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Whether you’re a fisherman or an adventure/recreational kayaker, a good cooler that fits snugly in your boat has become an important, integral component to every serious ‘yakkers gear collection.
We’re fully aware that a lot of folks don’t see the point in spending hundreds of dollars on a premium cooler, but the bottom line is that, truthfully, they make your time on the water and in the outdoors more enjoyable. Whether you’re trying to keep fish fresh during long hours in the sun, or stashing away drinks and food for a multi-day expedition, making the jump up from a normal cooler and investing in one of these premium models is something you won’t regret.
In this article, we’ll go over the best cooler bags (which we personally think are the best choice for kayaking), as well as several of the best kayak coolers and ice chests out there, for those of you looking for maximum ice retention.
Best Kayak Cooler Bag: Our TOP 4 Picks
Based on a combination of our experience and detailed feedback from hundreds of serious, avid kayakers, here’s a list of our top 4 favorite kayak cooler bags, new for 2019:
Our #1 Pick: Ice Mule Pro Cooler
IceMule’s new lineup of Pro Series Soft Coolers/Backpacks are absolutely perfect for a kayak cooler; they’re fully waterproof, they can be used as a dry bag to stash your important electronics, and if need be, they can be conveniently worn as a backpack.
The bags come in three different sizes (Large 20L, X-Large 30L, and XX-Large 40L), as well as several different color options.
Construction-wise they are built with the toughest ripstop nylon material available, and are fully waterproof both inside and out, with a layer of flexible insulation sandwiched between.
These things will keep ice for days on end, so whether you’re using at as a cooler or dry bag (or both), it’s the perfect option in our mind.
Why we like it:
- We love the fact that you can roll it down to as small or as large as you need, depending on how much stuff you’ve got to put inside. With a hard cooler, you’re stuck with one size, whether you’re packing two beers inside or a week’s worth of food and supplies.
- People love the mesh/drawstring loops and stash pocket on the outside, which allows you to lash it anywhere to your kayak.
Best Value Pick: Polar Bear Nylon Series
The Polar Bear Nylon Series is just a tiny step down in quality from the Ice Mule bags, but they make our list because they’ve received tons of fantastic reviews, setting them amongst the best soft coolers for this year. In our mind, they’re the best value kayak cooler bags you’ll find for the price.
They’ll lash down and stash wherever you need them to on your kayak, and they can also fold down to half the size when you don’t need it to be filled to the max.
Also, they’re made of the same ultra-durable 1000D ripstop nylon as the Ice Mules, so durability definitely is not an issue.
They’re currently available in three different sizes (12-pack, 24-pack, and 48-pack), as well as in backpack model for those of you who like to combine your kayaking/trekking expeditions. Also, they’re available in several different colors, including two different styles of camo.
Why we like it:
- They have a lifetime warranty
- For the value they’re actually very well built – don’t have to worry about bottle caps or sharp edges tearing the waterproof inner liner
- People rave about their ice retention abilities – excellent performers and great insulation even in direct sun exposure
User’s Choice / Most Popular Kayak Soft Cooler Bag: AO Coolers Soft Bag Hi-Density Insulation
The AO Coolers High-Density insulation soft cooler bags are probably the most popular choice among users for a kayak cooler bag, based on nearly 700 customer reviews at Amazon.
These things are very similar to the Polar Bear Nylon Series in terms of construction, design, and available sizes. The only real difference is that they’re actually a little bit cheaper.
They come in six different colors and four different sizes (12-pack, 24-pack, 36-pack, 48-pack), and are fully collapsible and can pack down super small when not filled to capacity.
Why we like it:
- The range of sizes: The largest size 48-pack is pretty big and is perfect for several people’s worth of gear or for multi-day trips, while the small 12-pack is the best choice for day use.
- Excellent reviews at Amazon: Users like the versatility of the bag, and claim that it’s great for anything from car camping to trekking to multi-day river expeditions.
Best Performance Kayak Cooler Bag: RTIC Soft Pack
Short of actually dropping the cash on a YETI Hopper, the RTIC Soft Pack series are the next best thing in terms of performance.
These coolers are designed to hold ice for up to 5 days just like the YETI, and the best part is they’re literally half the price.
Both RTIC hard and soft coolers have taken off like wildfire recently in terms of popularity, as word has gotten out quick that they perform as well as any YETI, but cost a fraction of the price.
The RTIC Soft Packs are fully waterproof, and have multiple zippered compartments for storing your gear, as well as convenient anchor/tie-down points for lashing it securely to your ‘yak.
They come in two different sizes (the RTIC 20 Soft Pack and the RTIC 30 Soft Pack), and have fully heat-molded waterproof zippered seams throughout.
Why we like it:
- Perform as well as a super-expensive YETI Hopper, but are half the price
- Multiple mesh/zippered compartments for organizing your gear, as well as tons of durable loops and anchor points for hanging carabiners, rope, landing nets, or any other kind of gear
- Fully padded shoulder strap for convenient transport and/or light trekking
Best Kayak Ice Chest: Our TOP 3 Picks
If you’re not really into soft cooler bags, or you’re looking for a kayak catch cooler for fishing (and/or prefer the longer ice retention capabilities of hard-sided coolers), here’s our selections for the overall best kayak ice chests for 2019:
Our #1 Kayak Fish Cooler: Engel USA 19-quart Cooler/Dry Box
This was easily our top pick for the best kayak fish cooler, and is without a doubt one of the most popular/best reviewed coolers out there among hardcore kayak fishermen.
The Engel name of course is one of the most respected and well-known names in fishing, but the good thing about these coolers/dry boxes is they’re relatively inexpensive – a super good value compared to a similar-sized YETI cooler.
Size-wise they’re absolutely perfect for securely stashing on any standard fishing kayak. Even the YETI Roadie coolers are renowned for being a little too big to fit right in a lot of kayaks, but these 19-quart ice chests will fit flushly in just about anything.
Also, you’ll be blown away at what you can fit inside. They’ll easily hold a 12-pack (with ice), but you can easily stuff 8 beer cans and 8 water bottles inside and still have plenty of room to use the included top tray.
Why we like it
- The perfect size for lashing to your kayak’s storage area
- It has a 100% waterproof seal so you can use it as both a cooler and a dry box, and with the included tray you can stash your phone and wallet on top of your ice/drinks below
- You can add up to 4 Engel rod holders to it
- Very reasonably priced for such a well-made product
Best Performance Cooler for Kayak: K2 Coolers Summit 20
The Summit 20 from K2 Coolers is another great, really popular cooler for kayaking, and is the best choice if you plan on using your ice chest mostly as a catch cooler for keeping your fish fresh.
This is a premium, high-density insulation rotomolded cooler just like the YETI Roadie, and with the ICEvault 360-degree lid gasket you can be sure that it’ll hold ice for days on end.
K2 Coolers have been around for a long time, and are one of the most trusted names in the industry – reviews and customer feedback are spectacular, and the company’s 7-year warranty is one of the best in the business.
Why we like it
- Premium ice retention – much longer than the Engel cooler/dry box
- Best kayak fish catch cooler
- We love the padded shoulder strap that comes with it
- Comes in three different colors (grey, white, and olive green)
Best Cheap Kayak Cooler: RTIC 20-quart Ice Chest
Some folks love them, some folks hate them, but like we were talking about earlier, RTIC coolers have definitely made a name for themselves for being half the price as YETI’s, while delivering the same quality and performance.
At just over 100 bucks, the RTIC 20 is the absolute best performing cooler that you’ll find for the price, and they fit good in most fishing kayaks.
They’re constructed almost identically to the 20-quart YETI Roadie, with a fully rotomolded body and up to 2” of high-density foam insulation. If you want a top-notch cooler performance wise but aren’t crazy enough to drop top-notch dollars, get yourself an RTIC for your kayak.
Why we like it
- The 20-quart model is the perfect fit for a fishing kayak, and is one of the most popular/best kayak fish coolers out there
- Half the price as the YETI 20 qt Roadie
- Will keep ice for up to 5 days
Top Rated Kayak Coolers – Conclusion
If you’re looking for the best kayak cooler you can get for your ‘yak, whether it’s for fishing or adventuring, you can’t go wrong with any of the top picks we’ve selected above.
The kayak cooler bags are preferable if you’re into minimizing weight, or if you do a lot of getting into/out of your boat and have to carry your gear around. Our kayak catch coolers and ice chests on the other hand, are the best models you’ll find for kayak-specific fishing.
Whatever you end up deciding, you can be certain that making a small investment in one of these coolers will add an extra dimension of enjoyment during your outdoor adventures, wherever they may take you.
Check all Kayak Coolers at Amazon
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Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we may receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep this website alive. Learn more here.
Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API