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Hydro Flask 22L Insulated Soft Cooler Pack | Review

Say goodbye to warm tinnies. The Hydro Flask 22L Soft Cooler is here to turn you into a picnic pro

Why We Chose The Hydro Flask 22L Insulated Soft Cooler Pack: Effective, comfortable to carry, convenient.

Let’s get straight to what you’re here for. You want to know if this actually works, and if so, how well.

Yes. It does work. And as the Outdoors Magic team found out, it does a pretty good job.

Full disclosure: we couldn’t take this out for any hot weather hiking, the reason being that those conditions are quite difficult to find in the UK between February and April. Instead we had to make use of our stuffy office.

“Hydro Flask say that it will keep the contents cold for 48 hours”

We stuck a bunch of warm beers – warm as in room temperature-warm – inside the Hydro Flask Soft Cooler then chucked in a bag of ice and zipped it up tight. After seven hours we had a look inside and there was only a very tiny puddle at the bottom of the pack with the beers delightfully chilled. At 10am the next day we checked inside again and the ice was still there, all in a very drippy state but still looking like ice. By the end of day two, it was one big puddle inside with tiny little bits of ice floating around – the beers, still pleasantly chilled.

Hydro Flask say that it will keep the contents cold for 48 hours. And that’s a pretty valid claim, however, if you’re out in the park with friends and someone keeps reaching inside every 10 minutes the chill time will be vastly reduced. In one of our tests, we left a tiny gap in the zip and the ice melted much faster.

Plenty of room for beers here. Photo: Chris Johnson
Also plenty of room for water (if that's your thing). Photo: Chris Johnson
The cooler sits comfortably on the back and shoulders. Photo: Chris Johnson

It’s fair to say Hydro Flask are best known for their drinks bottles which involve a double wall of solid stainless steel vacuum insulation. The insulation method that the Soft Cooler uses is very different – as the name suggests.

Inside its walls there’s Smart Insulation which feels a bit like the kind of foam you’d find in a comfy shoe sole. To strike the right balance between carry weight and thermal efficiency, there’s a thicker wad of it in the top and in the base than there is on the sides, because, as we all learnt in Year 8 Chemistry, warm air rises and cold air sinks.

You can expect it to be absolutely watertight. In fact, a the time of writing this we’ve realised that after six weeks, the cooler still has about six inches of water in it from our last test, and there’s not a single tiny wet patch surrounding it. It’s all thanks to the watertight, 420D nylon shell with its welded seams and impressive YKK Aquaseal zips.

“Inside its walls there’s Smart Insulation which feels a bit like the kind of foam you’d find in a comfy shoe sole”

In regards to carrying comfort, the Hydro Flask Soft Cooler scores well here also. The overall shape of the pack allows it to settle neatly and comfortably against you, the harness is well-shaped and the padded foam is adequate. It would be good to see Hydro Flask develop this a bit further if they ever update this model. Still, you could load this up with ten beers – or cans of Coke – and be pretty happy hiking to the top of a hill with this on your back.

Extra details include one stretchy side pocket to stuff a drinks bottle, and a zipped pocket on the other side for valuables. There’s also a waterproof top pocket as well. We should also mention that you can plonk it down and it’ll self-stand – a small detail but a nifty one.

At £250 that’s a lot to pay for the convenience of a cold beverage or lunch, but at least you can absolutely count on that convenience.

The pack offers practical storage solutions. Photo: Chris Johnson

Tester’s Verdict

Will Renwick, Outdoors Magic Editor

Despite the hefty price tag, this still managed to exceed my expectations. It does a remarkably good job of keeping things very nicely chilled, and I like the overall design; including the way it stands up, the wide lid and the useful pockets. I found it carries well too, sitting comfortably on my back even when loaded full of beers.

I’ve got the grey colour and I was a little worried about it getting dirty quickly, but actually it’s been OK. The times it has got dirty, a quick wipe with a damp cloth has done the job.

I’m not going to be flying up a Scottish munro with this anytime soon, but it’s perfectly suited to any short walks, and it will be coming on all of my trips to the beach, that’s for sure.

I’ve seen that there’s a hydration bladder version of this on the way for running and cycling on the way. Having used this, I can’t wait to see what that’s like.

With slight adjustment potential on the sternum strap. Photo: Chris Johnson
Zoned insulation for efficient insulation and low weight. Photo: Chis Johnson

Trade Secrets

Jason Valdez, Hydro Flask Soft Goods Category Manager

“Hydro Flask is known for temperature retention and when the team saw a gap in the market for high quality soft-sided coolers, we decided to research into it further. It fit into our internal mantra around ‘everyday adventures’ and we wanted a product that could stand up to even the most epic of trips with insulation and durability being essential features. From start to finish, the total process from idea conception to finished product took 18 months and our awesome R&D team plus consumer testers composed of outdoor athletes and gear enthusiasts played with the coolers offering ratings, recommendations and feedback. All in all, the feedback was super positive and they were all gutted when they had to send the coolers back at the end of the test.

“To set the Hydro Flask Soft Coolers out from the crowd, we put lots of focus on design and performance tech. The Soft Cooler pack is the lightest on the market and, through our R&D efforts, we became foam insulation experts playing with thickness and the science behind it. We also worked at offering the perfect experience for users, with dry storage pockets, stretchy mesh pockets for a water bottle (Hydro Flask, of course!) or phone, and just lots of subtle additions that make the unit great as a whole. We had one guy tell us it passed the ‘Corona lime test’; there are pockets for limes, a separate space for a cutting board and knife and the Corona keeps fresh and cold in the main compartment. Result!”

Hydro Flask 22L Soft Cooler Pack

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