When you dream of a day of fun on the beach, sun, and sand, coolers filled with ice probably feature in the daydream. While ice is the traditional way to chill your food and drinks in your cooler, ice has some downsides. Unless you have a high-capacity ice maker, you typically must buy bags of ice, which means making a trip to the store and paying for something that will soon turn into dirty water at the bottom of your cooler.
Gel ice packs present a better option. The best ice packs for coolers can provide as much, if not more, cooling power than ice, with some food staying cool for as long as two days when paired with the right cooler. And they’re reusable, saving money and the hassle of having to purchase ice. Moreover, soggy sandwiches and cooler cleanup become a thing of the past.
Read on to learn more about the factors to consider when shopping for an ice pack and to find a list of the best ice packs on the market for keeping your cooler cool.
- BEST OVERALL: Arctic Ice Long Lasting Ice Pack
- RUNNER-UP: YETI ICE Refreezable Reusable Cooler Ice Pack
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Healthy Packers Ice Pack for Lunch Box
- BEST OVERSIZED PICK: Cooler Shock 3X Lg. Zero⁰F Cooler Freeze Packs
- BEST FOR SMALL COOLERS: Cooler Shock Lunch Bag Size Ice Packs
- BEST GEL PACK: Cooler Shock 18-Degree F. Hard Packs
- BEST FOR CANS AND BOTTLES: TOURIT Ice Packs for Coolers
- MOST VERSATILE: OICEPACK Ice Pack for Lunch Box
What to Consider When Buying the Best Ice Packs for Coolers
While all cooler packs use a frozen gel or liquid to keep coolers cool, they have notable differences in size, freezing point, and longevity.
Ice packs come as either hard-sided packs or soft packs. Soft packs allow users to conform the ice pack around the items, which is ideal for soft lunch bags and coolers, while hard-sided packs provide a more rigid block that can fit neatly into a rigid square cooler.
Consider the size of the ice pack: Bigger doesn’t always mean better. While a larger ice pack may provide more cooling power, it will take up more precious real estate in the freezer and reduce the available space in the cooler for food and drinks.
Also consider the type of container. Larger ice packs work well in large coolers, while smaller ice packs are suitable for kids’ lunchboxes. Ice packs range in size from about 5 inches wide by 5 inches long up to 10 inches wide by 13 inches long. Ice packs can weigh less than a pound or up to 5 pounds.
Freezing point determines just how long the ice pack will stay cold, and, in turn, the temperature in the cooler. Most ice packs contain a gel that consists of one of three nontoxic substances: hydroxyethylcellulose, sodium polyacrylate, or silica gel. These gels are contained in a bag or hard shell made of vinyl or plastic.
The gels have a much lower freezing point than water. A gel with a freezing point of 10 degrees Fahrenheit stays cold longer than water, which has a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
When choosing a gel freezer pack, consider some of their characteristics. Gel-based ice packs often trap air bubbles because gel is more viscous than water. Trapped air bubbles can cause hard shell freezer packs to balloon out, ruining their flat shape. Higher-quality cooler packs feature tough plastic shells that resist ballooning.
When determining the length of time that an ice pack will stay cold, size is the best indicator. An ice pack that weighs 4 pounds will stay cold longer than one that weighs 2 pounds. A 5-pound ice pack used inside a quality cooler can stay cold for up to two days. Since they’re thicker, hard-sided blocks also stay cold significantly longer than soft ice packs.
Freezer packs are manufactured in various shapes to meet different needs. Some ice packs can be stacked or connected to create larger ice packs or different shapes, allowing them to be used in a range of applications, from lunch boxes to large coolers.
Our Top Picks
The following ice packs are made by some of the most innovative companies in the business. They offer superior longevity, are made from durable materials, and meet a variety of different cooling applications. Read on to find some of the best ice packs for coolers.
A flat ice pack, once frozen, usually turns into a bulbous mass, making it difficult to fit into a cooler. However, this innovatively designed ice pack from Arctic Ice features a molded pattern that prevents the ice pack from losing its shape, keeping it pancake flat. This design also expands the overall surface area of the pack, allowing it to cool more of whatever is around it. With its low 28-degree freezing point, this ice pack will keep food and drinks chilled for a long time.
The molded shape allows the packs to interlock with each other, enabling you to stack multiple ice packs to maximize cooling power for keeping food fresh and drinks ice cold. With its flat shape and four different-size options, this ice pack fits easily into most coolers. It also features a convenient handle that allows for easy removal. This ice pack comes in four different sizes.
This durable ice pack from YETI is an excellent option for keeping both large and small coolers chilled. It features a durable break-resistant outer shell with a hole in the center to prevent the pack from puffing out when frozen and reduces freezing time. With a freezing point of 28 degrees Fahrenheit, this pack will keep your cooler chilled at a lower temperature than ice.
The shell is also impact resistant, which ensures this ice pack will endure many picnics, fishing trips, and backyard parties. The YETI ICE comes in multiple size options, including 1-, 2-, and 4-pound packs. Its rectangular shape allows it to fit in the cooler or freezer easily while the hole in the middle makes it easy to pull out.
If trying to keep a larger cooler or multiple lunch boxes chilled, you need a few ice packs. This set of four ice packs from Healthy Packers offers plenty of cooling packs for a price that won’t send chills down your spine. Each ice pack measures 7 inches by 5 inches—about the size of a paperback book—making it an excellent option for smaller coolers and lunch bags.
Available in packs of four and eight, consumers can purchase the number of ice packs for their cooling needs. For smaller bags, use one, and for larger coolers, simply add more packs to increase the cooling power. Depending on the cooler type, these ice packs will stay cold for about six hours.
If you’re trying to cool a 100-quart beast, you need the big guns. Ice packs don’t get much bigger than these large freezer packs from Cooler Shock. They measure a whopping 10 inches by 14 inches. This pack comes in a set of three, making it the equivalent of 18 pounds of ice. Cooler Shock’s innovative design allows each pack to maintain its 18-degree freezing point temperature until it has completely thawed, ensuring your food remains cool for a long time. When used with a quality 32-quart cooler, three packs will keep food and drinks cold for up to 48 hours.
These Cooler Shock packs, which use a water-and-gel mixture, feature an 8-ml thick foil and nylon cover that prevents rips or cuts. The long, thin, flexible design allows for easy storage in a freezer.
These compact packs from freezer pack specialists Cooler Shock are just the right size for smaller coolers and lunch bags. Each pack measures just 6.5 inches by 7.5 inches, making it a great option for lunch bags or a small cooler. They come in a set of five to keep the whole brood’s packed lunches cool.
Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they aren’t powerful. These diminutive freezer bags have a freezing point of 18 degrees Fahrenheit—a temperature they maintain throughout the thawing process—and will stay cold up to 10 hours. That’s plenty of cooling power to keep drinks cold and sandwiches fresh for picnics, school lunches, and camping trips. Each bag is reinforced with aluminum, nylon, and polyethylene layers for durability and rapid cold transfer.
With its substantial weight, large surface area, and low freezing point, this set of cool packs from Cooler Shock provides plenty of chilling power. Each pack weighs 5 pounds, allowing it to keep its cool longer than a lighter pack. With dimensions of 10 inches by 13 inches and a thickness of 1.25 inches, this pack has plenty of surface area to emit cold while maintaining a slender profile for an easy fit in both coolers and freezers.
The ribbed surface helps the pack hold its shape while also increasing the surface area for maximum cooling. With a freezing point of a frigid 18 degrees Fahrenheit, these packs stay cold for many hours. One pack in a 16-quart cooler can keep food cold for an entire day.
Large flat cool packs that sit on the bottom or sides of a cooler make it challenging to chill a cooler full of drinks. The Tourit ice pack’s long, narrow shape makes it an excellent option for keeping drinks cold.
At 8.75 inches long by 1.5 inches wide, you can mix these cool packs in with the cans and bottles, allowing them to cool drinks more evenly. And since the packs come in sets of four, eight, and 12, you can use as many as you need to keep your cooler cool. Their design also makes them well-suited for lunch bags and smaller cooler bags. Tourit ice packs are available in yellow and green as well as the standard cooler-pack blue.
Part ice pack, part jigsaw puzzle, this versatile product from OICEPACK provides a variety of options for keeping food cool. In a 10 pack of 5-inch by 5-inch freezer squares, the ridges on each side of the squares allow them to fit together like a puzzle. This design means users can create a freezer box out of these cool packs or link them together to make a larger pack.
Link all 10 packs together to create a small cooler for keeping a canned drink chilled or stack them for increased cooling ability. This innovative design makes the OICEPACK one of the most versatile cooler packs on the market.
FAQ About Your New Ice Packs
If you still have burning questions about ice packs, read on to find out how ice packs compare to ice, how long they last, and how to dispose of the worn-out packs.
Q. Do cooler ice packs work as well as regular ice?
No evidence suggests that ice packs stay cold longer than ice; however, many ice packs feature lower freezing points, which means they can maintain a colder temperature than ice during the thawing period. Keep in mind that ice, which is either crushed or in numerous cubes, can better surround items, keeping food and drinks more evenly chilled than rigid ice packs that cannot be dispersed throughout the cooler as easily.
Q. How long do ice packs last?
Chilling time depends on the size of the ice pack and the quality of the cooler. Generally, larger and heavier ice packs last longer than smaller ones. Some of the best large ice packs can last up to two full days in a quality cooler.
Q. How do you discard ice packs?
When consumers consider the environmental hazards of discarding ice packs, they’re usually concerned about the bright blue gel inside the packs. While the gel looks as if it could be hazardous to your health, most gel in ice packs is nontoxic and biodegradable. The real problem is the plastic coating that contains the gel, which is not biodegradable. To be responsible, cut open the gel pack, empty the gel into the garbage, and then dispose of the plastic part by taking it to a plastic bag recycling center.