Best Floating Cooler for River, Lake, Ocean, and More
Updated by Brandon F. on November 16, 2022
We all know how helpful coolers can be in those summer months when we are out on the water, but what about those times we are on the water and don’t have easy access to a cooler? This is where floating coolers come in. They allow us to access our chilled food and drinks without having to get out of the water and back onto the boat, shore, picnic area, or wherever else our traditional cooler is stored. Before we get into more details, here is a convenient table of the best floating coolers.
Best Floating Coolers
|Price by Volume (Amazon)||Storage Capacity (in cans)||# of Cup Holders|
|Intex Mega Chill II||$$||30||6|
|AIRHEAD AHAO-1 Aqua Oasis||$$||24||6|
|Byers 1700 Big Bobber ||$||16||0|
What is a Floating Cooler?
A floating cooler is quite simple. It is a cooler that floats! While this may be obvious, some special features and specifications make floating coolers unique and allow them to be able to thrive in an environment most coolers would fail. Many floating coolers share a common design internally with their non-floating siblings.
They utilize traditional insulation methods, can have a hinged lid for easy access, and even come with your typical drain plug. However, where they stand out is having an additional component that allows them to float on water.
What Makes a Floating Cooler Float?
For a floating cooler to float, it has to have some sort of mechanism that will keep it pushed up above the water’s surface, even when it is filled with ice, food, and drinks. This can be accomplished in a variety of methods but the most traditional is through the use of air. Air has a surprising amount of force behind it and will easily hold up impressive amounts of weight. The air pressure is 14.7 psi.
What this means is that a single square inch of air can push up 14.7 pounds of weight! This is why an unopened can of soda will float despite feeling quite heavy. The little bit of air at the top of the can is enough to keep the entire thing afloat!
Types of Floating Coolers
While we have established that most floating coolers will take advantage of air to keep things afloat, the way that they accomplish this is quite vast. Some will have a single, inflatable base that you then place the cooler directly on top of while others have an inflated ring built into the side of the cooler and some are even designed to have the top part of the storage area remain open to allow the entire product to float semi-submerged in the water.
Beyond the way that they float there is also a wide variety of applications that they can be used for. There are light-duty coolers that are meant for calm pools with a little wake and that don’t need to have super long-term cooling performance. Then other examples are more robust and capable of performing in rougher water conditions and that will also have longer ice life.
There are even some floating coolers that are only intended to hold individual cups or bottles for extreme short-term usage or games like beer pong. The first thing is to figure out what type of floating cooler you need. You need to consider things such as desired ice retention, storage size, mobility, etc.
What Type of Floating Cooler is Best for Me?
Since there is such a wide variety of floating ice chests, we encourage you to make a mental checklist of what requirements you need. To assist, we have laid out a few common considerations in a checklist below:
What type of water conditions will I be on?
How long do I plan on being in the water?
How much storage space do I need?
How easily accessible do the stored contents need to be?
How mobile do the entire apparatus need to be?
How much am I willing to spend?
Once you go over these and other questions, you will be more prepared to shop for your next floating cooler with confidence.
Pros of a Floating Cooler
There are several unique benefits of going with a floating cooler. These reasons alone might be enough to warrant you purchasing one as their purpose is unique.
First, the most obvious one is that they float! Very few regular coolers are capable of floating so if you are specifically in the market for an ice chest with this capability then a floating cooler is the best choice hands-down. Many people are surprised at how often they will wish that they had a floating cooler.
Have you ever been lounging in the middle of a pool and wished you could grab a drink without getting out of the water? What about floating down the river and you are tired of your cooler having to occupy an entire inner tube? These and many other reasons are why people decide that they need a floating cooler.
To float easily and effectively, weight savings is relatively important. Remember, the cooler has to be able to handle a full load of ice, food, drinks, and other items so trying to make the cooler itself as light as possible becomes a much bigger priority. This can make transporting floating coolers much easier than a conventional hard-sided and even soft-sided ice chest.
Nearly all floating coolers can be deflated when not in use, which means that they are extremely portable and easy to tuck away somewhere. You would be amazed at how a huge 50+ quart capacity floating cooler can be deflated and folded to take up about as much room as a softball! This isn’t possible with a hard plastic cooler and even many soft-sided coolers still have a significant amount of rigidity to them.
Many floating coolers are quite affordable. Since most are made of nothing more than rubber and a few gaskets, they don’t have the significant premium charges that higher-end coolers made of plastic and metal demand. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some higher-end floating ice chests on the market but for the most part they will hit right at home with the budget-minded.
Cons of a Floating Cooler
These products don’t come without their cons, either. Understanding the shortcomings and limits of a floating cooler is equally important so that you know the item that you are purchasing will best fit your needs.
Since floating coolers are typically made of relatively thin rubber, they are very prone to tears and cuts. And when they tear and cut they are essentially ruined. You must be much more careful with one of these products and try to avoid sharp corners, stepping on them, or rubbing them up against abrasive surfaces. This includes not only when they are being used on the water but also during transportation and even storage. This is compared to the much tougher hard-sided coolers that you are used to seeing.
Limited Ice Life
One of the tradeoffs of going with a lightweight solution is that you give up some of the cooling performance you might be used to seeing. This is due to a combination of using less-insulated materials, having thinner walls, and not implementing a high-quality gasket between the lid and the body. All of these things add up to result in most floating coolers only having an ice life of a few hours. There are some exceptions but these examples will be much bulkier and heavy.
Mostly Small Capacity
We have also noticed a trend where a majority of floating coolers are on the smaller side. That isn’t to say that one won’t be large enough for a small group of people for a day, but don’t expect one of these to have the storage capacity for a huge group for several days. This might not be necessary, however, since the cooling life most likely isn’t long enough to warrant such a huge load anyways.
You Have to Blow It Up!
Floating coolers aren’t like normal coolers in that they are ready to go out of the box. Floating coolers take a bit more preparation. You will have to blow up the cooler before it can be used. Some people prefer to blow it up once and leave it aired up while others will deflate it for easier storage and transportation.
While you can always blow it up the good old-fashioned way with your lungs, we prefer to blow them up with a pump. One of our favorite pumps is this one. It is cheap and does the job just fine!
What are the Best Floating Coolers?
Now that you have a better idea of what a floating cooler is, the different types of floating coolers, and the pros and cons it is the time we list the best floating coolers on the market. These examples have a wide range of applications but we feel that all of them fill a particular need or want and have something positive to offer to the user.
Intex Mega Chill II Floating Cooler
This is one of the most popular floating coolers on the market and for good reason. It is made of tough 16 gauge vinyl construction which means that it will hold up to a decent amount of abuse. It also comes with 3 air chambers which help to both stabilize it and also means that if one of the chambers happens to break it doesn’t mean losing all of your stuff at the bottom of the pool or lake.
6 embedded cup holders and 4 carrying handles are included on the sides for convenience. For the occasion when there is a tear, it also comes with a helpful repair patch. It is capable of holding up to around a 50-quart cooler inside or you can opt to simply fill it with ice and put your items directly in it.
Kelsyus Floating Cooler
This is a very portable example that packs up and fits into a handy carrying case. It is made of fabric-covered insulation which is much tougher than most of the rubber examples you’ll come across. For the size, it has an impressive 6 cup holders built into the sides along with side clips that make it easy to tether to a boat or dock. The capacity is a bit smaller, with it being capable of holding around 18 cans of drinks without ice and 12 with, which makes it a good personal-sized example.
AIRHEAD AHAO-1 Aqua Oasis Insulated Nylon Cooler
The coolest feature of this ice chest is the ability to detach the floating base from the cooler area which allows you to restock it without removing the entire product from the water. It is made of insulated leak-proof nylon which gives it an impressive ice life considering it is a floating cooler.
It has 6 built-in drink holders that are individually numbered to help reduce confusion about whose drinks belong to who. It also comes with a molded plastic rope handle for easy tethering. You can expect a drink capacity of up to 24 cans which makes it a good choice for a medium-sized group outing.
Byers 1700 Big Bobber Floating Cooler
This is a cleverly designed product that is intended for the avid fisherman. It comes in the shape of a fishing bobber and you put the drinks inside and close it in the middle. Since this isn’t an inflatable product in the sense of the other examples, around half of the entire cooler will sink below the water, resembling an actual bobber!
The problem is that this can expose the inside to outside water and melt your ice much more quickly than you would like. It would be nice to have some sort of insulated barrier in place but until a newer version comes out this is what we are stuck with. Because of this, only plan to use this floating ice chest on shorter outings.
Sevylor Inflated Cooler Float
This is a good product for those who want to use their traditional cooler but also want to enjoy the benefits of being able to float. Rather than having a cooler built into the float itself, you instead are supposed to place your existing cooler directly on top. Because of this, you will enjoy much longer ice life (essentially whatever your cooler is capable of) plus give it the necessary sea legs to be out on the water! It also comes with 4 handy side cup holders and an elastic snap-n’ stay cord to keep your cooler in place when the water gets rough.