And when your ice is all melted, it’s only a matter of time before everything in your cooler heats up. When your party or your camping trip is reliant on that ice staying frozen, the question then is – how long will ice last in a cooler?
Are you in need of answers yourself? Then read on to find out about the variables involved, and what you can do to make your ice last longer!
1. Cooler Construction
What kind of icebox or cooler are you using? Different construction techniques will result in your ice melting faster or slower. If you’re using something like a plain styrofoam box the ice within will melt within the next 18 to 24 hours. On the other hand, something like a Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler can potentially keep your ice frozen for days.
The reason for this disparity? Better-designed coolers take into account that the weakest points of a cooler isn’t necessarily the quality of its insulation. Rather, it is the gap between the lid of the box and the box itself. Seal that properly, and the heat has a harder time getting in!
2. The Ice Used
Contrary to what you may otherwise be thinking, not all ice will melt at the same rate. If you studied physics, you may already know this – heat transfer is highly reliant on the surface area available. In other words, the less exposed surfaces you have, the longer your ice will last.
This means that packaged ice you use for your drinks will actually melt faster than large ice chunks – or even just frozen plastic water bottles. It may make taking things out of the cooler much harder than you’d like, but you might want to consider bigger ice chunks if you want them staying frozen for longer.
It would be pretty silly to ask how long will ice last in a cooler if someone keeps opening said cooler, or even – heaven forbid – never bother shutting it. Cooler boxes work best if they can keep hot air out and cold air in. Keep that lid shut tight, and the insulation can take care of the rest.
But if you’re constantly opening it up to reach for a drink, they won’t be able to keep ice frozen as effectively. This means that a cooler box that doesn’t see as much use will have its contents last longer than one that’s constantly being opened up. So if you’re looking to make sure your ice lasts, try treating it like a fridge – grab what you need fast, and keep it shut otherwise.
4. Storage Location
Sure, it’s super convenient to have your cooler next to you if you’re the cook for the family BBQ – but this means that the ice within will melt faster. No matter how fancy your ice box is, its insulation isn’t perfect. It’s pretty hard to fight against Mother Nature herself, after all. What should have lasted a day may be all melted and defrosted within a few hours!
Since a box can heat up from being placed next to a fire or kept under direct sunlight, it should come as no surprise that the box’s insides will become warmer as a result. Consider keeping it away from all that hubbub and put it somewhere shady – like under a tree, or on a cooler patch of grass.
5. Keeping Your Chill
Most people seem to think that packing a cooler should be as easy as tossing things into it with some ice, but this isn’t really the case. If your foodstuffs are all warm – or, for some inexplicable reason, hot – before going in, then obviously they’re all going to melt your ice before you even get to your party or campsite! How long will ice last in a cooler in a situation like that?
So before you start throwing things into your icebox, consider chilling or freezing everything first. You can even pre-chill your cooler by filling it up with ice for a few hours before packing it with things you’re bringing along on your trip. That way, the ice won’t have to work so hard to keep things chill!
1. Raise The Bar
Science has taught us that the freezing point of water is 0 degrees Celsius. The reality, however, isn’t so clean-cut. While this freezing point is true of distilled water, most water contains trace minerals that can raise or lower the freezing point of ice – and its subsequent melting point.
If you have the opportunity to make your own ice, why not make salted ice? At first, it may seem counterproductive – salt lowers the freezing and melting point of water. In other words, salted ice will actually melt before normal ice does.
However, salted actually gets much colder than normal ice would. In the safety of an insulated cooler, this means that it creates a colder environment that actually protects itself! As long as you keep your trips to the cooler minimal, salted ice will – in practice – last longer than normal ice would.
2. Change Your Packing Strategy
Most people seem to think that if there’s more ice to foodstuff, it’ll work out. This isn’t actually the case. Airflow is actually the enemy of increased internal cooler temperature – the more room there is for hot air to get in, the faster everything will melt and defrost. Instead, after pre-chilling or freezing everything, pack it all tightly.
Do your best to fill your cooler up to the very brim – it’ll help keep that cold air in and make things last longer. Make sure there is as little room as possible between your items and your ice as well. If you can get square water bottles and freeze them, that’s even better – now you can stack things and make it airtight!
On top of all this, you can get physics to work in your favor. Just cover everything with a layer of ice when you’re done! Cold air sinks, so the topmost layer of ice will keep everything below it frosty. That layer may melt faster, but it is a noble sacrifice necessary to maintain that ever-important chill!
3. Add More Insulation
It may seem unnecessary considering a cooler is really an insulated box, but adding more insulation is key if you’re super concerned about making your ice last. After all, this means that heat has a harder time getting to your ice, and most of it will disperse before it can melt the ice.
What you can do is put down an extra layer of bubble wrap, and then cover it all with a towel. If you don’t have bubble wrap, just a towel will work too. This can work as an extra layer of insulation before you start packing things into your cooler.
If you don’t have either bubble wrap or a towel as an option (or you just feel like being over-the-top), you can line your cooler with frozen ice packs or frozen water bottles instead!
4. Choose Your Ice Wisely
Bagged ice cubes or crushed ice are easy to get – you can buy them at just about any grocery store you can think of. But that purchasing ease may also be your undoing – ice cubes have a ton of air between them, so your air-to-ice ratio is much higher than ideal. This makes it easy for hot air to rush in between those gaps, melting the ice faster.
Instead, choose to get larger chunks of ice like block ice if you can. Less exposed surface area means that no matter how much hot air gets involved, the ice physically cannot melt any faster. Alternatively, freeze bottles of water instead. If you can get them in square shapes, that makes it easier to pack everything airtight.
(As an added bonus, if it’s not salted water, then you get extra drinking water when it all melts later!)
5. What’s The Ratio?
At the end of the day, you still need ice to keep everything cool or frozen. And while freezing and pre-chilling everything helps, what’s the point of ice if that alone is enough to do the job? How long will ice last in a cooler if there’s not enough of it to keep itself chilly?
In reality, you’ll actually want an ice-to-item ratio of about 2-to-1. This ensures everything is chilled and will stay that way for the rest of your trip or party.
6. Plug That Pipe
As ice inevitably starts melting inside your cooler, it can be tempting to pop open the drain so you can let out excess water. This is actually a terrible idea. Not only can water keep things cooler than air would anyway, but you would also be letting hot air in as a result. You can’t make a vacuum, after all – something has to replace all that missing water!
Instead, keep that drain plugged shut. If you’re concerned about things getting soggy and wet, just pack them into waterproof baggies before putting them into the cooler box.
7. Organize Your Gear
Your cooler can’t do its job as efficiently if you’re too busy opening it up to fish out a drink every couple of minutes. So when you start packing things, considering putting all the foodstuffs that need to stay frozen in a separate cooler. Anything else that doesn’t need chilling as urgently (for example, drinks) can go into a different cooler.
This way, you can limit the number of times the heat-sensitive cooler is opened and prolong the lifespan of your ice – and anything else inside it. After all, there’s only so much insulation can do when you’re actively working against it!
The question of how long ice will last in a cooler is highly dependant on several variables. For the most part, you can expect about maybe a day’s worth of use from lower-end coolers, and potentially up to 4 days with higher-end brands. This is, of course, assuming you’re taking good care of your coolers.
If you need to maximize your ice’s lifespan, you will have to look into various things such as cooler location, usage, and packing style. Other things you can do is add even more insulation to your cooler, or change the type of ice you’re using. While the fight against Mother Nature’s inevitability can be a hard one, it’s definitely possible to slow down the melting of your ice.
It may seem like this is a lot of work for just making your ice last, but if you’re a camper or someone who is passionate about the ideal serving temperature of your beer, this will be all worth it!