How To Choose The Best Kayaking Cooler

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When you’re out and about on the water this Spring. Summer, or Fall…you’ll want to do your best to stay cool. While kayaking, this can be tough to do as you might be doing many different things from it. However, we feel one of the best kayaking coolers will do wonders for you.

While you might go kayaking on your own or with friends just to paddle around aimlessly for a bit, others might go fishing. If this is something you plan on doing from your kayak, you’ll want a cooler to help keep the fish from spoiling too.

Sure, something that can hold ice for a while will be perfect for potential food and drinks you might take but you’ll find that they serve many purposes.

Before you go out and purchase a cooler, we wanted to let you in on some important information you need to know about them beforehand. Let’s get started.

Soft-Shell vs Hard-Shell

One of the many things that people should know about these coolers is the types that you can look into purchasing. There are many brands that make coolers but only two types one can buy technically. The two you’ll see are the Hard-Shell & Soft-Shell types.

The difference between the two is pretty easy to notice. However, there are some that might look one way but aren’t too. This is what you need to know.


For these cooler types, the outer shell is going to be hard and usually made from something quite powerful. Most are made from something like hard plastic or polypropylene, which makes the outer shell incredibly durable. They can withstand bumps, drops, and some can even handle gunshots.

On the inside, most have polyurethane, often 2 inches thick. This is what helps to keep the contents cool or warm, depending on what is put in them. These hard-shell types typically are capable of keeping the weather out, with latch-openings.

These are made for beach trips, sporting events, parties, etc. Therefore, you’re likely to see them all over the place. Most of the time, they are going to be relatively nice in size but more importantly, they are made to be durable. Therefore, kayaking with a hard-shell cooler makes sense.


Also called “Soft-Sided,” these types of coolers are often able to be quite small and you might have even taken your lunch to school in one of them. They are tough themselves, but usually have something soft to make up their outer shell.

This could be something like nylon, which is usually high in its Denier count.

This means you might see something like 700D in the description. The Denier count measures the thickness of different types of fabric. The higher the count, the thicker the fabric. A soft-shell cooler will need to be higher in its Denier count due to the thickness needed for their fabric.

They’ll also use polyurethane or something equivalent to it inside. They might also use other thermal closures such as zippers or coverings. This will help things of any temp stay whatever temp you need for a while. Various companies have their own particular stuff to use in this department, which will get to later on.

They’re great to take on trips, especially long car rides. Great for hiking, camping, and even fishing

Ice Retention & Liter/Quart Depth

The amount of time your cooler can hold its ice is a VERY important feature for any cooler, especially one of the best coolers for kayaking. However, the amount it can hold is also quite important too. Let’s break all this down.

Ice Retention:

The amount of time most coolers hold ice can be anywhere between 5 hours and a week, depending on how good they are as well as how big they happen to be. The average for most good coolers is usually around one to three days.

This does not mean that ice won’t melt at all in time. In fact, ice melting will most certainly depend on the environment you’re in. If you’re in a climate-controlled home, clearly the ice won’t melt for a while. However, under the hot summer sun at 90+ degrees? Yeah, ice will melt.

How long it takes it to melt completely will obviously, again, depend on the cooler. All the coolers we have added below will make it at least 16 to 24 hours and beyond.

Liter vs Quarts:

Most of the time, you’re going to see some type of information regarding how much a cooler will be able to hold. Since we’re covering the best coolers for kayaking, naturally, the type of cooler we need size-wise will differ from the type one might need for other needs.

Therefore, we’re going to be looking for something between 10 and 40 Quarts. However, some items will say Quarts while others will be in Liters. This is important to remember, as this difference can be critical.

Remember, it may not seem like a lot but it can add up. 1 Quart equals 0.95 liters. The higher things add up, the more it’ll be. For example, 40 Quarts is equal to just over 37 Liters. This can be the difference of a few pounds in weight it can carry, which means more or less ice and items.

Therefore, you need to keep this in mind heavily. For kayaks, you cannot get something too large, so you’ll want to make every bit of space count as a result.


When you think about the types of coolers you’ll be using, they need to fit the specific needs you’re going to have. That means every single cooler in this case, needs to be perfect for those who kayak. This means we need to find coolers that make sense for that specific need.

With both soft and hard-shell types out there, it’s clear that there are plenty of options for those who kayak. However, construction matters as this will help us determine how big we need it to be as well as how mobile it will end up being.

Yet other stuff matters too, such as the seams used or the number of them. Even things like laser welding or reinforced sections could be important. You also want the inner lining to be well put together too. Essentially, this is what will help keep things cool.

Therefore, it too needs to be well constructed and even relatively thick. Remember that the thicker the inner lining is, the more likely the contents inside will stay cool longer. This goes along with ice retention, of course.


For example, we’re looking for something that won’t go beyond 30 Quartz in size. While we could go larger, this is the highest we need for a kayak. Ideally, anything from 10 to 30 Quartz will do for our needs.

The reason for this is that we need it to fit the kayak, which is important for a list literally called the best coolers for kayaking, right? Therefore, the size needs to be considered as we want to make sure the cooler chosen will fit our kayak.

Another note on this is that the size you pick will also reflect how much you can take with you too. If you plan to fish, you’ll only be able to catch and keep only so many before your cooler is full.

Perhaps you’re planning just to kayak and camp out, which sounds cool. You can then only take the amount of cooled supplies your cooler can hold. Therefore, you also need to consider the size due to the activities you’ll take part in too.


Mobility is extremely important in this case, as you want to be able to take your cooler with you on your kayak. However, you also want to be able to take it off the kayak too. Therefore, if your cooler is very mobile, you won’t struggle to carry it around once you get off to fish, camp, or simply take a break.

You also want to be able to easily access it if you want to eat or drink something on the water. The most mobile coolers often have easier access as they want you to be able to grab and go.

Soft-Shell or Soft-Side coolers will also have straps to carry the cooler, or at least an easy to access and grab handle. Often, it’ll have both. Therefore, you won’t struggle to carry it around at all.

While many hard-shell coolers won’t have straps, they’ll at least have handles on the top or on the sides. Again, it could even be both. As long as there is a way to easily carry it around…you’re good to go here.


While this might not seem as important as the other stuff, the right materials can make or break a good cooler. As mentioned above, many brands use their own technology in their coolers. That is all well and good but the cooler also needs to have proper materials in its construction too.

This means, for example, a soft-side cooler needs to have something like a strong Nylon outer shell that is known for its durability. Meanwhile, hard-shell could be made from Polypropylene or even stainless steel. Both could work well for this type of cooler.

You also want it to be put together well, so all the materials need to make sense for the specific cooler. For example, hard-shell coolers do not need as thick of an inside portion as soft-shell coolers do. As the hard-shell is already adding a layer of thickness as protection.

Best Coolers For Kayaking



Ice Retention


Hydro​​​​​ Flask Soft Cooler Tote

24 Liters

48 Hours


Stanley Adventure Cooler

16 Quarts

36 Hours


Snow Peak Soft Cooler

11, 18, & 38 Liters

16 hours-2 days


Hydro Flask ​Soft Cooler Pack

22 Liters

48 Hours


Pelican IM Elite Cooler

30 Quarts

Up To 7 Days


Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Tote

Hydro Flask 24L Soft Cooler Tote
  • Price: $$$$
  • Quarts/Liters: 24 Liters
  • Ice Retention: Up To 48 Hours

The Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Tote may not always look manly, but it’s certainly worth every penny asked. As with many coolers, it’s waterproof and comes with proper latching. This makes it great for travel. Plus, it’s small enough at 24 liters to take on a kayak pretty much anywhere.

Soft-shell cooler, the Hydro Flask can hold ice up to 48 hours. It could easily be attached to the kayak, however, it could also be thrown over your shoulder and taken with you when you leave due to the attached strap. It’s adjustable and even removable. 

Yet if needed, handles are also added. This makes carrying a breeze.

AquaSeal Zippers are included to provide leakproof transport from Point A to Point B. The manufacturer claims water won’t get in our out due to these zippers.

While 25 Liters in size, it may not seem large or spacious when it most certainly is. 

Other great parts of the cooler include its True Access hinged top, designed to make accessing the cooler easier. It’s also very easy to clean. Meanwhile, it also uses a BPA-free liner that is free from all toxins, giving you a worry-free use every single time.

The base is compression-molded, which allows it to stand on its own. Plus, it helps it to not just tump over. It also has welded nylon attachment mounts, which will allow you to secure it to trailers and truckbeds. Of course, this obviously includes kayaks.

Stanley Adventure Cooler

Stanley Adventure Cooler - 16Qt
  • Price: $$
  • Quarts/Liters: 16 Quarts
  • Ice Retention: 36 Hours

The Stanley brand has been around for a little while now and has proven it belongs alongside the big boys in the industry. As one of the best coolers for kayaking, it needs to be able to handle everything that might come up.

This is a hard-shell cooler, meaning it is pretty durable. It uses a tough Polypropylene shell to ensure nothing is going to puncture through it. Latches on the outside will ensure it closes and remains that way.

On top of this, you’ll notice the leak-resistant gasket, which is perfect for letting out water when you want it to. 

On the inside, you’ll love the double-wall foam insulation. This will help to keep things cool for a long time. In fact, the ice retention for this cooler is a terrific 36 hours! 21 cans can fit inside this 15L or 16Q cooler too. Therefore, ensuring you have plenty of space.

Kayakers will love the space as well as the included tie-downs on the lid. This is perfect for additional items like a bottle or food jar. You’ll love taking this with you as you adventure through the water soon!

Snow Peak Soft Cooler

Snow Peak Soft Cooler
  • Price: $$$
  • Quarts/Liters: 11, 18, & 38 Liters
  • Ice Retention: Varies

The Show Peak Soft Cooler comes in three different sizes, so the specs on the item will shift depending on the version you get. The price obviously will too. The sizes are as follows: 11L, 18L, and 38L.

The 38L is the highest in cost, but be sure you make the distinction when you look into this. The cost we gave you above will reflect the cost of each one starting with the smallest and ending with the largest.

Each will be able to handle a different amount of ice, which also means ice retention won’t be the same. We do not have an exact number to give you for each. However, it is said that it can handle ice anywhere between 16 hours and 2 days. 

Due to size, the number of cans one will fit. for example, will differ too.

These are all soft-shell coolers, and use polyvinyl siloxane nylon for the exterior of the cooler. Inside is where the true magic is, however. The lining is made of aluminum coating to keep things perfectly cool. The zippered closure makes heat fight much harder to get in.

On top of this, kayak users will love that it utilizes adjustable handles. This will allow you to take it anywhere and attach it to the kayak with ease. Plus, take it off with ease as they step out to fish or even switch campsites.

Hydro Flask Soft Cooler Pack

Hydro Flask 22L Soft Cooler Pack
  • Price: $$$$
  • Quarts/Liters: 22 Liters
  • Ice Retention: Up To 48 Hours

Hydro Flask is back on our list, mainly due to its impressive and unique soft cooler pack. We feel it is one of the best coolers for kayaking because of the ease of mobility.

This is essentially an ice cooler that can be carried around like a backpack. This makes it perfect to take for camping. The straps used for carrying are durable and ergonomic, on top of being adjustable.

While it is only 22 Liters, the cooler turns itself on its side...literally. Therefore giving you good depth rather than width. Yet this works best for many people.

It takes up less space, which can be crucial when taking it with you on a kayak. The depth offered at just 22 Liters is incredibly useful. This allows you to stack stuff in like you would in a backpack, which allows you to carry everything around easier.

The outer portion of this essentially soft-shell cooler is made from very durable nylon, properly welded at the seams to ensure it’s completely leakproof. This will allow it to be protected from wear and tear issues. In spite of the design, it’s completely capable of free-standing on its own too!

Everything inside is protected by the Advanced TempShield insulation technology, which uses a form of soft-streamlined foam. This will keep everything inside the bag cool for at least up to 48 hours. This is perfect for those who want to take a few days out to kayak and camp.

Another great part of it is how it treats food left inside. The FDA Food-Grade Approved liner is BPA free and completely protects against any possible microbes or mildew, ensuring your cooler stays fresh the entire time you use it.

If that was not enough, like any other backpack, it includes numerous pockets, gear loops, and straps. This is perfect for holding bottles, trekking poles, possibly even a kayak paddle.

This thing is 100% designed for travel, ensuring you will be able to take it anywhere. Therefore, it has to stand out as one of the best coolers for kayaking on the market today.

Pelican IM Elite Cooler

Pelican IM 30QT Elite Cooler

Price: $$$$$
Quart/Liters: 30 Quarts
Ice Retention:
Up To 7 Days

Pelican is a notable brand in the world of coolers. While they do not make a cooler for kayaking exactly, they do have several options that could fit the bill. We felt the IM Elite Cooler was the perfect one as it’s incredibly durable and the right size we’d need.

It stands out as one of the best coolers for kayaking mostly due to being capable of handling anything that might come. It is a hard-shell cooler, meaning the outside is going to be hard as we mentioned above.

Upon seeing the IM Elite Cooler for the first time, you’ll notice right off how impressive it is in construction alone. You’ll also notice the cup holders on top which also double as bottle holders, yet could be used for holding small stuff like bait.

It is perfect for kayaking, as it’s only 30 quartz. This might seem big to some but it’s honestly not in the slightest, which is why it works so well for most kayaks. 

You’ll also notice the latches, which are press and pull. On top of this are the multiple tie-downs that will keep your cooler supported well, without it moving around. Along with that, you’ll see the molded-in hasps that add even more security, ensuring things stay closed when needed.

This is helpful, but so is the non-skid rubber feet. This makes it perfect for boats as well, as the rubber feet keep it from slipping around all over the place. If that was not enough, it also contains a bottle opener built-in and a drainage hold that closes perfectly when not in use.

The drainage hole will release that extra water when the ice finally melts. Speaking of ice, the ice retention for the IM Elite Cooler is what really makes it stand out. It has a freezer-grade seal, meaning no warm air will get inside that is not allowed by the user.

The ice will hold for an incredible 7 freakin days, people! Therefore, you could take it on camping trips, fishing expeditions, and much more. It’s perfect for things beyond kayaking, yet it’s also perfect for that too. It’s almost overqualified for every possible use.

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