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How To Choose The Best Cooler For Fishing

Fishing is a popular recreational activity and sport for a lot of people. There are a lot of different ways people enjoy their fishing trips. Some prefer to sit on a relaxing chair on a pier or on a river bank while some go an adventurous multi-day sailing and fishing expeditions in the sea. One aspect which is common for all fishing trips is that you need a way to properly store your catch. Fish can get easily spoilt and emit a foul odour. Hence, you need a cooler with ice to keep the fish chilled.

Top 5 Ice Coolers for Fishing – 2018

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Things to Consider when Choosing a Cooler for Fishing:

While you will find reviews of various coolers on our site, this article is a buyer’s guide. Here we shall state various criteria and features you must consider while buying a cooler for fishing trips. The information here will also cover some basics and we shall state specific considerations for marine and fish coolers.



This is often the first and the foremost criteria that you need to determine while choosing a fish cooler. The considerations for size vary slightly in case of soft insulated fish bags and hard coolers. Soft bags can be collapsed and tucked away when not in use. Hard coolers occupy the same space even when you have not filled them. When considering size, it is also important to note that there are two important factors – capacity and external size. The capacity is the internal storage space and the external size is the overall space that the cooler occupies.

Your decision will mainly depend on the requirement of the internal capacity. The industry standard unit of stating capacity is in quarts. Once you have determined the capacity you need, you must also check the external dimensions of the cooler and check if it will fit in the space you have available. Some coolers may have as much as two-inch-thick insulated walls, which make it significantly bigger for the capacity it offers. This can especially be a limiting factor on small kayaks but shouldn’t be an issue if you are fishing on the shore or a pier or if you have a large enough boat.

Another important consideration about capacity is that a cooler may not always be able to carry the full advertised capacity. Some of the space inside the cooler may be taken up by compartments or shelves. You must also consider that if you intend to catch large fish, then small cube-shaped coolers will not do the job, even if you feel that they may have sufficient volume. Some manufacturers market their coolers and insulated fish bags for specific kind of fish according to size.


Build quality

This is an essential property of a cooler since it is important in itself and it also greatly influences other important properties. A well-built cooler will not only last longer, it will also be easier to use, have additional functionality as a seat and also insulate better.

An important aspect of build quality is the materials which are used for its construction. Plastic is one of the ubiquitous material which you will find in almost all coolers and even soft insulated fish bags. Plastic is inexpensive, easy to mould and can be made fairly durable. However, plastic construction can vary vastly. For example, the coolers which you would find on the shelves of hardware stores often use thin plastic with bolted hinges and friction secured plastic lids. However, premium cooler manufacturers such as Yeti and Pelican use a rotomolded plastic body. It is a process where the mould is spun during setting and it allows manufacturing an entire body out of single piece plastic. This also includes the hinges. Thus, there are no different parts joint or bolted together, thus eliminating areas for stress concentration and potential weak spots. Such coolers also use metal pin hinges and sturdy external latches for securing the lid. Premium coolers often have thick and tough plastic shell as well as lid and thus you can easily sit or stand on it. Ensure that the plastic is UV resistant or has appropriate paint or treatment. Plastic which is not designed for constant sun exposure can get faded and even weaken and become brittle due to the UV rays in sunlight.

Soft insulated fish bags are made of some kind of a fabric. Make sure that it uses strong fabric such as nylon for the external covering. Look for multiple stitching to ensure durability. Such soft bags often have relatively thinner insulation compared to hard coolers. You will typically find soft bags with half or one-inch thick insulation material. Hence, the quality of the insulation material makes a larger difference. Higher end bags will use more advanced insulation materials.

Metal is rarely used for the construction of the body, but it is often used for making components such as latches and hinges for coolers and zippers for soft insulated fish bags. Make sure that the metal used is marine grade corrosion resistant since normal corrosion treatments don’t hold up well in constantly wet and salty environments. Rubber is also used for soft-touch surfaces such as handles and for anti-skid feet.


Insulation performance

This is the main purpose of a cooler – to keep the heat out and cold in. The better the insulation performance of the cooler, the longer it will be able to keep the ice frozen and the temperature inside low enough to keep the fish fresh. Some coolers can keep ice frozen for up to 10 days, but they cost a lot. If you are planning fishing on a pier for a quiet evening and getting back by the night, you can get away with a small insulated fish bag with some ice.

It is important to note that cooling performance is relative. Smaller coolers will keep the ice for shorter times. Also, soft coolers will perform worse since they cannot have thick insulation. Larger coolers tend to have the best performance not only on account of more design liberties but also since they can hold more ice. Hence, you must compare insulation performance within the same class of coolers.

There are several factors affecting insulation performance. The first one is the thickness of insulation material. Some large hard coolers attain excellent insulation by simply having as much as 2 inch thick walls. The material used in insulation is also an important factor. Some kind of polymer foam is the common material of choice, though the density and the exact polymer used varies by the class of cooler and its price range. The build quality also affects insulation. Better hinges and properly constructed rubber gaskets help better insulation.



How the cooler looks is a matter of personal taste. You may or may not even care about it. Most coolers manage to not look offensive, though some manufacturers offer a few options in terms of colours. You can get insulated fish bags with a variety of colours and some designs on the fabric. Inexpensive hard coolers often come in boring colours and simple boxy design with rarely any colour options. Premium hard coolers often have rugged looks and sometimes have more than one colour options.


Water resistant seal

This is a feature that is optional for normal coolers but is quite essential for insulated fish bags and marine coolers. The first obvious reason is that the cooler is more likely to have water splashed on it. Another reason is that you will have significant melting of the ice inside even if you are on a short trip. As you add each new fish you catch, the temperature of the fish has to be dropped, which melts quite a bit of ice. Normal water ingress protection is quite standard, but an airtight seal will also help you keep away any odours. It also prevents contamination of the fish with any pathogens from outside during storage. A stronger seal can be helpful if the cooler falls overboard since it will resist water ingress even under significant pressure and keep the cooler afloat so you can retrieve it.

Tightly woven fabrics, vinyl exterior and water-resistant zippers can provide water resistance for insulated fish bags. Hard coolers use rubber or silicone gaskets for water resistance. Cheaper coolers have lids that are secured by friction and provide weak ingress protection. Better quality coolers use soft rubber gaskets and tension latches which keeps lid tightly secured, thus providing better water resistance.

Soft insulated fish bags vs. hard coolers

There are two main kinds of coolers commonly used for fishing. The soft insulated fish bags which can be somewhat folded or collapsed when not needed. The other kind is the hard plastic or, in rare cases, metal coolers. Both have their advantages and quirks.

The biggest advantage of the insulated fish bag is that they can be much more compact. You can even get bags which you can sling across your shoulder for carrying around. When not in use, they are easy to store in some corner of your boat. These bags are commonly sold according to the typical size of the specific fish that you intend to catch. The disadvantage is that there is a limit on how large you can make a soft insulated fish bag. At some kind, the large size will make it unwieldy. Also, such bags cannot have very thick insulation. Expect a typical insulation thickness of half an inch to an inch. Also, it is hard to design such bags with strong water resistance. You can find bags with external storage for other items which don’t require cooling.

You can find hard coolers of almost all sizes. Small coolers can be carried by a small handle while some large coolers require two men to carry the weight of cooler alone. Such larger coolers can simply use very thick insulation to provide superior insulation performance. It cannot be put away when not in use, though you can remove all ice and use it to store other items such as electronics which need just dry storage. Sturdy hard coolers can be used as a makeshift seat or a standing platform. The gaskets and latches used on premium coolers provide very good water resistance.

Where are you fishing?

The type of fishing trip you like will greatly influence the requirements of the cooler or fish bag. If you plan to spend an evening fishing on a pier or a lake or river bank, then you don’t need to keep the fish cold for long. A small cooler or insulated fish bag will serve you just fine. Higher mobility is preferred in such cases, and hence fish bags make a great fit. Wheeled coolers are easy to move on piers. If you plan a multi-day fishing trip on a boat in the high seas, feel free to take a large cooler. You will likely get some help at the dock to load and unload it. You can also consider cooler with a thermoelectric cooler if you have an electric supply on the boat. A drain plug would also be necessary since you would hardly be able to move a large cooler filled with partially molten ice and fish when you return. It also makes it easy to clean the cooler.

Bonus features

Several coolers, especially premium ones, offer some additional features that you can consider. Though not really essential, these features can be nice bonuses.


Fishing rod holder

Some fishing coolers come with fishing rods so you don’t have to keep holding your rods. It is quite useful for recreational fishing so you can enjoy the environment while you wait for the fish to take the bait.


Enter your model number to make sure this fits.; Mount your fishing rod to the side of your rotomolded cooler; Works with all casting and spinning fishing rods; Slides into cooler tie-down slot; ...

Available: In stock

Compartments and shelves

Some coolers have separated compartments and shelves near the top so some items that don’t need to be frozen can be carried separately from the fish. You can carry sandwiches and keep them fresh for a day or two while on a fishing expedition.

Ice-Olate Cooler Tray

Available: In stock

Fish scale

This is a simple feature where the lid has centimetre and inch markings on it so you can instantly put your catch on your lid and start boasting about its size.


Enter your model number to make sure this fits.; Portable digital scale with metal hand strap, powered by 2 AAA batteries (included); 110lb/50kg capacity with 5g or 10g accuracy; LCD screen displays ...

Available: In stock

Cup holder

If you plan to fish while relaxing on the bank of a river or a lake, a nice place to keep your beer or other beverages is a nice bonus.

Keep your beverages off the ground and right where you want them. Next to your Driftsun Ice Chest! Powder coated stainless steel is marine grade and corrosion resistant. Designed to fit inside the ...

Available: In stock

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