Top 9 Best Fishing Coolers in 2023 Reviewed by Expert
Hi there, if you’re on the hunt for the best fishing coolers, you’re in the right place!
Fishing coolers are essential for keeping fish fresh and beers chilled on your fishing trips. Here’s the thing though. A room temperature beer may not be as enjoyable as a chilled one, but expecting to get a chilled one and then getting a room temperature one is even worse. That’s why if you’re going to get a fishing cooler, make sure it gets the job done, and does it well. To find the best fishing coolers out there, we spent 14 hours examining every cooler on the market and bought the more promising ones to test for ourselves. After considering every single cooler’s durability, insulation, sealing tightness, and handles, we found ourselves with these 9 coolers.
If you’re short on time and want to get straight to the point, our number one recommendation is the YETI Tundra 45. This marine cooler excels in every area, with its incredible durability, top-notch insulation, freezer-grade sealing, and heavy-duty handles.
Don’t worry if that was out of your budget though. We’ve included cheaper alternatives to all three of our top picks and even a budget option!
Our Top 9 Picks
- YETI Tundra 45 (Best Overall)
- YETI Tundra Haul (Best Splurge)
- Orca 26 Quart (Best For Short Trips)
- RTIC 45 Qt Hard (Best Tundra 45 Alternative)
- Coleman Steel-Belted (Best Tundra Haul Alternative)
- Pelican 20 Quart Elite (Best Coleman Steel-Belted Alternative)
- Igloo BMX 52 Qt (Best Budget)
- Coleman 316 Series (Best Capacity)
- Engel 30 Quart Drybox/Cooler (Best For Live Bait) (Best For Kayaks)
The 9 Best Fishing Coolers
Before we get started, here are a few things to note.
Number one, our listed weights and capacities may differ from what is shown on the product page. This is because we measured them ourselves to be as accurate as possible.
Number two, the capacities listed are for 12-ounce beer cans and with ice. You should always start with an ice-to-can ratio of 2:1, so that’s what we did.
Number three, our given ice retention times are based on our own controlled tests in 90°F conditions.
Number four, our given dimensions are in the format Length x Width x Height.
Lastly, all the coolers on this list have drain plugs except the Pelican 20 and the Engel 30.
Now that we’ve gotten that over with, let’s begin!
1. YETI Tundra 45
- Size: 45 quarts
- Capacity: 28 cans
- Weight: 24.6 pounds
- Ice Retention: 5 days
- External Dimensions: 25.5 x 16 x 15.5 inches
Starting the ball rolling is our best overall pick – the YETI Tundra 45. This top-of-the-line cooler possesses unbelievable durability, thick insulation, freezer-level sealing, and sturdy handles.
First off, this cooler’s incredible toughness comes from the combination of its rotomolded construction, hinge system, and T-Rex latches.
Rotomolded cooler walls are crafted as a single piece. This not only makes them thicker, but also sturdier and more resistant to cracking.
As for the hinge system, the connection points are built into the lid and main body, joining them both with a single pin. This ensures the hinges will never fail.
Finally, the T-Rex latches were made to withstand being thrown around by an ATV.
Combining these 3 features, the result is a phenomenally rugged cooler that can take a pounding from even a bear (literally, the video is below). Whatever terrain or conditions you’re going fishing in, this marine cooler won’t let you down.
Moving on to insulation, you’ve got 3 inches of it.
For the sealing, the freezer-quality gasket and interlocking lid system provide a solid barrier that keeps heat out and cold in.
From our controlled test, this high-quality cooler kept the ice frozen for 5 days straight, clearly demonstrating its excellent ice retention.
Then, to top it all off, you’ve got heavy-duty handles made with military-grade polyester rope. Even when this cooler is fully loaded, the handles are never at risk of breaking.
I also like that the lid is sturdy enough to stand on to cast further, and the non-slip feet prevent it from sliding around on boats.
All in all, the YETI Tundra 45 is a first-rate fishing cooler that delivers on all fronts. Robust, well-insulated, and comfortable to carry, you won’t find a better 45-quart cooler for fishing than this.
There’s just one issue with it – it’s heavy. Add drinks, snacks, lunch, and some ice and it’s easily 60 pounds. You can still carry it solo, but don’t expect to go far with it.
Other than this small downside though, the YETI Tundra 45 is the stuff of dreams. You’re also covered by a 5-year warranty, further solidifying this cooler’s status as the best fishing cooler on the market.
P.S. Here are the videos of a bear and a 500-pound man trying unsuccessfully to destroy a YETI Tundra cooler.
2. YETI Tundra Haul
- Size: 55 quarts
- Capacity: 45 cans
- Weight: 37.5 pounds
- Ice Retention: 7 days
- External Dimensions: 28.3 x 18.6 x 19.5 inches
Another cooler from the YETI Tundra series, the YETI Tundra Haul shares many similarities with the YETI Tundra 45. Like the Tundra 45, the YETI Tundra Haul is ridiculously durable, thickly insulated, tightly sealed, and comes with sturdy handles.
For durability, just like the Tundra 45, this cooler is also rotomolded and equipped with the same hinge system and T-Rex latches. Needless to say, this fishing cooler is pretty much indestructible.
For insulation, the YETI Tundra Haul has an inch less insulation. This didn’t stop it from keeping the ice cool 2 days longer though. We too were baffled by the results, but as this experiment from CNET proves, larger coolers are simply better at keeping things cool.
For sealing, both marine coolers are equally matched, with the same freezer-grade gasket and interlocking lid system.
Finishing off with the handles, the YETI Tundra Haul is a wheeled cooler, so of course its handle is different. The welded aluminum handle of the YETI Tundra Haul is robust and is outfitted with comfortable grips for towing.
For the cons, since you’re towing it around, weight isn’t a problem with the YETI Tundra Haul. However, I found it hard and awkward to maneuver with the handle. I would have liked for the handle to be longer so that it won’t keep bumping into the back of my leg.
Overall though, the YETI Tundra Haul is still an amazing cooler and the best fishing cooler with wheels available.
Best For Short Trips
3. Orca 26 Quart
- Size: 26 quarts
- Capacity: 20 cans
- Weight: 25 pounds
- Ice Retention: 1.5 days
- External Dimensions: 20.1 x 14.4 x 14.6 inches
Coming in at number 3, the Orca 26 Quart would have given the previous two coolers a run for their money if not for its thinner insulation.
First off, this cooler’s rotomolded construction and T-latches almost put it on par with the YETI Tundras, but it loses out slightly as it doesn’t have their hinge system.
Next, the Orca 26 Quart has much thinner walls than the YETI coolers too. It is 2 inches thick in some areas, but it also has only 1.5 inches in other areas. This makes it much less able to maintain temperature, as can be seen from how after only 1.5 days, all the ice we put in it had melted.
Having said that, it doesn’t disappoint in other aspects.
Armed with a lid gasket, the Orca 26 Quart is watertight. A lid gasket is the type used to provide watertight seals for manhole covers. You can be sure that this cooler won’t be letting anything in or out when it’s closed.
The handles that it comes with are high-quality too. The extendable rubber handles are wide and easy to grip, allowing for a comfortable secure grip.
Now for the flaws.
Despite having about 20 percent less capacity than the Tundra 45, the Orca 26 Quart weighs about the same. In other words, it’s freaking heavy. But to be fair, so is the Tundra 45, so I wouldn’t fault it any more than I would the Tundra 45.
In short, the Orca 26 Quart may not be as good at keeping things cool as the Yeti Tundras, but there’s no denying its toughness, watertight sealing, and A-grade handles. It’s also 50 bucks cheaper than the Tundra 45 and 175 bucks cheaper than the Tundra Haul. If you’re going on a day trip, you won’t need so much space and insulation, making this smaller cooler the perfect wallet-friendly option and the best cooler for short trips.
Best Tundra 45 Alternative
4. RTIC 45 Qt Hard
- Size: 45 quarts
- Capacity: 36 cans
- Weight: 29 pounds
- Ice Retention: 5 days
- External Dimensions: 25.3 x 13.8 x 15.9 inches
If you liked the Tundra 45 but it was out of your means, rejoice! The RTIC 45 Qt Hard is basically a heavier but cheaper version of the Tundra 45.
Featuring rotomolded construction and rubber T-latches, I’m sure I don’t need to explain any further how sturdy this cooler is.
The walls of this cooler are also 3 inches thick, just like the Tundra 45. In theory, this should translate to an identical level of insulation. And to no one’s surprise, the RTIC 45 Qt Hard performed fabulously in our controlled test, keeping the ice frozen for a full 5 days.
There isn’t much information on what this cooler uses for sealing, but being able to retain ice for 5 days is a testament to its sealing abilities.
The final similarity that this cooler shares with the Tundra 45 is military-grade polyester rope handles, which will provide many years of service.
Now at this point, you might be wondering why this cooler is $75 cheaper than the Tundra 45 when it’s only a tad less durable. Well, that’s because it’s a lot heavier.
Both coolers are 45 quarts, but the RTIC 45 Qt Hard is a whole 4.4 pounds heavier. I’m no softie, but even I wouldn’t be confident of lifting this cooler once it’s all filled up.
Other than that though, you won’t find any drawbacks with the RTIC 45 Qt Hard. For those looking for a more affordable cooler than the Tundra 45, but still with its size, sturdiness, and insulation, this is it.
Best Tundra Haul Alternative
5. Coleman Steel-Belted
- Size: 54 quarts
- Capacity: 46 cans
- Weight: 20.3 pounds
- Ice Retention: 2 days
- External Dimensions: 25.5 x 17.5 x 17.3 inches
Next up, we chose the Coleman Steel-Belted as a second option to the YETI Tundra Haul because they’re both almost the same size. The difference is, this cooler is less robust and less insulated, but much lighter.
For starters, this cooler isn’t rotomolded. This means it’s nowhere near as robust as any of the previous coolers. Nevertheless, it’s able to carry 250 pounds on its lid, so it’s not too shabby.
Insulation-wise, 2.5 inches isn’t too bad. A word of caution though – the latches are absolute crap and don’t seal the cooler very well and there isn’t a gasket. This is why even though you’re getting 2.5-inch thick walls, your ice won’t stay cold any longer than 2 days.
I actually brought this cooler for an overnight trip stocked to the brim with ingredients for the next day’s sandwiches. The next day, I discovered that the raccoons had easily popped it open with the latches on while I was sleeping. They were also really rude and did not close the lid after they raided my food, so not only was the food gone, but the ice too.
I’d say the saving grace of this cooler is its handles. The rods are stainless steel and corrosion-resistant and the grips are comfortable as they’re made of rubber.
It’s evident that the Coleman Steel-Belted is a far cry from the Tundra Haul. Still, it’s strong enough to stand on, has great handles, and at least preserves its contents for 2 days, not to mention it’s 17.2 pounds lighter.
For those who just want the Tundra Haul’s capacity but at a much lower price or weight, this might just be the cooler you’re looking for.
Best Orca 26 Quart Alternative
6. Pelican 20 Quart Elite
- Size: 20 quarts
- Capacity: 15 cans
- Weight: 12.5 pounds
- Ice Retention: 2 days
- External Dimensions: 17.7 x 12.7 x 18.8 inches
Going on a day trip but don’t fancy the Orca 26 Quart’s price tag? Then you’re going to love the Pelican 20 Quart Elite.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the Pelican 20 Quart Elite won’t have any ice left after a mere 2 days.
At first glance, this doesn’t make sense given that this cooler has 3 inches of insulation and even freezer-level sealing – or so Pelican claims.
Upon closer inspection, the gasket is actually quite cheaply made. It’s there, but it really doesn’t do much. This doesn’t do the 3-inch walls justice, as with proper sealing, this cooler could easily hold ice for 5 days.
That said, 2 days will more than suffice for a day trip, so the poor sealing isn’t a big deal.
A polypropylene body and overmolded handles also enable this small fishing cooler to take quite a beating.
Then, to further seal the deal, this cooler only weighs half of what the Orca 26 Quart does, making it a much more portable cooler.
Some other nice features that this cooler has are a built-in stainless steel bottle opener and self-draining cup holders. I always lose my bottle openers when I bring them along because bottle openers are small and easy to lose, so I particularly like the bottle opener feature.
In essence, the Pelican 20 Quart Elite is a slightly less durable but significantly lighter version of the Orca 26 Quart. You’ll also be glad to hear that it’s $75 less expensive.
7. Igloo BMX 52 Qt
- Size: 52 quarts
- Capacity: 45 cans
- Weight: 16.3 pounds
- Ice Retention: 3.5 days
- External Dimensions: 26.2 x 16.42 x 16.1 inches
If none of the above fishing coolers appealed to you, I’m guessing it’s a matter of price. That’s why we included the Igloo BMX 52 Qt.
At $130, no other cooler comes close to this one’s quality at its price.
Toughness-wise, this cooler has got rust-resistant stainless steel hinge rods. Other than the heavy-duty rods, there aren’t any other parts of this cooler that signal it would be able to withstand much abuse. Nonetheless, a 200-pound member of our team stood on it and it held up just fine.
Insulation-wise, the 2-inch insulation and T-latches don’t measure up to a cooler with a good gasket. But even so, 3.5 days of ice is a commendable feat, and even more so keeping in mind that this cooler doesn’t have a gasket.
Handles-wise, this cooler boasts stainless steel hardware and rubber grips for heavy-duty but comfy usage.
To sum it up, I have no doubt that the higher-end premium coolers would beat the Igloo BMX 52 Qt hands down, but it’s second to none at this price.
8. Coleman 316 Series
- Size: 100 quarts
- Capacity: 160 cans
- Weight: 17.7 pounds
- Ice Retention: 4 days
- External Dimensions: 36.9 x 17.3 x 18 inches
This next fishing cooler is all about space.
As a glance at its specifications would tell you, the Coleman 316 Series Cooler has a staggering 100 quarts of space.
But space isn’t the only reason to buy this budget cooler.
With 3-inch thick walls, you can have fresh food and cold drinks even up to 4 days later.
I’m not sure what kind of sealing this cooler uses, but the ice retention time of 4 days should tell you all you need to know.
I also found the handles to be quite well-designed, as I found pulling this huge cooler around less awkward than the Tundra Haul.
The best part? This cooler costs even less than the BMX 52 Qt.
Of course, there is a catch. This cooler isn’t exactly the sturdiest around, far from it in fact. Although Coleman claims the lid can support 250 pounds, it visibly bent when our 200-pound team member sat on it. Moreover, the wheels on this cooler are not the best. Galvanized steel doesn’t resist corrosion very well, so take care not to let the wheels come into contact with saltwater.
You might also be wondering why this isn’t the best budget cooler when it’s the cheapest, so let me explain.
Aside from being a fair bit less durable than the Igloo BMX Cooler, this cooler is also a lot less practical for most anglers. A 100-quart cooler will naturally require a lot more ice to function, so unless you have a big family, you’re probably going to want the BMX 52 Qt instead.
Supposing you’re planning on having huge gatherings or have a large family, then this is actually the best fishing cooler for you. Otherwise, you’ll be better off getting the BMX 52 Qt.
Best For Live Bait
Best For Kayaks
9. Engel 30 Quart Drybox/Cooler
- Size: 30 quarts
- Capacity: 25 cans
- Weight: 7 pounds
- Ice Retention: 2 days
- External Dimensions: 19.5 x 12.5 x 13 inches
Last on the list is the best cooler for live bait – the Engel 30 Quart.
This fishing cooler comes in a package with a 2-speed aerator pump and four rod holders.
The aerator pump supplies your live bait with oxygen, helping them stay alive. I put some shrimps inside and it helped keep my shrimps alive and vibrant for a couple days in the summer heat.
Furthermore, you can conveniently pull up the included net to grab your minnows, shrimps, or other live bait.
I was also impressed by its weight. Weighing just 7 pounds, it’s an extremely portable cooler and carrying it around is a breeze.
It’s also nice that Engel included rod holders, making this cooler very well-suited for kayak fishing.
For its faults, there’s just one – the aerator pump. I wasn’t too pleased with the $10 aerator pump. You’re really paying for the design of this cooler that allows you to fit an aerator pump in there, but I’d advise you to buy a higher-quality one for maybe 20 or 30 bucks more.
By now, you should be quite adept at recognising good fishing coolers. Now, let’s dive deeper into what makes a good fishing cooler so that you can make a sound decision on exactly which fishing cooler to buy.
This is the single most important factor to consider when shopping for a fishing cooler. It doesn’t matter how cool a fishing cooler looks or whether it’s bear-proof. If it doesn’t keep things cold, it’s useless.
With the advance of technology, most coolers nowadays will have no problem keeping their contents cold for a day. The best fishing coolers can even keep your ice frozen and drinks ice-cold for up to 7 days. These coolers also require a lot less ice for a day trip than lower-quality coolers.
Insulation comprises two aspects – sealing and wall thickness. These work hand-in-hand to keep the contents of your cooler cold (or warm if you’d like).
The thicker the walls of a cooler are, the better they’ll trap cold.
For sealing, you’ll want to look out for a gasket of good quality and latches that ensure your cooler stays tightly closed. T-latches are a good choice for the latches.
You should also help your cooler keep things frosty by doing these:
- Pre-chill your cooler. New anglers often don’t pre-chill their cooler and then wonder why their Yeti Tundra 45 only kept their food and drinks cold for half a day. Even the best coolers have to be pre-chilled to function properly.
- Open it as little as possible and only for short periods of time. Each time you open your cooler, hot air enters. As such, always think carefully about what you need from your cooler, then take them all at once quickly.
- Leave melted water inside. While it may seem counter-intuitive, leaving melted water in actually aids your cooler in keeping things cold. This is because melted water is much colder than if you were to drain it and air took its place instead.
Once again, advances in technology have allowed for modern fishing coolers to be much more heavy-duty. In fact, quite a number are sturdy enough to sit and even jump on. The best fishing coolers are even bear-proof.
Rotomolded bodies, corrosion-resistant hinge rods, and military-grade handles are just a few reasons why modern coolers are so robust. Look out for those features if you want a tough fishing cooler.
There are three things to take into account when choosing the size of your cooler – fit, target fish and food and drinks capacity.
For fit, you’ll need to check that your cooler will fit in the places you want it to. For example, is it too wide to put on the floor of the back of your car, or too big to fit on the front car seat? We provided the external dimensions of each cooler for you to conveniently check whether your cooler will fit where you want it to.
As for target fish, unless you intend to fold your catch in half, it’s crucial that your fish cooler is long enough to fit whatever you reel in. Make sure to deduct a couple inches from the external dimensions to account for the thickness of the walls.
Lastly, there isn’t much to explain about food and drinks capacity. Simply refer to the beer cans capacity to see whether you’ll have enough storage space for your food and drinks.
Drain plugs are a seemingly minor feature and you might think it won’t make much of a difference whether you have them or not.
However, though not as important as the past few aspects, drain plugs make cleaning and clearing melted water a lot easier. This is especially so after long trips and the 30 pounds of ice you brought have all melted.
Most anglers don’t bother looking at the handle before they buy a cooler. After all, who cares whether the handle is good when the cooler can keep things cool for a week?
The fact of the matter is that handles just don’t matter as much as aspects like insulation and size.
That isn’t to say they don’t matter though. When you’ve got a cooler full of fish, you don’t want your handles to snap on you. Make sure your handles are strong and comfortable. The best fishing coolers don’t neglect any aspect, even something as small as the handles.
Still have any lingering questions? You might find the answer in this section.
Why Do I Need A Fishing Cooler?
Obviously, a fishing cooler keeps your drinks and your catch cool. But most new anglers don’t know the importance of this.
As soon as you’ve reeled in your catch, it’s critical that you put your fish on ice. Keeping the fish cold prevents the growth of bacteria and preserves the meat texture and firmness.
It’s also much easier to clean a cold fish as it will be firmer and its meat will be easier to separate from its bones.
In a nutshell, fishing coolers keep your catch fresh, edible, and tasty. What’s more, there’s really nothing quite like sipping an ice-cold beer or soda in the middle of summer, with the glaring sun shining down on you.
What Kind Of Fishing Cooler Should I Get?
There are two kinds of fishing coolers – those with wheels and those without. However, there’s actually a third type of fish cooler for chilling your catch – fishing bags.
As the name suggests, a fishing cooler bag is meant for storing fish that you catch. They’re of course more portable, but also less insulated and smaller. The majority of fishing bags will hold ice for about a day.
Between fishing bags and fishing coolers, you’re choosing either portability or ice retention and capacity.
If you don’t need to carry much food and drinks and don’t need to keep them cool for long, you should get a fishing bag.
If you have more food and drinks though, then there’s no question that you’ll want a fishing cooler.
As for whether to get one with wheels or without, this boils down to how much you’re moving around.
If you want to change fishing spots frequently or have a long walk to your fishing spot, it’s a good idea to get a wheeled cooler, especially if you have a lot of food and drinks.
Conversely, if you don’t have a ton of food and drinks and won’t be moving around so much, a cooler without wheels will do.
How Do I Clean My Fishing Cooler?
Start by draining or pouring away all the water inside first.
Then, assuming there are no tough stains, hot soapy water will be enough.
For tough stains, scrub them with a mixture of bleach and water. If they still don’t go away, you’ll need to use a high-pressure spray.
The last step is to leave the lid open for your cooler to dry.
What Size Fishing Cooler Should I Get?
I’m assuming you know how much space or how many quarts you need for your food and drinks since we already covered that earlier. As such, let’s go straight to your target species.
First and foremost, check the length of your target species and then make sure your cooler is long enough.
Once you’ve done that, be realistic about your fishing skills and estimate how many of your target species you’re likely to catch.
Then, check the height and width to ensure you’ll be able to accommodate all the fish you catch.
And that’s it. That’s how you decide on the right size cooler to get.
Fishing coolers are an awesome way to level up your fishing trips. They are rather pricey though, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
These 9 fishing coolers are worth every cent and will give you the best value for your money. If you’re still unable to choose one, I’d recommend getting the YETI Tundra 45. With its legendary durability, three-inch thick walls, freezer-quality gasket, and heavy-duty handles, this is the best fishing cooler that money can get.
Also, if you happen to be looking for a rod or reel, check out our compilations of the best fishing rods and reels. They’re neatly organised by species and the type of fishing they’re meant for.
Have fun with your new fishing cooler!
Content retrieved from: https://fishingsensei.com/gear/others/best-fishing-coolers/.