As a beer lover, I know I tend to carry around a small cooler which can carry anywhere from 1-2 bottles to a dozen or so. These coolers have to keep my precious cargo, the bottles to share, nice and cold, but also be convenient enough to lug around on a regular basis. With this in mind, I wanted to see what was out there and compare the coolers to find out if what I was carrying currently did the trick or a new model would be needed.
Currently, I carry one of two coolers. The first was a freebie from a cheese festival. It’s soft sided, collapses down easily enough and has a single zipped pocket on the front. The second is a larger cooler designed to collapse, complete with side, front and rear pockets and a shoulder strap.
For each cooler, I would see how each could accommodate bottles of various size, compare their capacity (22 ounce bottles) and see how long they could keep ice when filled to approximately 80% with ice alone.
I started with my own coolers. The green freebie is pretty feature free. While accommodating tall bottles admirably, 22 ounce bottles and Belgians need a little help and creative zipping of the top. The top could still close and zip shut with 6 22-ounce bottles inside, Belgian bottles would be limited to 1, possibly 2 and would have to be placed as far from the zipper as possible. This cooler leaked when filled with ice but did keep ice for approximate 60 hrs*.
Next was my larger cooler, a red Ci Sport. I love this cooler because of the ample storage on all sides. The shoulder strap is handy as this cooler is usually packed full, but the comfort padding is actually rather uncomfortable. Capable of handling any bottle of any size, this cooler maxes out at 12 bottles and keeps ice for over 72 hours. As with the first cooler, this one leaks, leaving a puddle on my kitchen floor during testing.
Next up was the Coleman picnic cooler. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t do the trick when it comes to large bottles. Velcro top flaps, added for easy accessibility to content, refuse to close over anything but tall bottles. While keeping ice for approximately 40 hours, the storage options are minimal. This cooler did pass the wife test though, as my wife was anxious to use this for a picnic with its design that’s reminiscent of classic picnic baskets. If taking 12 oz bottles and a lunch, this cooler could work well, but won’t transport your larger format bottles.
The more suitable Coleman product, at least from a beer geek’s perspective, would be the Soft Sided Cooler. With vaulted lid, complete with a mesh liner, this cooler can accommodate 22-ounce bottles but has a little trouble with Belgians. The mesh liner is great for freezer packs which will keep your beer cool without melting and ruining labels. If you’re going with ice, the Soft Sided cooler kept ice as well as the Picnic Cooler (~40 hrs) and can accommodate 6 bottles rather easily. Again, storage on the sides is available, but not excessive.
If you’re looking for a more sturdy design, the Thermos Element 5 might be more of your style. With a plastic liner, this Thermos cooler keeps it’s shape but is far from hard-sided. Tall enough to handle all sizes of bottles, a velcro lid opening allows for easy access to your beer without having to unzip the entire cooler.In addition to a taller design, the larger footprint allows for a capacity of 8 bombers and kept ice for roughly 48 hours. Sadly, storage is limited in this cooler with only one pocket on the front.
The last option is as much a fashion statement as a cooler. Timbuk2, known for producing quality messenger bags, put their own company’s spin on the concept of a cooler and disguised it as a messenger bag. The large size (actually considered medium by Timbuk2 standards) can accommodate all bottle sizes and held an impressive 10 22-ounce bottles. Ice kept for approximately 60 hours but beware, the zipper top is anything but waterproof as water poured freely from the zipper when the bag was tipped, something to consider with a bag that wants to lies on its side as much as it would want to stand up. Storage is smartly hidden in 4 zip pockets that prove to carry far more than one might assume at first glance. Also a nice touch is the attached bottle opener.
*Coolers that leak performed better in terms of time for keeping ice because without water, the transfer of heat was slowed. These coolers might keep ice longer but would not keep bottles colder longer.
At the end of the day, I’ll be replacing my green freebie with the Coleman Soft Sided Cooler. Both are small enough that they are convenient to carry but definitely have their limitations. All round though, the Coleman gives me more room, no leaks and more storage; a win in all cases.
The Ci Sport will be replaced for most situations by the Timbuk2. Large enough to carry copious amounts of beer, the strap proves to be far more comfortable and let’s be honest, it just looks cool. It is worth noting that this bag is the most expensive cooler featured today, and not by a small measure. With that in mind, I look forward to getting plenty of use out of the bag as the construction feels solid and I anticipate this bag to age gracefully.
For summer gatherings, these soft-sided coolers are great for their portability and efficiency. Even the lowest rated cooler kept ice for nearly 2 days, so an afternoon trip to a BBQ shouldn’t be a problem. With tailgating season around the corner, look for a comparison of larger, hard-sided coolers to come.
Leave a Reply