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Kayak Coolers: The Best Coolers for Kayak Fishing in 2022

Written by: Pete D
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When the sun is so hot that you need to wet the shaft of your paddle to cool it down, having a cold beverage ready to drink is a life-saver. And if you’re bringing some of your catch home for dinner, keeping those fish fresh is essential.

A cooler is almost always a good idea on a kayak, and for anglers, it’s pretty much a must-have.

But like so many discussions related to outfitting a ‘yak, space and weight take priority. Many - perhaps even most - marine coolers are designed for larger boats, and pounds and pounds of ice and water. 

That’s just not practical for kayak fishing.

Instead, you need a cooler with soft sides, or at the very least, stern well-friendly dimensions. And it’s important that you keep weight down, too.

If that leaves you at a loss, we’re here to help! Below, you’ll find reviews of some of our favorite coolers for kayak fishing, as well as buying guide to get you up to speed quickly.

Quick glance at the best kayak coolers:

Related:

Best Kayak Coolers Reviewed

Perception Splash Seat Back Cooler - Best Seat Back Kayak Fishing Cooler

Perception Splash Seat Back Cooler - for Kayaks with lawn-chair style seats
 

For kayak anglers looking to keep their lunch and drinks cool, Perception’s Splash Seat Back Cooler is ideal. 

Easy to attach to any lawn chair-style kayak seat, the Splash seat back cooler saves precious deck and stern well space while still providing the insulation you need. It attaches via a bungee ball system that’s intuitive and easy to use.

Once in place, this cooler is relatively easy to access, though reaching down into the bottom can be a bit tricky.

On the outside, you’ll find fabric loops that are great for offering extra organizing options, as well as allowing you to attach Perception’s Splash rod holders. That’s a nice touch, and from pliers on a lanyard to those extra rod holders, you can count me as impressed.

Inside, after you unzip the water-resistant YKK zipper, you’ll find space for 10 to 12 cans and enough ice to keep them cold all day. The seams are welded, and Perception uses waterproof material, so weather shouldn’t drip from the inside as the ice melts, an essential of effective cooling.

I wouldn’t recommend this cooler for fish, however, as the interior will almost certainly get damaged. Moreover, I think you’ll have issues getting it well and truly clean.

The only flaw I can find with the Perception Seat Back Cooler is durability. If you strap this cooler down too tightly, pulling at the seams, they will eventually separate.

For anglers who need to store drinks and lunch, but for whom space in the stern well is at a premium, this can be a great option.

Pros:

  • Saves space
  • Attaches easily to most lawn-chair style seating systems
  • Insulates all day
  • Offers organizing options, including after-market rod holders and other accessories

Cons:

  • Not terribly durable
  • Can be tricky to reach the bottom

Pelican Sport ExoChill

Pelican Sport - ExoChill - Cooler Bag - Fit in Most Tank Wells - Removable Shoulder Strap and Handles On Each Side - More Storage Compartement - PS3012-00, Black/Grey, 18.701 in
 

Pelican’s Exochill is a great soft-sided cooler designed to fit in the stern well of virtually any kayak. And while the external dimensions measure 18.7” x 13.78” x 4.92”, it can be formed to shape wells that are smaller than that, if necessary.

The Exochill has a maximum capacity of 17 liters, which is more than enough for a dozen or so cans and probably lunch as well, in addition to the ice or ice packs you need to keep everything chilly.

The outside of the Exochill is durable and features plenty of strong fabric loops, so if you wish, you could move it to the bow, bungee it down, and save your stern well for other storage options. That’s a really nice feature of this cooler, making it something to consider for every angler.

The zipper and waterproofing layers in the Exochill work really well while it’s on its back, providing a mix of ice and water. But as soon as you lift this cooler, it will leak, getting you and possibly your vehicle wet.

For that reason, I recommend ice packs or frozen water bottles rather than loose ice, but be aware that this will reduce its ability to keep your food and beverage cold.

On the bow, I’d recommend this for fish as well, especially if you line the cooler with a strong plastic bag to reduce how messy the interior gets from slime, blood, and scales.

For anglers who want the flexibility of a soft cooler that can work just as well at the bow as the stern, the Exochill is a fantastic option.

Pros:

  • Fits in virtually any stern well
  • Can be strapped to the bow
  • Durable materials

Cons:

  • Leaks when you set it upright

Perception Splash Tankwell Cooler - Best Stern Well Kayak Fishing Cooler

Perception Splash Tankwell Cooler - for Kayaks
 

Perception’s Splash Tankwell Cooler is a more than worthy rival for the Pelican, offering greater space and equal durability.

Measuring 21.5” x 17.75” x 8”, this soft-sided cooler, like the Pelican, will fit in most stern wells. Those slightly larger dimensions add up to a 40-liter capacity, offering tons of space for drinks and food and the ice to keep them chilled.

If you’re carrying the refreshments for more than one kayak, the Perception is definitely the way to go.

On the exterior, you’ll find thoughtfully located D-rings that allow you to lash this cooler to the bow, saving stern well space if needed. And with a plastic bag liner, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this to store my catch. 

That’s another reason the increased capacity over the Pelican matters: you can fit more - and much larger - fish in this soft-sided cooler.

Like all coolers of this design, however, expect leaking if you stand it upright, which can cause problems in a vehicle during transport.

Ice packs or frozen bottles can work well, but keep in mind that they never provide the same efficiency as a proper mix of ice and water.

Pros:

  • Fits in virtually any stern well
  • Excellent capacity
  • Can be strapped to the bow
  • Durable materials

Cons:

  • Leaks when you set it upright

Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kayak Bag - Best Bow Kayak Fishing Cooler

Reliable Fishing Products Insulated Kayak Bag 20' x 36' -takes up less space and keeps your fish fresh and protected, no matter the elements. Produced in USA
 

If you’re in the market for a bow bag capable of holding big fish, look no further.

Reliable Fishing Products makes an insulated bow bag that’s designed with fish in mind, and it’s just perfect for that job.

Made from durable polyester, it offers insulation that’ll keep your fish cool all day, even in the hot sun. And at a full 36 inches long, this is a great choice for species like salmon, reds, specks, snook, and other fish that just won’t fit in a standard kayak cooler.

This bow bag is easy to strap down to your kayak via study handles on the front and sides or by clipping bungees to the fabric loops at the edge.

Pretty much waterproof until you turn it upright, I wouldn’t recommend transporting this in the interior of your vehicle unless you wrap it in a large garbage bag.

For anglers who fish for larger species and need a convenient, easy-to-use fish cooler, Reliable Fishing Products takes the top spot.

Pros:

  • Awesome capacity for big fish
  • Designed as a fish cooler
  • Can be strapped to the bow easily
  • Durable materials

Cons:

  • Leaks when you set it upright

YETI Hopper Flip

YETI Hopper Flip 12 Portable Cooler, Charcoal
 

Yeti is well-known for its high-quality, high-priced coolers, and they’ve proven their durability and effectiveness from the Keys to Kodiak Island.

The Hopper Flip is a great choice for kayak anglers who want a hard-sided cooler that’s going to keep lunch cold all day, slip easily into the stern well, and keep their car or truck dry on the way to and from the water.

That last part is what really separates this style cooler from the soft-sided models designed to ride in the stern well. At 14” x 11” x 14”, the Hopper Flip will fit in most kayaks, though the hard sides mean you need to measure first.

Easy to access from the seat, when prepped with the right mix of water and ice, you can expect all-day chilling no matter how hard the sun beats on this cooler. It will hold as many as 12 cans, or a few less than that and lunch as well.

It works, and it works well - but it’s ridiculously expensive for a small cooler!

The waterproof zipper is well constructed, though it can be a bit tough to use. But for anglers who want to keep themselves and their vehicles dry, the Yeti Hopper Flip is a great choice.

Pros:

  • Works well to keep beverages chilled all day
  • Fits in most stern wells
  • Doesn’t leak when you move it or transport it in a vehicle

Cons:

  • Ridiculously expensive!
  • The zipper can be hard to use

Engel 19 - Best Hard Sided Kayak Fishing Cooler

Engel 19 quart leak-proof air-tight drybox/cooler with rod holders (UC19T-RH),Tan
 

If you’re looking for a big, hard-sided cooler that’s kayak-friendly, Engel’s 19 is the one to beat.

At 21” x 11” x 13”, you’ll need to measure carefully, though most fishing kayaks should have space for this cooler in their stern wells.

If you do, you're in for a treat.

Available with four rod holders, this cooler has clearly been designed around the needs of anglers. And from an 18-liter capacity to a plastic tray to keep your sandwiches dry, this Engel is just great.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for fish, either, as it’s big enough and simple to clean with soap and water.

Watertight, too, it’s not going to leak or spill during transport.

If pre-loaded with the proper mix of ice and water, it keeps drinks cold all day and will have fish sleeping in no time, keeping them fresh till you're headed home.

My only complaint is the lack of handles. When you fill this cooler up and want to load or unload it from your ‘yak, a sturdy, comfortable handle on each side would go a long way.

Pros:

  • Works well to keep beverages chilled all day
  • Fits in most stern wells
  • Doesn’t leak when you move it or transport it in a vehicle
  • Big enough for large fish
  • Comes with four rod holders

Cons:

  • No handles!

What To Look For in a Kayak Fishing Cooler

It’d be nice if your kayak could fit a 50-quart ice chest, but that’s just not in the cards!

Wouldn’t it be nice if this would fit in your kayak?

Instead, you’ll need to pick a cooler that’s been designed around the needs of kayak anglers, and that means efficient, small, and cleverly thought out.

Keeping things cool

Kayak coolers don’t face ideal conditions.

There’s no shade on a kayak, and they’re going to be exposed to the sun. Without a doubt, that will reduce their ice retention time.

And to shrink them down to fit a stern well, there’s a hard-and-fast limit to how much insulating material can be built into their walls and lid. So you’re generally starting with a less than ideal situation to boot.

But there are steps you can take to maximize your kayak cooler’s effectiveness:

  • Start with a pre-chilled cooler - If your cooler’s small enough, stuff it in your freezer at home overnight. If that’s not an option, pre-chill your cooler with a bag of ice just for this purpose, adding fresh ice before you hit the water.
  • Mix bagged ice and frozen plastic bottles - Cubes cool better, but they also don’t last as long. Adding a frozen water bottle helps preserve the cold longer and gives you something refreshingly frigid to sip on.
  • Minimize empty space - Air is the enemy of cold. Pack your cooler as tightly as you can.
    If you’re using it to store drinks and lunch, top it up with ice or more beverages until you get a full cooler. But if fish storage is the idea, add rolled towels to take up any extra space.
    As you add fish, you can remove them to create more room.
  • Don’t drain the water - All that icy water helps preserve ice and keeps things cold longer. Don’t drain it out!
  • Keep the lid closed - Only open your cooler when absolutely necessary.

Durability

Gear takes a beating on a ‘yak, and from the stress applied by bungees to UV degradation, you need a cooler that’s as tough as a bad steak.

Space

Most stern wells are designed to fit a standard milk crate with a base measuring 13” x 18.25”.

But that’s just a general rule; measure, and measure carefully!

Hard-sided coolers can be a tight squeeze depending on the shape and size of your stern well, and many anglers prefer soft-sided models because they’ll be much easier to work with.

Clean-up

If you’re thinking about fish storage, clean-up needs to be a serious consideration. 

Hard-sided coolers take the nod here for easy washing, but finding one big enough for large fish that still fits in your ‘yak can be a challenge.

If you can accommodate something like the Engel 19, you’ve got it made. If not, take a close look at bow storage options like Reliable Fishing Products’ Insulated Kayak Bag.

Whatever you pick, it needs to be easy to clean with soap and water.

Leaks

Stern well soft coolers are notorious for leaking in an upright position.

That’s not much of a problem in a kayak, but when you lift the cooler to transport it, set it on the backseat in your car, or drop it in the trunk, leaking is a real issue.

And don’t even get me started about what can happen if you have a soft cooler full of fish!

I strongly recommend that you enclose this style of cooler in a large plastic bag while transporting it in a vehicle.

Final Thoughts

It’d be fantastic if a standard fishing cooler would fit your ‘yak, but that’s just not the real world.

Instead, you need to think about kayak-specific designs that are built around the need to save space while still providing adequate cooling. And while we can’t pick the right cooler for your fishing adventures, we can guarantee that any of the products on our shortlist today will provide performance in-line with our review.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so be sure to 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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