Which maintains a cooler temperature longer when placed inside a cooler; ice, dry ice or ice packs?
To be honest, this wasn’t a fair question, as the answer is neither… Let us explain what we have discovered after testing a variety of ice packs in numerous situations. (Our Video Tests Below)
All ice packs were not created equal. Some are larger in size, while others may freeze at a lower temperature. But at the end of the the day, most of us are only concerned with which pack or ice sheet will keep their cooler contents colder, the longest. Below are the results (video below as well) of testing 5 of the most popular ice packs over a 4 day period. All ice packs were tested in coolers which were the exact same size, same manufacturer, and same amount of base ice. We used 10 lbs of base ice and then placed the icepacks on top of the ice, as this is the best way to maximize ice retention times. The best ice pack would then be the one that preserved the physical ice the longest.
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Why Ice Packs For Coolers Over Regular Ice?
Although some coolers are rated to hold ice for several days at a time; what many do not show is how much water the cooler will accumulate as a result of the ice melting. Manufacturers also do not point out that you may have to put your hand down into the ice cold water to get your favorite beverage or how water may seep in and ruin your meats and dry goods among other items.
With ice packs, these issues are minimized. Some cooler packs may still sweat on the outside, but it should be minimal. No matter how many ice packs you put inside your cooler, you will never again have to stick your hand into icy water nor will you have to worry that your lunch meats will become waterlogged.
What About Dry Ice?
If you have heard of or considered dry ice, you may also want to opt for ice packs instead. Dry ice works great for some things, but if you are trying to use dry ice in a cooler that you will spend a lot of time opening and closing, you will not be satisfied with the performance. Dry ice is a gas and each time you open the cooler, you are letting the coldest gases out. This is why many people choose to use it for shipping perishables or in a cooler that they will not open very often. See Our List Of Approved Dry Ice Coolers⇒
Do Cooler Ice Packs Work As Good as Regular Ice?
As we outlined in the opening paragraph, this is a trick question. The truth is ice packs in conjunction with physical ice is the optimal set up to prolong the life of a chilled cooler. However, there are many cases in which ice packs can be better for your cooler. The key is understanding how an ice pack works. Admittedly, they may only cover a small area, but the chill will spread out if you put in a little extra effort.
For instance, if you plan to carry a lot of soda or beer in a cooler with ice packs, you will want to chill your beverages before you load the cooler. You may also want to consider layering the beverages and ice packs so that all can touch. If you are carrying lunch meats, hotdogs, or other items in the cooler, many people will freeze them before putting them into the cooler. This will allow them to thaw gradually while they essentially work as an edible ice pack.
WATCH: Best Ice Pack For A Cooler
The Best Ice Pack Option
After testing well over 50 different roto-molded, soft sided, and bag coolers we have found a few tricks to prolonging the life of your ice. Using ice pack(s) is one way to add life to your ice retention times. When we tested 5 different ice packs on the top of 10 lbs of ice, inside a 35qt coolers, we concluded that the ice pack will maintain ice for an additional 12-36 hours. These numbers can and will vary greatly depending on which ice packs you choose, the size of the ice pack and the freezing temperature of the ice pack.
Again, our test were using only 2 ice packs per cooler, with 10lbs of ice. When using the ice pack without physical ice, you’ll need to use more packs/sheets to obtain ice retention times similar. What about when using no base ice? Bonus: Results at bottom of post.
Top Ice Packs For Coolers- RESULTS
1. Engel Ice 20°
The Engel Ice prolonged the life of 10 lbs of ice the best of any ice pack we tested. Engel Ice comes in several different sizes/freeze points. In our testing both ice packs were able to completely freeze in one overnight session in the freezer. Once in the cooler, the 20° model was able to prolong the life of 10lbs of ice in a 35Qt cooler by about 24-36 hours. When placed in a coolers with 6 chilled beverages, the ice packs were able to maintain chilled internal temps for about 16 hours.
2. Techni Ice
The Techni Ice Sheet is slightly different from the traditional plastic ice pack many of us are used too. This is an actual sheet. In fact, when it arrive it is virtually paper thin. The Techni Ice requires a one-time hydration setup. (See Our Set Up Video Here) The setup is relatively simple, requiring submersing in warm water and squeezing by hand to release any trapped air. A one way barrier allows water to enter, mixing with the polymer, and thus creating the ice sheet. Once hydrated, the sheet can be dried off and placed in the freezer. Again, this is a one time process. When testing, the Techni Ice prolonged 20lbs of ice about 12-18 hours. However, in an empty cooler (with no ice) it performed on par or slightly behind the Engel Ice. The biggest difference of this sheet compared to other ice packs is the freezing point. This pack freezes much colder than most other packs. Furthermore, this pack can also be heated! The Techni Ice can be placed in the microwave to warm the pack up. This is a feature most other ice packs cannot offer making it one of a kind.
3. Cooler Shock
Similar to the Techni Ice, the Cooler Shock requires some setup. In fact, the setup is slightly more involved when compared to the Techni Ice. Cooler Shock packs come in various sizes and when they arrive will be flat as well. In order to set up the Cooler Shock, you’ll need to add a specified amount of water, and then seal the pack up with a zipper seal (while trying to get as much air out as possible). Once this is complete, you’ll then need to run a hot iron, (yes, like the one for your clothes) across the seam of the pack to permanently seal it. We have a full video on this.
Although it is a relatively straightforward and easy process, many of those who purchase this pack do not realize there is some setup required. When testing, Cooler Shock, initially was on par with the Engel Ice. It wasn’t until the last 6-12 hours when we saw that there was ice left with the Engel Ice, and the Cooler Shock had melted. However, it did prolong ice pretty well at 18-26 hours. Similar to the Techni Ice, with no ice present in the cooler, this seemed to hold its chill better than most.
4. Yeti Ice
The Yeti Ice is probably one of the most popular ice packs on the market. It should come as no surprise as the Yeti Cooler is one of the most desirable coolers on the market. When placed in a cooler with ice, Yeti Ice seems to bring the internal temperatures down the fastest. However, the lifespan of two, two-pound ice packs in a cooler with 10lbs of ice did not last long. We experienced about 12-16 hours worth of additional ice retention when coupled with ice. When no ice is in the cooler, the Yeti Ice exhausts itself even quicker. Therefore, you’ll want to use more ice packs, or make sure a majority of your cooler contents are already chilled.
5. Arctic Ice Chillin’ Brew
Along with Yeti Ice, the Arctic Ice is probably one of the most popular ice packs. Arctic Ice comes in multiple sizes and freeze points as well. The Chillin’ Brew is not the coldest model, so keep that in mind when reading our test results. The Chillin’ Brew prolonged the life of ice about 12 hours. These packs are usually pretty affordable which makes them even more attractive.
More Affordable Reusable Ice Packs
If you are simply looking for a small ice pack to throw in with a lunch box or a more affordable approach, check out the choices below. While these may not last as long as the ice packs outlined above, these will do the trick for a lunch or day trip.
Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers Slim Lunch Ice Packs
This set of four ice packs is a popular choice for many users. They are great for lunch bags and boxes because they are small at only 4.75” square and .25 inches thick. The pack itself has a hard plastic shell that surrounds the nontoxic gel inside. It is best suited for keeping a small area cool. However, with these packs, if you use all four at one time, you can increase the space that it is able to cool. Thus, you could even use them effectively (if spaced properly) in a larger sized cooler._______________________________
Rubermaid Blue Ice Brand Weekender Pack
This gel pack is larger than most at nearly 7 inches square. It is over 1.5 inches thick as well and designed for camping and cooler use specifically. Some people consider it to be the best when it comes to cooler ice packs because it takes a long time to melt and it does not sweat as much as some of the other options available. It is made with a hard plastic outer shell so that you do not have to worry about it busting easily. Also Available In Multi-Packs⇒
Flexi Freeze Refreezable Ice Sheet
The best cooler ice packs for many people are simply sheets of ice. This is essentially what the Flexi Freeze is. They are chemical free and 100% water based. FlexiFreeze provides flexible coverage for anything inside your cooler and they can be cut down to ensure a fit that still leaves you room in the cooler. These are the perfect solution for anyone that might need a customized approach to an ice pack.
ThermaFreeze Reusable Ice Packs
These sheets last hours longer than regular ice. They have a 3 ply material to keep the frozen material inside of each of the little squares. When frozen you can bend it and twist it to fit your cooler or you can cut it down to fit even better. It is nontoxic and will not drip. You can even use this ice pack to relieve muscle aches. All you have to do is soak it in water and then freeze it. You cannot get much easier than that.
How Long Do Ice Packs Last- No Base Ice
We also tested the same ice packs from above with no base ice. The results were pretty surprising. Almost all ice packs ran out of “coolness” within 12 hours or less. To be fair, we were placing only two ice packs (2-4lbs) into a 35 qt cooler. We did however chill the beverages prior to testing. Nonetheless, the ice packs still could only last roughly 12-18 hours. It was interesting to see that, for the most part, the ice packs finished in the same order when ice was used and not used. See the test and results below.