Best Kayak Coolers – Keep Stuff Chilled with an Insulated Box or Bag
Let’s face it, nobody likes a sweaty sandwich.
And how many times have you downed an entire bottle of water on a blistering hot day, only to realize that it’s warm and nowhere nearly as satisfying or thirst quenching as cool, chilled water (or beer, whatever floats your…kayak)?
Well, the good news is there are plenty of kayak cooler options out there for all your cooling needs. Whether it’s to store fish you’ve caught, or to chill those couple of beers you wanted to enjoy on the water, we’ve tracked down the best kayak coolers, for all types of paddlers.
Top Choices: Kayak Coolers
Top 7 Best Kayak Coolers Reviewed
1: Engel USA Cooler/Dry Box, 19 Quart
This ice chest box is good value for money and can be one of the most reliable fishing products with a waterproof design. Complete with solid stainless steel latches, a secure air tight lid and a rubber seal inside, this can be used as both a cooler and a dry box, making it the best kayak cooler on our list because of the versatility.
The airtight EVA gasket seal also ensures it's leak proof inside the cooler, so nothing will spill out and no excess water will get in.
It’s robust and has plenty of space inside for cold storage for long kayaking adventures or live fresh bait, as well as rod holders for fishing rods. With a 19 quart capacity, it can also be ideal for large fish, with a rigid bottom that can keep it upright - perfect for a tankwell cooler for a sit-on-top kayak. It can hold 25 pounds of ice.
Comes with a water-resistant slider tray which can be used to separate certain items with separate access points. You could use it to keep your dry items like phone, wallet etc. separate from your keep-cool items or of course you could use it to store your packed lunch and then use the rest of the box for your fish (or vice versa).
It can keep drinks cold for up to two days and also comes with a shoulder strap so that it’s easy to transport. However, it is pretty bulky and can be better for fishing kayaks, as it likely won't fit on smaller kayaks.
2: Seattle Sports Kayak Catch Cooler 20
Been looking for fishing kayak cooler bags?
This fish bag is ideal for kayak anglers, as this water-resistant cooler built to keep big fish cold. It can also be used as a general cool bag, but many of its features are designed specifically for storing fish.
With a heat-reflective exterior and closed cell foam insulation, this soft cooler bag is perfect for keeping your catch cold and your drinks chilled. However, because it's soft, your contents could get crushed more easily.
It comes with a soft sided pull-out fish bag for easy cleaning so that you can keep your catch separate as well as transport it elsewhere and leave the main bag on the kayak if need be. It can also be used as a dry bag, with a wide mouth that's easy to access.
There’s plenty of storage and there are adjustable bungee cords on the outside of the bag for any further items. It can be stored flat and the adjustable straps on the outside can help secure and tighten the bag onto the kayak's deck.
It's made to fit on the decks of most kayaks, with a tapered shape to accommodate hull design, such as elevated beams, and D rings to easily strap it down. It can also fold away for easier storage when not in use. This is one of the best kayak coolers for storing fish.
3: IceMule Coolers Classic Coolers
This soft cool bag’s most attractive feature is its easy transportation. Carrying capacity is up to twenty liters and it comes with padded backpack straps so it’s not only easy to carry but is also comfortable.
It’s a waterproof cooler with a soft exterior that comes with insulating foam to trap cold air that keeps drinks ice cold for up to 24 hours. It also comes with an IM AirValve which can both add cold air to the insulation layer and also release air so that you can roll the bag up for easy travel and storage.
This soft-sided kayak cooler bag can be the best kayak cooler for multiple uses and it can even be ideal for storing inside a kayak hatch on a sit-inside kayak.
The Ice Mule can keep up with the best technical outdoor gear and keep your food, water and fish cool and dry for long periods of time but it’s also perfect for hikes and other activities. All thanks to the soft shell. It also holds ice but might not be the best option for live bait.
It also looks nice, which is probably quite far down on your list of priorities, but still a factor to consider if you’d also like something that you can take along to a beach party or picnic that is both practical and easy on the eyes (and able to carry 6 bottles of wine + ice!).
This compact cooler bag with shoulder straps is very versatile and great value for money but it is a smaller cooler with a 10-liter capacity so may not be big enough for everyone's needs.
4: CreekKooler Floating, Insulated Cooler
The thing that separates this CreekKooler floating cooler from the rest of the pack is the fact that it’s designed to float along behind your kayak rather than sit on the deck so it gives you extra storage. It’s dual-wall construction and insulation means that it can it can hold 30 quarts of goods (or 20 pounds of ice) and keep them cool.
Another handy feature of this cooler is the four drink holders fitted on the deck so that your beverage is easily accessible. And whilst you might not want to leave your beer there when you’re paddling through rough waters, it’s perfect for when you’re fishing in one spot for a while, or even if you’re taking a swim and want to enjoy a few beers with friends.
This probably isn't the best kayak cooler if you are planning on transporting precious cargo but it's specifically designed for being towed. Because it floats alongside or behind you as you paddle, things are likely to get knocked around inside so it’s best for storing beverages. Having said that, you could in theory buy a small dry bag or box and place that inside the cooler for your keep-safe items.
This cooler is more on the expensive side and perhaps more difficult to carry on land than some other coolers on the market. Having said that, if you’re likely to be transporting it on snow or sand, it can trail behind you just like it does in two inches of water.
And what it lacks in transportability (on concrete or uneven trails at least), it makes up for in drink holders and is ideal for social gatherings on the water. It's probably the best floating cooler out there for kayak use and can give you extra space on deck for gear. It can also be ideal for both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks.
5: Vibe Element 45Q Cooler
This is another robust, large ice chest cooler with sturdy latches that's ideal for camping, fishing or hunting. With up to 45 quarts of storage capacity and a large opening, this is perfect for multi-day trips or for group outings to keep your drinks ice cold (it can hold up to two cases of canned beers and comes with two built-in bottle openers). It can also be ideal for live bait and is leak proof.
A sit-on-top kayak can be better for this hard shell cooler as it's a pretty bulky cooler that takes up more space than its soft sided counterparts. It's also pretty heavy, which may not make it the best kayak cooler if you have limited capacity on deck.
But it's great at keeping things cold if you have the space. For small spaces your best bet is probably a smaller cooler.
This a serious piece of equipment. It’s designed for durability and comes with many handy features for the outdoor adventure lover including rubber feet. It has an integrated fish ruler so you can measure your catch, a handy rapid flow drain spout and drain plug for easy draining, and robust heavy duty handles for transportation so you can enjoy the great outdoors.
6: Yeti Hopper Flip 12 (Money Is No Object)
The list wouldn't be complete without adding a Yeti Hopper Flip bag into the mix.
This soft-sided cooler is for those who don't mind splashing the cash in order to get the finest in waterproof materials and durability - it's puncture resistant (great for sharp fish fins) and mildew resistant. It can be an excellent fish bag with MOLLE attachment points for accessories. It has a decent amount of space considering its compact size.
The Yeti cooler features a DryHide shell (a hardbody liner) to keep the inside dry, your contents safe, and your drinks cold. Even the sun's UV rays will have a hard time damaging this beast of a cooler bag with its UV resistant material. It features a waterproof seal Hydrolok zipper that's leak proof.
It's also well insulated, comprising of ColdCell closed-cell rubber foam that can be better than polystyrene foam insulation to keep your ice frozen and your food cold for longer with excellent cold retention. And carrying around is easy, all thanks to the padded shoulder strap, so it could be the perfect cooler for tank wells and outdoor adventures if you have no budget. But it is pricey.
7: Sevylor Inflatable Floating Cooler
This one’s not a cooler as such, so it won't keep your ice frozen or your contents cold, but rather an accessory for your cooler.
Big enough to hold up to a 28 quart cooler inside, this is an inflatable device that allows your cooler to float along behind your kayak. It comes complete with attachment points and four cup holders so you can enjoy a drink on the water. But it's not going to hold your live bait or keep contents safe in moving water.
This is a fairly cheap, fun accessory that can give you easy access to your drinks whilst you enjoy a swim or a spot of fishing with friends. With no in-built features to keep anything cool, it’s more of a social accessory than a budget cooler. It may also look cool next to your lawn chair style seats at your camping spot (once you add air).
Why Use a Cooler When Kayaking?
Whether you are out fishing on a multi-day kayak fishing outing or just fancy a picnic, a good cooler can make the difference between slumming it and luxury. Particularly if you are fishing, a cooler can keep your catch fresh for as long as you’re spending time on the water (and for the car ride home).
It will also ensure that you're not accompanied by the pesky smell of rotting fish (for you and everyone around you).
If you aren’t fishing, coolers are also great for keeping your food and drinks cool until you're ready for a pitstop.
On a more sensible note, coolers are also important for storing water. If you’re out for several hours in the heat, you will need to keep hydrated. Taking plenty of water with you is key and a cooler will ensure that it can stay cold and at a temperature that will both quench your thirst and help cool you down.
Video: Keeping Your Catch Fresh
Types of Coolers For Kayaks
There are several types of coolers available on the market. They all have various features aimed at different needs and usages, but on the whole they can be separated into two categories - bags and boxes.
Kayak cooler bags can be the perfect companion for a day on the water and, in general, can be more versatile. Some adjust in size depending on the load you need to carry on each particular outing.
If you’re only planning to be on the water for a couple of hours and want somewhere to store your water and a couple of sandwiches, you can shrink a lot of the bags right down. If you’re planning to go for a whole day and want to take several bottles of water, some lunch and a few beers - you can extend the bags to fit.
These types of bags are also easy to pack away and can often fit inside your kayak's dry hatches.
Other soft sided kayak coolers can be worn as backpacks which is perfect if you’re kayaking to a beach and planning to go on a little hike afterwards.
Depending on your needs, bags could be the better value for money as you can use them for multiple activities, not just kayaking. However, soft-sided coolers can sometimes mean squashed contents if anything heavy sits on top.
- Can be easily adapted to suit smaller or larger contents
If you’re going on a multi-day fishing trip and/or likely to be camping - ice chests might be the better option for you but make sure it has decent carry handles for easy carrying.
That being said, both bags and boxes come with various features for individual needs and some might even come with built-in rod holders.
A lot of sit-on-top kayaks will tend to have a rear storage area or tank well that can be perfect for holding a box cooler, which could make it easier when it comes to loading your yak up with gear.
However, if you plan to take additional gear with you and need the storage deck for camping equipment, you may find a large box isn’t as convenient as a smaller type of cooler. But it might be better for storing your day's catch.
- Can hold a range of contents, such as fish or drinks on ice
There is, however, another category that you might consider useful when kayaking, and that is floats. These are types of coolers built to float, so you can attach them to your yak and pull them along behind you, giving you more space on your boat.
This can be beneficial if you don’t want a cooler taking up valuable space on your yak or canoe. Floats can come in different shapes and sizes, sometimes like a miniature version of a kayak, and they can also even be inflatable.
These types of coolers can be ideal for multi-day paddling trips, where you need to keep room on your vessel for camping gear. They can also be useful for fishing.
- Ideal for paddling trips and fishing
Features to Look Out For
Of course, what you look for in a kayak cooler depends entirely on what you’re planning to use it for. There are therefore some key features and factors that are worth considering.
Firstly, you should think about how long you need your cooler to perform for. Some coolers (particularly boxes) stay colder for longer than others - some may even keep things cold for up to five days.
You should therefore think about what kind of trips you’ll be taking with your cooler - multi-day or short outings? If you’re going to be using the cooler for elongated periods of time, then you’ll want to look for something with maximum ice-retention.
Size & Practicality
Another thing to consider is how much stuff, and what exactly you’re likely to need to store. Many come with a separate fishing compartment so you can keep any fish you catch away from your pre-prepared food (because that salami sandwich you made earlier doesn’t need to taste and smell like raw fish).
You should also consider transportation. Are you going to be moving to various locations or can you load the cooler on the kayak and leave it there for most of your trip?
And finally, are you looking for something that will also keep your belongings dry or just somewhere to keep ice, fish, beer (beer and cool boxes don't always mix!) and water? Many bags are made using waterproof materials to use it as both a cooler and a safe-haven for your precious keep-dry belongings.
This video highlights some of the major things to remember when looking for a high quality cooler.
The bottom line for all these kayak cooler options?
If you’re into kayak fishing and looking to go on multi-day camping trips, then you might want to consider a heavy duty box with plenty of storage to keep your fish cold. The Engel box fits the bill here and can be an absolute must for an angler.
If you’re looking for something versatile that can be used for both kayaking and other outdoor activities, you'll probably want to look bags. We like the Seattle Sports Catch bag. If you have the dough, take a look at the IceMule Coolers Classic Coolers.
Either way the main things to think about when selecting the right cooler is how long you’ll need it to stay cool, how much volume or storage you need and what exactly you’re going to be storing.
Check out our kayak cooler seats guide if you're looking for an integrated cooler/chair option.
Or, if you’re still not ready to commit to a purchase, you could always try and make your own cooler like this guy…