don’t leave it in the sun! However, soft coolers are meant to be used, which is why I almost always take soft coolers on day trips and even the occasional overnighter.
With that in mind, in spring temperatures so far, the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler ice retention has been comparable to most other soft coolers I’ve tested and reviewed. I’ve used the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler 30 with reusable ice packs and with cubed ice, and it keeps drinks and food cold all day.
While it performs as expected for day trips, the zippered seal and insulation overlap isn’t the best for multi-day ice retention because it has a bit of an insulation gap between the lid and the sidewalls — right behind the waterproof zipper. This area is totally sealed, of course, but it won’t insulate as well as a hard-sided cooler that protects the seal more fully. This isn’t unique to RTIC — most soft-sided zippers have less insulation near their zippers and lids.
The Ruggedness Factor
While the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is pretty rugged, RTIC warns that it shouldn’t be left on a hot surface or the bottom might melt. Examples include the back of a pickup truck, the top of a car, or the floor of a boat that is in full sun. Obviously this will depend on the ambient temperature, direct sunshine and the length of time it sits on a very hot surface . . . but the point remains — excess heat might affect the integrity of the build.
Of course, it’s not that hard to pay attention to this, and RTIC recommends that you simply place a towel or some other material underneath the cooler. Generally, I try to protect coolers from hot surfaces and direct sun simply because I want the contents to remain cold! As you might already know, the best hard-sided coolers usually have short legs designed to raise the bottom of the cooler off of warmer surfaces. Soft coolers don’t have these legs.
This warning about high temperatures isn’t meant to imply that competitive soft coolers that cost twice as much won’t melt or have issues on hot surfaces — just that you need to be aware of this depending on how you want to use the cooler. For ultimate ruggedness — and ice retention — a hard-sided cooler like the RTIC 20 QT Hard Cooler might be a better choice for you. In fact, if you plan to leave the cooler in the back of your pickup where it might sit in full sun, get the 20 QT Hard Cooler instead and use more ice.
Let’s talk benefits and drawbacks. The key benefit of the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler is that it’s lightweight and packable. Soft coolers tend to fit well inside cars, on seats and behind seats. On the other hand, you can’t sit on a soft cooler like a stool and they’re not as rugged as hard-sided coolers.
So, what sets the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler apart from the competition?
In my opinion, that answer is easy: The price-to-value ratio is what sets RTIC’s Soft Pack Cooler apart from other soft coolers. The bottom line, in the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler series, you’ll get a cooler that performs well at a price point that’s significantly more affordable to more people. Let’s do a couple of quick competitive comparisons based on soft coolers I’ve tested and used to help you better understand the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler:
RTIC Soft Pack 30 vs Engel HD30 — The Engel HD30 is my favorite soft cooler for ice retention, but the form factor with the zipper isn’t as friendly for access compared to the RTIC Soft Pack 30’s wide-open lid. The HD30 is also bulkier. My estimation is that you’ll get about 75% of the real-world chill compared to the Engel HD30 — but the HD30 typically costs more than twice as much as the RTIC Soft Pack. (Read our full Engel HD30 review for more detail.)
RTIC Soft Pack vs YETI Hopper Flip — The YETI is more rugged with a better overall build quality . . . but it typically costs three times as much as the RTIC. This means you could buy two RTIC coolers and some reusable ice packs and still have money left over for drinks.
RTIC Soft Pack vs Any Knockoff Soft Cooler — There are a ton of knockoff coolers available online, as well as department-store brands that I can’t recommend because they’re more likely to end up with broken zippers in a landfill far too soon. If you’re on a budget but still want a quality waterproof soft cooler, stick with RTIC.
Choose Your Size
Another great feature of the RTIC Soft Pack Cooler lineup is the size options. On the RTIC Soft Pack product page, you can use a slider to show the interior and exterior sizes of each Soft Pack Cooler. For lunch sorts of uses, the 8 and 12 will work great. The 20 is a standard midrange size, and the 30 hits my favorite sweet spot for ultimate versatility. If you do more overnighters than day trips, the 40 will let you load up with more ice, which will extend your chill.
Quick Ice Recommendations
Lots of people complain about coolers because they start off with impossible expectations and situations.
If you want good results with any cooler, don’t start with a hot cooler. In fact, most cooler manufacturers recommend that you pre-chill or “season” your coolers by cooling the cooler before you load it with ice. I generally don’t bother seasoning my coolers, but I do follow these recommendations:
Make sure all of your drinks have been pre-chilled. Don’t expect your ice to work well with room-temperature drinks. Most of it will melt as it cools the drinks. You can use ice packs, but strive for a 2-to-1 ratio of ice-to-drinks for best results. Keep your cooler out of direct sun. Insulate soft coolers from hot sand or surfaces with a towel. Don’t frequently open the cooler, and make sure you seal it shut quickly. Watch out for kids because they leave coolers open. Don’t yell at them. They’re kids! And you’re outside to have fun, so keep it fun.
Still, here’s my best cooler advice? When a good chill is critical, use two coolers. Use one for frequently accessed food and drink and the other for infrequent access and for food that must stay cold. And this, it turns out, is an area where RTIC’s affordable price points might come into play for you….
The RTIC Verdict: Excellent Price-to-Value Ratio
All-in-all, the RTIC value proposition is very straightforward here: The RTIC Soft Pack Coolers deliver an extremely competitive price-to-value ratio — in five different size options. Highly recommended.