Having the best cooler ice packs for keeping food fresh can make the difference between a relaxing family vacation and a bitter one. It can also encourage you to pack lunches rather than wasting money unnecessarily at restaurants.
As many of us are aware, true happiness starts with a pampered palate and a full stomach. Not only is it important to eat regularly in order to maintain energy levels, but many foods that are healthy for you require refrigeration. After all, we know how crucial it is to get the best lunch boxes and keep them close to enjoy our fresh meals and cool beverages no matter if we go to work or take a road trip with the gang!
If it causes you to make healthier choices in your diet, having the best cooler ice packs could even prolong your life! Is that a stretch? We don’t think so. So let’s see some of the best cooler ice packs the market has to offer this year!
Best Cooler Ice Packs: Comparison Table
Answering Some Chilling Questions about Cooler Ice Packs
Finding the best cooler ice packs may not seem like a particularly complex task.
However, the savvy shopper knows that every purchase is an opportunity for finding a great value. Plus, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’ve bought something you don’t enjoy using. For this reason, getting the best cooler ice packs is just as important as buying the best insulated lunch boxes on the market.
In conclusion, being informed on the subject of best cooler ice packs is of the utmost importance. So, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding ice coolers!
What are Cooler Ice Packs?
Cooler ice packs are an alternative to ice for keeping your food and drinks cold. To use them, stick them in your freezer to freeze them prior to taking them out of the house. Then, simply place them in your cooler or even your lunch box and let them work their magic. The best cooler ice packs will fit easily into your cooler and stay frozen for hours. The definition of cooler ice packs is as follows:
An ice pack or gel pack is a portable plastic bag filled with water, refrigerant gel, or liquid. Ice packs are used in coolers to keep perishable foods (especially meats, dairy products, eggs, etc.) below the 5–75 °C (41–167 °F) danger zone when outside a refrigerator or freezer, and to keep drinks pleasantly cool. The amount of ice needed varies with the amount of food, its initial temperature, the thermal insulation of the cooler, and the ambient temperature and exposure to direct sunlight. Ice initially well below freezing temperature will last a little longer.
What Are Cooler Ice Packs Made Of?
Cooler ice packs generally consist of some combination of refrigerant gels, water, and other liquids. The exact concoction varies from pack to pack, but common ingredients include hydroxyethylcellulose, sodium polyacrylate, and vinyl-coated silica gel. A plastic bag or thick plastic case is usually what holds the mixture.
How Do Cooler Ice Packs Compare to Dry Ice?
Dry ice has many advantages when used properly.
For example, it can be cheaper in large quantities and is better for the environment because it evaporates.
However, its incredibly cold temperatures are only suitable for freezing items. Additionally, there are a lot of rules when it comes to using it. Therefore, cooler ice packs are the best alternative.
Are Cooler Ice Packs Toxic?
Generally speaking, cooler ice packs should contain non-toxic refrigerants. That is vital because a puncture in the pack could allow the chemicals to leak onto your food. The best cooler ice packs never use toxic refrigerants, but it’s good to double-check just in case.
How Long Do Cooler Ice Packs Last?
The best cooler ice packs last around 24 to 36 hours, although there are ways of making them last longer. The exact time depends on a number of factors and isn’t just limited to the quality of the ice pack.
In comparison, ice cubes typically last less than a day and may even melt within an afternoon at the beach.
Why Do Cooler Ice Packs Last Longer than Ice?
Image Source: Pixabay.com
Ice packs are denser than pure water, which means they have more mass to absorb heat. Additionally, the refrigerants in them help to absorb heat.
Ice that’s submerged in water also has the effect of melting faster, assuming the air and water are the same temperatures. So the more ice that melts, the faster the rest of the ice follows.
Finally, with ice cubes, all six sides of the cubes are melting simultaneously. Multiply that by the number of cubes in the cooler, and there is much more exposed surface area than ice packs.
That’s also why a block of ice with a volume of 10 cubic inches will last longer than 10 ice cubes that are each 1 inch.
Can I Use a Combination of Ice and Ice Packs?
Yes, it’s certainly not uncommon to use both ice and ice packs simultaneously in coolers. Ice packs can be an expensive upfront cost, but some are better than none. If you prefer to build your collection over time, use the best cooler ice packs in combination with ice to make the ice last longer.
Do the Best Cooler Ice Packs Have Any Other Benefits?
Yes, the best cooler ice packs are good for more than just staying frozen longer.
They’re more organized than dealing with a jumbled up bunch of ice cubes. It allows you to pack your cooler more neatly, which utilizes space more efficiently. They also take up less space in your freezer.
Since many cooler ice packs are reusable, you’ll end up saving a ton of money on ice in the long run.
How Can I Make My Ice Packs Last Longer?
There are many ways to extend the time it takes your ice packs to melt.
1. Pick a High-Quality Cooler
A quality cooler is the number one way you can make your ice packs last longer. These coolers are heavily insulated so that the cold air is trapped within the cooler and takes much longer to dissipate. Stick with us after our list of the best cooler ice packs for information on how to choose a quality cooler.
2. Place the Cooler in the Shadows
In case it doesn’t go without saying, ice packs will stay cold longer if you keep the cooler in shady areas away from the sun. The less difference there is between the inside and outside temperatures, the slower the cold will escape. You could even place your cooler in a cold river or bury it underground to keep your ice packs from thawing. Some people might question your sanity, though. On the other hand, when you are the one providing cool drinks during the campfire games you play with your friends on the beach, nobody will ever question your knowledge and skills.
3. Keep Your Cooler Chilling Out, as Crazy as It Sounds
Pre-chill your cooler, so it’s already nice and cold when you add your ice packs to it. About eight hours prior to leaving the house, add frozen ice packs to your cooler while more packs stay in your freezer.
Right before leaving, take your freshly frozen ice packs and load up the cooler. Use the packs you used to chill your freezer in a drink cooler or leave them behind. In any case, by chilling your cooler in advance, you’ve probably added about 12 hours to the cold retention time.
4. Chill the Food As Well
If pre-chilling your cooler will make your ice packs last longer, it follows logically that keeping your food as cold as possible will have the same effect. Freezing food and non-carbonated drinks will lower the ambient temperature of the cooler. At the same time, the food itself will last longer because it will take time to thaw.
5. Do Not Leave Your Cooler Open for Unnecessary Amounts of Time
Another way to ensure you get the most out of your ice packs is to reduce the amount of time you leave the cooler open. Leave any items in your cooler that you grab regularly in places that are easily accessible and picture where the item is before opening the cooler. That way, you shouldn’t need to open the cooler for more than a few seconds in most cases.
Since it’s less essential to keep drinks cold, you may want to keep them in a separate cooler from your food.
6. Add More Cooler Ice Packs to the Mix
In this case, the goal is to avoid becoming a puddle. Imagine a bunch of snowmen huddle together to stay cold on a late-winter day. If you’re more concerned with keeping your food cold than saving space, you can increase the number of ice packs to significantly extend their cold retention. Theoretically, you could even have one cooler filled entirely with icepacks, and they would probably last for days.
7. Pack the Cooler Up Like There’s No Tomorrow
Coolers that are packed to the brim with items will stay cold longer because air won’t be able to travel as freely. Packing your coolers this way while keeping your most used items accessible is an art. However, it’s absolutely necessary to get the most out of your best cooler ice packs. Use frozen water bottles to fill those odd spaces where nothing else can neatly fit.
8. Remember that Coolers Have Layers
Onions have layers, ogres have layers, and as it turns out, coolers have layers too.
When packing your cooler, you can maximize the potential of your best cooler ice packs by strategically laying your food out in layers. Cold air sinks, so put your raw meats on the bottom of the cooler and cover them in an insulating material such as a yoga mat. You may want to add a layer of ice packs on top, just keep in mind that will make it harder to get to your food.
In your next layer, add vegetables and other items you’ll only need when cooking if you have them. Use frozen water bottles and other items as support beams to keep your produce from being crushed.
Once again, add an insulation top.
For your final layer food, add items that you’ll be reaching for on a regular basis such as sandwich ingredients, fruit, drinks, etc.
Finish the whole thing off by adding a layer of ice packs on top.
9. Expand Your Horizons
On YouTube, there are many videos of clever workarounds for those who cannot, or don’t want to buy a heavy-duty cooler but would like to maximize the cold retention of their ice packs.
Our favorite method involves filling the hollow parts of your cooler with expanding foam. If you have a cheap hard cooler, chances are the walls and lid of it are hollow. Do a noise test by knocking on it, or research your particular model.
After confirming which parts are hollow, drill several holes in those areas and fill them with expanding foam until it’s oozing out the holes. Wait for it to dry then chip the excess foam off until it’s flush with the lid.
Don’t let it get on your hands!
10. Build Your Own Ice Cooler
Expanding on the foam idea, you could place your cooler in a larger tub and the gaps with expanding foam as well. In fact, many people just stick a smaller cooler inside of a large one. Since more insulation is synonymous with more cold retention, thick enough walls could cause your ice packs to last for weeks!
Are All Cooler Ice Packs Reusable?
All the best cooler ice packs are indeed reusable. That being said, they may lose their ability to retain cold over time. Customer reviews are a great way of determining a product’s lifespan.
How Many Cooler Ice Packs do I Need?
While the best cooler ice packs stay frozen for long periods of time on their own, more of them help keep each other cold for longer. Additionally, more ice packs will also bring down the ambient temperature of your cooler, so your food stays fresh longer.
Use as many ice packs as you can fit in the cooler while still leaving room for food and drinks. Try lining the bottom and side with packs, and even placing some on top of your food. Use a thermometer to test the temperature of your cooler to make sure it’s cold enough.
What Size Cooler Ice Packs Should I Buy?
The best cooler ice packs should lay flat against the bottom and sides of your cooler. You should never need to place them diagonally, as that would be an inefficient use of space. Keep in mind that you can use small ice packs in a large cooler, but you will need more of them to keep the cooler cold. Also, small ice packs tend to be more expensive per cubic inch. In some cases, you might want a mixture of small and large ice packs to maximize their potential.
The thickness of a cooler ice pack is also an important factor to consider, as thicker packs will stay frozen longer.
We suggest you also check out our guide on how to choose the best size of your ice cooler. It makes sense to estimate what size cooler ice packs you need depending on the size of the cooler you bought. So here is, in short, what you need to know:
- The size of the cooler correlates with the functionality you attribute to that cooler;
- Pick the cooler not only for its size, but its building material, mobility/portability, construction durability, warranty, etc.
How Much Should I Spend on Cooler Ice Packs?
Comparing the prices of the best cooler ice packs is difficult because all of them are of varying sizes and materials. However, since we’re a tad obsessed with saving money, we’ve taken the liberty of calculating each pack’s cost per cubic inch.
For example, if one of the best cooler ice packs happens to be 4 inches by 6 inches by 1 inch, it has a volume of 24 cubic inches. If it costs $20 for a 4 pack, that comes out to about $0.21 per cubic inch.
Price is not the only thing you should consider when shopping for the best cooler ice packs, though. Let’s see our top pick ice cooler packs that we think you will enjoy this year!
How We Reviewed the 7 Best Cooler Ice Packs on this List
In our search for the best cooler ice packs, we consulted many other professional reviews. We also scanned hundreds of customer reviews to see what they thought about the retention and reusability of each pack. Next, we examined factors such as size and price to determine which product offers the greatest value.
Finally, we took all that knowledge to Amazon to not only see what their customers had to say, but to determine if the best could be found there. Then, we brought all that information and packed it into a helpful review guide.
The 7 Best Cooler Ice Packs of 2020 | Reviews
The times we quote in our reviews are primarily based on how long customers claim their product lasted. Since not every customer has a top of the line cooler or knows what steps to take, we these times are very conservative. You can make ice packs last much longer by adding more insulation and packs.
1. Cooler Shock
- Better than Ice - 2 lb. mid-size gel pack makes items in cooler slushy cold Only Cooler Shock is 18° F...
- Non-hazardous food safe - made in the USA since 2013 (not a China chemical copy) Accelerates cooling with...
- Reusable - Click the blue "CoolerShock" at top of this page to see all versions - Coldest pack available
These Cooler Shock packs are the best cooler ice packs for day trips or overnight camping trips. They’re also highly reusable.
Based on customer reviews, they may not be the best option for trips longer than 48 hours. However, they are one of the most affordable options.
Cooler Shock ice packs come in two varieties. The first one requires you to iron them shut after adding water to them. The other has a screw-on cap for people without irons.
Both varieties contain chemicals that turn to gel when mixed with water.
2. FlexiFreeze Ice Sheets
- Pack of six refreezeable, chemical-free, 100 percent water-filled ice sheets
- Flexible even when frozen, these sheets provide awesome cooling power without the mess.
- Versatile and convenient, the sheets can be cut to fit any application.
FlexiFreeze sheets are perfect for a variety of tasks. For anything less than 12 hours, these are among the best cooler ice packs available on the market right now.
Although they’re slightly more expensive than the Cooler Shock packs, their flexibility more than makes up for.
FlexiFreeze comes in sheets that are 19 inches by 15.5 inches. You can easily cut them to whatever size you need, so measure your cooler before buying.
These are also excellent for separating each layer with a sheet.
3. Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers Slim Ice Packs
- SLIM ICE PACKS: Whether you’re headed back to work, school, or just want to escape the house for a...
- COMPACT DESIGN: These ice packs are slim and compact, yet powerful. They are perfect for tight spaces or...
- LONG-LASTING: These reusable ice packs are designed to last long so you can head out knowing that what...
Don’t buy these for large amounts of food, or long trips, as they are very expensive per cubic inch.
However, they take up virtually no space in your freezer, making them perfect for everyday use.
Additionally, they’re extremely light and perfect for children or anyone who doesn’t want to carry around something heavy.
For a small lunch box, use two Fit & Fresh packs and eat your food within about five hours. Refreeze them when you get home, and keep two in the freezer as a backup in case you forget.
4. Polar Tech Cold Packs
- Long lasting
- Moisture resistant
These Polar Tech Cold Packs are not nearly as popular as the others but are more suited to certain situations. For anyone planning a large event, such as a company picnic, these are probably the best cooler ice packs available.
Price-wise they’re by far the cheapest per cubic inch on our list. In fact, they’re nearly 10 times cheaper than Cooler Shock and about 40 times cheaper than Fit & Fresh.
Customer reviews are conflicted, but they should last for a solid 12 hours in almost any condition. If you take the precautions we talked about, we’re sure you can extend that well beyond 24 hours.
Although they are reusable, they’ll quickly become less effective the more you refreeze them.
That’s why we feel they’re best for saving money on large, one-time events.
5. YETI ICE Refreezable Reusable Cooler Ice Pack
- Works as an ice substitute or addition to your ice stash to make sure your contents stay colder for...
- Durable design that is break-resistant to withstand the toughest of tumbles
- Custom shape reduces freezing time
These YETI ICE Refreezable ice packs are among the best cooler ice packs, thanks to its durability and quick freezing time.
In terms of price per cubic inch, these are about halfway between Fit & Fresh and Cooler Shock. It’s difficult to calculate the exact value because of the cutouts in the container.
However, the YETI ICE packs will take longer to thaw than either of those options, and the rigid plastic container protects against punctures.
Although heavier and not as compact as Fit & Fresh, these make great ice packs for people with larger lunch box coolers. If you have a late lunch, consider going with this option.
By themselves, these should last somewhere over 12 hours if you take the necessary precautions. Packed smartly with multiple packs and using our guidelines, they’ll be good for at least 48 hours.
6. Arctic Ice Chillin’ Brew
- ARCTIC ICE COOLER ICE PACKS: The ARCTIC ICE Chillin' Brew reusable ice pack freezes at 28 degrees...
- FREEZER PACKS: The ARCTIC ICE Chillin' Brew series ice pack is non-toxic and is designed for use in a...
- LONG LASTING ICE PACKS: ARCTIC ICE portable ice packs for coolers last much longer than ice, features a...
These Arctic Ice packs come at a fair price and are one of the best cooler ice packs you can get.
The extra-large packs are an excellent value, so prioritize them if possible.
Their rigid shape makes it somewhat difficult to find a good fit for them. However, we believe they’ll last longer than any other ice pack on our list so far.
Arctic Ice Chillin’ Brew packs are essentially large plastic containers for filling with water and freezing. They last longer than ice because, well, large blocks of ice take longer to thaw than tiny cubes.
If you pre-chill your cooler, make sure your food is as cold as can be, and pack it properly then these will last you for days.
All customers who took these steps had very positive things to say about these ice packs.
7. Healthy Packers Cool Pack
- SLIM LIGHTWEIGHT AND LONG LASTING - Set of 4 slim, reusable and versatile hard gel ice packs. Each ice...
- SUPER VERSATILE - Perfect chillers for everyday use in lunchboxes, breastmilk bags, bento boxes and...
- SAFE AND DURABLE - Our Cool Packs are made with 100% BPA-Free Non-Toxic materials. They stay cool as ice...
Healthy Packers Cool Pack ice packs are one of the best cooler ice packs for versatility available.
They come in a relatively small size but are only a tad more per cubic inch than Cooler Shock. So, while they make great packs for lunches, you could feasibly use them in small to medium-sized coolers as well.
We don’t necessarily recommend them for larger coolers, mainly because of the two circular cutouts in the packs.
They aren’t as big a deal in smaller coolers, but it would be much more space-efficient to have those circles filled up.
If you’re looking for the best cooler ice packs for general use, and not necessarily long camping trips, these packs are probably for you.
How to Choose a Quality Ice Cooler
Having the right cooler makes a world of difference in how long the best cooler ice packs last.
Soft coolers resemble messenger bags and typically come with an over the shoulder strap. They’re excellent for day trips lasting about eight hours but aren’t nearly as insulated as hard coolers. Therefore, be wary when taking them out in hot weather. Even the best cooler ice packs won’t last long in such conditions. Because of their high level of portability, soft coolers are a good choice for small hikes.
For more information on soft ice coolers, we also recommend you to read our guide on the Softpak 40 Cooler, the largest of the soft pack coolers, able to hold up to 40 cans or 40 pounds of ice. In our review, you will also find comparisons to other coolers available on the market. We hope that you will then have enough details on ice coolers and how they work so you can make an educated decision when you buy your next cooler.
Hard coolers come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and prices. They’re typically made of thick plastic and have varying levels of insulation. These coolers are generally, heavier, larger, and much more durable. They’ll also keep ice packs cold longer. For hot weather, large amounts of food, or trips lasting more than a day, these are the way to go.
Many hard coolers come with wheels, making it easier to transport them across short distances when they’re full of food. More importantly, the side handles should be strong and comfortable enough for two people to lift the cooler with minimal risk.
Rotomolded coolers are high-end coolers designed for long camping trips lasting at least four days. Many customers and reviewers even report them keeping ice frozen for 10 days or more. These coolers are more expensive but well worth the cost if you love to camp.
The term rotomolded essentially means they were meticulously built to maximize insulation and avoid any imperfections. The lids are airtight, and the walls are thick made of thick plastic which is often insulated with foam on the inside. Not for nothing, these coolers look much more heavy-duty and professional than your typical Coleman’s cooler.
They’re also much more likely to come with extra perks, such as removable rope handles with grips, and a drain for removing melted ice. As a bonus, rotomolded coolers are usually bear-proof.
In Short: Best Ice Pack Coolers
Before we leave, let’s summarize what we have learned from the reviews above and the guide we presented you with so far.
1. What is the longest-lasting ice pack?
From our list, the longest-lasting cooler ice packs are as follows:
- The YETI Ice Packs;
- The Arctic Ice Chillin’ Brew;
- And the Healthy Packers Cool Pack.
2. Are the YETI ice packs worth it?
Yes, you deserve some splurge. While they are more expensive than other ice cooler packs on the market and on this list, the YETI ice packs boast incredible long-lasting performance. Able to keep your foods and drinks cool for more than seven hours without any extra ice added to the cooler, the YETI packs are worth the rather steep price they feature.
3. How Do You Pack a Cooler to Keep Everything Fresh?
As we said above, stacking and layering are your best options for an efficient cooler packing that keeps your foods and beverages cool and fresh. Size your ice packs according to the size of the cooler and remember that a six-pack needs a bit over a pound of ice to cool off if you put it inside at room temperature. With this in mind, your operative words should be “ergonomy” and “cooling efficiency,” depending on what types of foods/drinks you want to keep cool/frozen and what their initial temperature was before you placed them in the cooler and layered them with ice packs.
Now It Is Time to Chill
Now that you understand how to make ice packs last longer, you’re no longer limited to 48-hour camping trips. In fact, you can be four days into your wilderness or fishing vacation and still have bacon with breakfast! We bet you can even think of clever ways to add insulation to your favorite cooler lunch box.
Which of these do you think are the best cooler ice packs for your needs? What methods do you prefer for keeping your ice and ice packs frozen? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!