One of the reasons boaters like kayaks is the minimalist aspect. It’s just you and the water. Maybe a duck or two.
You pack some drinks, lunch and maybe even your rod to catch some fish.
You may even pack a tent and gear for camping, which, unfortunately, means less space onboard for necessities like bulky coolers, especially if you have a sit-in ‘yak.
So whether you plan to take a day paddle or spend multiple days in a remote paddle-in site with just you and that family of ducks, chances are you’ll need one of the best kayak coolers to keep everything cool and preserved.
And since storage space on a kayak is at a minimum, the first thing to consider is how much space you have to work with, as well as what you’ll be using it for. Is it just for fish and bait? Or do you want to carry food, drinks and snacks for yourself?
Read on to explore the considerations to make before investing in your personal kayak cooler, as well as some of the best kayak cooler models available today.
Types of Kayak Coolers
From hard-sided and soft-sided to a roll-top dry bag, available are several types of kayak coolers. Let’s go over a few of each type’s characteristics and benefits.
Soft-sided Kayak Coolers
Soft-sided coolers are like a lunch bag but bigger and a bit sturdier. And they are often made of softer fabric material. These types of kayak coolers work nicely because they can “squish” into narrow spaces and sometimes offer straps for carrying on your back.
Hard-cased Kayak Coolers
This is your typical cooler from days at camp. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, a hard-case cooler typically keeps ice lasting much longer, which is fantastic when you plan to spend several days in a paddle-in campsite. Additionally, you can find ones specially made for kayaks with tie-down straps.
Dry Bag Cooler With Roll Top
I’ve found a dry bag works great as a snack holder for day trips, especially if you don’t really need to keep anything cold. If you do need cold containment, you could always throw in one of those cold freezer packs. Just keep in mind that the dry bag won’t insulate as well as a typical cooler.
Features of the Best Kayak Coolers
Compact and portable immediately come to my mind when I think of the best kayak cooler. But you’ll also want to throw in water and mildew-resistance. While we’re at it, let’s go for the stainless steel latches and built-in tie-downs.
Here is a thorough breakdown of everything to consider:
- Compact — Small to medium is the size to go for when shopping for the best kayak cooler. As much as you’ll be tempted, you just can’t carry that Yeti 45 Tundra on your kayak. But I’d love to see a photo if you do.
- Portable — You’ll spend a lot of time carrying your kayak cooler to and from the kayak, so portability is a must.
- Water-resistant — Water resistance is a no-brainer. Choose something with stainless steel latches and hardware for rust-free use.
- Mold and mildew-resistant — This is an absolute must with any products or boating accessories you use on or around water.
- Easy to clean — Polypropylene is an easy-to-clean material. You can find an endless supply of hard and soft-sided coolers made out of polypropylene.
- Drainage plugs — With bigger coolers, drainage plugs are a lifesaver when it comes to getting out all of the excess water. Even with the smaller size of a kayak cooler, it’s nice to be able to open the plug and let it drain on its own.
- Easy to open latches and zippers — You don’t want to fumble with (and risk a tumble into the water) latches and zippers while you’re underway.
- Handles or backpack straps — Handles of any sort are a blessing when it comes to toting a cooler full of ice, drinks, food or bait. And wearing it as a backpack frees up your hands for fishing rods and paddles. Or even the kayak itself.
The 7 Best Kayak Coolers For Your Drinks, Snacks and Catch
Soft-sided Kayak Coolers
Seattle Sports Kayak Cooler
The Seattle Sports Kayak Insulated Deck Top Cooler is kind of a hybrid between a soft-sided cooler and a dry bag with a zippered enclosure and then a fold-down top like a dry bag.
A heat-reflective body and closed-cell foam insulation keep food, fish or bait nice and cool for several hours.
The criss-cross bungee straps can be used to attach to nearby gear or to tie down to the kayak’s deck.
Best of all, it has a removable interior liner for easy cleaning.
Perception Kayaks Splash Seat Back Cooler
The Perception Kayaks Splash Seat Back Cooler is specifically made for kayaks with lawn chair-style seats.
Attach it to the back of the chair with an included bungee system, keeping the kayak deck space clear for other important gear.
Additionally, it has a YKK water-resistant zipper, RF welded interior seams and other waterproof materials.
And with the zipper at the top of the cooler, it’s easy to fetch a snack or drink without getting out of your kayak seat.
Perception Kayaks Splash Tankwell Cooler
The Perception Kayaks Splash Tankwell Cooler fits conveniently in the tank well of your kayak.
It has adjustable backpack straps, a durable handle and D-rings for transport and tie-down.
The top also offers a large zippered opening to easily reach food and drinks, which are kept cool by a ½ inch foam insulation.
This model is a great choice for a low-profile and everyday kayak cooler.
PROYAKER ICY Kayak Catch Bag Cooler
Do you use your kayak for fishing? With a flat top and bottom design that lays flat until it’s filled with fish, the PROYAKER ICY Catch Bag keeps fish fresh, on ice, for 48 hours.
Made of closed-cell foam, layers of EVA insulation, as well as super-strong Tarpaulin polyethylene, this kayak cooler keeps your catch cold while offering extras such as a separate front zipper compartment for extra storage, like your tackle boxes or snacks.
Included is also a padded shoulder strap to easily haul it to and from your car, as well as a screw-in drain plug to release the water at the end of the day.
Five handy D-rings on each side allow you to easily strap it to your yak with bungees and carabiners. There’s even has a pocket to slide in your kayak paddle.
Hard-case Kayak Coolers
Engel Cooler/Dry Box
Engel is one of my favorite cooler brands.
The 13-quart cooler/dry box can be used for food and drinks or as a dry box for valuables.
It has an airtight EVA gasket and waterproof seal around the lid. The carrying handle is recessed, which makes it easy to store. It also has super convenient adjustable shoulder straps.
The non-absorbent surface keeps out odors and cleans easily, including fittings and latches made of stainless steel, which means it’s corrosion-resistant.
It comes with a hanging tray, which is great for items you want to keep cold but don’t necessarily want to put directly in the ice.
Polystyrene core insulation keeps items cold or hot.
Waterproof to three feet, it’s a great compact and portable cooler for any kayak.
CreekKooler Outdoor Insulated Floating Cooler
When there’s absolutely no space left, what’s a kayaker to do? Tow it, of course!
The CreekKooler Outdoor Insulated Floating Cooler is, by far, the coolest cooler around. Simply attach it to your kayak and off you go.
It has a dual-wall, blow-mold design with two inches of insulation to hold approximately 30 quarts and 20 pounds of ice.
Handles on each end allow you to attach it and tug it along. And with four drink holders in the deck, how great is a floating cooler!
Feelfree 25-Liter Cooler
Compact in size, the Feelfree 25 Liter Cooler has rubber gaskets, a carrying handle, a drain plug and a built-in bottle opener.
The padded top can be used as a seat and a foam-infused shell keeps everything cold or hot.
It’s designed to fit sideways in some Feelfree Moken Kayaks or lengthwise in Feelfree Lure Kayaks, as well as other sit-on-top kayaks, making it a great choice for kayaks, canoes and everyday use.
Handy Accessories For Your New Kayak Cooler
- Ice packs — Your typical lunchbox version works great, like these slim, long-lasting ice packs (check price on Amazon).
- Re-usable sandwich bags/boxes (check price on Amazon) — I love these re-closable plastic baggies for storing all sorts of things. However, I’ve found re-usable boxes (check price on Amazon) work best when there’s limited space. I’ve had more than one sandwich squished into a colorful bag of strawberry jelly and peanut butter. Lesson Learned? Limited space = sturdy accessories.
- Bungee cords Carabiners — Bungee cords (check price on Amazon) and carabiners are an outdoor enthusiast’s best friends. You can use the bungee cords (check price on Amazon) to tie down kayak coolers. Use a carabiner (check price on Amazon) to clip the cooler to a fastener or D-ring in the kayak.
Have you found your next kayak cooler?
Hopefully you’ve discovered a few tips to make the perfect purchase.
Keep paddling, friends!
Sandy Allen is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia. Her specialties range from hotels, islands and yacht charters to theme parks and family fun. She enjoys boating, snorkeling and jet-skiing along the waterways of Virginia, Florida and North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Follow her adventures at Somewhere in the Sand.