Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Fishing Cooler: Key Features, Top Picks, and Quick Answers
If you're an avid fisherman, you know that a reliable and efficient cooler is an essential piece of equipment. But with so many options on the market, how do you determine the best fishing cooler for your needs? Look no further! In this article, we'll delve into the key features to consider when buying a fishing cooler, explore the different types available, and highlight the top picks on the market in 2023. Whether you're angling for trophy fish or simply enjoy a weekend by the water, finding the best fishing cooler is crucial for keeping your catch fresh and your beverages ice-cold. Let's dive in and uncover the ultimate companion for your fishing adventures.
Key Features to Consider When Buying a Fishing Cooler
A. Drain Plug
One of the most important features to look for in a fishing cooler is a drain plug. A drain plug allows you to easily remove melted ice and water from your cooler, which helps keep it clean and prevents the growth of bacteria and contaminants.
When selecting a cooler with a drain plug, ensure it is easily accessible and user-friendly. Some drain plugs are located at the bottom of the cooler, which makes them difficult to access and use. Others are located on the side, making them much more convenient.
B. Wheeled Cooler
If you plan on transporting your cooler to and from your fishing spot, a wheeled cooler can be a great choice. It makes it much easier to move your cooler, especially on rough or uneven terrain.
When choosing a wheeled cooler, look for sturdy wheels that can handle tough conditions. Also, consider a cooler with a strong handle and good balance, making it easy to move even when fully loaded.
C. Ice Retention
When selecting a fishing cooler, one of the most important factors to consider is its ability to hold ice. You want a cooler that can keep your catch cold for an extended period, particularly for multi-day fishing trips.
To assess a cooler's ice retention capabilities, look for good insulation and a tight-fitting lid. Additionally, ensure the cooler has a strong seal around the lid to keep cold air in and hot air out.
A leak-proof cooler is essential when it comes to fishing. You do not want to worry about your cooler leaking and damaging your fishing gear or vehicle.
When searching for a leak-proof cooler, look for sturdy construction and a reliable gasket around the lid. This helps prevent leaks and keeps your cooler watertight.
E. Reliable Fishing Products
When it comes to fishing gear, it is important to choose products from reputable brands. This applies especially to fishing coolers.
When looking for a fishing cooler, opt for one made by a reputable brand that specializes in marine coolers. These coolers are specifically designed for fishing boats and can withstand the harsh conditions associated with fishing.
F. Insulated Fish Cooler Bags
If you enjoy kayak fishing or are looking for a portable cooler, insulated fish cooler bags can be a great choice. These soft-sided coolers are lighter and easier to carry than traditional coolers, making them suitable for kayak fishing or short fishing trips.
When selecting an insulated fish cooler bag, look for good insulation and ice retention capabilities. Also, ensure the cooler bag is easy to clean and has a leak-proof design to keep your gear and vehicle dry.
Different Types of Fishing Coolers
A. Marine Coolers
Marine coolers are specifically designed for use on fishing boats. They are built to withstand the harsh conditions encountered during fishing trips and are typically made from high-quality materials like rotomolded plastic with stainless steel hardware.
Marine coolers are known for their ability to hold ice for extended periods and often feature drain plugs and leak-proof lids for easy use and maintenance.
B. Heavy Coolers
Heavy coolers are ideal for those who need to keep ice for extended periods. They are often made from rotomolded plastic and are known for their durability and ice-retention capabilities.
When selecting a heavy cooler, look for good insulation and a tight-fitting lid to maintain cold temperatures for as long as possible.
C. Soft-Sided Coolers
Soft-sided coolers are excellent for easy transportation. They are lighter than traditional coolers and typically made from high-quality materials like insulated fabric and leak-proof liners.
When choosing a soft-sided cooler, ensure it has good insulation, a leak-proof design, and adequate ice retention capabilities to keep your catch cold for extended periods.
Best Fishing Coolers on the Market in 2023
In this first part of the buyer's guide, we will present our top picks for fishing coolers in the current season. We will provide a detailed explanation of each product and why we believe it is worth considering. Rest assured that all the products we recommend are ones that we personally use and trust.
YETI Tundra 45
YETI Tundra 45Key features:
- Capacity: 28 cans (plus ice) / 34lbs of ice (only)
- Dimensions: 25 3/4 x 16 1/8 x 15 3/8 inches
- Weight: 23lbs
- Multiple colors
Why we picked it:
YETI, an American manufacturer, has built a reputation for producing some of the most durable outdoor equipment available. While they are well-known for their waterproof bags and backpacks, their flagship products are their coolers, such as the YETI Tundra 45.
The YETI Tundra 45 excels in essential features of a fishing cooler, including ice retention, durability, sturdiness, and design. This cooler can accommodate 28 cans with ice (for greater capacity, consider the YETI Tundra 65) and includes a dry goods basket. With 3" of insulation, extra-thick walls, and a tightly-fitting lid, the YETI Tundra 45 ensures that the interior stays cool even on hot days. Its exceptional sturdiness allows it to withstand rough handling and even serve as a casting platform on a boat.
- Outstanding ice retention
- Very sturdy, can be used as a seat or platform
- Wide range of colors to choose from
- Heavy, especially when fully loaded
RTIC 45 QT Hard Cooler
RTIC 45 QTHardKey features:
- Capacity: 36 cans
- Dimensions: 26 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 15 7/8 inches
- Weight: 29lbs
Why we picked it:
The RTIC 45 QTHard is another excellent hard cooler that shares many similarities with the YETI Tundra 45. RTIC has gained a strong following among outdoor enthusiasts due to the quality of their products. The RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler features T-latches for a secure fit and offers freezer-grade insulation. With a slightly larger capacity than the YETI Tundra 45, it can hold 36 cans and 40lbs of ice. Like the YETI Tundra 45, it is incredibly sturdy and can be used as a bench, tabletop, or cutting board.
RTIC claims that the RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler can keep ice cold for up to 10 days. However, from our experience, achieving this level of ice retention is challenging when regularly opening the cooler. Nonetheless, it can easily keep ice for several days. The cooler can be carried by one person. While its dimensions are similar to the YETI Tundra 45, it is slightly heavier at 29lbs.
- Excellent ice retention
- Secure lid closure with T-latches
- Even heavier than the YETI Tundra 45
Orca 26 Quart
Orca 26 QuartKey features:
- Capacity: 24 cans - 18 bottles
- Dimensions: 23 5/8" x 17 3/4" x 14 5/8"
- Weight: 25lbs
Why we picked it:
The Orca 26 Quart is another outstanding hard cooler made in the USA that shares comparable dimensions with the YETI Tundra 45. Available in various colors and sizes, the Orca 26 Quart features a durable, roto-molded construction that makes it nearly indestructible. Its lid system is similar to YETI's, ensuring a tight closure and keeping the interior cool and fresh even in hot conditions.
A unique feature of the Orca 26 Quart is the small cargo net on the back of the cooler, providing storage space for small items. As expected from a high-quality fishing cooler, it includes a drainage spout for easy water removal after a day on the boat or storing your catch.
- Excellent grip options
- Roto-molded construction for superior durability
- Ice retention not quite on par with YETI in our testing
Igloo 52 Qt BMX Cooler
Igloo 52 Qt BMX CoolerKey features:
- Capacity: 83 cans (without ice)
- Dimensions: 25.98 x 16.34 x 16.54 inches
- Weight: 16.4lbs
Why we picked it:
The Igloo 52 Qt BMX Cooler is an excellent choice for those who prefer not to spend $200 or $300 on a cooler. It may not match the sturdiness of the YETI Tundra 45 or the RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler, but it still offers some high-quality features like T-latches for a secure closure. The Igloo 52 Qt BMX Cooler can keep the interior cool for up to 5 days. Its large, anti-slip handles provide comfortable carrying, even when fully loaded. Additionally, the lid includes a fish ruler for added convenience. This cooler has a capacity of 83 12-oz cans and weighs just 16.4lbs.
The dimensions of the Igloo 52 Qt BMX Cooler are similar to the RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler and the YETI Tundra 45, but it offers more space inside. This is due to the stronger walls and insulation of the RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler and the YETI Tundra 45.
- Reliable cooling capabilities
- Ice retention not on par with Orca or YETI (as expected at this price point)
Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
Coleman Xtreme 5 CoolerKey features:
- Capacity: Up to 100 cans (without ice)
- Dimensions: 28.25 x 15.75 x 18.25 inches
- Weight: 12.3lbs
Why we picked it:
The Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler is an excellent cooler of great quality available for under $100. The main difference between this cooler and the previous three is its closure system. The Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler lacks T-latches to secure the top lid, resulting in slightly lower cooling capabilities compared to its competitors. However, it can still keep the interior cool for several days.
On the upside, its reduced insulation allows for a much larger interior capacity – it can hold up to 100 cans without ice. The integrated cup holders on the lid are a convenient feature. While not as durable as the RTIC 45 QTHard Cooler or the YETI Tundra 45, it is still lightweight and easy to carry, weighing just 12.3lbs.
- Thoughtful features, such as built-in cup holders
- Ideal for day trips (not recommended for extended periods)
- Closure system not as effective (no lid latches)
Our Top Picks for Fishing Coolers
When it comes to fishing coolers, Pelican Elite is our top choice due to its unmatched durability and performance. These coolers have a strong DNA rooted in protecting equipment for defense, emergency, and scientific expeditions in the harshest conditions. You can trust that your fish will stay fresh and well-protected in a Pelican Elite cooler. These coolers are engineered to meet the highest standards in terms of durability, performance, and ergonomic design. From the latches to the freezer-grade seal, every part of the Pelican Elite Cooler is made to last a lifetime and comes with a Lifetime Guarantee. The Pelican Elite Cooler also offers extreme ice retention, convenient press & pull latches, integrated cup holders, a built-in bottle opener, non-skid & non-marking raised feet, a fishing ruler on the lid, and a molded-in lock hasp with stainless steel plate. Whether you're kayak fishing, on a multi-day fishing trip, or tailgating during a big game, the Pelican Elite Cooler is the perfect solution for all your fishing needs. For more information about why we love Pelican Elite Coolers, be sure to read The Best Cooler for Fishing: Pelican Coolers.
A. Pelican™ 50QT Elite Cooler
The Pelican™ 50QT Elite Cooler has a generous volume of 52.87QT, allowing it to hold enough food for a 2-day camping trip. It can also accommodate 24 cans or 34 cans, making it the perfect size for kayak fishing trips, multi-day fishing excursions, and more. This cooler is built with premium materials, designed to last a lifetime, and comes with a Lifetime Guarantee.
B. Pelican™ 70QT Elite Cooler
The Pelican™ 70QT Elite Cooler is a heavy-duty cooler designed for extreme conditions and long-lasting ice retention. With an internal volume of 72.42QT, this cooler offers ample space for all your fishing essentials. It can hold enough food for a 4-day camping trip and accommodate 24 cans or 46 cans. Whether you're going on multi-day fishing trips or marine adventures, the Pelican™ 70QT Elite Cooler is the perfect choice.
Best Fishing Cooler with Wheels
In the second part of our guide, we will provide you with a few options if you're looking for a fishing cooler with wheels. Rollable fishing coolers have the advantage of being easy to roll to the dock instead of carrying them, which can be especially useful when they are fully loaded and heavy. Here are a few good options.
Best Overall Rolling Cooler: YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler
YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Fishing CoolerKey features:
- Capacity: Up to 45 cans (plus ice) or 55 lbs of ice only
- Dimensions: 28.25 x 18.63 x 19.5 inches
- Weight: 32 lbs
- Why we picked it: The YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler is our top choice for rollable fishing coolers. It combines the great features of a classic YETI cooler with sturdy wheels. The wheels are impact and puncture resistant, and the cooler is easy to pull even when fully loaded. It also has excellent lid closure and is rollable.
- Pros: Rollable, excellent and big wheels, fantastic lid closure
- Cons: Rather heavy at 32 lbs, handle is rather short
Best Budget Rolling Cooler: Coleman Ice Chest | 316
Coleman Ice Chest | Coleman 316 – Wheeled Fishing CoolerKey features:
- Capacity: Up to 101 cans (without ice)
- Dimensions: 28.20 x 15 x 18 inches
- Weight: 16.8 lbs
- Why we picked it: The Coleman Ice Chest | Coleman 316 is a great budget-friendly option for a wheeled fishing cooler. It offers premium features at an affordable price, including 6 inch wheels for stability, a lid that can support weight up to 250 lbs, and 5-day ice retention. It also has a larger version featuring 100 Quart for those needing more capacity.
- Pros: Lightweight, sturdy with 250 lbs weight capacity to sit on, good handle to pull
- Cons: Closure could be better
Best Big Rolling Fishing Cooler: Seavilis Milee-Heavy Duty Wheeled 70QT
Seavilis Milee-Heavy Duty Wheeled Fishing 70QTKey features:
- Capacity: 70 quarts
- Dimensions: 33.3 x 17.2 x 17.6 inches
- Weight: 46 lbs
- Why we picked it: The Seavilis Milee-Heavy Duty Wheeled 70QT is our top choice for a big rolling fishing cooler. With its large capacity, basket cupholder, and divider, this cooler is perfect for long days or even weekends on the water. It offers industry-grade insulation, T-zips for secure closure, and smooth-running 7" wheels.
- Pros: Huge capacity, excellent ice retention, wheels work really well
- Cons: Heavy, particularly if you have to lift it out of or into a truck
Igloo BMX Ice Chest
Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.3 x 15.7 inches | Capacity: 25 quarts | Weight: 10.3 pounds
If you're on a budget, the heavy-duty Igloo BMX Ice Chest is a solid choice. It offers 20% thicker insulation and an insulated lid, allowing it to hold ice for up to four days. The durable, blown-molded, reinforced base keeps your ice and contents away from heat, while the UV-resistant materials ensure durability. The rubberized T-grip latches secure the contents, and the rust-resistant, stainless-steel hinges and hardware enhance performance. Available for less than $100, this is the best cooler you can buy without breaking the bank.
OtterBox Trooper 20
Dimensions: 14.3 x 17.5 x 10.3 inches | Capacity: 20 quarts | Weight: 6.5 pounds
If you prefer easy access, the Otterbox Trooper is a great choice. It features a large wide-mouth opening with streamlined access to ice, food, and drinks. In addition to its 20-quart capacity, it has exterior pockets for fishing gear and a built-in bottle opener. The Trooper is perfect for a weekend fishing trip and allows you to return home with a cooler full of fresh fish.
Dometic Patrol 55
Dimensions: 29.8 x 18.8 x 16.4 inches | Capacity: 57 quarts | Weight: 33 pounds
Dometic's Patrol 55 is ideal for multi-day fishing trips. It has a 43-can capacity and enough room for ice and fish. This cooler includes a dry tray for items that need to stay out of the ice melt, and easy-to-carry rope handles make it convenient to transport. The rubber clasps ensure secure lid closure, and the large drain spout makes it easy to empty excess liquid. This cooler performs well in hot desert conditions and is a reliable choice for fishing.
ORCA 26 Quart
Dimensions: 16.5 x 12.3 x 10 inches | Capacity: 25 quarts | Weight: 25 pounds
If you prefer supporting American-made products, the ORCA 26 Quart is the cooler for you. It features a durable roto-molded exterior and insulation that can keep ice cold for up to 10 days. The extendable flex-grip handles make it easy to carry, and the cargo net attachment on the back is perfect for storing fly boxes or bait. This cooler seals tightly and even has a pressure release drain for easy opening when changing elevation.
How We Chose The Best Fishing Coolers
Our selection of fishing coolers is based on extensive experience and testing. We have used and tested coolers on fishing trips across the country, including the deserts of Utah where ice retention is crucial. When direct testing was not possible, we relied on research, expert advice, and independent reviews to gather useful insights. We researched various cooler options, cross-referenced personal experience with angler professionals, and examined product specs, dimensions, insulation technology, and unique features. We also consulted cooler product designers and engineers to understand what makes a good fishing cooler.
What To Consider When Investing In A Fishing Cooler
When choosing a fishing cooler, consider the following factors:
- Ice retention: Look for a cooler that can hold ice for as long as you need, whether it's a day or a week.
- Stability and durability: If you require a cooler that can also function as a seat or casting platform, opt for one with nonskid features and high-quality roto-molded plastic.
- Capacity: Choose a cooler size that suits your fishing needs, ensuring it can accommodate food, drinks, and fish.
- Portability: Consider the weight and handle design of the cooler, especially if you'll be carrying it for long distances.
- Construction materials: Look for coolers made of durable and UV-resistant materials that can withstand harsh environmental conditions.
Best Fishing Cooler Quick Answer List
Here's a quick list of our top fishing cooler picks:
1. YETI Tundra 45
2. RTIC 45 QT Hard
3. Orca 26 Quart
4. Igloo 52 Qt BMX
5. Coleman Xtreme 5
6. YETI Tundra Haul
7. Coleman Ice Chest | 316
8. Seavilis Milee-Heavy Duty
In conclusion, when it comes to choosing the best fishing cooler, there are several key features that you should consider. The insulation of the cooler is vital to ensure that your catch stays fresh and cold throughout the day. A reliable drainage system is also important to make cleaning a breeze. Carrying options should be versatile and comfortable, and durability is essential to withstand the rugged conditions on the water. While there are different types of fishing coolers available, it is crucial to look for additional features that suit your specific needs. To help you make an informed decision, we have compiled a list of the best fishing coolers on the market in 2023, including our top picks. Whether you need a cooler with wheels for easy transportation or a high-performance option like the Igloo BMX Ice Chest or the OtterBox Trooper 20, you can find a cooler that meets your requirements. Don't forget to check out the RTIC Ultra-Light Cooler and the Yeti Hopper Flip 18 for their exceptional features as well. So, the next time you head out for a fishing trip, make sure you have the best fishing cooler by your side. Happy fishing!
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