No matter whether your peak experience is Denali or Daytona Beach, the right cooler saves the day. Crack open these three picks to ice down your essentials for years to come.
Boardworks Chill Station 38L Cooler: Riding high
Who else but Boardworks could create a SUP-worthy cooler in two sizes (28L and 38L) with a compact profile that’s truly at home on the deck. Active Junky testers jumped on the extended non-skid pads in all four corners along with the wet hand openable rubber toggles. Likely tougher than any board you’ll paddle, rotomolded Chill Station straps on securely while performing equally well on land. Beverage indentations and an EVA lid pad add to the utility with sure-grip side carry handles that manage even a full-iced load (unlike many other awkwardly-balanced coolers). At about $150, it gives $200+ coolers a run for your money on long weekends as foam-injected insulation isn’t as beefy as premium models. While testers didn’t pull out the DeWalt, the cooler can be drilled, bolted and adapted to fishing accessories (rod holders?) as well as creative board mounting configurations.
Best For: SUP fishing and nature photography outings, beach barbecues
Orion 25: Beat the odds – and the heat
If Active Junky’s experience is any indicator, smaller coolers usually get the short end of the icicle in chilling power and features. Not so with Orion’s rotomolded shells, offered in sizes to fit every rough and rugged scenario. Testers put this one into the mix, with and without pre-cooling – or even putting ice packs inside with food and beverages. Wrapped in insulation varying between 2” and 2.75,” there’s no reason not to take 25 quarts of Arctification (another new tester word) anywhere. At over 20lbs. there’s no fear of tipping in the wind or succumbing wave trains, making Orion 25 a bulwark of beach sessions, paddling trips and corn hole confrontations. Six tie-downs suit SUP fishing and touring requirements with YakAttack gear tracks to hold optional accessories. Testers never doubted the cam latches while four bottle openers defied logic but delighted outdoor companions. Tote it. Strap it. Sit it. Depend on it for a lifetime of spontaneous stargazing sessions and well-conceived float trips.
Best For: Always knowing (food safety-wise) and forever going
IceMule Classic 15L: Hardcore soft cooling
Where and when do cold beverages, specialty sausages and aged cheeses need to show up in force? At Active Junky, even day trips on the SUP, fly fishing or bouldering are times to break out cold beverages, hard salami and organic goat cheese. Throw in some yogurt for the meatless team members and the smiles get passed around with the $60 IceMule. More expeditionary than nearly any softside available, the 15L is right-sized for outings with up to four team members. The inflation + insulation combination gives it enough shape, cooling power and impact resistance to handle moderate river trips. Tester valued the waterproof product’s ability to float, the reinforced bottom panel, and a light color that resisted external heat build-up in bright sunlight. The company’s Pro versions rapidly escalate in price for a full-on, rapid-assault version that’s prepped to run the Grand Canyon. Get maximum value by using Classic at home to impress the crew and protect the brew (up to 12 cans along with ice).
Best For: All-around home, camp, and travel use with the ability to roll up (thanks to a reliable exoskeleton valve) then carry with a lightly-padded shoulder slin