You’re getting ready for a day on the water. You’ve got your life jacket, your paddle, your sunscreen, and your lunch packed up. But you’ll be on the water for hours—how will you keep your food and drinks cool and refreshing? If you think packing your lunch on a kayak means you have to eat soggy sandwiches and lukewarm soda, think again. There are several ice chests and cooler bags that are perfectly designed to pack on your kayak. We’ve compiled a list of the ones we think are the best. All of them are designed to fit inside your kayak, so you don’t have to worry about strapping your giant camping cooler to the top of your boat!
Our Top Picks for Kayak Coolers
As you can probably tell just by looking at our list of products, there are a lot of kayak cooler options. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one. Don’t worry— that’s where we come in! Our buying guide will help you sort through the options and understand the ins and outs of each one, so you can make the right choice. When looking for the perfect cooler, there are lots of things to consider. Let’s start with the basics.
Types of Kayak Coolers
Kayak coolers are typically divided up into two categories: ice chests and coolers bags. Ice chests look like the traditional coolers you might have at home. They have hard sides and are usually bigger square or rectangular coolers. They have a lot more space but aren’t as easily portable. The nice thing about the ice chest, too, is that you can put things like sandwiches and snacks in it without fear that they’ll get crushed, like you would in a soft-sided cooler.
Cooler bags are soft-sided and usually smaller than ice chests. They might not have as much carrying capacity, but they can be tailormade to fit perfectly in your kayak or carry with you on your travels.
The first thing to consider when picking out an ice chest or cooler bag is the type of kayak you’ll be using. If you have a narrow sea kayak, you’re going to have an impossible time trying to fit a hard shell ice chest in your boat. The hatch openings are too small to fit a cooler inside. If you try to strap it to the deck, you’ll probably have your lunch floating in the water after a few minutes of paddling.
But if you have a recreational kayak with a lot of space, you’ll be able to fit a large ice chest comfortably with no trouble. Some kayaks even have an extra space specifically for coolers and other storage behind the seat.
No matter what kayak you have, be sure to choose a reputable cooler brand that is waterproof, durable, and has the right storage capacity for your needs. You’ll want a cooler that isn’t too heavy, so you can easily transport it. It should keep its contents cold or frozen for an extended period of time, and be durable so it can withstand any rugged adventures. Our list below is the perfect place to start your search.
How to Choose the Right Cooler for Your Kayak
If you have a narrow kayak with limited storage:
Look for a soft shell cooler bag. These flexible bags can easily stow into the interior of your kayak or even sit on top. Most sea kayaks come equipped with bungee cords and deck lines that can easily secure a compact cooler bag on your kayak’s deck. If you want a cooler that’s easily accessible without having to open your kayak’s hatches, look for long and flat designs or coolers with soft sides that can be secured under bungee cords.
For more stability and security, find a cooler bag that can fit inside your kayak’s hatches. Soft shell cooler bags will be ideal for this. In some boats, you’ll even be able to fit your cooler behind your seat.
If you have a recreational kayak or a kayak with a lot of space:
Recreational and sit-on-top boats are the perfect cooler-carrying kayaks. The wide hulls and ample deck space mean that you can take hard shell ice chests and cooler bags of almost any style. If you’ll be out all day or need a lot of space, look for an ice chest with a large storage capacity. Find one that can sit securely on your boat without getting in your way. If you have a sit-on-top, make sure that your boat has space for a hard shell ice chest to be easily secured. If not, you’ll need to go with a smaller cooler bag. You don’t want your cooler falling into the ocean halfway through your trip!
Best Kayak Cooler Bags
Yeti is a well-known brand for a reason. This cooler is about as durable as they come and fits a decent amount (18 cans or 20 pounds of ice) in a slim bag design. Everything on this cooler, from the zippers to the waterproof liner, is built to be strong and long lasting. At six pounds, it’s pretty heavy, but that’s not a big issue if you’ll just be paddling with it. The flatter shape makes it easy to strap the bag to the deck of your kayak or fit it behind your seat. Some customers have complained, however, that the ice does not always last very long. This cooler goes the extra mile in terms of quality and design.
This cooler bag features a sleek design with backpack straps for easy carrying. Its design is similar to kayaking dry bags and is easy to store in hatches (if the hatches are big enough). The bag is 17”x14”x11” and has a 20-liter capacity. This fits 18 cans with ice comfortably if you’re looking to bring a lot of iced beverages. The cylindrical shape is ideal for stowing inside your kayak. If you don’t pack it too full, you should also be able to easily stow it on your kayak’s deck with bungee cords. Some customers have reported that the straps can break after a few months of wear. Some have also complained that the outside of the bag gets wet from condensation. Not a big deal if you’re kayaking, but it can be an annoyance if you’re using the bag elsewhere.
Polar Bear has created an easy-to-carry cooler that’s styled like an average shoulder bag. It’s not too big or bulky and comes with carry handles, an adjustable shoulder strap, and a convenient outside pocket. The bag is 7”x14”x12” with semi-rigid insulated sides. The material is durable and wear-resistant.
This cooler bag fits easily into most kayaks. The downside is that the outside can get wet and the somewhat rigid sides make it more difficult to store in your boat. There’s not as much storage capacity in this model but Polar Bear does make larger sizes, too. Certain customers have reported leaks in the bottom of the cooler after a year or two of use.
This soft-sided cooler has a large storage capacity. At 15”x14”x11” it can hold up to 20 cans with ice. It has two inches of foam insulation and, according to the company’s claims, holds ice for up to five days. There are two external storage pockets and the interior liner is mildew resistant and antimicrobial. Additionally, it has two carry handles as well as a removable shoulder strap. It is narrow, making storage inside a kayak easy. According to customer reviews, the clasps on the straps have a pesky habit of breaking easily.
Best Kayak Cooler Ice Chests
The plus side of a solid cooler like this is that in addition to being durable, it keeps things cold for a long time. It has a padded shoulder strap that makes it easy to carry, despite weighing 14 pounds when empty. It’s the perfect size for a 12-pack with ice. According to some customer reviews, the gasket can leak if the cooler is not balanced on a flat surface.
With the recommended ratio of ice, this cooler holds 14 cans, but they’ll stay cold for a long time. It’s durably-built to withstand being lugged around the great outdoors and is practically indestructible. However, this can make it heavy and bulky. At 15”x14”x19”, it’s too big to store in most kayak’s dry hatches, but is great for stowing on the back of a larger kayak. Rubber feet keep it locked in place while you’re on the move, and a drain plug makes for easy draining of excess water.
Best Kayak Coolers for Fishing
This cooler is perfect if you have space for a hard-shell cooler on your kayak. It’s better designed for food and drinks than fresh fish, since it has a square and boxy shape, but it technically could carry both. There are four rod holders that are great for storing extra fishing poles, safety flags, net, or even an umbrella. The cooler has a 19-quart capacity and comes with a fitted tray for keeping items separate. You can store your ice and beverages below and put your cell phone in the tray, without worrying about anything getting damaged. However, keep in mind, some customers have noted the ice does not stay frozen for longer than a day.
Specially designed to store your catch of the day, the inner bag is detachable for easy cleaning. Fish can be stored in the inner bag, while the outer bag is filled with ice to keep them cool. The flat design is perfect for storing inside or on top of kayaks. The bag comes with bungee cords on top so you can store items on top of the cooler, too. The material is heat reflective and waterproof so your fish (or lunch and drinks) stay cold all day. While this is a great option for storing fish, it does not have much room for additional items. Customers have noticed that the cooler can leak, too. .
Our Favorite Cooler
You can’t go wrong with any of the ice chests and cooler bags on this list. All of them provide excellent cooling capabilities and are perfectly designed to take with you on the water. But in any competition, there has to be a winner. So what’s our pick?
This cooler earns our number one spot for several reasons. The sleek design makes it easy to carry, while the expert craftsmanship ensures the contents will stay cold for days. It’s completely leak-proof and easy to store in your kayak. The flat design makes it possible to stow the bag either on top of your kayak’s deck, behind the seat, or inside the hatches. All of these features make it the perfect companion for an afternoon on the water.
Have you used any of these coolers? Which one is your favorite? Make sure to check out our buying guide for the Best GPS Watch for Kayaking, too.