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Updated Feb 2, 2023 3:42 PM
Kayaks give anglers the opportunity to fish areas other boats can’t access, but if you plan on fishing for dinner, kayak coolers are essential. Space is often the limiting factor when you want to take a cooler on board. The shape and build of kayaks usually don’t lend themselves to most hard-bodied coolers. Anglers concerned with weight and space should look for innovative products that maximize storage. The best options are user friendly and sized properly to fit on standard sized kayaks. Our picks for the best kayak coolers maximize cold storage in a small but optimal package.
How We Made Our Picks for the Best Kayak Coolers
The surge in kayak angling has flooded the market with gear and gadgets to get the most out of your rig. Unfortunately for anglers, many of these products are gimmicks. Fifty-dollar glorified milk crates marketed as kayak gear caddies are a prime example. To avoid this and make sure anglers get the most out of their coolers, we evaluated our picks on the following criteria:
- Size: Does it fit in most kayaks?
- Durability: Can it withstand the abuse of fishing and constant weather exposure?
- Weight: Does the weight hinder its usefulness on a kayak?
- Water Resistance: Is the product waterproof or water resistant?
- Ease-of-use: How easy is it to access the contents inside the cooler?
The Best Kayak Coolers: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Yeti Roadie 24 Cooler
- Dimensions: 16.6″ x 14.0″ x 17.4″
- Weight: 13.1 pounds empty
- Capacity: 2 liters
- Narrow dimensions work well for most kayak storage areas
- Lots of storage for most sized fish
- Will float if it falls overboard
- Can be heavy when fully loaded on smaller kayaks
Yeti is one of the first companies to introduce a super cooler capable of keeping ice for almost a week. And the storied company leads the pack of fishing coolers by maintaining the highest quality and smartest construction. The Yeti Roadie 24 is a small, hard-sided cooler that takes up little space and still holds a lot of stuff. Its narrow shape fits easily in most kayak tankwells. At 18 inches high, the Roadie holds 24 quarts, plenty for a pile of fish. Yeti’s famous Permafrost insulation is a high-density foam that, combined with the sealed lid, is the key to the cooler’s cold retention.
It is built the same as a kayak, with rotomolded plastic capable of being dropped, banged, and slammed without complaint. Hinges and latches are the first to go on coolers, so instead of plastic hinges, Yeti uses a stainless-steel rod passing through an integral hinge. Quick Latch closures are easy to operate with one hand, making it possible to open the cooler while holding a slippery fish. Rubber pads in the cooler bottom keep it from sliding around. The Roadie 24 doesn’t have a drain plug, so there’s no danger of water dripping in the backseat of the car. To lift and carry the cooler, a webbed strap and rubber handle can be slung over the shoulder.
Best With Rod Holders: Engel Cooler/Dry Box with 4 Rod Holders
- Dimensions: 23.25” x 12.5” x 14.5”
- Weight: 7 pounds empty
- Capacity: 30 quarts
- Sturdy rod holders make it a multi-purpose cooler
- Great weight to storage ratio
- Easy to use hinges
- No drain plug
- May not fit on smaller kayaks
Engle’s 30 Quart Drybox/Cooler does two jobs in one. As a cooler, the polystyrene foam insulation and rubber gasket seal in cold air. Paired with stainless steel latches and hardware, the lid prevents leaks and keeps your catch cold. At seven pounds you can load it down with ice and fish and not worry about your overall weight.
When keeping fish isn’t on the agenda, Engle’s 30 Drybox/Cooler doubles as a fishing caddy. Four rod tubes allow anglers to be prepared for different scenarios. Inside the cooler, anglers can fit several tackle trays or extra gear with its 30 quarts of storage. For smaller items like phones and wallets, the gear tray keeps them accessible.
Best Fish Bag: Reliable Fishing Products Kayak Bag
- Dimensions: 36″L x 8″H x 20″W tapering to 10”W
- Weight: 1 pound empty
- Capacity: 70 quarts
- Soft cooler fits easily in rear storage of kayaks
- Added bungies give you extra storage
- Perfect capacity for big fish
- Water can get in
- Doesn’t hold ice as long as other options
Constructed out of indestructible 18-ounce vinyl skin with a half-inch of closed-cell foam insulation and corrosion resistant zipper, the Kayak Bag is one of the best kayak cooler bags to keep fish cold and protected.
The tapered shape of the bag fits perfectly over a kayak bow or in a tankwell. Three D-rings on each side of the bag provide a sturdy location to lash the bag to the boat. With 70 quarts capacity, the soft cooler is the best way to carry a large catch. An adjustable cord on top of the bag can be used to secure your paddle or other gear. The cord also serves to cinch down the bag so it takes up less space. Back on shore, heavy-duty webbed handles make it easy to carry the bag to the car.
Best Floating Cooler: CreekKooler 30 Quart Outdoor Insulated Floating Cooler
- Dimensions: 39.5”x 21”x 12”
- Weight: 17 pounds empty
- Capacity: 30 quarts
- Plenty of storage capacity
- Allows anglers to utilize kayak space for gear and tackle
- Holds ice well
- Adds drag when paddling
- Not great for offshore or big water fishing
Made of blow-molded plastic and shaped like a kayak itself, the CreekKooler is designed to be towed closely behind a kayak, paddleboard, or raft. Foam insulation keeps the cooler afloat and holds ice for two days. The large, screw-on lid is watertight and keeps in the cold. This cooler is great for anglers with limited space or sit-in kayaks. Towed behind, it adds an additional 30 quarts in cold storage for a box full of fish. If you are just looking for a way to bring extra gear, it can double as dry storage. Its rubber gasket keeps water out even in rough conditions. While not ideal for hydro dynamics, the added storage makes it a worthy investment for small kayaks.
Best Budget: IceMule Classic Cooler
- Dimensions: 7”x 7.5”x 14”
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Capacity: 9 liters
- Easy to store
- Fully submersible
- Collapsible when not in use
- Smaller storage capacity
- Ice lasts about a day
The Ice Mule Classic is one of the few budget kayak coolers that can be stored inside the kayak. Designed around the same principle as a dry bag, the Ice Mule 15 Liter Classic uses a fold down top to keep contents cold without leaking water. The design allows the cooler to be folded up and stored in a kayak hatch or filled with fish and ice and strapped to the stern.
The exterior is constructed of tough and light MuleSkin ET while the interior is MuleSkin EV for waterproof ice retention. Between the layers, PolarLayer Foam keeps ice and fish cold for 24 hours. To further improve insulation, the Ice Mule has a valve that allows the user to add air and trap cold. Freeze the cooler before your trip and you can skip the ice.
Best Kayak Seat Cooler: Perception Seat Back Cooler
- Dimensions: 5”x 18”x 11.75”
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Capacity: 12 cans
- Perfect size cooler for drinks and food
- Great for anglers that use their tankwell for gear
- Accessory ready
- Can be hard to reach if you’re not used to it
- Accessories are sold separately
As anglers, not everyone fishes to keep fish, myself included. I’d rather have extra tackle than extra ice on a small kayak. The Perception Seat Back Cooler is a reasonably sized soft cooler that straps onto the back of kayak seats. Loaded down with ice it can carry 12 cans or a lunch and some water bottles. Minimizing the amount of space, it gives anglers access to their full tankwell.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Kayak Coolers
Some anglers store their catch inside the kayak hull. This is the worst thing you can do. As the sun shines on the plastic boat, it turns the kayak hold into an oven, spoiling the catch long before dinner time. On top of that, cleaning fish slime and blood out of a sit-inside kayak is a pain in the back. That’s why it is critical to keep your catch on ice right after landing the fish. Consider the following when buying kayak coolers.
Size and Weight
Measuring your available storage space prior to investing in a cooler can help steer you in the best direction. The best bet is to find a kayak cooler that can do two jobs at once, such as hold rods or provide gear storage as well as keep both your lunch and your fish cold.
To even consider a cooler, it must hold ice for at least two days. Ice retention time is even more important for overnight trips. Whether it be a hard cooler or soft cooler, make sure it is insulated to stand up against the hottest days of summer. Packing the cooler with ice, or pre-freezing the fish bag before the trip, will prolong the time before your ice melts. Today’s super coolers are comparable in cold retention—the challenge is finding a kayak fishing cooler that will stand up to years of outdoor exposure and abuse.
Q: What size cooler fits in a kayak?
To fit a cooler into a kayak first consider the size and weight. The most logical place to stick a cooler is the kayak tankwell. The tankwell in most fishing kayaks is designed to accommodate a 25-quart cooler. Soft coolers are better than ever and can be folded to fit inside a kayak, or lashed to the bow or tankwell. A 15-quart soft cooler folded or rolled up should fit in a large kayak hatch. Or, strap a 70 quart soft cooler to the bow or stern. Measure the space in your kayak, then look up the specs for the cooler to make sure it will fit.
Q: What cooler keeps ice longest?
Cooler manufacturers have made ice retention a science by perfecting every aspect of the design and construction for maximum cold storage. To find the best kayak cooler for keeping your catch cold, look for a roto-molded kayak with heavy-duty construction. High-quality foam insulation vacuum sealed inside the layers of plastic will insulate the contents without adding size or weight. To further trap cold air, the best kayak coolers for ice retention use a rubber seal between the lid and box with sturdy latches to create an air-tight closure.
Q: Does cooler size affect ice retention?
Coolers size does not affect ice retention but there are several factors that do. To hold ice the longest make sure to pre chill the cooler with a bag or two of ice. Modern coolers are so good at insulating that they will store warm air the same as cold. If the cooler sits in your hot garage, it will absorb that heat and melt your ice faster.
Q: Does a kayak cooler need to be waterproof?
While kayak coolers don’t have to be waterproof it certainly helps protect your gear. If you are using a kayak strictly for keeping things cold, then waterproofing it may not be important. However, many anglers use coolers as dry storage. If they are not waterproof it makes your cooler more one-dimensional.
Final Thoughts on the Best Kayak Coolers
Kayak coolers are easy and useful upgrades to hand powered fishing vessels. They allow you to stay on the water longer by keeping your drinks, food, and catch cold. They even double as extra gear storage when you don’t bring ice. All kayaks are different, so make sure the one you choose fits in your tankwell and pair it with your style of fishing to get the most out of it.