Getting ready to go fishing in your kayak means you need to think carefully about equipment. As if it’s not enough to worry about your paddles and lifejacket, your rod and your fish finder, what about food and drink? If you’re planning a long and lazy day on the river, you’ll also need a kayak cooler if you don’t want lukewarm drinks and warm, unappetizing sandwiches.
Why You Need a Kayak Cooler
If you’re taking the kayak out fishing, it pays to keep your catch nice and fresh. A camping cooler makes sure there’s no nauseating smell so you can relax and fish on rather than keeping one eye on the clock. You’ve got your catch covered and your food, beers and soda are all iced.
Floating coolers are also perfect for keeping a stash of water so everyone stays fully hydrated throughout the trip. This is especially important anywhere with a warm climate.
When you see the benefits of a kayak cooler, it’s unthinkable to go without. We’ll walk you through some factors to consider when you’re hunting for the best kayak cooler.
Things to Look For In the Best Kayak Cooler
While it might seem like a remarkably simple product, there’s a fair amount to weigh up when you’re looking for a really good cooler.
What Kind of Kayak Do You Have?
Before anything else, think about your kayak itself.
For narrow kayaks with very little storage space: If you go for a flexible soft shell cooler bag, you can pop it inside your kayak or secure it on top.
For bigger recreational kayaks with plenty of space: You’re able to consider hard ice chests and all types of cooler bag if you’ve got more real estate to play with. If you’re going the hard shell route, make sure you’ve got room to secure it properly.
Type of Kayak Cooler
Depending on what type of kayak you have, you can then pick the kind of cooler that makes most sense.
- Cooler Bags: With these small, soft-sided bags, you lose out in terms of capacity but score highly on the convenience front. Cooler bags work even on much smaller kayaks with very little room.
- Ice Chests with Hard Shell: This type of kayak cooler resembles the beer cooler you have at home for the beach or BBQ. The structure means your food is much less likely to get crushed. Think about how far you’ll need to carry an ice chest before committing to purchase, however, as they are not exactly portable.
Be honest about how you intend to use your cooler. For many, the primary purpose is to keep those beers icy and the sandwiches cold throughout the day.
For others, the cooler is principally purchased to keep the catch fresher for longer. This type of bag is designed to sit in the storage area of your kayak. Get whichever variety of cooler best fits your needs. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
Think about how much food and drink you need to store and whether or not you need to keep your catch separate. Don’t go over the top with size unless you can comfortably accommodate the cooler on your kayak.
While soft-sided coolers are very flexible, they’re not very robust. This type of cooler is normally made from insulated cloth. If you tend to knock your equipment around a bit, a hard plastic or rubber ice chest is a smart move.
Zippers are always a weak point, so make sure the cooler bag you’re looking at has solid and dependable closures. If you’re rolling with a hard shell ice chest, check the security and durability of the latches.
Kayak Cooler Reviews
1) Yeti Hopper Portable Cooler
If you want a soft-sided cooler from a brand you can trust, Yeti steps up with the fantastic Hopper. This kayak cooler is not cheap, but Yeti has a reputation for quality.
Build quality is impressive from the durable fabric through to the dependable zippers. The lining is fully waterproofed. Although the zipper is hard to move initially, you’ll get some lubricant thrown in and it’s worth the trade-off for a secure closure.
This cooler is quite slim despite weighing in at 6 pounds. It keeps its shape well and you’ll get a separate storage pocket if need to keep things apart. The heavy-duty strap means you can carry it on your back then secure it to the deck of your kayak. Several rings and loops help you here.
For a soft-sided kayak cooler good for 18 cans or 20 ounces of ice, the Yeti Hopper is a classic with just cause. Treat yourself. You deserve it.
2) ICEMULE Pro Cooler
Looking more like a punching bag than a cooler, this backpack-style Pro Cooler from ICEMULE stands up well to long, lazy days on the river. The shape of this bag allows you to store it inside the kayak. Failing this, strap it down to the deck with some cords and you’re good to go.
The capacity is an impressive 20 liters, so you should be able to fit in 18 cans and plenty of ice. This is a fairly bulky bag, measuring up at 17 x 14 x 11 inches, so make sure you’ve got enough space to store it.
A few disgruntled users have complained about the strap snapping. Be aware of this possible weak spot.
For a spacious and leakproof bag that can keep ice cold for a full 24 hours, the ICEMULE is a multi-purpose cooler bag well worth popping on your shortlist.
3) Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Line
Polar Bear’s consistently popular Nylon Line gives you a highly portable cooler that looks like a regular weekend bag. While it holds its shape well, the sides are relatively rigid, meaning it can be a tight squeeze in smaller kayaks.
There’s an external pocket so you can keep food separate, and the material is extremely thick. While this offers excellent lifespan, you might find it tough adding and removing things.
Storage capacity is limited and ice won’t stay frozen unless you pack the cooler full. It’s worth knowing these limitations in advance, but overall this is a serviceable and affordable kayak cooler from a highly reputable brand.
4) Engel Cooler and Dry Box
If you fancy a hard shell ice chest, Engel has a classic cooler that can serve double duty as a dry box. Although this cooler has a 19-quart capacity, it’s fairly lightweight. Unfortunately, it’s also quite unwieldy with a shoddy shoulder strap so think about how far you’ll need to carry your chest.
There’s a slider tray which comes in handy if you need to separate things like your valuables and anything you need to stay cool. Staying cool is what this chest does so well. You can expect well over 24 hours of chilling from the Engel.
5) K2 Coolers Summit Ice Chest
We’ll close out with another hard shell ice cooler from K2 Coolers. The Summit 20 is pretty compact, so you’ll only have room for 12 cans. The flipside is that you can carry this chest quite easily. It weighs in at 14 pounds but has a nice, padded shoulder strap.
Rubber, non-slip feet mean you won’t find your cooler sliding around dangerously while you’re fishing. You just need to make sure you keep the K2 level to avoid problems with the gasket leaking.
If your core purpose is to keep your food and drink cold for as long as possible, this bag makes perfect sense. As far as an ice box for a kayak goes, the K2 does it job effectively while still remaining affordable.
We hope you now know exactly what type of camping cooler to buy so you can stay out fishing for longer without going hungry or thirsty. You’ll also be able to preserve anything you catch so it’s still iced when you return to land.