Best Ice Packs for a Cooler
Updated by Brandon F. on June 16, 2019
Ice and Coolers go hand in hand. One isn’t going to be very effective at keeping your items cool without the other! But what if you need an extra boost in cooling power? Or you don’t want to deal with the watery mess of melted ice?
In comes ice packs. Ice packs provide some unique advantages (and disadvantages) compared to traditional ice. And depending on your specific situation and needs, going with ice packs of a combination of ice packs and ice might be the best approach.
In this article, we will discuss ice packs and also list out the best ice packs for your cooler. We will compare ice packs to other chilling mediums such as ice and frozen ice. By the end of it, you will be able to consider yourself an ice pack pro!
For those of you who are simply looking for the best ice packs from our testing, check out the table below. For the rest of you, scroll on down.
- 1 Best Ice Packs for a Cooler
- 1.1 What is an Ice Pack?
- 1.2 Ice Packs vs. Ice
- 1.3 Best Ice Packs for Your Cooler
- 1.4 Conclusion
What is an Ice Pack?
Not surprisingly, most people don’t really have a good idea as to what an ice pack actually is. Sure, we know that ice packs have some sort of special chemicals or compounds in them that magically keep your items cold, but what is really going on with them?
The specific materials used in most household ice packs will vary from brand to brand. And many of these brands will keep the specifics of their ice packs secret (we don’t blame them). However, you will still be able to find some of the more common materials listed on the packaging.
These materials can include things such as silica gel, hydroxyethyl cellulose, sodium polyacrylate, and others. These materials will be mixed with other proprietary materials to result in special liquids, solids, and gels that the ice pack manufacturers feel will perform at the highest level.
The big requirements here are that whatever ingredients the ice packs are made with need to be great at staying cold, are nontoxic (since they will be exposed to food and drinks), and are affordable.
Ice Packs vs. Ice
The age-old debate. Which is better: ice packs or ice?
Like most things in life, it varies.
In terms of cooling power, you may be surprised to learn that regular ice actually outperforms ice packs in most situations (given an equal volume of each).
While we don’t want to get into a huge engineering discussion, the reason behind this is simple.
Ice has a specific heat capacity of around 2.108 kJ/kg-K. When you compare this to propylene glycol’s (a common material used in ice packs) specific heat capacity of 3 to 4+ kj/kg-K (depending on concentration), you may be thinking to yourself that propylene glycol’s superior numbers make it the better choice. And sure enough, it does mean that it will take more energy to raise the temperature of an equivalent amount of propylene glycol than an equivalent amount of ice.
But that isn’t the whole story.
The key to ice being so great at keeping things cold can be attributed to one huge factor: the latent heat of fusion.
It requires A LOT of energy to convert water from solid phase to liquid phase (aka from ice to water). Around 334 joules per gram to be exact. So what this means is that your ice is going to absorb a lot of heat before it melts.
Propylene glycol, on the other hand, doesn’t go through these phase changes. So to compensate for that extra energy absorption, you would have to get the material extremely cold (much colder than a typical freezer is capable of) for it to have a chance against water.
Still awake? Good!
Your best bet for maximum cooling performance is to load up your cooler with as much ice as possible. And if you prefer to use ice packs instead, try to cram as many as you can in whatever available space you have left after packing your food and drinks.
But cooling performance isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding between ice packs or ice.
The great thing about ice packs is that when they melt, you still have your ice pack. Just pop it in the freezer and an hour later you have a brand new ice pack ready to go!
With ice, once it melts, you are left with a wet mess.
So while ice packs may not typically have the level of cooling performance of traditional ice, the added convenience makes them a quite popular alternative. They also are much easier to store and, when not in use, you can pull them out of the freezer and store them away elsewhere. We all know what happens when you pull ice out of the freezer and try to store it elsewhere!
Then there is the cleanliness factor. Depending on where you get your ice from, you may not want it directly touching something that you plan on eating or drinking. An ice pack, on the other hand, will have its cooling elements fully enclosed. The caveat to this is if you plan on using the ice in your cooler as the ice for your drink. In which case, you will likely opt for ice over an ice pack (this goes without saying but please don’t try to drink the contents of your ice pack!).
Another big reason that people oftentimes will prefer ice packs over ice comes down to price. Ice packs will almost always be more expensive than an equivalent amount of ice. However, ice packs can be reused over and over while you will probably have to go out and buy additional bags of ice. For somebody who plans to use their cooler a lot, the cost savings of not having to constantly buy ice can be pretty significant. If you are someone who plans to be going through a lot of ice, we recommend buying a larger ice maker for your home.
Best Ice Packs for Your Cooler
Now that we have briefly discussed what ice packs are and their pros and cons vs. ice, we will give you a few of our top choices for ice packs available today. Many of these ice packs also made our list in our Best Cooler Accessories article.
Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers
Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers are on the smaller side but are extremely popular for that exact reason. These compact ice packs (4.75” x 4.75” x 0.25”) will fit in just about any lunch box or lunch bag that you can think of. And they come in at a very affordable price point. While there are better options for people wanting to load up their cooler with ice packs, the Fit & Fresh Ice Pack is a great choice for someone after a slight boost in the cooling performance of the bag that packs their lunch for work or a picnic.
We haven’t personally tested the contents, but a lot of people suspect that the fluid used is nothing more than colored water. Even if that is the case, as we showed earlier in this article, good old fashioned water works just fine!
Rubbermaid Blue Ice
Rubbermaid Blue Ice is Rubbermaid’s primary lineup of ice packs. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes ranging from their smaller 3.7” x 1.7” x 6.8” ice blocks up to their 7” x 1.63” x 6.75” models. This makes Blue Ice a good option for both small lunch bags and also for larger hard-sided coolers. And being a Rubbermaid product, you know that it stands behind the reputation of a proven cooler company.
The exact contents of a Rubbermaid Blue Ice are a bit of a mystery to us but from what we have gathered, it is some sort of water/gel hybrid mixture. Either way, it freezes easily and stays cold for a good period of time.
Yeti Ice Pack
“Quality” and “Yeti” seem to go hand in hand. And that is certainly the case with their series of ice packs that they called Yeti Ice. Available in sizes ranging from 1 pound up to 4 pound, Yeti Ice are among the largest of the ice packs that we have seen. And that is no surprise since these are designed to fit in everything from your Yeti Hopper all the way up to your Yeti 350 Ice Chest. But that can also be a bad thing: if you don’t have a Yeti brand cooler already, you may find that the unique shape of Yeti Ice doesn’t always work nicely with your coolers from other brands.
However, if you do happen to be one of the lucky few who own a Yeti Cooler, then going with Yeti Ice is a great way to take advantage of these well-engineered ice packs. Another issue we have with Yeti Ice is that they are among the most expensive ice packs that you can buy. But like most things Yeti, you pay a lot of upfront for it but you do get a quality product that will last.
Cooler Shock Ice Packs are among the most popular ice packs online right now. And for good reason: they are reasonably priced, work well, and come in tons of different shapes and sizes! Cooler Shock didn’t put much emphasis on making a visually appealing ice pack. Instead, they focused on the most important thing: performance. These ice packs come in sizes all the way up to 10” x 14”, making them one of the few ice packs that you could actually consider using exclusively in a cooler as opposed to traditional ice. And they get cold: They are designed to be chilled to 18F which is much colder than most of the ice that you will be using. And when you get them that cold, they will actually last longer than ice.
Another cool aspect of Cooler Shock ice packs is that they come in both ready-to-use options as well as self-filling options. The ready-to-use products come with a specialized gel while the DIY ones only require you to fill them up with water.
Arctic Ice Chilling Brew Series
Arctic Ice Chilling Brew Series Ice Packs have jumped have found the secret to long-lasting ice performance thanks to their use of phase change materials (PCMs). These special PCM materials allow you to chill them to temperatures much lower than ice. And when you go with their largest model (the 5 pound ice pack), you are in store for some serious cooling performance. But they also have great products for smaller applications as well.
Specifically, you can choose between sizes such as .75 pounds, 1.5 pounds, 2.5 pounds, and 5 pounds. While we always prefer to mix ice packs with ice, you can also get away exclusively with Arctic Ice Ice Packs if the occasion warrants it.
Freeze Pak is another popular and proven series of ice packs. They go with a gel formula as opposed to a liquid and the results are certainly there. There are also quite a few different sizes to choose from. One thing to watch out for with Freeze Pak Ice Packs: their outer shell has been known to crack prematurely. This can lead to a giant gel mess if you allow the gel to thaw out. So if you plan on using one of these, keep an eye on the condition of it and try to be careful while transporting it so it doesn’t form cracks. There are also Freeze Pak Ice Packs that come in a plastic bag.
Igloo Maxcold Freezer Block
You have likely heard of Igloo’s lineup of Maxcold Coolers. They are among Igloo’s top performing coolers when it comes to ice retention and still manage to stay quite affordable. So it is no surprise that their Maxcold Freezer Block Ice Packs follow similar ideals.
Available in a variety of shapes and sizes from personal units for your lunch boxes all the way up to their extra large 12” x 10.5” x 1.75” Freezer Block, Igloo likely has a product that will fit your needs. They have also decided to go with a sort of gel substitute instead of a liquid compound.
Engel Cooler Hard Shell Freezer Pack
Engel also makes a series of ice packs that are specially designed to slide right into their hard-sided coolers or rest comfortably in their soft-sided coolers. They are available in small, medium, and large sizes. And they are designed to be charged to some of the lowest freezing temperatures that we have seen: 10 degrees Fahrenheit! That means that you will enjoy a serious boost to your cooler performance if you throw a few of these in your Engel Cooler.
But similar to Engel Coolers, you will also pay a premium price for an Engel Ice Pack. But if you are willing to open up your wallet some, you will be rewarded with a high-quality ice pack that should last for years.
Ice Brix are one of the “old school” ice packs. And a true list of the best ice packs just wouldn’t be complete without them. They are another brand that doesn’t put my care into styling. Also, their ice packs have little in the way of protection: they are literally plastic bags! Because of this, you will want to avoid exposing Ice Brix Ice Packs to sharp edges or abrasive surfaces or else risk making a huge mess.
But what Ice Brix does excel at is keeping things cool. Their long-lasting gel refrigerant has been a proven leader for decades. And the sizes options are simply massive. You can actually buy Ice Brix ice in packages as large as 64 ounces (11” x 8” x 2”). And for those after something smaller, Ice Brix has packages as small as 8 ounces (6.5” x 4” x .75”). The other big selling point of this brand are their prices: they are among some of the most affordable ice packs that money can buy.
We hope that this huge writeup on ice packs is of benefit to you. We went over what ice packs are, compared ice packs to ice, and also listed out some of our favorite ice packs. If you do decide to go with some ice packs, be sure to do your research on which ones will work best for your needs. And like we said before, ice packs tend to work best in conjunction with traditional ice.