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Best Fishing Coolers Compared and Reviewed: 2020 Buying Guide

Last Updated: October 24th, 2020
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If you’re in the market for a new cooler, you’re probably asking if the premium price tags on high-end coolers are worth it.

The answer is probably yes.

With durability that promises decades of all-season performance, premium coolers are a breathtaking initial expense that makes long term financial sense. Spend a little more now, and save every year after as they work and work and work.

But before you shell out your hard-earned money, you need to know which brands and models are worth it. We’re here to help!

Below, you’ll find a buying guide, plus reviews of the best fishing coolers:

Under 50 quarts

Over 50 quarts

Related: Best Fish Scale, Best Fishing Nets, Best Fishing Knife

Best Fishing Coolers Reviewed

Under 50 quarts

Yeti Tundra 45 - Best Premium Small Fishing Cooler

YETI Tundra 45 Cooler, White

Amazon 

Capacity: 45 quarts

Weight: 23 lbs.

Dimensions: 25 ¾” x 16 ⅛” x 15 ⅜”

The Yeti Tundra 45 makes use of the best tech, materials, and engineering money can buy, and like all premium coolers, you can expect to pay for that.

But man, does this cooler work!

The Tundra 45 relies on relatively thick sides and lots of thermal mass, and when properly pre-cooled, it’s just amazing at ice retention. Four days or more is not unusual, and there’ll be real ice--not just a lot of chilled water--at that point.

That’s not unusual in the upper-echelon of coolers, but the build quality on the Yeti is astoundingly good.

Marketed as “bear-proof” by the company, I can completely believe that. Solid latches, bullet-proof hinges, and a finish that’s designed to take whatever nature can dish out: that’s what you’re buying with your hard-earned cash.

Expect drain plugs that are premium quality, screw-in designs. They’re as leak-proof as you can find.

The handles are comfortable, too, supporting the weight of the cooler with cordage that’s more than strong and tough enough for the job. They keep your hands out of harm’s way and make the task of lifting and moving a full cooler easier.

That’s critical, as a 23-pound cooler, a 12-pound bag of ice, a few beverages, and 20 pounds of fish are going to add up quickly.

To maximize the life of your ice, go with the white color option, and of course, keep the Tundra 45 out of the sun as much as possible.

Pros:

  • Excellent ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Bomb-proof durability
  • Superb handle design
  • Excellent drain plugs
  • Great hinge design
  • Very durable finish

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Heavier than less expensive, less insulating coolers

Grizzly Kenai 45 - Best Small Fishing Cooler for the Money

KENAI 45 Cooler, Orange, 45 QT, Made in USA

Amazon 

Capacity: 45 quarts

Weight: 26 lbs.

Dimensions: 28 ¼” x 16 ¼” x 15 83/100”

Kenai is building what’s been billed as a “Yeti killer,” and as far as I can tell, it’s earning this moniker.

About a third less expensive than the Yeti, the Kenai 45 offers pretty much the same performance. If the name brand is worth the extra cash to you, by all means, go with the Yeti, but if you’re looking to save a few bucks, the Kenai 45 will more than get it done.

Like the Yeti, the Kenai relies on thick sides, lots of insulation, and plenty of thermal mass. Pre-cooled, that yields ridiculous ice retention times even in blistering temperatures. It’s not unusual for people to get 5 to 7 day ice life--keeping whatever they're storing cold, not just cool, all week.

Seriously--the customers who are having trouble keeping ice solid are not following the instructions!

The latch, hinge, drain plug, and carrying handle design are very similar on the Kenai and Yeti, although to be honest, I prefer the slight variations Yeti offers. Only you can tell if they’re worth the extra cash, however.

And whatever the slight improvements of the Yeti, there’s no questioning that the Kenai is tough as nails. It’ll take years of abuse from the baking sun, bumps, knocks, and drops.

Be aware, however, that the Kenai is even heavier than the Yeti, packing an additional 3 pounds. If full-cooler weights have you worried, the Yeti might be the better buy.

Pros:

  • Great price for a premium cooler
  • Excellent ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Bomb-proof durability
  • Superb handle design
  • Excellent drain plugs
  • Great hinge design
  • Very durable finish

Cons:

  • Heavier than the Yeti
  • Heavier than less expensive, less insulating coolers

Pelican Products ProGear Elite - Best Wheeled Small Fishing Cooler

Pelican Elite 45 Quart Cooler (White)

Amazon 

Capacity: 45 quarts

Weight: 37.25 lbs.

Dimensions: 29 ¾” x 20" x 19 ¼”

Pelican Products ProGear Elite is a wheeled cooler ideal for anglers who walk a long way to and from their boats or fishing access points. And while not as easy to lift as the Yeti and Kenai, this cooler is much, much easier to transport across a large parking lot, down an endless boardwalk, or across a crushed-shell parking area adjacent to a boat launch.

It’s also a great option if you use your fishing cooler for other activities like camping, picnicking, or tailgating, as the wheels really do make moving a full cooler a simple task.

The ProGear Elite is no slouch on ice retention, using the same tech as the Yeti and Kenai. With proper pre-cooling, this cooler is practically a refrigerator, even in hot weather. Expect ice after days in the outdoors, which is far more than most customers ask of a 45-quart cooler.

Build quality is excellent, but keep in mind that this cooler is designed more for rolling than lifting.

The wheels are heavy-duty affairs that will spin on pretty much anything but loose sand. To engage them, you need to lift the handle high enough to clear the feet from the ground, allowing the wheels to engage. This is a clever design as it limits resting stress on the wheel themselves.

The handles are a simple molded design, strong enough for the job, but not as comfortable as those on the Yeti or Kenai. Honestly, you won’t be using them much when this cooler is full: at a touch more than 37 pounds empty, when you fill this cooler up, all but the strong will balk at lifting it into a truck bed, boat, or trunk.

The latches, hinges, and drain plug are quality, but not as durable as those on the Yeti and Kenai.

Overall, I recommend this cooler to anglers who really need the wheels for long walks. Otherwise, you’re better off with one of the other models on our list.

Pros:

  • Excellent ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Excellent wheels
  • Good durability
  • Good handle design
  • Good drain plugs
  • Good hinge design
  • Very durable finish

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Much heavier than comparably-sized coolers
  • Heavier than less expensive, less insulating coolers
  • Clearly designed to be rolled rather than lifted

Over 50 quarts

Yeti Tundra 65 - Best Premium Big Fishing Cooler

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler, Desert Tan

Amazon 

Capacity: 65 quarts

Weight: 29 lbs.

Dimensions: 30 ½” x 17 ½” x 16”

The Yeti Tundra 65 is essentially just the 45’s big brother, offering everything you’ll like about the smaller cooler in a bigger size. Expect premium components throughout, though you’ll pay for them!

The Tundra 65 is ideal for long fishing trips or larger groups of anglers. Indeed, it’s a great option anytime cooler space is at a premium, and you’ll find plenty of room for whatever you need to keep ice-cold.

Pre-cooled, the Tundra 65 will keep your drinks and fish at arctic temperatures for days, with ice retention times that are unbeatable in the industry. Chalk that up to thick walls, tons of insulation, and thermal mass that takes a chill and keeps it.

The hinges, handles, latches, and drain plugs are exact copies of those on the 45. Dependable, tough, and top quality: these are words to keep in mind when considering the money you’ll pay for this awesome cooler.

And while those handles were nice on the 45, on the 65--especially when full--they really come into their own. Full weights in excess of 80 pounds aren’t uncommon, and from their hand-saving comfort to their undeniable strength, you’ll be glad you have them.

Again, I recommend the white color to cut heat absorption as much as possible.

Pros:

  • Excellent ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Bomb-proof durability
  • Exceptional handle design
  • Excellent drain plugs
  • Great hinge design
  • Very durable finish

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Heavier than less expensive, less insulating coolers

Grizzly 60

Grizzly 60 Cooler, Orange, G60, 60 QT

Amazon 

Capacity: 60 quarts

Weight: 30 lbs.

Dimensions: 30 ⅜” x 17 ⅜” x 17 ¼”

Surprisingly, the Grizzly 60 isn’t just an up-sized version of the Kenai 45, but a big cooler that stands alone. Built tough and packed with insulation, it’s designed to compete with the larger Yeti, but it isn’t quite there yet.

Let’s start with the good.

The handles on the Grizzly 60 are comfortable and strong, offering grip and reassuring integrity when under heavy loads. Similarly, the latches and hinges are solid, well-made, and obviously durable. Ditto on the drain plug.

Clearly, Grizzly thought this design through carefully, and there’s nothing to fault here. Expect quality on par with the Yeti, no question.

On ice retention times, however, I’m forced to give the advantage to the Yeti. For whatever reason, the Grizzly just can’t keep ice for quite as long as the Yeti, even pre-cooled, in a head-to-head comparison.

Normally, I wouldn’t give that a thought, but here’s the rub--the Grizzly 60 is offered at an identical price point to the Yeti.

Why pay for less ice?

Pros:

  • Great ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Bomb-proof durability
  • Superb handle design
  • Excellent drain plugs
  • Excellent hinge design
  • Very durable finish

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Can’t keep ice as long as the comparable Yeti

Igloo IMX - Best Big Fishing Cooler for the Money

Igloo IMX 70 Quart Lockable Insulated Ice Chest Roto-Molded Cooler with Carry Handles, Tan

Amazon 

Capacity: 70 quarts

Weight: 25.8 lbs.

Dimensions: 31 11/100” x 20 8/25” x 18 ¼”

Igloo is an old name in coolers, and to some degree, it’s also a name that’s been eclipsed by high-tech newcomers like Yeti.

But the IMX is worth a serious look, as it’s significantly cheaper than the alternatives and offers ice retention times that are just as good.

The IMX sports the features you’d expect given its competition: rock-solid hinges and latches, a screw-in drain plug, and comfortable, strong handles.

In fact, I like the handles on the IMX a lot and think they’re perhaps the best of the bunch!

Overall, I’d say it’s not quite as tough as the Grizzly or Yeti, but then you pay a lot for a little extra durability with those choices.

Ice retention is simply excellent, especially if pre-cooled. Many customers report 7 to 10 days with hard ice if some care is taken, making this an exceptional buy for long fishing trips.

The IMX offers plenty of space, and for a big cooler, it’s mighty trim at just 26 pounds! Full, you’ll still struggle with the weight, of course, but this cooler’s a lot lighter when empty than the 60s that top our list.

If you’re looking for a premium option that won’t break the bank, the Igloo IMX is a great place to start.

Pros:

  • Excellent price for performance
  • Outstanding ice retention times, especially if pre-cooled
  • Very durability
  • Excellent handle design
  • Superb drain plugs
  • Great hinge design
  • Very durable finish
  • Lighter than competitors

Cons:

  • Not as durable as the Yeti and Grizzly

What We Consider When Selecting a Fishing Cooler

Durability

A marine cooler is going to see a lot more sun and heat than the models you might see holding drinks at a tailgating party. 

That may not seem like a big deal, but if you’ve ever seen the beating long-term UV exposure doles out to plastics, you’d be worried about the longevity of your investment!

Good coolers don’t come cheap, so you want them to last. And from blistering to warpage, cracks to compromised gaskets and broken drain plugs, I’ve seen it all.

The best fishing coolers are built tough.

They’ll sport beefy handles, bomb-proof hinges, indestructible drain plugs, and an exterior finish that’s designed to resist UV degradation.

Ice retention time

Every cooler on our list will keep your ice cold all day, no sweat.

ice retention

If you need ice retention that’s measured in days rather than hours, you’ll need to pay for that performance! 

But for some anglers, that’s not enough.

If you’re planning a long canoe fishing expedition, you might be measuring your ice retention time in days rather than hours. And my friends who made a trip down to the Yucatan to fish for bass were so remote that new ice was impossible to find! Instead, they had to rely on what they had in the cooler from Texas.

In situations like these, very long ice retention times can be critical.

All the coolers we recommend will keep your ice frozen for at least 4 days if you use proper icing techniques.

  • Start with a pre-chilled cooler - Pre-chill your cooler with a bag of ice a few hours before you load your “using” ice.
  • Mix regular bagged ice and large frozen ice like frozen plastic bottles - Ice cubes chill contents quickly but melt faster. Mixing them with large frozen chunks will extend the life of your ice.
  • Minimize empty space - Air pockets and empty space burn through your ice quickly. Fill that room with tightly packed towels, removing the filler as you add fish.
  • Avoid direct sunlight - This is a no-brainer. Keep your cooler out of the sun if at all possible!
  • Don’t drain the water - Unless you need to relieve weight or keep foodstuffs dry, don’t drain the water! It’s very, very cold and will help extend the life of your ice.
  • Keep the lid closed - Every time you open the cooler, you let hot air in. Only lift the lid when you really need to.

Handles

This is an often overlooked aspect of selecting a new cooler, but it deserves your full attention.

cooler handles

Strong, comfortable handles are essential on big coolers like this 70-quart Igloo.

If you’re lucky, you’ll end your day with a full cooler of fish. And as you’ve undoubtedly learned the hard way, 20 pounds of ice, 10 pounds of cooler, and 50 pounds of redfish gets heavy fast!

I’ve had cooler handles let go under this kind of weight, making the cooler all but useless afterward, and potentially spilling my fish into the water.

Look for the sturdiest handles you can, and make sure they’re not going to eat your hands when the cooler’s full.

Drain plugs

Good drain plugs are critical.

cooler drain plug

Screw-in drain plugs, like this one from Yeti, are essential for long service life.

I’ve been fishing in places where the water in the cooler needed to be reserved for drinking, and trust me, when the mercury is sky-high and you’re looking for a glass of cold water from your cooler, you want drain plugs that don’t leak!

But far more often, you want the plugs to allow you to vent water from your cooler when water threatens to flood your food.

Most designs work well--though the issue is often long-term durability.

Look for sturdy designs that aren’t going to fail after a few months in the sun.

Size

In my experience, 50 quarts is the cut-off point.

Good luck fitting this nice tuna in a small cooler!

What I mean by this is simple: for day fishing for most species, 50 quarts is enough ice and space for your catch. But if you’re making a multi-day trip where you’ll be storing each day’s catch in the same cooler, go big.

50 quarts won’t be enough if you do well!

Final Thoughts

If you want all day, every day performance from your fishing cooler, you’ll need to throw down a few bucks more than you might like to. But the ice retention time and durability you gain will be worth every penny!

We hope we’ve helped you make the best choice for your needs and budget, and as always, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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