‘Tis the season for camping, picnicking, festival-going and boating, which means it’s also the season to find just the right soft-sided cooler for your outdoor travel needs. We all know of those extreme coolers with the staggering price tag, and we’re all experienced in the super cheap, useless ones, too. What’s in the middle?

This summer, I’ve been trying out what I’m calling the perfect high-end-while-still-affordable soft-sided cooler: The Compass Cooler by Mountain Khakis. What makes it great: the insulation is 15mm PE Foam (not as thick as that super expensive brand–you know which one I mean–but much, much thicker than any other soft-sided cooler I’ve found on the market). The body and trim fabric are rugged, with climbing rope side handles, and the YKK two-way zipper top entry, while harder to grip than I’d like, completely seals the cold inside. You get some nice little extra details, like wrapped tote handles, a divided, zippered mesh security pocket on the interior under the lid, an included, attached bottle opener with lanyard, and a vinyl waterproof drop lining, which is easy to clean.

The dimensions are 12″ H x 18″ W x 10″ D, and the volume is 24.5 L (Mountain Khakis says this will hold 50 cans, dry stack, for reference). I’ve loaded it with two six-packs layered in two very large ice packs, and have still had plenty of room for some snacks, like a jar of salsa, a tub of hummus, and some fruit.

Since the walls of the Compass cooler aren’t quite as thick as the most expensive brand out there, I have noticed a tendency for the cooler to sag/sink in a little at the lid if not completely filled (it doesn’t hold a rigid shape), but the bottom is molded so it’s sturdy on any surface, and doesn’t leak at all. It’s easy to carry with the shoulder strap, too. If you want a different style, Mountain Khakis also has a backpack-style cooler that’s the same volume capacity, or a smaller six-pack cooler.

So, most importantly, how long does my food and beverage stay cool in the Compass? I have tested it at the lake in direct sun, and even with people opening and closing the cooler regularly, we were good to go all day long, with gradual ice melt. It did well sitting in a hot car, too. Will it keep my ice frozen for days on end? No, but at over $100 less than the brands that claim this, you just have to decide whether this feature is a must. For us, the answer is sometimes. For multi-day trips, we need to bring in a tougher cooler, but for day trips, road trips during which we can replace ice often, and afternoons at the beach or lake, the Compass Cooler is all we need.

The Compass Cooler comes in fire engine red with black accents or black with yellow accents. The cost is $149 on Mountain Khakis’ website or other online retailers.

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