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Best Ice packs for Coolers

Every vacation and outing in summer is incomplete without an ice cooler full of drinks and snacks. Having an ice cooler by your side while camping, traveling or fishing will never let you go thirsty or hungry. It's normal to use ice from a gas station or grocery store to help keep everything cold. Unfortunately, melting ice always turns things messy. The mess created by melting ice led to options to keep the ice box cool inside. Ice retention is a concern with many ice coolers, and only the best ice packs can solve the problem. Retention of coolness inside totally depends on the type of ice or ice pack. Use of ice packs does not suit all types of ice coolers. The type, size and material of an ice cooler will determine what ice pack is best for retaining coolness. Before we get into our reviews, let’s review the different types if ice packs.

Regular Ice vs. Ice packs

Let us see why ice packs prove to be better than regular ice. Many ice coolers boast of holding ice for several days. What they do not say is how much the cooler will sweat when the ice melts. The messiest part is the ice melted entering the storage chamber and spoiling the food. People complain of pulling out sandwiches immersed in water which can spoils the fun of a summer picnic. Manufacturers do not mention this when advertising and only boast of material and ice retention time

When ice packs replace regular ice in the cooler the melting ice problem goes away. However, some coolers may sweat outside but will not spoil the food and beverages stored in them. Some may recommend dry ice instead of regular ice. Although dry ice works for transportation, the performance degrades when you open and close the cooler for several times. Dry ice is a gas and escapes the cooler whenever you open the lid. This means dry ice is ideal for transporting perishables as long as the cooler remains closed.

Are ice packs better than ice?

If you are wondering whether ice packs are better than regular ice, the answer is a definitive yes.  Ice is important in coolers to help keep the contents cool. When ice turns into water, it’s still cold and is able to keep the contents cold.   In most cases, ice packs prove to be better for ice coolers. Let’s first try to understand how ice packs work to keep things cool.

Ice packs are small in size, but the cooling delivered makes for a good use of that space. The ice packs stay colder longer than regular ice without drowning the storage area.

Ice packs provide even cooling to all the food and beverages stored in the ice cooler. Ice packs can fit between items to distribute coolness evenly. This distribution is not possible with regular ice. There is also the danger of ice melting and spoiling food when using regular ice. Suppose you pack soda, beer and lunch meats. You can place more ice packs between the items to ensure that they are cold when taken out for consumption. Freezing the items before loading will keep them cooler for a longer time.

The only advantage of regular ice is the ability to crush it and pack it tightly. This means you can add more ice to keep the contents inside cool till the entire ice melts. Probably that is the only advantage of the regular ice over ice packs. Let’s now move on to our favorite ice packs available on the market today. There are different types of ice packs available today for different types of coolers and uses. Not all ice packs are gel packed in plastic blocks.

Where do you put ice packs in a cooler?

as with traditional ice, you would first place your drinks of food in first, then fit the ice around them.  The same works for ice packs.  Place your items in first then depending on the type of pack you either fit them between your items or on top.  On top is a good spot as it will help keep external heat out and the cold in.

The only exception to this rule is if you are using a 6 can resuable ice pack.  these are designed to go in first then slip the cans in after.

6 pak

How do you keep ice packs cold?

The easiest answer is to put them in the freezer when you aren't using them.  For best results, most ice packs should be refrigerated for 24 hours before use.

How long to ice packs stay cold?

Most ice packs will stay cold for two to three days inside of a cooler.  The flexible packs typically won't last as long as the rigid packs with a hard other shell.

Types of Ice Packs

Ice packs are used for two main reasons; first, they provide better cooling than regular ice and the second is they stay frozen for a longer time and do not spoil the food stored in the cooler by melting like that of regular ice. With regular ice, the food stored in the cooler such as hot-dog or sandwiches becomes soggy. This happens because of the melted ice entering the storage and immersing everything in the water. Nothing can be more disappointing than reaching a soggy sandwich or hamburger after a tiring activity outdoors. Fortunately, this does not happen when you use ice packs in your cooler than regular ice.

Environment-Friendly Ice packs


Many companies are turning towards environment-friendly chemical products that are non-toxic. The same applies to the ice pack industry. The traditional blue gel plastic blocks used for packing food and beverages are petroleum based. There was concern of leakage into the food when the packs being to melt.

The most popular material in use recently is Phase Change Material (PCM). Unlike traditional materials PCM is not a petroleum based chemical gel. PCM is made of plant-based material and are fully biodegradable which makes them environment-friendly. PCM ice backs absorb heat while keeping the coldness locked inside to maintain coolness for a long time. The eco-friendly nature PCM makes for the best ice packs on the market today!

One significant advantage of the PCM material is that it does not lose the cooling due to the heat absorbed. The entire unit needs to reach a melting point for the phase changing to take place. Regular ice starts constantly melting which results in releasing heat into the cooler with the constant rise in temperature. Today there are several brands of PCM ice packs that are popular and well-reviewed. Search on Amazon for some of the best options.

Flexible Foil Ice Packs


Flexible foil packs are another type of ice packs that are gaining popularity in the market recently. Originally these ice packs helped to transport blood for emergencies. Foil ice packs accelerate cooling by drawing heat from the surroundings with the help of the three nylon layer pack. The foil ice packs are environment-friendly and are 100% non-toxic are not too expensive. The layers of the pack are 7-mil thick and can freeze down to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. This is less than the temperature of melting ice. A few bags of foil packs can replace 20 lbs of regular ice.

Gel Packs


Traditional gel packs are still being widely used in ice coolers. The advancement in the technology helped to improve gel packs by using BPA-free material. Gel packs freeze at lower temperature than water and have better heat capacity properties. This enables gel packs to internally store energy longer. Today the market is flooded with different types of environment-friendly and toxin-free ice packs. These are available depending on the type of the ice cooler. The BPA-free ice packs remove the worry of chemicals leaking into the food.

Size of the Ice Packs

One disadvantage of ice packs is that the shape is rigid for packing into the ice cooler. This is where regular ice outperforms ice packs in ice coolers. Some packs come with flexible packing that are still difficult to fit in narrow spaces and corners. These do not fit into awkward corners, unlike regular ice. Fortunately, there are companies that came out with a newline of ice packs that solve this short coming. There are a few ice packs brands on the market designed to suit the packing requirements of the ice cooler. These ice packs are shapeable into pieces or the size required for your particular ice cooler. It's amazing! There are also thin strips of ice packs available on the market. These are just ¼ inch and can easily fit into any corner or tighter spaces similar to ice cubes.

Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Ice Pack for Your Cooler

More and more people are turning to BPA free ice packs. Traditional petroleum gel based ice packs are not in use but pop up here and there. Be sure to look closely at ice packs label.

The size of the cooler matters. Buy ice packs that fits the cooler not the other way. There is a misconception that an ice pack will keep an 60 quart cooler cooler or days. Ice packs only have enhanced ice retention capacity of around 60% than regular ice. There there are no miracle packs to keep the ice cooler chilled for several days.

Best Ice packs for your ice cooler

Although regular ice delivers effective cooling, it turns the interiors messy when it starts to melt. The melted ice immerses everything stored in the ice cooler. This can make the vacation an unpleasant and a disappointing one. There are several reasons to use re-usable ice packs for their ice coolers than regular ice.

  • Re-usable packs are a one-time investment.
  • cold retention is 40% to 60% longer than regular ice.
  • Ice packs prevent the food stored in the cooler from becoming soggy.
  • last but not least – not more trips to the gas station for ice!