Kayak coolers are a must-have option for any paddler or any boater for that matter. Whatever the season is, spring, summer, fall or winter, there’s no better way to keep your food, drinks, and even personal items cool to cold, or dry and warm than the right cooler.
How to Decide What Kayak Cooler is Best for You
There are hundreds of coolers on the market. Most are designed for camping, picnicking, and land-based events. But what about if you’re looking for something to tow behind your kayak or raft? Your options narrow. Most people buy a regular cooler and try to “make it float” or fit, or somehow adapt to a watery environment. They end up finding out their lunch gets wet, their drinks get warm, and their ice melts. Picnic coolers are meant to have their ice last for a few hours while perched on the end of a picnic table, not to weather rapids, waves, rocks, and constant motion on the water. If you’re a serious paddler, bite the bullet and invest in the real deal—a kayak cooler. You’ll be glad you did.
Here’s what you need to know before buying a kayak cooler
Where are you going to use this kayak cooler most?
Are you really an avid paddler, spending every minute you can on the water? Your cooler will likely take a bit of a beating. You need something heavy duty. Definitely opt for something designed to be towed behind or alongside a small boat — like the CreekKooler. Are you a fisherman, hunter, backpacker too? Are you thinking about using the cooler for a variety of sporting events – as well as camping, picnicking etc.? Look for a kayak cooler like the CreekKooler that is first a kayak cooler, then suitable for other activities.
How much space, what size cooler do you need?
Coolers come in all sizes—from the individual lunchbox cooler—perfect for stashing in a dry well in your kayak, to a raft and tour guide cooler designed to hold a week’s food for six hungry paddlers. Space and size matter. Many paddlers have multiple coolers, depending on what their adventure looks like. Even if you do buy a large cooler, consider buying a personal cooler as well. It ensures you have your food, your drink, and your stuff on your boat with you—a huge advantage if you get separated, or simply want to dig into some snacks before the group calls a time-out for lunch. Plus, if you’re not the boat in charge of towing the cooler, you won’t have to find and paddle over to the person who is. Are you buying the cooler for yourself or a club?
Figure out how many people will typically be using the cooler on any given outing. If you’re a Scoutmaster, church or another community group, large family, tour guide, you may want to consider having a variety of coolers for different events.
How often are you going to use this cooler?
Are you an occasional paddler? Do you only get out on holidays or the rare weekend, or do your fingers never stop being waterlogged prunes? You sleep in your swim trunks, and the only time you dry out is when you sleep at night. The more you plan to use your cooler, the sturdier it should be, otherwise, you’ll just spend more money replacing it. If you’re using the cooler 2-4 times a summer, don’t invest a ton of money into it. If you plan to use it weekly, or for a long vacation where it will see daily use, definitely invest in it. The extra money you spend to ensure you don’t have to see your food and drinks floating down the river because of a cheap latch is worth it. The more insulation a cooler has, the longer the ice will last. An o-ring or rubber seal
will also keep cold air in, and hot air out – ensuring your food and drinks stay cold longer. But, all that costs more. It’s up to you, but get a cooler guaranteed to last at least two-days, if not three.
Do you do more tubing than kayaking?
Do you spend more time in an innertube in a pool, lake or river than in a boat? You still want to get something that floats, but without investing a lot of money. You’re probably not bouncing off of rocks, and you don’t need a cooler that will survive a zombie apocalypse. Think about buying an Intex Mega Chill II Float Cooler. You can use it with an existing picnic cooler, but also use the inflatable cooler that comes with it. It takes up less storage space too.
What are you carrying in your cooler?
You’d be surprised at the stuff people pack in their coolers. Sure, there’s beer, soda, alcohol etc., but people also fill their coolers with everything from camera gear to toilet paper.
Fishermen use coolers as “live wells” – places to keep their fish cold or alive while they keep fishing. Photographers need a dry box, something to keep the water away from their gear. Just because people call it a cooler doesn’t’t mean all it’s good for is ice and a few six-packs. If you’re like most people, however, you probably will use your cooler for just that—ice, drinks, and food. That’s cool too.
How much ice will you need?
Most river trips, whether you’re rafting, kayaking, fishing, hunting or just hanging out in the water last a minimum of 4-to-10 hours. You need a cooler that will keep ice at least a full day under hot conditions. That means more insulation, a heavier cooler, and an o-ring to keep the cold air in and the hot air out.
How active are you?
There’s a huge difference between floating around in your pool and careening off of boulders, or through waves on a decent class 3 river. If you’re going to be active—like packing this cooler in and out to a river, on whitewater, anywhere near rocks or boulders, you’ll need a heavy duty cooler that can stand up to some abuse.
After the summer’s over, heck, after the trip’s over, we all have to store that cooler somewhere. Most people toss it into an attic or garage, deck, or the carport until it’s time for the next float trip. That’s great if you have the space to do that, but what if you don’t? Consider an inflatable cooler, like the Intex Mega Chill II Float Cooler. You get a float and a separate inflatable cooler as well. This is a great cooler for both kayakers and pool junkies.
Hard or Soft?
There’s a lot to be said for both soft-sided and hard-sided coolers. Soft-sided coolers fit into the odd spaces and under seat places, hard-sided coolers can’t go. They’re lightweight, inexpensive, and often have an outside zipper pocket where you can put utensils, keys, and a cell phone (In a separate waterproof pouch of course) or wallet. They come in a variety of colors and are easy to carry, and most will float if you drop them overboard. The IceMule is a great option if you like a cooler you can carry like a backpack.
Hard sided coolers are more durable, obviously. They can handle rough treatment better, and don’t mind being bounced around in a car trunk, or the back of a pickup. They last longer, and are easier to insulate more.
Hard Sided Kayak Cooler Pros:
- Better Insulated so ice lasts longer
- Can often act as a dry box (with an o-ring or seal designed to do so).
- They can be locked to a tree, car, or picnic table to avoid theft
- Can double as a seat in camp or riverside
- Often come with cup holders
- Usually a great color choice
- Handles are bigger and beefier
Hard Sided Kayak Cooler Cons:
- They’re Lugging them farther than 10-30 feet is difficult when they’re filled with ice and drinks.
- Color choice is limited
- Tend to retain odors if not properly cleaned
- Expensive if you buy a good one
- Hard for one person to carry
Soft Sided Kayak Cooler Pros:
- Easy to lash to your boat
- Fit into odd spaces better
- Lightweight, easy for one person to carry.
- Less expensive than hard sided cooler
- Usually a good range of color choices
Soft Sided Kayak Cooler Cons:
- No cup holder
- Handles can tear or be harder on the hands than hard handles
- Don’t last as long (usually one season) as hard sided cooler
- Ice melts faster
- Can’t double as a dry box
Things to look at on any kayak cooler
Not all coolers are created equal, but most coolers have the same features and parts that make or break them. Look at things like the latches—what keeps the cooler securely closed. Are they high quality or flimsy? Are they made of plastic and rubber, or steel? How loose or tight are they?
Is there an o-ring or seal around the opening? Does it seem securely attached? Is it thick and durable or flimsy? Does the company warrantee the parts of the cooler as well as the cooler itself? Can you order replacement parts for the cooler if something breaks? Some companies won’t or don’t sell replacement latches, hinges, or o-rings, meaning you’ll have to replace the entire cooler if something breaks.
The Top Five Kayak Coolers for 2018
It’s hard to beat a cooler that lets you keep beverages inside and outside the cooler, but this floating cooler does just that. Whether you’re towing it, or using it onshore, your drink is always handy. Plus, by using the CreekKooler, you save space in your kayak, leaving what storage space you do have available for camping gear while you simply tow the CreekKooler behind your boat. What we love most about this sweet cooler:
- Keeps stuff Two inches of insulation is injected into the hull and deck, giving the CreekKooler an ice retention of 48 hours.
- Huge This cooler has a 30-quart capacity. That means it will hold (30) 12- oz cans and 20lbs of ice. Can you say “party”?
- Easy to Tow the CreekKooler behind kayaks, canoes, Jon boats, stand-up boards, or any small boat can haul it easily. It floats in the water or you can drag across dry ground. The heavy-duty construction can take it. There are also comfortable handles you can use to carry it, or team up with a friend to carry – after all, 20 pounds of ice and 30 12-oz cans of your favorite beverage can get heavy.
- Dry Yes. You heard us right. This is not your grandmother’s cooler. The CreekKooler has a watertight, locking lid and o-ring design to make it a secure
storage on the water or in the snow. Take it duck hunting, fishing, camping, or touring. Use one to hold gear and personal items, another for drinks and food. There’s no rule that says you only need one. The more the merry.
- You won’t find this design anywhere The CreekKooler has a patented design and features you won’t find anywhere else— things like a dual-wall, blow molded construction, and four drink holders located on deck so you don’t have open it to get to your drink.
If you need a cooler that will do double duty as a cooler and a dry-box, the Engel USA Cooler/Dry Box gets a 10 out of 10. Okay, so a 9.8 out of 10 on Amazon. The latch stays locked, even when flipped upside down in a kayak. No water gets in, no water or ice gets out. It comes with four removable fishing rod holders as well.
What we like about it:
- Weight means When you’ve got to carry stuff on and off the river, or camping you worry about weight. This cooler is only 6.6 pounds and comes with both a carrying strap and a handle.
- Whether you’re a photographer, or simply need someplace dry to toss your cellphones, this cooler/drybox keeps your stuff dry – as long as you’re not throwing ice in it of course. As a dry box, it’s a very affordable option for keeping your electronics, ammo, guns, or technology dry.
- Military grade Chances are you’re not going to actually need a military grade lunchbox/cooler, but isn’t it nice to know you can drop this thing on a boulder, into the river, or on the path and it’s going to stay closed and water-tight? Yeah. We like that too.
- No wet sandwiches or soggy The Engel USA Cooler/Dry Box comes with 6″ x 9″ tray 2.5″ deep, it sits elevated on the lip of the cooler, out of the way of melting ice so your stuff stays dry. Just don’t flip it upside down. No one has devised a way to battle gravity yet.
- Fishing pole Yeah, they’re designed to hold fishing rods, but they also hold golf umbrellas, fishing nets, flag (diving flag) or other items. Versatile.
Not everyone has space (think dorm room, RV, van or motorcycle) to store a cooler when they’re not using it. Inflatables to the rescue.
What we love most about this cooler:
- No need to get out of the Whether you’re relaxing in your pool, or paddling down a great river, there’s no need to get out of the pool or off the water to get a nice refreshing beverage when you have an Intex Mega Chill 2.
- Floating The float cooler’s base can also be used as a floating base for a cooler up to 48 quarts. Use your hard-sided cooler in the base, and give the soft- sided cooler to another paddler to use with their boat. Both float.
- Includes a removable ice With three air chambers even if you spring a leak, it’s not going to sink. The removable ice chest holds up to 72 cans and 20 pounds of ice.
- Six built-in cup Four durable handles. Repair patch.
- If you already have a hard shell cooler you love, use this as a floating base for a cooler up to 48-Quarts.
- 4 Heavy duty No matter how much ice, drinks, and food you pack into this cooler, you’ll be able to carry it anywhere.
- Repair patch It’s an inflatable, so Murphy’s Law says at some point you’re going to run into something sharp enough to puncture it. The good news is, you’ll have a repair patch to fix it without having to go find and buy one.
The IceMule looks more like a drybag, which is really sort of what it is—only with extra insulation and features that make it a perfect cooler. The patented MuleSkinEV fabric is more than 2x thicker than most soft coolers. The IceMule Classics inner and outer layers create a durable shell that protects the PolarLayerTM insulation. Manufacturers claim this bag will stand up to the toughest demands. Will it keep the contents cold? You bet. PolarLayer Insulating foam keeps contents cold for up to 24 hours. Plus – only the IceMule’s IM AirValveTM lets you add air for extra insulation. The IM AirValve is a unique feature that allows air to be added to the insulation layer (enhancing insulation) and releases air so the cooler can roll up for travel & storage. The IceMule is considered a large sized cooler. It measures 12-inches in diameter is 16-inches tall. It can hold up to 18 cans plus ice or 6 bottles of wine plus ice. This is an excellent cooler for
sailers as well, since the soft sides, and padded fabric will fit into the odd holes and storage wells on a sailboat, will float, and can easily be carried by one person.
What we like about the IceMule is:
- Designed to keep ice intact up to 24
- Rolls up for easy storage; Padded backstrap for easy carrying
- Waterproof welded seams & no zippers; It even floats
- Holds up to 18 cans plus ice or 6 bottles of wine plus ice
- Measures 12-inches in diameter and is 16-inches tall
Last, but not least on this list is the Vibe Element. This is a very durable, one piece roto molded construction with up to 3-inch insulated walls with freezer style lid gasket, and heavy duty rubber T-latches. Did we mention it has two built in bottle openers?
The Vibe costs more, but delivers more. It’s comparable in performance to a YETI, but not in price—the Vibe is much more affordable. You can buy replacement parts from Vibe, if you ever need to.
- 20 Quart Volume: Based on half drink/half ice ratio: Fits 16 cans
- Comes in camoflauged design for hunters, fishermen
- Latches are strong rubber toggles, ensuring a tight fit
- Features integrated pressure release button, rapid flow drain spout, heavy duty padded handle, and non-skid rubber feet to keep cooler off hot surfaces
- Features two built in bottle openers, molded tie down slots, and integrated locking system.
- Users report ice lasts 4-to-6 days
- The hinge goes across the whole back so that ice cannot get stuck in it
- Lid features a measuring board in centimeters and inches
How to Ensure Any Cooler Stays Cool
Why do some users report their coolers don’t keep ice cool, or work as well as other people with the same coolers? It’s not always about the temperatures, it’s often about how you prep your cooler.
- Precool your Add ice to it the night before your trip, then pour of any water in it the next morning. This helps pre-cool the cooler and makes your ice last longer.
- Precool your food and Your icebox will keep ice longer if you cool down the contents to go inside first. Place your food items in a fridge overnight, or at least for a few hours. Pput the cold contents into the icebox. This keeps your ice from having to cool the contents down, which in turn makes the ice last longer.
- Keep the cooler out of the This is hard to do when you’re in the middle of a river, but when you do go ashore, make sure to move your cooler into the shade. If there is no shade, turn your kayak over and place it under the kayak, or string up a simple tarp. The more heat you can keep off of your cooler, the longer the ice will last.
- Use Block ice, not cubes or crushed Both cubes and crushed ice are full of space and air which means there isn’t much actual solid ice, so it melts quickly. That leaves
you with an icebox of cold water. Block ice is, well, it’s a solid mass of ice. It will keep your icebox just as cold as crushed ice but won’t melt as quickly. If you can’t find a place to buy block ice, consider freezing individual or gallon size bottles of water. As they melt you can also drink them. Remember not to fill them all the way to the top. Leave about 2- 3 inches at the top to allow the water to expand as it freezes.
- Add some salt. If you only need cold cans, and not actual ice to put into your drinks, this is a great trick. Adding salt to the water before freezing lowers the freezing temperature of the water. This means that your ice will actually be colder than frozen fresh water. Using seawater, or making a brine mix at home, will work even better than adding your own salt to the water.
- Avoid opening your We know. The whole point of a cooler is, well, cold drinks! Remember your mother yelling “You’re letting all the cold air out!” when you stood in front of an open refridgerator door while you tried to decide what you wanted? Yeah. Same thing with a cooler. Every time you open your icebox not only do you let the heat in but you let the cold out. Avoid opening your icebox too much, and try not to open it wide
open and leave it open while you’re deciding what you want. Pack your cooler with the things you’re going to need first, last. Meaning, if you plan to get to your drinks before your cold
cuts and sandwiches, then pack the lunch meat first, and your drinks last. This way the
drinks are on top and you don’t have to dig for them. Think about putting snacks into different colored containers, or labeled baggies so you can find them quickly.
- Rather than opening the main icebox every 10 minutes to grab another cold drink, move some of your drinks to a smaller icebox or soft-sided cooler That way as you’re headed downriver, you only have to open the main icebox once you get to camp, yet you don’t go thirsty.