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Fishing Coolers – At-a-Glance
It’s not just all about how cool a cooler keeps its contents!
Here are some features and factors you should be considering when in the market for a new fishing cooler.
Type of cooler – ice chests, cooler bags, floating coolers…there’s a lot to choose from.
Use – do you need it for live bait, your catch, some beers – or all of the above?!
Insulation – the unit’s ability to cool the contents – and keep them cool.
Size and capacity – how much can it hold, and how large/bulky is it as a result?
Portability – how easy is it to transport the cooler?
Extra features – does it come with any other useful additions?
Cost – some coolers can be exorbitantly expensive, so be sure to stay under budget.
With those points in mind, let’s dive into our reviews of the best fishing coolers in 2023.
Kayak fishing is serious fun, but you have to be smart with your storage choices.
This bag will allow you to do exactly that.
The shape of the bag fits perfectly, either on top of your kayak or potentially inside. And has plenty of zips and pockets for storing extra bits too!
But how does it work as a cooler?
The main section of the bag is lined with closed-cell foam and finished with an ECO-friendly tarpaulin lining. This stops condensation formed around your cold things making wet patches where you don’t need them, it also helps when you need to clean it.
Getting it to your kayak couldn’t be easier as there are numerous padded handles and straps.
Sometimes it can be a bit awkward to access your things in a kayak, however, this bag has a large central zip giving immediate access.
Reward: The best fishing cooler for kayaks
Easy access pockets make storing several items really easy.
The interior foam works really well and should keep your things cool all day long.
The top of the bag is sealed with Velcro. Whilst this is convenient it means it isn’t entirely waterproof or leakproof.
It’s great to see custom solutions for kayak storage, the fact that this keeps your essentials cold is an additional bonus. This is a great choice if your fishing life is out on the waves.
I love things that offer several innovative ideas in one easy to carry package.
With this suggestion you’ll get a backpack, a cooler and a chair, so it’s really great value. The bag is lined with thick padding and insulated foam that keeps the interior of the bag cool. Two shoulder straps and numerous pockets allow you to use it as you would a fishing backpack.
And don’t forget…
When you have finished walking to your swim, just fold out the stainless-steel frame and have a seat!
This handy cooler is available in a range of colors and folds down to just over a foot squared, making it super simple to store when you aren’t using it.
If you don’t want to rely on a cooler for a seat, it might be worth considering a fishing chair, I’ve got a handy guide right here as to the best fishing chairs I’ve encountered. Why not pay it a quick visit?
Reward: Best multi use fishing cooler
The three in one solution is really clever, a walk, a seat and maybe a chilled drink, what could be better?
It’s actually pretty comfy to carry, even with the steel frame.
When the bag is fully loaded the bottom frame may be inclined to tip unless you are on entirely level ground.
If you were conservative with your tackle you could probably take this bag and little else to have everything you need for the day. That’s a good thing in my book. It’s pretty cheap too considering how much you get with each bag.
This is a dedicated fishing cooler, make no mistake. The bag features leakproof pockets as standard, which is ideal if you are going to be transporting bait or fish at any point during your day. The zipperless lid will give you quick and easy access to things you need quickly, such as food on the go.
What makes it so great for fishing?
For a start, it is extremely tough and rugged. Fishing can be a hardy sport so you need something that can keep up. Secondly, it is really easy to clean. With the best will in the world, the occasional leak can turn bad, especially if the bag is stored in the heat when not in use.
The best news is that this cooler comes in a range of sizes. So, you do have a lot of choices as to how much extra you want to carry. Another nice feature is that it has numerous straps making it a breeze to carry.
Reward: The toughest fishing cooler, bar none
The bag comes with an integrated heat barrier that reflects heat.
The padded shoulder straps are a really great touch (especially if you have more than a couple of cans).
The box is fairly rigid, this is fine for protecting the contents, but from a storage point of view could be troublesome if you have lots of other tackle.
This cooler works a treat. You would definitely be set for the day. Provided you have got room and don’t need to be too mobile it could be a really great choice.
When it comes to the cold it makes sense to invest in an igloo. This cooler means business.
What do I mean?
It’s really heavy duty. A blown hard plastic outer shell will keep the contents entirely secure; it’s practically bombproof. Everything about this fishing cooler box screams ‘solid’. From the rubberized ‘T’ style locking mechanism to the substantial padded handle and oversized stainless-steel hinges.
But how efficient is it?
As cooling goes this is the best of the best. It is so well insulated that you could leave an ice pack in there and find it still frozen 4 days later. It really is that good. Cool Riser technology even makes sure that no heat is lost through the base.
What makes it great for fishing?
It comes with a couple of great ‘extras’. These include an integrated ruler for measuring fish and tie-down points if you happen to be taking it onto a boat.
Reward: The best heavy-duty fishing cooler
Rock-solid construction, this is built to last.
Vastly superior insulation. Whatever goes into this handy box will be staying cold for a very long time.
When full, this cooler wouldn’t be particularly light and you have one option to carry it… The handle, so if you need your hands free, you are out of luck.
Provided you are going to stay in the same spot for a while, you won’t make a better choice. This box is the closest thing you will get to a working freezer whilst out fishing.
If it’s functionality you crave, this cooler has it in abundance. Let me show you its features.
The leakproof zipper keeps liquid safe inside and also stops rain from entering the bag and wetting the contents. Strategically placed handles and straps mean that it should be fairly straightforward to carry.
And there’s more.
The bag’s outer is strong and durable. It will take the odd knock and bump in its stride. If I told you it’s made of materials borrowed from hazmat suits and rafts would you get the picture with regards to its durability? They are both things that you don’t want to fail at the wrong moment for sure.
One feature I really love about this bag is that you can accessorize it. Optional extras include additional side pouches, bottle openers and attachable zingers.
Reward: The best multipurpose cooler for fishing
This bag is dynamic and versatile. The option to add extras is a nice touch.
It is durable and long-lasting. You wouldn’t need to buy another for quite a while.
At the end of the day it isn’t for long trips, the insulation will keep you going for a day, but not much longer.
Provided you don’t push its limits and open it conservatively, this cooler will do the trick. The numerous loops and side pockets make ideal storage space for other fishing essentials too. Overall a really great choice!
Yeti are a by-word for excellence when it comes to the world of coolers, and their products are up there with the very best in the business.
And while they do make giant ice chests, I’ve gone for the Roadie as a compact and portable option that’s just right for fishing.
Designed to be highly portable, they can easily fit behind the seat of your car, and this particular model is 10% lighter than previous offerings.
The rotomolded construction is thinner but still durable, and the permafrost insulation can keep ice for days. And when you need to clear everything out, there’s a no-drain plug that can empty the contents fast.
Reward: The best all-round fishing cooler.
Name to trust in coolers.
Lightweight, compact design.
Quick-latch for one-handed access.
Durable hinge system.
Very highly rated.
Yeti coolers aren’t the cheapest out there.
Yeti arguably manufactures the best coolers on the planet, and the Roadie is just perfect for fishing. Light and compact, yet durable and robust, this should last for years of fishing trips in even the toughest conditions.
To stand the best chance of catching fish, it’s important you keep your bait in excellent condition. And you can do just that with the help of the Engel liver bait cooler.
This unit features an aerated bait well to keep the contents safe from external temperatures and oxygen depletion.
The marine-grade body is injection molded, with self-stopping lid hinges, and water and airtight gasket seal.
A two-speed pump runs oxygenated air into an air stone, and the deep insulation ensures contents are kept cool as long as you need them to be.
A top hose port prevents leaks and helps to sustain maximum capacity, and it includes a full size pull net for selecting bait or when you need to change the water.
Reward: The best fishing cooler for live bait
Seamless marine-grade construction.
Stainless steel hardware.
Pump and 12V cigarette lighter adapter included.
Can convert to a standard cooler.
Reports that the pump isn’t the best.
This is an awesome bait cooler with aerator that will keep live bait in top condition – and yet it can still be converted to a normal cooler if required. You’re definitely getting a lot of bang for your buck here.
Not to be outdone by YETI, Pelican also manufactures some outstanding coolers and ice chests, and this is most definitely the latter.
Capable of holding a whopping 50 quarts of ice, this is a giant cooler for when you want to go big.
The closed cell foam insulation offers the best possible ice retention, and a freezer-grade gasket helps to keep things cold and protected.
Nothing is getting in, and nothing is getting out unless you want it to. Featuring cup holders, a bottle opener, and press/pull latches with molded tie downs, this is a versatile and practical unit for all types of angling.
And it’s as solid as they come, specially designed to take a beating and last a lifetime.
Reward: The best large capacity fishing cooler.
Tough, durable construction.
Non-marking raised feet.
A beast of a unit that might well be the only cooler you ever need. As I always say – go big or go home!
Sometimes we want to enjoy nice things, but on a budget. You’ll be able to do this with this fishing cooler. It’s relatively ‘no frills’ but simple solutions can often be the best.
For the money this bag is really well insulated, with three separately constructed layers, all melded to produce a cool environment within.
The bag is entirely waterproof, if you so choose to, you could pour a bucket of iced water inside and it would stay there for the day. Due to the bags lining it is also easy to clean.
What’s it like to carry?
Thick and chunky mesh shoulder straps will help you to keep your cool when you are carrying the bag.
The bag also features 4 extra external pockets, so whether you want to transport extra items or tackle it could be a good solution. Failing that, the best way to transport lots of gear is with a tackle bag. For some really great ideas on saltwater tackle bags have a look at this article.
Reward: The best budget cooler for fishing
A low price point, offering excellent value.
Handy pockets give ample storage space.
Ultimately you get what you pay for. For a single season this bag will hold up, but I don’t think it will be your ‘forever’ cooler.
If you are after a quick and easy cooling solution then this bag fits the bill nicely. It’s not too advanced, and isn’t custom built just for fishing but it has all of the features required to be a worthwhile consideration.
If you have had enough of carrying something why not use one of mankind’s greatest inventions…
What am I talking about?
The wheel of course! Rolling something is always easier than carrying it. The Igloo Trailmate Journey features two really substantial wheels, which will get over most moderate terrain without you breaking a sweat.
I think this cooler is super. You can even sit on the top of it once you have got it in situ. It makes an ideal platform for chopping bait, or even as a makeshift table if you are stopping for a bite to eat.
If you are chopping bait you may need a fishing knife. If you haven’t got one, they are invaluable tool, head on over to my guide here to see how great a fishing knife can be.
Cleaning is easy too, just fill it with water and pop the drain hole to rinse out the contents ready for next time you want to use it.
Reward: The best fishing cooler with wheels, perfect for beach fishing
Super sturdy construction, this cooler is like a miniature tank.
The wheels are suitable for all but the harshest terrain, if you can walk to your spot then this cool box should be able to cope.
The only downside I can see is the space that it occupies when not in use.
Easy to carry? Check. Well insulated? Check. Multipurpose? Check. What’s not to love. Provided, you aren’t climbing a mountain this cooler could be a perfect choice.
Buyers Guide to the Best Fishing Coolers
To keep anything fresh you have to keep it cold.
Knowing how to do that can be tricky. But I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to.
Let’s have a look at what you need to consider when buying the best fishing coolers:
Types of Fising Cooler
When you’re in the market for a new fishing cooler, you should be aware that there are multiple types to choose from.
Ice chests and crates – The largest of all coolers, these units will offer the highest capacity, and often the best insulation out of any other options. Solid and durable, but they can be a challenge to transport.
Cooler bags – Designed to be as portable as possible, they’re commonly of the soft shell cooler variety, but their portability is the trade-off for lower levels of insulation.
Floating coolers – Perfect for kayak fishing, floating coolers attach to your craft and can follow on behind when you’re short on space. However, their capacity is limited.
Kayak/tank well coolers – Designed specifically for kayak fishing, these coolers fit into a kayak’s tank well, either as a bag or as a crate, and might come with other features such as rod holders, or D-rings for gear.
What are you going to put in your cooler? When it comes to fishing, there are typically three choices:
Anything you catch.
Supplies for the day, lunch, cold drinks, etc.
A cooler is designed to keep all of the above contents as fresh and as cool as possible, but which one you’re putting in the unit will help you decide which unit you actually need.
Insulation in a Fishing Cooler
The basic aim of insulation is to keep things cooler for longer. By doing this you ensure that they stay fresh, whether that’s your sandwiches, your bait, or the nice trout you have just hauled out.
How does it work?
The aim of insulation is to keep warm air away from cold. Most insulation works by creating a layer of air between two different temperatures. Foam is a great way to achieve this, and it works in exactly the same way as the comforter on your bed, just in reverse.
Think about it…
The thicker your comforter the warmer you are when you sleep. Likewise, the thicker and more efficient the insulation in your cooler, the colder the temperature remains inside the bag or box. For a visual description of how insulation works, have a watch this one minute video.
When buying a cooler, the more insulation you can get, the better.
If you aren’t in the market for a cooler right now, but want to fish for a few days, why not see what you can get in the way of artificial baits, I’ve got a section on my website about carp fishing bait here.
Size and Capacity
How large do you need your cooler to be?
If you’re fishing from a bank, with a few buddies, then maybe you should choose a high-capacity cooler that can carry a lot of beers?
If you’re fishing from a kayak, perhaps a better choice would be a compact bag, or dedicated crate that fits in a tank well.
Remember, the larger the cooler’s capacity, the bigger the cooler’s overall size. It’s a cooler – it’s not the Tardis.
I went for a two-day session once where I entrusted a friend to bring a cooler. He did. It had 100 quarts capacity. We carried it 2 miles to our spot and two miles back, without even seeing a fish. We aren’t friends anymore.
Ideally, you want something portable. How portable depends entirely on the terrain and how far you are going to need to take it.
What are the best ways to transport a fishing cooler?
Well, I like to travel light so something I can carry on my back is ideal. Look for shoulder straps, padded handles or rucksack style coolers for the ultimate in portability.
If you need a little more capacity, don’t break your back humping a crate, wheels can make the journey so much simpler.
Leakproof Fishing Coolers
A leaky cooler has to be considered in two ways. First and foremost, especially if you are storing bait or fish, you want any run off to stay inside the bag, and not in the footwell of your car.
And the other way?
Well if you have food stored inside a cool bag you certainly don’t want anything unwanted making its way in and mixing. Bait sandwiches… Yuck!
The best way to achieve this is to look for features like no-leak zips. They are normally lined with rubber that prevents anything going in or out.
Some coolers come with some additional features to entice you into a purchase. It’s up to you to decide if they are useful or not.
They might include:
D-rings and other hardware.
Quality fishing coolers aren’t cheap, and invariably, the more money you pay, the better the standard of insulation.
I recommend staying within your budget, but purchasing something that reflects how much you’re actually going to use it.
And bigger/more expensive doesn’t always mean better. If you’ve followed the buyer’s guide, and chosen the right size of cooler for your needs, then everything else should fall into place.
Why do you need a fishing cooler?
If you are fishing for any significant amount of time then you will want to keep things cold. If you are looking to keep your catch then it is very wasteful to kill something only to have to discard it as nature has taken its course and it has begun to spoil.
In simple terms, the best cooler for fishing keeps your catch in the same condition as it was when you caught it.
The same can of course be said for food and drink, not to mention the benefits of fresh bait.
Fish bag vs fish cooler?
Well, it depends how we are measuring the contest.
If we are talking portability, a fishing bag will always win. They are compact, easy to carry and generally work rather well.
If we are talking about the length of time something is kept cool then the contest goes squarely to fishing coolers. They will keep anything colder for longer. The downside is of course that they are much more cumbersome to transport. But if you have the means, they may be the better option.
How long should a quality fish cooler be able to retain ice?
As a bare minimum, you should look for a cooler to keep ice for the same length as your average fishing session. That said ice staying frozen isn’t always that vital.
Your cooler may still stay cold for quite some time even when the ice has melted. However, once you reach that stage, by opening a cooler you will be allowing warmer air inside.
Most of my suggestions will last a day, and some even go up to 4 days.
How long can I keep fish in a cooler before it goes bad?
As long as the fish is kept at a temperature lower than about 5 degrees you will manage three or four days easily.
The aim of a cooler isn’t to freeze something. Consider it exactly the same as your refrigerator at home. Provided it stays cold inside your fish will be good for a day at least.
How to clean my fishing cooler?
Good fishing coolers should be really easy to clean. General household products should be enough. Hot soapy water and a wipe down will remove any unpleasantness.
Some fishing coolers feature drain holes, making sluicing out even easier. Other things to look for ease of cleaning or smooth linings and a lack of corners.
What size cooler for fishing do I need?
This all depends on the size of fish you are hoping to catch (or how many beers you want to bring). For bigger fish like salmon, or some sea species you will generally want a larger cooler.
But this comes with a word of caution…
A bigger cooler doesn’t mean colder. The greater the amount of empty space in your cooler, the less efficient it will be at keeping cool.
My general advice is to pick one that is based on reality. How many fish can you realistically catch and how many will you keep.
In counterpoint to this make sure you have ample room. If the fish is too big and you can’t fit it in then warm air can make its way into the cooler, severely restricting its efficiency.
Unless you are going for a few days, or expect to catch huge amounts of fish in one go (lucky you) then it makes sense to go for something moderately sized. If you watch this video you can catch a glimpse of the Igloo Trailmate, and see what happens when you catch too many fish.
Fishing coolers are essentially like mobile refrigerators. And I hope in my list of the best fishing coolers in 2023 you have gained some insight into what makes them great.
They should be portable, easy to use and most importantly, keep your catch nice and cold.
What’s the biggest fish you have ever put in your cooler? Why not let me know in the comments section below?