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So you’re headed out for the day or for several days on your next kayaking adventure. One of your challenges is how to keep your beverages, any perishable food, bait you may take along to do some fishing or how to store any fish you may catch at an appropriate temperature. Obviously, you are going to need a storage system that maximizes your ability to maintain a suitable temperature for the items you are transporting.
Clearly you need a cooler but not just any cooler. The question is what are the best kayak coolers? Your decision for a cooler(s) will depend on your needs, the number of individuals in your group, the length of time you will kayak and how much you are willing to pay for a cooler.
You would think this would be a pretty straightforward choice, however coolers come in a variety of sizes, materials they are constructed from, how durable they will be, how well they maintain ice, along with a whole host of other considerations (latches, hinges, carrying handles, wheels for transporting, features and add ons).
For the purposes of our recommendations and buyers guide we have focused on coolers that are ideal for kayaking. These coolers come in two basic styles: hard-shelled ice coolers and soft-sided ice coolers. In the frequently asked questions we will provide a few tips for how to make your ice last longer but understand that with the large number of coolers on the market there is only so much a cheaper cooler can do.The coolers we have reviewed and recommended are intended to provide you with a quality product for extended periods on the water. If you only need something for an hour or so on the water a $20 plastic cooler with minimal insulation may be all you need. The following coolers are appropriate for a kayak outing and will give you an extended cooling system to ensure the items are maintained at cool temperatures.
Top 5 Comparison Chart
10 Best Kayak Coolers Reviewed
1. YETI Hopper TWO Portable Cooler
Yeti is one of the most popular and best known manufacturers of coolers. The Yeti hopper is a soft-sided cooler that holds 18 cans and up to 20 pounds of ice, all in a slim design that makes it very portable.
This portable cooler features a tapered body making it easy to haul and strap to your kayak. Additionally, the Yeti Hopper Two has a waterproof DryHide Shell, extremely durable straps, a Hydrolok Zipper and is completely leakproof.
The bag weighs only 4.4 pounds empty, has cold cell insulation, and a hitchpoint grid, which allows you to easily attach a Yeti bottle opener, side pack or just about anything you wish to secure. When you buy a Yeti product you will likely pay a little more but you will have the comfort knowing you have purchased a top quality constructed and designed product.
2. IceMule Pro Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag
The IceMule Pro is a soft-sided cooler that will hold 23 liters or 18 cans and ice in a sleek backpack design, which makes easy carrying. With a versatile design this kayak cooler is fully waterproof, allowing it to be used as a dry bag when not being used as a cooler. The convenient backpack design makes it easy to toss over your shoulders keeping your hands free to carry your kayak or other items.
The IceMule Pro comes in three different sizes (20L, 30L, and 40L) and a variety of colors. Their cylinder shape makes it easy to stow inside your kayak or secure it to the kayak’s deck with a couple of bungee cords. This cooler bag is constructed using an extra durable ripstop nylon material, is fully waterproof and floats. The IceMule will keep your items cool for at least 24 hours.
3. YETI Roadie 20 Cooler
Another in the line of great Yeti coolers the Roadie 20 is a hard-sided cooler that will hold 14 cans with a recommended 2:1 ice-to-contents ratio. As a hard-side cooler, the Roadie is heavier and bulkier than it’s soft-sided brother the Hopper Two. It’s too large to store in most dry hatches found on the typical kayak.
The upside to this cooler is that it is a high quality product that boasts a durable construction that can withstand whatever your outdoor adventures may throw it’s way. This cooler will need to be stowed on your kayak deck. The rubber non-slip feet, ensures once secured to your kayak, it will stay in place.
The Roadie 20 has a long list of quality features including: a two hinge pins and interlocking design prevent the hinge from ever breaking, heavy-duty rubber latches, rotomolded construction making it almost indestructible.
4. ENGEL Cooler/Dry Box
The ENGEL is a hard-sided cooler that has a 19 quart capacity leakproof kayak cooler that has an internal dry box included and holds up to 12 cans and the necessary ice. This cooler is ideal for kayakers who are also anglers. The design includes four rod holders that are great for storing your fishing poles, nets or even an umbrella.
This cooler features quality design and construction including stainless steel latches, molded polystyrene insulation, a waterproof and airtight EVA gasket and a central carry handle in the lid and an integrated adjustable shoulder strap.
5. Polar Bear Coolers (best value)
The Polar Bear is a soft-sided cooler that comes in 6 colors, and 4 different sizes (6, 12, 24, 48 pack), as well as a backpack option. The capacity for the different sizes varied from 6 to 48 cans, along with 10 pounds of ice. The backpack holds up to 18 cans and 10 pounds of ice.
Polar Bear has designed this cooler to be easy to carry with a adjustable shoulder harness and carrying handles. It features an outside pocket, semi-rigid insulated sides and durable materials and design. It will fit easily into most kayaks or can be secured to the kayak deck.
6. AO Coolers Original Soft Cooler
The AO Cooler is a soft-sided cooler bag that in it’s largest capacity holds 48 cans and 15 pounds of ice. The cooler is constructed with a high density insulation, a strong polyester canvas material and with a leak proof liner. It comes in 6 different colors and 4 different sizes (12, 24, 36 and 48-pack).
The AO Cooler features a removable shoulder strap, clip-down ends, a side pocket for dry items, and meets airplane carry-on requirements. The liner material is made from a TPU material, similar to what is used in above ground pools, making it very resilient.
7. RTIC Soft Pack 30
The RTIC Soft Pack 30 is a soft-sided cooler with a storage capacity of 30 cans with ice. It also comes in the RTIC Soft Pack 20, which holds 20 cans and ice. The cooler is designed using 2 inches of foam insulation and the company states it will hold ice for up to 5 days.
Thr RTIC features 2 external storage pockets, an inner liner that is mildew resistant and antimicrobial, and two carry handles, as well as a removable shoulder strap. This cooler can be stored inside your kayak or strapped to the kayak deck.
8. CreekKooler Floating Cooler
The CreekKooler is a hard-shell floating cooler that will save space in your kayak, as it can be pulled behind your watercraft. It has a 30 quart capacity that holds up to 30 cans and 20 pounds of ice. The cooler is constructed with 2 inches of insulation that has been injected into the hull and deck that the company states will retain ice for up to 48 hours.
The CreekKooler features a watertight lid that locks, built-in drink holders, 2 towable handles, and 2 reinforced tow points, allowing you to secure the cooler to your kayak for easy access. The CreekKooler is an option to consider as you determine what you will be taking on your kayak trip.
9. K2 Coolers Summit 20 Cooler
The K2 Summit 20 is a hard-sided cooler that has a 20 quart capacity, holding 12 cans with ice. It has a padded shoulder strap that makes carrying this cooler, which weighs 14 pounds empty, easier.
The K2 Summit 20 features a durable, single piece roto-molded polyethylene construction, thick insulation for maximum ice retention, lid gasket, lid latches, and SURE Grip rubber feet. This cooler can take a pounding, is UV resistant and is dry ice compatible.
10. IceMule Classic Insulated Backpack Cooler Bag
The IceMule Classic Insulated Backpack is a soft-sided cooler that comes in a 10, 15, or 20 liter capacity. The 15 liter cooler will hold 12 cans with ice. This is a sling style backpack cooler that you can throw over your shoulders, leaving your hands free to carry your kayak or other items. The backpack features double padded and ventilated straps providing comfort and minimal effort to carry your cooler and it’s contents.
This cooler is fully collapsible, floats, has the IceMule closure system that is designed without zippers and comes in 6 different colors.
There are a variety of features to consider when choosing the best kayak cooler for your needs. There are a ton of options for you to consider, which provides you with the opportunity to be a little finicky about which cooler or coolers you will choose. The space you have available on your kayak and how you plan to use it should guide your decision. The following information are some of the factors you will want to consider as you begin your search:
Manufacturers usually list the capacity in terms of quarts, liters or the number of cans and ice the cooler can hold. You will need to determine how much you intend to store in your cooler, how long you will be storing the items and how you want to stow the cooler while you are on the water.
The materials kayak coolers are made from varies significantly. Soft-sided coolers will be made out of fabric that is laminated and insulated, making them flexible and able to fit in a variety of spaces. They also will be lightweight and easier to carry and transport. Hard-sided coolers are usually constructed using hard plastic or rubber materials. They are designed to be more durable and are usually watertight.
This is not always a factor when choosing a regular cooler, however when you are using it while you are kayaking it should be an important consideration. All of the coolers we have recommended are leak proof and air tight. If you are an angler and going to use the cooler for transporting your catch you may want to consider a cooler with a drain plug.
Keeping Items Cool
The temperature your cooler will maintain and for how long items will stay cool should be the most critical feature you consider. Any cooler you choose should be insulated and offer between 24 to 72 hours for maintaining ice and keeping your items cool. We recommend you get a cooler with a higher rating as often you will be in direct sunlight, which will reduce the cooling limits.
The kind of closure your cooler has will be important both to secure your items and to keep them dry. Soft-sided coolers often have a zipper, make sure it is a quality closure. Hard-side coolers should have a durable latch that tightly secures the top.
You will need to factor in how you will be transporting cooler, whether it will be inside, secured on the deck of your kayak or floating alongside. Also, you will want to consider how easy it will be to transport as you move from one place to another.
Several of the coolers we have recommended can be used as a place to keep items cool or if you choose can be used for dry storage. If this is something you are interested in you will need to select coolers that are also waterproof.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you make ice last as long as possible?
The first thing to consider is the quality of your cooler. Do not expect a $20 cooler that is thinly insulated to last more than an hour or two. However, if you get a quality cooler, under the right conditions and stored appropriately you can maximize the time your ice is retained and items stay cool. The coolers we have recommended all last between 24 and 120 hours.
To get the greatest amount of time you can retain ice and maintain cool conditions for your items the following tips will help:
- Refrigerate or chill your cooler with ice prior to adding items
- Refrigerate or cool items prior to placing into the cooler
- Place as much ice as you are able into your cooler, ideally a 2 to 1 ratio of ice to items
- Keep your cooler out of direct sunlight as much as possible
- Keep your cooler in a cool area
- Airflow under your cooler will help maintaining your ice
- Do not drain your cooler
How big of a cooler should I get for a kayak?
The size cooler you decide to purchase will depend largely on how you intend to use the cooler and the size of your kayak. If you only plan to use the cooler for day outings versus taking a trip for several days will direct your decision making. You need to compare the size and measurements of your cooler with the area(s) you plan to stow the cooler on your kayak to ensure it will fit appropriately.
How do you secure the cooler to the kayak?
Soft-sided coolers may be stored inside the kayak depending on your storage areas. The soft cooler can be manipulated to fit in to storage spaces, as well as storing on the deck of the kayak. Larger coolers or hard-sided coolers will need to be secured using bungees on the deck of your kayak. Floating coolers are simply secured to the rear or side of your kayak so they can be towed.
As you begin your search, you will first need to consider how you intend to use the cooler, so you can narrow your search to a specific style and design. Choosing a soft-sided cooler bag will reduce the weight for both transporting and carrying your items, while also freeing up your hands. A hard-shelled cooler will be more durable and often provide longer periods to retain your ice.
The recommendations are made with the confidence that they all provide excellent choices for you to consider, while giving you a selection of designs and options. They all have a minimum of 24 hours of cooling capabilities, are made with quality design, construction and materials, and will meet a variety of needs and uses. As always, safety is a top priority and you should always avoid overloading your kayak.
Let us know in the comments section which kayak cooler you choose and how it functions during your kayaking experiences
For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, please visit the following articles.
Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.