Those who are in search of the best cooler for kayaking have come to the right place. Whether you’re hoping to crack open an ice-cold beer while you paddle, or need to keep your camp food (or fresh catches!) cold until you make it to shore, a kayak cooler is a must for hot days out on the water.
Kayak coolers are becoming one of the most sought-after accessories, and there are plenty of (if not too many) options to choose from. But before you go for just any old ice chest, you’ll need to do your research and determine which type of cooler is best for you.
We’ve done the hard work for you and put together a guide for the best kayak coolers and other key considerations to make your choice easy. You can thank us later.
- 1 Quick Answer: Best Kayak Coolers
- 2 Why You Need a Kayak Cooler
- 3 Types of Kayak Coolers
- 4 10 Best Coolers for Kayaking
- 5 Choosing the Best Kayak Cooler
Quick Answer: Best Kayak Coolers
|Ice Mule Pro Cooler||18 cans + ice||Soft||$$$|
|YETI Hopper Flip 12||12 cans + ice||Soft||$$$$|
|Perception Splash Tankwell Cooler||20 cans + ice||Soft||$$|
|Polar Bear Coolers 48 Pack||48 cans + ice||Soft||$$$|
|Perception Splash Seatback Cooler||12 cans + ice||Soft||$|
|YETI Roadie 24||18 cans + ice||Hard||$$$$|
|Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze||9 cans + ice||Hard/Soft||$|
|Stanley Adventure Leakproof Outdoor||9 cans||Hard||$|
|Engel Cooler/Drybox||30 cans + ice||Hard||$$|
|CreekKooler PuP Floating Cooler||15 cans + ice||Hard||$$$|
Why You Need a Kayak Cooler
There’s nothing less satisfying than popping open a warm beverage or munching down a melted sandwich after a long hard paddle.
If you’re going on an extended kayak tour, you’ll need something that can keep your rations ice cold for days on end. Even if you’re just going out for an afternoon, you’re never guaranteed shade while you paddle, so a kayak cooler is a must if you want to keep all of your drinks and snacks cold.
The best coolers for kayaking will also double as a dry bag, allowing you some additional storage space that is often hard to come by on small vessels.
Types of Kayak Coolers
There are two types of kayaking coolers, soft-sided or hardshell. Both are great for different reasons, and you’ll need to consider both types before deciding which one is best for your needs.
Hardshell Coolers: Hard-sided coolers are great for kayaking if you’ve got the space for them. They are generally more durable than their soft-sided counterparts, in addition to being able to hold more and keep things cooler for longer. Lots of sit-on-top kayaks have a large enough tank well to fit a hardshell cooler, but if you’re paddling with a smaller yak or a SIK, it might be hard to find space for one of these bad boys.
Soft-sided Coolers: Soft-sided coolers have improved immensely over the years, and if you can afford a high-quality one, they are often just as insulated as a hard shell. Many kayak cooler bags are made to fit in small spaces, like a hatch or even on the back of a chair. Another plus of a softshell is that they usually have shoulder straps that make transportation a breeze.
10 Best Coolers for Kayaking
There are so many kayaking coolers on the market these days that making a decision can be daunting. We’ve found the ten best coolers for kayaking, both hard shell and soft-sided, to help with your decision.
Weight: 3.1 lbs | Dimensions: 14″ x 11″ x 17″ | Capacity: 23 liters (18 cans + ice)
Coming in at first place for the best cooler for kayaking is the 23-liter backpack cooler from Ice Mule. This company is known for making high-quality soft-sided coolers, and the pro model is no exception.
Doubling as a dry bag with its roll-top and waterproof design, this kayak cooler bag can fit into most hatches or bungee decks, so it’s great for those who are short on space. There’s also an air valve to let out excess air, so you can roll it down to an even smaller size as long as you don’t fill it to the brim.
If you are hoping to stuff as many beers into it as you can, it will hold 18 of them, plus ice!
The pro model is highly portable and buoyant, but the best part about this kayak cooler bag is that it will keep your stuff ice-cold for up to two days.
Weight: 5.4 lbs | Dimensions: 14″ x 11″ x 14″ | Capacity: 12 cans + ice
Those who aren’t worried about dropping a little extra cash in exchange for the best kayak cooler should look no further.
The YETI hopper flip is one of the most durable soft-sided coolers on the market, with its leakproof zipper and waterproof, dry hide shell.
This kayak cooler bag is insulated with closed-cell rubber foam and will keep all your drinks and food cold all day, no matter the temperature. It can hold up to 12 cans plus ice and has a wide mouth that makes it easily accessible.
Although this is a soft-sided cooler, it probably won’t be able to squeeze into small hatches. Luckily, there is a hitch point grid that makes it easy to attach to virtually anything.
Weight: 5.25 lbs | Dimensions: 21.5″ x 8″ x 17.75″ | Capacity: 40 liters (20 cans + ice)
Made to fit perfectly inside of tank wells, this spacious, soft-sided cooler is one of the best coolers for kayaking. It’s also extremely affordable, coming in at under $100.
But you won’t think budget once you look at the specs of this kayak cooler bag. Its flat, wide design makes it perfect for most tank wells, and the large zippered opening makes getting things out a breeze. It can hold up to 20 cans with ice and is guaranteed to keep your stuff cool all day.
The material and zippers are water-resistant, but this kayak cooler should not be submerged in water. The backpack straps make for easy, hands-free portability, which can really come in handy when it’s time to get your kayak out of the water and onto your vehicle.
Weight: 3.7 lbs | Dimensions: 21″ x 13″ x 13″ | Capacity: 48 cans + 20 lbs ice
Known for its sleek and stylish appearance, this soft-sided bag is one of the best coolers for kayaking.
But this bag is popular for more than just its fashionable exterior. Its equipped with high-density foam insulation that will keep your ice frozen for up to 24 hours, along with rust-proof zippers, heavy-duty tie-downs, and a padded shoulder strap for easy transportation.
This spacious kayak cooler can hold up to 48 cans and 20 pounds of ice, which makes it ideal if you’re paddling with a group, but not so great if you’re looking to save on space. Polar Bear does make smaller kayak coolers if you love the design but don’t have space for something this bulky.
Weight: 5.25 lbs | Dimensions: 11.75″ x 18″ x 5″ | Capacity: 12 cans + ice
Save on space with this slim kayak cooler from Perception.
This smart, out-of-the-way kayak cooler bag sits within easy reach right on the back of your chair. The only downside is that the design only works with sit-on-top kayaks that have lawn chair style seats.
The sturdy waterproof material and water-resistant zippers keep out splashes and rain, and the thick closed-cell insulation will keep your food and drinks cold all day.
This kayak cooler bag can hold up to 12 cans plus ice. You’ll also have extra space to attach gear thanks to the strong webbing loops placed all around the cooler.
Weight: 12.8 lbs | Dimensions: 16.5″ x 14.5″ x 17.5″ | Capacity: 18 cans + ice
One of the smallest hard-sided kayak coolers available is the Roadie 24 from YETI. This is the newest model of the Roadie series and is lighter, can hold more, and performs better than its predecessor. This new version is also taller, allowing you to store wine or other tall bottles with ease.
Even though it’s not small enough to fit into a storage hatch, this is one of the best coolers for kayaks because it won’t take up too much space on board. Although small in size, this durable cooler can fit up to 18 cans with a 2:1 ice ratio. The permafrost insulation will keep your food and beverages cold for days on end, even in the hottest temperatures.
This kayak cooler only has one handle, which doesn’t make it very popular when it comes time to tie it down, but as long as you’re not going through super choppy water, the nonslip feet should keep it in place.
Weight: 1.9 lbs | Dimensions: 12.7″ x 7.6″ x 10.2″ | Capacity: 9 cans
The most inexpensive option on our list of the best coolers for kayaking is this hybrid design from Arctic Zone. Soft on the outside with a removable hardbody liner, this is a great pick for those who don’t want to shell out too much dough for a kayak cooler.
For a budget cooler, this bad boy will keep your stuff ice-cold for up to 36 hours, and there’s a divider tray so you can keep your food separate from your ice and drinks. Other perks include lots of extra pockets and elasticized gear straps for additional storage, along with a padded shoulder strap and side carry handles.
The downfall with this cheaper kayak cooler is that the hardbody liner is not very durable. It can also only hold up to nine cans, and if you pack it full, there’s very little room for ice.
Weight: 3.9 lbs | Dimensions: 13.3″ x 11.1″ x 8.6″ | Capacity: 7 quarts (9 cans)
Just because there aren’t any frills to the Stanley Adventure doesn’t keep it from being on our list of the best coolers for kayaking.
This no-nonsense hard side is nice and small and super easy to transport. The double foam insulation will keep your food and drinks ice cold for up to 27 hours, and the silicone gasket on the lid ensures that the kayak cooler is completely leakproof. Some kayakers do report that this makes the cooler hard to open, which is not ideal when you’re trying to paddle.
This seven-quart kayak cooler can hold up to nine cans, but when packed full, you won’t have much space for ice. If you don’t mind a bulkier model, Stanley also makes a 16-quart model.
Weight: 6.75 lbs | Dimensions: 16.6″ x 11″ x 13″ | Capacity: 19 quarts (30 cans)
This is a great option for those looking for a kayak cooler that can hold a lot – if you’ve got the space for it, that is. This is one of the bulkier hard sides on our list, but it’s great for those who are hauling lots of food and/or drinks. This 19-quart model can hold up to 30 cans with ice, and there’s a removable tray so you can keep some stuff dry and off the ice.
The airtight lid keeps this kayak cooler 100% waterproof, and it’s surprisingly lightweight for how big it is. The price tag makes this top pick even more enticing, coming in at just under $60.
Unfortunately, this kayak cooler does have its downsides. The straps are not known for being very comfortable or durable, and the insulation does not keep things as cold as some of the other coolers on our list.
Weight: 7.5 lbs | Dimensions: 28″ x 15″ x 8.75″ | Capacity: 15 quarts (15 cans + ice)
Probably the best kayak cooler for those who are really short on space is this unique floating cooler from KreekCooler.
It can be towed behind any kayak, and the watertight lid ensures that all your stuff will stay dry. This pull-behind cooler boasts enough space for up to 15 cans with ice, though some paddlers report having to play Tetris to make that amount fit.
The foam insulation and double-wall construction will keep your drinks ice-cold all day, and the durable material will also keep them safe from any debris you might encounter along the way.
Our favorite features of this kayak cooler are the two can holders built-in on top – talk about convenience!
Choosing the Best Kayak Cooler
Before you commit to a kayak cooler, there are few things you should consider. Everyone’s needs and preferences will differ, but keep these things in mind as you hunt for the best cooler for kayaking.
As mentioned above, there are generally two options for kayak coolers – hard-sided and soft-sided.
Hard-sided coolers are generally bigger, heavier, and more expensive, but offer more space for your food and drinks and usually have better ice retention.
Soft-sided coolers are usually smaller, lighter, and more portable.
Size and Capacity
Kayak coolers come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to decide where you want to stow your cooler once you get it on board.
Many soft-sided kayak cooler bags can fit into a hatch, but if you’re thinking of purchasing a hard-sided cooler, make sure the dimensions will fit into your tank well or underneath your seat.
You’ll also want to consider how much a kayak cooler can hold. If you’re hoping to guzzle a 12 pack out on the water, make sure you get yourself a cooler that has a large capacity AND can fit on your ‘yak.
Weight is a huge factor when picking out the best cooler for kayaking. Not only will you want to consider the weight of the cooler and the weight capacity of your kayak, but you’ll also need to think about how heavy the cooler will be when it’s full and how you’re going to transport the cooler.
Soft-sided coolers are generally more lightweight, and many have comfortable shoulder straps that make for easier portability.
In addition to size, shape, and weight, you’ll also have to think about how you’re going to attach your cooler to your kayak.
This is why some think that soft-sided bags are the best coolers for kayaking – they can usually be stuffed into a hatch without a second thought. If you have a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll have an easier time fitting a bulky hard-shell, but you may also want to consider tying down your cooler with bungees or latching it to some D-rings.
Kayak cooler designs keep getting more and more creative, so you can also look for a design that will fit on the back of your seat, in open storage areas, or even one that can be pulled behind your boat on the water.
Hardshell kayak coolers are often thought to be superior when it comes to insulation and ice retention, but soft-sided coolers have really stepped it up in the last few years. A good quality cooler, whether hard or soft, will at least keep your food and drinks cold for a full day on the water.
There are a few different kinds of insulation used in kayak coolers, but two of the best are closed-cell rubber foam and injected polystyrene insulation. If you find a cooler with either of these types of insulation, you’ll know your stuff will stay ice cold in any type of weather.
The type of closure can have a big impact on your overall experience with a kayak cooler.
Zippers are one of the most common types of closures, and as long as you have one that’s good quality, this is a valid option.
Latches are popular on many hard shell coolers and they make it easy to get to your food and drinks, even if you’ve only got one hand free.
You may also want to find a cooler that has a large opening so you don’t have to dig around once you get it open.
There you have it – the 10 best kayak coolers out there! Hopefully you’ve found your next adventure companion to keep your bevies and daily catches ice cold while out on the water.
Looking for more kayak advice? Check out these guides:
- The 10 Best River Fishing Kayaks for 2021
- Top 10 Best Kayak Seat Reviews 
- 10 Best Kayaking Shoes for an Amazing Day Out on the Water