When was the last time you upgraded your cooler? If your current cooler is falling apart, it’s not just affecting you. It’s affecting the quality of your entire trip. Fishing is more than just a passing hobby. It’s a way of life for some people, and those fishermen need a cooler that can withstand some abuse.

If you’re still a hobbyist and can still see your car from your favorite fishing spot, we have a cooler for you. If you’re downright obsessed and frequently hike in or head out by boat, we also have a cooler for you. Fishing coolers have a pretty wide range in design and budget, so whatever you need, there’s a perfect cooler out there for you.

We’ve put together a list of our top picks for best fishing coolers to help you reinvigorate your love of the sport and we’ve also answered a few questions you may have about how to choose the right cooler, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a while. Let’s look.

How Do I Choose The Right Fishing Cooler?

Fishing coolers do have some characteristics in common with regular coolers, but there are some considerations you’ll need to make specifically to a fishing or marine cooler.  Some design features need to be present for the cooler to both function and last near a water environment in addition to the features you need for general cooling needs.

Materials

The materials you choose can make or break your experience. Not to be dramatic, but those cheap coolers you see at the gas station just before you hit your camping destination aren’t going to cut it more than a few hours, leaving you with a sopping mess at best and dashed dreams at worst (ok, maybe a little dramatic).

Higher end coolers are expensive, but their materials are built to last a lifetime. Most are rotationally molded, a process that takes the mold and rotates it as plastic is poured. This method creates an even coating with fewer weak spots, allowing the cooler to remain structurally sound even with a lot of abuse.

Inside, there should be about two inches of pressure injected, commercial grade insulation to reach those sky-high ice retention rates of over a week or so. The interior benefits from an antimicrobial lining to help reduce mold and mildew as well as odors.

Hardware is a regular weak spot with coolers and using your cooler in outdoor conditions more extreme than your back porch can cause your cooler to fail sooner than usual. Hardware that’s reinforced for strength and stability is a good start as well as corrosion resistant materials. Plastics don’t last very long for latches and hinges should be molded to the body and lid themselves for durability.

Soft-sided coolers should use a very high denier outside material. TPU coatings also increase water resistance and durability. The interior should be heat welded rather than stitched because that prevents leaks and helps increase cold retention. Just like hard-sided coolers, all hardware should be corrosion resistant and reinforced.

One material critical to a fishing cooler is the outside paint or coating. UV damage can reduce the lifespan of your cooler, so UV resistant paints and coatings are essential to having a long cooler life. It’s tough to keep a cooler out of the sun when you’re fishing, so don’t skimp on this one.

Design

Fishing coolers need to have a few things to be truly functional. First, the ice retention rate should be high to give you time to get back to civilization, and they should be waterproof. These things work together. Lids and that are airtight and waterproof also help increase cold retention rates by not allowing air to pass freely from outside to in and back.

Fishing coolers also need tie-downs for when you’re out on the boat. Molded tie downs offer the most security, and make sure to complement those with non-skid feet. This combination helps prevent your cooler from sliding around even in seriously wet conditions.

Smaller features could be a simple as a full channel drain with wide mouth plug so that you aren’t having to tip your cooler to clean it out. Others could be a molded fish measuring tool that stays right on the cooler alongside a bottle opener. Bungee nets could help rig your gear to your cooler and keep things from falling overboard.

Look for the little things to help you keep your contents organized as well. Dry goods trays and inside baskets for organizing are critical to keeping things separated while you’re out. Also, if you can manage a cooler with a lifetime guarantee, that could help you feel better about investing more.

Should I Prep My Cooler?

Prepping your cooler is essential for getting those sky-high cold retention rates. Higher end coolers can absorb ambient temperatures from the room, so pulling your cooler out of your hot garage and throwing in ice is only going to lead to disappointment. As the insulation absorbs the new cooler interior temperatures, it’s going to melt the ice, dropping your ice retention rate sometimes in half.

To combat this, put ice in the cooler the night before and close the lid. In the morning, drain excess water and top off with fresh ice. The insulation should be cold, and you’re ready to head out for a week or so.

Soft-sided coolers can also benefit from this treatment, but if you tend to store yours in your air-conditioned house, it may not be as necessary. Likewise, with cheap coolers. If the insulation isn’t pressure injected, the cold retention rate may not be an issue with preparation because the insulation isn’t able to hold on to temperatures the same ways as higher end coolers.

How Should I Clean My Cooler?

You should never store your cooler wet because it doesn’t’ matter how much antibacterial lining you have, constant moisture will win that battle. Each time you come home, drain and dry your cooler before putting it back into storage.

Most coolers only need a basic wipe down to keep clean. Harsh cleaners can ruin the finish of your cooler, compromising UV resistance and durability. If you must use a cleaner, make sure it’s mild soap, such as dish soap, and water. If you must use bleach, be sure to dilute it properly, so you don’t end up stripping the interior surfaces.

The Best Fishing Coolers

Fishing coolers are a critical part of your fishing trip and should be highly durable. Our top picks are built to last a lifetime and can withstand all the abuse that comes from trekking around in the outdoors and being on a boat. There are a few ranges to account for budget, but none compromise on performance. Let’s break them all down to find your newest piece of fishing gear.

Our Top Pick – Pelican Elite

The Pelican Elite is an ultra-tough, aggressively designed cooler that can withstand a lifetime of abuse and come back kicking. It features a roto-molded exterior with a matte finish that won’t show scratches. It’s crack and UV resistant and holds insulation well with no weak spots. The interior uses two inches of premium, pressure injected foam that creates a complete seal for temperature consistency and possible ice retention of ten or more days with proper preparation.

The hardware is reinforced and uses Pelican’s easy pull latches for easier manipulation. The hinges are molded in with a single pin closure, and the cooler is certified bear-proof by the IGBC. It has a lifetime warranty against defects. Smaller features include a bottle opener and molded tie downs with rubber feet.

Pelican is a bit on the heavy side so you may have to sacrifice some capacity if you’re carrying your cooler alone or you have a tiny boat. The trade is a cooler that not even a grizzly can get into and one you’ll invest in just once in your lifetime.

Pros:

  • ultra-tough
  • multiple sizes available
  • an outstanding ice retention rate

Cons:

  • heavy
  • expensive

Runner Up – Yeti Tundra

The Tundra isn’t specifically made for fishing, but it does offer the same type of durability as the Pelican above in a variety of capacities including a wheeled version. It has a roto-molded body that’s both crack and UV resistant and built to withstand all the abuse of a marine sport. The interior uses two inches of commercial grade, pressure injected foam that keeps your contents cold for up to nine days with the right preparation.

Yeti’s design is less aggressive than Pelican’s, but it’s no less robust. It’s bears resistant and has reinforced, corrosion resistant hardware. Hinges are molded in and use a single pin for a never fail hinge system. There aren’t any cup holders or bottle openers on the outside, unfortunately, but it does have a certain elegance that some coolers lack.

It also has molded tie downs and rubber feet to keep things in place. It’s a fraction lighter than the Pelican option but not enough to make a real difference. It’s a classic option in the world of higher end coolers and an investment you’ll likely only have to make once.

Pros:

  • lots of capacity choices
  • durable exterior
  • high ice retention rate

Cons:

  • expensive
  • only one wheeled option

Budget Alternative – Igloo Marine

Igloo’s Marine line is built for the harsh marine environment, but it won’t rock your wallet nearly as hard at under half the price of our top two picks. It features a double-walled construction with enough insulation to keep contents cold for up to seven days, and an interior liner that resists both mold and mildew as well as keeps down odors.

The exterior has a UV coating that prevents quick wear and tear. Rubber feet on the bottom and molded tie downs help secure it to the boat while a built-in fish measurer is just convenient. Hardware is reinforced and rust resistant, but the cooler may not last as long as our top two on the list. However, it comes in plenty of sizes including wheeled options, and for half the price it performs excellently.

Make sure you secure your Igloo tightly and close the lid fully because the single lid latch may not be as reliable as some of the others on the list. It’s about average weight when empty, so you can balance your space with your capacity needs.

Pros:

  • affordable alternative
  • plenty of capacity choices
  • UV protective layer and fish measurer

Cons:

  • slightly reduced ice retention
  • may not be as durable as the top picks

Best Soft Sided – Pelican Elite

Another Pelican on the list, but we can’t help it. This soft-sided cooler is one of the most durable ones we’ve ever seen, and it comes in three different sizes. It uses a TPU coated, high denier material for the exterior that’s puncture and tear resistant plus heat sealed seams to prevent any kind of leaks. The zipper is completely waterproof, sealing the elements out of your cooler and preventing temperature leaks.

It has storage on the outside plus a bottle opener. An adjustable shoulder strap is comfortable to carry and keeps your hands free while you’re carting around other things. It has a reinforced bottom and a wide-mouthed lid so that you can find everything you’re looking for without having to unpack a bunch of things. It keeps your contents cold for a couple of days if you reduce the number of times you open the cooler.

It’s quite an investment, but if a soft-sided cooler is what you’re looking for, you won’t find another that can withstand the elements the way the Pelican can. It’s a beast.

Pros:

  • multiple capacity sizes
  • heavy duty exterior fabric
  • waterproof zipper

Cons:

  • expensive
  • reduced ice retention rate compared to hard sided coolers

Best Personal – Grizzly 15 Quart

If you need to blend personal coolers with the rough and tough exteriors of hard-sided coolers, the Grizzly 15 quart is just the thing. It has the same rotomolded body that our top picks have but in a much smaller package. Pressure injected insulation creates even coverage and the lid seals with heavy duty latches.

It has a soft, padded shoulder strap instead of the steel arm so common in personal hard-sided coolers, which makes it our favorite one. It has an ice retention rate of about a week with preparation and should allow you to carry your ice or your brews and still have an impromptu seat for when you get to your destination.

It is small, and it’s expensive for the size, but for a durable, personal cooler, there isn’t much better out there. It’s great for fishermen who frequently hike into out of the way places or urban fisherman who leave their cars miles away as they follow streams.

Pros:

  • padded shoulder strap
  • a high ice retention rate
  • weighs 12 pounds empty

Cons:

  • holds just 16 quarts (it is a personal cooler, after all)
  • expensive for the size

Best Large Capacity – Grizzly 400 Quart

At the other end of the spectrum, Grizzly’s 400-quart cooler is our favorite massive cooler. This is the one you’ll carry for your deep-sea fishing expeditions, and you’ll need a crew to get it moved.

It has a roto-molded body and two inches of high-quality insulation for a complete seal and temperature control. It can hold ice for nearly two weeks and would look great on your larger sized boat as you head out saltwater fishing.

It weighs 91 pounds empty, and it’s dry ice compatible. Complete drain channels and a wide drain spout efficiently drain excess water without having to top the cooler. It’s about a third cheaper than some other large sized coolers out there, so it’s well worth the investment, alongside the lifetime warranty.

Pros:

  • affordable large capacity cooler
  • lifetime guarantee
  • full drain channels

Cons:

  • 91 pounds empty
  • no molded fish measurer (come on!)

Final Thoughts

Fishing coolers are essential parts of your trip whether you’re hauling your drinks for yourself or you have a group of people you need to keep fed. They also function as ways to save your catch before you get back to shore and to store bait. Either way, you need a high-quality cooler that will keep your trip on track and allow you to get back to what you love most, catching fish.

Make sure you balance your budget with capacity and the capacity with how much space you’ll actually have. Your smaller boat may not fit the same types of coolers a large vessel will, but you should be able to find the cooler you need without having to compromise too much on the capacity. Get your fishing trips back on track and stop having to hike back in just to get more brews or keep your catch from getting ruined. Get a cooler and forget about all that.

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