What Are the Best Coolers for Your Kayak 1080 608 BassGrab

What Are the Best Coolers for Your Kayak

It is no secret that we love kayak fishing. It is one of the best budget ways to get out on the water and kayaks have an advantage over other vessels since they are so much more stealthy. One of the downsides to a kayak however is the limited amount of storage space, which makes you have to evaluate every item on your kayak gear list. Bringing a cooler in your kayak is one of the heaviest and largest items, but it’s also a necessity if you’re planning on keeping fish or need to keep drinks or food cold. The best kayak cooler is lightweight, has excellent ice retention, and fits in your kayak hatch or cargo area.

Kayak Cooler Quicklinks

Cooler Types

There are two types of coolers that can be used for kayak fishing:

  • Soft Shell Cooler

    Soft shell coolers have become more popular lately and are made of a durable outer material filled with insulation and an interior waterproof membrane to hold ice and drinks. These coolers are very lightweight usually use a heavy duty zipper or roll and clips to stay shut and can definitely stay cold for a full day of fishing. One of the main benefits is that the cooler is flexible and can be shoved into a hatch or rear kayak storage area. The downside is that these can be difficult to clean and they are not as durable as hard sided coolers.

  • Hard Shell Cooler

    Hard shell coolers are much more durable and have better ice retention. These coolers are usually rectangular or round and you can rest assured that anything you put inside will stay cold and won’t be crushed. You can also mount gear and accessories such as rod holders to the sides of these coolers. The downside is that they are heavier and rigid which means they have to fit perfectly in your rear cargo area and have little hope of sliding into a kayak hatch.

Kayak Cooler Styles and Options

The market is currently saturated with coolers since high performance and indestructible coolers have become popular. I sure wish I had thought of starting a billion dollar industry back when I was using a disposable foam cooler. What this means for the consumer is that there are an abundance of brands, styles, and cooler options to choose from which is great! The ones included on this list are brands that I know will stand behind their products and make quality coolers that perform well. I also only highlighted specific coolers from these brands on our list of best kayak coolers, however most brands make multiple designs that would work well for kayaks — see the table below for additional options.

Kayak Cooler Size and Weight

The size and weight of a kayak cooler is one of the most important things to consider when making your choice. The cooler needs to fit where you want it and it should not add a substantial weight to your kayak which can cause you to sit lower in the water and wear out more quickly while paddling. A heavy kayak with a wet ride isn’t fun for anyone. An average kayak rear cargo area is usually designed to fit a least an average milk crate which is 12”x12”. Usually the rear storage area is larger and can accommodate larger coolers. Also don’t forget that soft sided coolers be flexed a bit to squeeze into a hatch or cargo hold. I personally love having my cooler in the center or front hatch because it is easier to access and helps distribute the weight of the kayak much better. Wherever you choose to stash your cooler always be sure to measure your area before buying to make sure it fits, and take into consideration how much it will weigh when filled with ice.

Yeti Stand Kayak

Always Measure for your kayak cooler fit

Best Kayak Coolers

CoolerImageTypeSizeCapacityWeightPrice
Polar Bear Coolers 12 PackSoft ShellL: 14"
W: 7"
H: 12"
10 liters2lbs$$
Kula Cooler 2.5Hard ShellW: 15"
H: 12"
11 liters11lbs$$$$
Seattle Sports Kayak Catch Cooler
Soft ShellL: 20"
W: 17"
H: 2"
18 liters2.1lbs$$
Orca Walker 20 CoolerSoft ShellL: 15”
W: 11”
H: 13”
20 liters3.6lbs$$$$
IceMule Pro CoolerSoft ShellL: 14"
W: 11"
H: 17"
23 liters13lbs
$$$
Yeti Roadie 24Hard ShellL: 17"
W: 14"
H: 18"
24 liters12.8lbs$$$$$

Cooler Reviews

Best Budget Kayak Cooler

Polar Bear Coolers 12 Pack

Polar Bear coolers have been around for a while and are the perfect kayak cooler that blends performance and functionality while at the same time not breaking the bank. The Classic 12 Pack cooler has thick padded insulation and is really just the right size to fit in most kayaks. I can also attest to the durability of these coolers, I’ve had mine for over 9 years and still use it for kayak fishing. This is one of my favorite choices because it fits securely in the front hatch and I can wedge it in place to balance the weight with the zipper facing up for very easy access.

Pros

  • Durable inner and outer material
  • Very lightweight cooler
  • Easy to carry and store
  • Exterior pocket for storage

Cons

  • Zipper could be stronger
  • Will leak if turned on the side
Best Small Hard Shell Cooler

KULA Cooler 2.5

The KULA coolers are a unique option that aren’t for everyone, but some people swear by them. This one is different because it’s a round cooler. These coolers are made by BOTE, a company that makes the best fishing paddleboards on the market. It seems that this cooler is designed specifically for their paddleboard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great kayak cooler. These coolers are incredibly durable and have a single point latch with an included bottle opener. The rubber padded bottom makes it grip your kayak well and it doesn’t bounce around once strapped in. One thing I’m not a huge fan of is the handle because it is bulky and gets in the way – I would opt to remove this. A pro is that there are strap down points in the sides of the cooler lid which is excellent.

Pros

  • Excellent ice retention
  • Durable thick hard shell
  • Built in bottle opener
  • Integrated strap down points
  • Bottom drain tap

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Round design could be a problem
  • Bulky handle
Best Kayak Fishing Cooler

Seattle Sports Kayak Catch Cooler

The Seattle Sports kayak catch bag is the top insulated fish bag for kayaks. The design of this bag is meant to be mounted on the front bow of a kayak or inside the front hatch due to the shape and side access. The length and shape of the bag makes it perfect for keeping medium sized fish, but not so much for food and drink. This is my go to bag for when I’m out fishing to save some fillets. The material is durable and strong nylon and the included straps built into the cooler bag make it easy to attach to any kayak. Best kayak cooler choice for keeping your catch.

Pros

  • Perfect fit in the bow of a kayak
  • Strong nylon inner and outer shell
  • Excellent weight distribution
  • Flexible to fit in all areas of a kayak
  • Included straps

Cons

  • Ice retention good not great
  • Access on the side vs the top
Best Kayak Backpack Cooler

ICEMULE Pro Cooler

The ICEMULE Pro cooler is featured in the main article image and is one I actively use in my Jackson Kraken 13.5. It fits perfectly in kayaks that have a center console hatch for storage and holds fish or drinks easily. The one feature that is unique about this cooler is that the insulation comes from an air layer between the interior and exterior liner that you can control by blowing into it and sealing. This has pros and cons. One of the big benefits is that this cooler can be deflated and rolled down fairly small, which is excellent for storing when not in use. One of the downsides is that when fully inflated this cooler is round and bulky, so you have to only inflate it once it is in your kayak hatch. I typically only use a small amount of air which is plenty to keep ice for the day, but doesn’t make it too large.

Pros

  • Fits in any kayak hatch easily
  • Roll and clip top make for waterproof secure closure
  • Works well for fish and drinks
  • Backpack straps for easy carry
  • Deflates and stores easily

Cons

  • Insulation is by blowing in air
  • Ice retention is good not great
Best Soft Shell Kayak Cooler

Orca Walker 20 Cooler

ORCA soft shell coolers are very high quality. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick one up is how surprisingly light yet rigid it is. This is an excellent choice for a rear cargo area cooler for several key reasons. The first being that it retains its shape well and has a flip top lid. It is easy to access this cooler and you don’t have to worry about anything falling out. The zipper is also very thick and heavy duty with a waterproof lining seal, and there is an exterior waterproof pocket on the side of the cooler. The integrated handles are strong and make it easy to carry and can double as bungee strap points to secure it to your kayak. There are also numerous clip points on the cooler to secure any number of items you need. This is the ideal cooler for a kayak cargo area and the number one on my list, the only potential downside could be the price.

Pros

  • Excellent ice retention
  • Perfect size for hatch or cargo area
  • Strong and durable materials
  • Convenient clips and handles

Cons

  • Expensive cooler
  • Light colors prone to stains
Best Kayak Hard Shell Compact Cooler

Yeti Roadie 24

If a hard shell cooler is your first choice for a kayak and you don’t mind the weight, then look no further than YETI. They previously offered the YETI Roadie 20, and now produce the YETI Roadie 24. Both are excellent sizes for kayak fishing coolers, with the Roadie 24 being a bit taller and thinner. The cooler fits perfectly in the back of most kayak rear deck cargo holds and can be easily strapped down through the integrated strap mounts in the handle swivels. You can’t go wrong with this cooler. Everyone knows YETI, they started the rugged cooler revolution.

Pros

  • Durable and solid YETI design
  • Perfect cube form factor
  • Excellent ice retention
  • Nylon handle is a great choice
  • Integrated strap points in handle swivels

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy cooler

Common Kayak Cooler Questions

Kayak coolers need to be able to fit in the rear cargo area or front hatch. The best size cooler for a kayak is somewhere between 10 liters to 25 liters in storage capacity. This gives you enough space to fit drinks, food, and fish while still fitting on the kayak without being too heavy.

Absolutely, coolers are meant for kayaks and just need to be stored in a hatch or strapped down.

You can use a hard shell or soft shell cooler for a kayak as long as it fits in the cargo area or kayak hatch. Soft shell coolers and lighter and tend to be a better choice however.

It is best not to sit on a soft shell cooler. Your weight will cause it to deform and crush the insulation which could damage it.

Insulated fish bags or kayak coolers are the best options for storing fish in your kayak.

Use bungee straps or put the cooler inside your kayak hatch to keep it secure while kayaking. Make sure to balance the weight as well so your kayak isn’t leaning to one side while you’re paddling.

Yes coolers will all float because they have insulation which is less dense than water. They also have air inside them that is sealed so any cooler that has a strong zipper or airtight lid will float if it falls out of your kayak.

    Heath Anderson

    Heath lives in North Carolina and is an avid fisherman and all around outdoorsman.

    All stories by: Heath Anderson
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