Ice packs have come a long way from simple plastic containers filled with water. These days, there are several types of gels and formulas that have been designed to stay colder for longer. Although ice packs are still relatively simple to choose from, we compared 10 different packs with cooler usage in mind. After comparing sizes, cooling abilities, and prices, there's no doubt that the Cooler Shock Freeze Packs are the best ice packs for coolers. These are far and wide the most popular cooler-specific ice packs available, lasting 24-48 hours and providing cooling power equivalent to 20 lbs of ice. Article Summary
If you’re traveling with any kind of food or drinks, chances are you’re using some sort of cooler. Coolers are the go-to solution for keeping meals cool and fresh on the go, but they only get half the credit – you still need a source to keep the temperatures down low! The two common solutions in this case are to fill your cooler with ice or to pack it with a few ice packs, and in most cases, ice packs are the better choice.
Why ice packs and not simple ice cubes? Well, the main reason is the fact that ice packs won’t transform into a liquid mess when they finally melt. It’s safe to say we’ve all been put on cleanup duty after a long trip, and cleaning out a cooler full of soaked food and trash definitely isn’t on our list of top five favorite things to do. On top of that, it is far easier to just continuously reuse ice packs than it is to get bags of ice every time you want to take your cooler out.
Most people consider ice packs to be the simplest thing in the world, but believe it or not, the design and formula used within the pack can make a big difference in the temperature it provides and how long it lasts. No – we’re not talking about basic plastic containers filled with water anymore. These are unique packs specially designed for long-term coolness.
We compared 10 modern ice packs to see which offered the best performance for keeping coolers cold over time. The two main aspects we compared were size and formula, since those are arguably the most important factors in keeping coolers cold. However, we also considered price and lifespan, because you don’t want an expensive pack that only lasts a couple months. Once all 10 packs were compared, we’d consider the following three to be the best ice packs for coolers.
The best cooler ice packs overall
When it comes to cooler-oriented ice packs, there is nothing better than Cooler Shock Freeze Packs. Cooler Shock dominates the ice pack industry, and their packs are by far the most popular when it comes to cooler usage (in case you can’t tell by the name, these were literally made with cooler use in mind). Using a simple scientific phenomenon, Cooler Shock has designed a unique non-toxic cooling gel that can keep coolers colder than traditional solutions and also lasts twice as long.
There are two sizes available (10″ x 9″ or 10″ x 14″), and each comes in packages of three. As you can imagine based on their size, each pack these offers a lot of cooling, so unless you are lugging a lot of food around, for say two or more people, chances are you won’t even need all three.
Cooler Shock uses a special kind of gel that has thermal properties that allow it to stay cool for longer periods of time than traditional ice packs. We could go into scientific detail about the process, but to keep things simple and spare all the big fancy words, the gel has a lower phase change temperature (sort of like a “melting point”) than ice (gel at 18°, ice at 32°). This not only allows it to provide colder temperatures, but it also allows it to keep hold those low temperatures far longer than ice – Cooler Shock packs can stay frozen for roughly 2 days. The gel itself is non-toxic and completely safe; in fact, truth be told, the formula was originally designed for the medical industry to help transport blood, so needless to say it had to meet some incredibly strict safety standards.
Another contributor to the impressive performance of the Cooler Shock packs is the container itself, but they don’t use plastic containers like most other products. Instead, the cooling gel is contained in a durable multi-ply bag that consists of foil and nylon. This bag not only helps prevent leaks, but it is also specially-designed to help the gel maintain its low temperature. Just like the gel itself, the bag is completely safe.
Cooler Shock packs are shipped in a dry state and the only thing you have to do to use them is add a specified amount of water once you receive them (you only have to do this once). After that, just permanently seal the pack and it is ready for use. The great thing about these packs is the fact that you can reuse them however many times you want. When the gel inside the pack finally changes phase (aka “melts), all you have to do is throw them back into the freezer and they will be ready for use again by the next morning.
As you can see, the Cooler Shock Freeze Packs are undeniably the best ice packs for coolers. They are large but reasonably sized, and most importantly they last far longer than any other ice packs, keeping your food and drinks colder for longer without any messy cleanup.
Compact ice packs for smaller needs
If you’re looking for something a little smaller than the large Cooler Shock packs, the Fit & Fresh Slim Lunch Ice Packs measure about 5″ by 5″ and can easily be stored in any size cooler. Unlike our previous pick’s unique scientifically-designed cooling gel, there’s nothing too fancy about the Fit & Fresh packs other than they work extremely well despite their small size.
As mentioned above, the size of these packs are much smaller than our top pick. These measure at approximately 5″ by 5″, and only about a quarter-inch thick. That makes them perfect things like hiking or backpacking, but also more mundane applications. If you are bringing lunch to work, these are small and compact enough to fit any kind of lunch case or bag you might be using. And not to worry, the containers are made with non-toxic plastics, so you’re safe even if they come into direct contact with any of your food.
Like our top pick, the Fit & Fresh packs are reusable, and that is one of the best things about them. This little fact might come across as pretty logical to most people; however, when you look at their price, things change a little. These are extremely affordable, which is a trait that is usually found in expendable ice packs. Since these are reusable and rather durable on top of that, you are basically getting a very cheap way of keeping your food cool over and over.
The main downside to the Slim Lunch Packs is the maximum cooling time. We are looking at a water-based formula that definitely behaves better than pure water, but is still behind gels and similar solutions. On top of that, their compact size doesn’t help the situation either. Most users report getting 4-6 hours of cooling time from these packs, which we considered on the lower end. If that works for you, awesome! You’ve got nothing to worry about. However, if you are looking for something that can last a full 10-hour day of hiking, you might want to consider something a little thicker like the Cooler Shock packs.
Overall, the Fit & Fresh Slim Lunch Ice Packs are most suitable for short-term usage in things like lunch boxes or backpacks on shorter hikes. Their compact size allows them to fit in nearly anything you’ve got, but if long-term cooling is your goal, we’d still recommend going with our previous pick.
An all-around great ice pack
With three sizes available (1.5 lb, 2.5 lb, and 5 lb), the Arctic Ice Chillin Brew Cooler Pack is like the perfect middle-ground between both of our previous picks. This simple plastic ice pack uses a formula of vegetable oils to keep cold for hours on end, and it’s tested to be reusable thousands of times.
In case you can’t guess by the name, Arctic Ice’s Chillin Brew series was primarily designed for people who often fill their coolers with beer (of course, you can use these for anything, not just cooling beer!). Arctic Ice fills these packs with a vegetable oil concoction whose freezing point is right around where your beer would freeze, which is lower than the freezing point of water. The result is an ice pack that will keep your contents cold for longer than traditional ice and most other packs, and the size allows it to last all day or night.
With that said, this niche nature of Chillin Brew makes it a perfect choice for a variety other applications. Put this thing in a cooler box with some ice and it will keep that ice from melting for much longer than your usual ice packs would. On a similar note, using Chilling Brew with soft coolers such as backpacks and similar will do wonders for preserving whatever food you are bringing with you.
The body of the Chilling Brew container features a boxy, simple design. They have included a handle at the top which is sort of necessary considering the larger size. At the very bottom, there is a cap which allows you to replace the fluid inside, although you probably won’t ever need to – the one that comes with the pack can be reused for years.
We chose the Arctic Ice Chillin Brew Pack as a third choice simply based on its size alone. Our first pick was best for most cooler usage, whereas our second pick was best for smaller coolers. The Arctic Ice models fit in between, so the demand for this size is a bit lower than the other picks. With that said, if this size is what you’re looking for, you can expect this pack to last all day without an issue.
How we picked our top three
Considering how inexpensive ice packs are, it is no surprise that the market is over saturated with a whole variety of different options. The only problem is that most of these are neither effective nor good enough to be used even for casual purposes. As mentioned in the introduction to this guide, ice packs have evolved quite a bit from just plastic containers filled with water, so we looked at things like formulas, size, and design to help us figure out which ones were best for coolers.
Performance is really just a fancy term for: how long can the ice pack keep a cooler cold? This is arguably the most important aspect when choosing an ice pack, and so we specifically looked at the formulas used within each pack to see which offered the longest cooling times.
One of our personal rules here was to exclude any ice pack that used solely water. The reasons for this decision are numerous. The first and most important reason is efficiency, or lack thereof, compared to other chemical or oil-based coolants. When water forms ice, it’s melting point is much higher. In other words, you will get a shorter cooling time with actual ice compared to other alternatives. In addition, water-based coolants tend to “sweat” a lot inside a cooler, meaning you’ll still end up with a liquid mess at the end of the day.
Each of the products we selected offered a unique formula that provided cooling times far longer than traditional water-ice packs, meaning your cooler will maintain lower temperatures for longer and without the resulting liquid mess. Cooler Shock by far lasts the longest with a cooling time of 24-48 hours, with our other two choices offering 4-6 hour cooling and 6-10 hour cooling respectively.
One of the greatest benefits of modern ice packs is that fact that they are reusable. No more trips to the store to get a 10 lb bag of ice any time you need to use your cooler, just reach into your freezer and you’re ready to go. With that said, reusability can vary depending on the solution used within the ice pack, as well as the physical container used to hold the solution. We specifically looked for packs that offered reusability for as long as possible – why replace them when you don’t have to, right? Each of our picks offers lifespan well into the 5+ year range, making them excellent purchases.
Since ice packs are used in anything from big box coolers to small soft cooler bags, we wanted to include a variety of options which would cover most applications. Our top pick is the largest of the bunch, making it the best ice pack for large coolers or any type of chest that needs a lot of cooling power. Our second pick is best for small coolers such as lunch boxes or even small backpacks when you’re taking lunch on your hike. Our third pick offered a few sizes in between, allowing you to pick the size that best fits your personal needs.
Things to consider before buying
Certain ice packs work better for certain situations. As such, defining your personal use will help you pick the product that best fits your personal needs. Below are a couple of questions to ask yourself before buying to ensure you choose the right option.
How do you plan to use your ice packs?
There is a big difference between heading out on an overnight backpacking trip and taking a family trip to the park. Needless to say, there will be an “ideal” ice pack for both scenarios. For example, in the first scenario, the ice pack’s performance should be at the top of your priority list, as you’ll want something that can stay cold throughout your entire trip. With that said, size will also play a role as you don’t want to carry an overly large ice pack that’s going to take up room and weigh you down.
What size do you really need?
Seems like a pretty obvious question, right? However, you’d be surprised just how many people buy the wrong size. They’ll either get something that’s far too big for their cooler, or they’ll get something too small that doesn’t provide the cooling ability they require.
Ice packs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and performances – and the best one for your will depend on your cooler’s size and nature. For example, extra-large ice packs work best in box coolers while they are of limited use in something like a backpack cooler. For backpack-type coolers, it is recommended that you get a size that fits snugly among the food or drinks you are trying to keep cool. This way you are getting the optimal performance for the volume of the cooling compartment.
Additional tips for using ice packs
Everyone knows how to use an ice pack. Throw it in the freezer, wait until it’s frozen, and then throw it in your cooler for hours of food preservation. However, there are a couple of other things that most people overlook. We’d like to remind you of those below.
If you are frequently using your ice packs, it is important to properly clean them from time to time. This is even more important if your packs come into direct contact with exposed food products such as raw meat or vegetables. By cleaning them, you are stripping away all of the bacteria and residue that is potentially being built up on the pack over time. On top of that, cleaning your packs reduces the chance of odors and similar unwanted byproducts of food storage.
When you are packing your cooler with food and drinks, make sure to leave enough room for your ice packs. The last thing you want to do is jam an ice pack into a cooler that is already full. While this isn’t the end of the world if you do have to do this, it’s just best practice to avoid damaging your pack, your cooler, or your food.
Wrapping it up
It’s incredible how much thought can go into buying such a simple product. But when you’ve got usage ranging from picnics at the park to serious hunting trips, there are lot of things to consider. We chose the best cooler ice packs based on their ability to keep temperatures low over time, and in this regard, Cooler Shock takes the cake with no other product even close to its performance. With that said, not everyone can fit a 10″ by 14″ ice pack in their lunch box, so in these scenarios, one of our other picks offers solid daily cooling while remaining sweat-free.