So you are planning a camping trip or trip to the lake, and you want to make sure you have enough ice to keep your food or drinks cool the whole time. The problem is you don’t know how long the ice will last in your cooler or maybe how much ice to use. Perhaps, you just want to know some tips on how to make the ice last longer in your cooler.
We have put this article together to answer all the questions that you have about using ice in your cooler.
First, how long does ice last in an ice chest?
We found that ice will last in a cooler anywhere from 2 days up to 4 days with somewhat normal use. A lot of coolers will throw out fantastic claims for ice to last up to 10 days but that is in perfect conditions. Here are more realistic times based on our tests.
- Ice will last in a styrofoam cooler for about 18-24 hours.
- Ice will last in a cheaper Coleman cooler somewhere between 18-24 hours.
- Ice will last in a Coleman steel belted cooler for about 2 to 3 days.
- Ice lasted in a Pelican Elite cooler for about 4 to 5 days.
- Ice lasted about 4 days in a Yeti Tundra 45 cooler.
Be sure to keep reading this article as we will dive deeper into how long different brands will keep your ice before melting. We will also go over some tips and hacks to help you get the most out of your cooler. Not only are all ice chest not the same but how you pack it and the type of ice you use can widely influence the longevity of your ice.
Here’s everything we will cover.
The ice chest tests.
We tried to find the information on how long ice actually lasts in coolers, but we were out of luck. The only answer was for us to go out and buy several coolers at different price levels and test them ourselves. It is important that you know how these tests were run so that you can make the best choice for you. We decided to test five types of coolers, a cheap styrofoam cooler Unknown QT ( $10-$20 ), A Coleman chest from the dollar store 45QT (unknown model $40), a Coleman Steel Cooler 54 QT ( $95 – $125 ), an Pelican Elite 50 QT ( $195 – $220) and a Yeti Tundra 45 ( $300 – $329 ).
How we did our tests. Since each of these ice chests were different sizes, we wanted to make sure we use the same product to ice ratio to make sure the tests were as fair as possible. We used soda cans with a ratio of 1/3 of the chest filled with cans and 2/3 of each chest filled with ice. The ice we used was bags of ice from our local grocery store.
Finally, the test was carried out by quickly lifting the lids to see where the ice melt to water ratio was at once every 12hrs. It’s also important to note that the average daytime temperature during this test was around 95 degrees and in the mid 70’s overnight. The coolers were left in the shade as they would probably be at most campsites.
How long does ice last in a styrofoam cooler?
In our test, the ice lasted about two days in the styrofoam cooler. After about 24 hours there was about a 60% ice to 40% water ratio. At the 36 hour mark, there was a drastic change, and there was about 30% ice to 70% water ratio. At 48 hours there was very little ice floating at the top of the cooler.
Keep in mind that this cooler was only opened four times in two days. With regular use, it would probably be good for one to one and a half days. If your trip is only for a day or two, this might be a good option. The $10 – $20 price point makes this an affordable option for a short trip.
How long does ice last in a regular Coleman Cooler?
In our test, the ice lasted about two and a half days in the regular Coleman cooler. Surprisingly, this cooler was pretty close to even with the styrofoam cooler after 24 hours but the 36-hour mark it was clear that ice was melting at a slightly slower rate in the Coleman. At 48 hours there was about 15-20% ice left, and at 60 hours there was no ice left. The water temperature still came in at 36 degrees.
Since this cooler was only opened five times during the test it would be reasonably safe to assume under regular use it would make it about two days maximum. Although you would only get about 12 hours more usage out of this chest over the styrofoam, the plastic construction makes it much more durable.
If you are only taking a short trip and need something a little more sturdy, then this wouldn’t be a bad pick for around $40.
How long does ice last in a Coleman Steel Belted Cooler?
In our test, the ice lasted a little over two and a half days. We were surprised that in performed only slightly better than a regular Coleman but we suspect this was partially due to the fact that it is bigger at 54 QT compared to 45 QT. Also, at the two and a half day mark, there was some ice left but only enough for 3-4 more hours. The water temperature was still sitting at 35 degrees.
This cooler was opened five times in two and a half days, but in the real world, you should get two solid days worth of use. If you need something bigger than the regular 45 QT Coleman, then this may be the way to go. At the time of this article, you could pick one up for $90-$120 depending on the color. You can check the current Amazon prices here. (link to Amazon)
How long does ice last in a Pelican Elite Cooler?
In our test, the ice lasted right around four and a half days. We got about two more days out of this cooler at a cost of $100 more. This cooler has good size and will get close to 5 days in hot weather. Use some of our tips further down in this article to extend the time up at least two more days.
At four days there was about 20% ice remaining but when we opened it at the four and half day mark there was literally two small pieces of ice left. The water came in at 35 degrees at four and a half days. If you are going on a trip that’s longer than two days, then this would be a great option. At the time of this article, this chest ran $200 – $225 depending on the color. You can check the current Amazon prices here. (link to Amazon)
What this test has shown me is that for if you are only going camping for a couple of days or if you have access to ice every couple of days, a lower price cooler can get the job done. However, if you don’t want to get ice every two days or your trip is more than two days, a higher end cooler may be the right choice for you.
How long does ice last in a Yeti Tundra 45?
In our test, the ice lasted around four and half days. The results were very similar to the Pelican Elite but the Yeti was bigger. I believe the Tundra 45 is about 45 QT. In real world use, this ice chest would get at least four days use. I know it gets more ice on a one to two product ice ratio but it also has more product and air to keep cool. For this reason I believe it would actually last much longer with a few of the tips below.
This ice chest comes in around $300 at the time of this article. You can check the current price on Amazon here. (Amazon link)
How to make ice last longer in your ice chest – Tips and tricks
The tests shown above were done using no tricks, but there are a lot of things you can do to extend the life of your ice in your cooler. Some of these you may know and some you may not. Either way here’s some tricks to help you extend the life of your ice.
This one tip can make a huge difference. The less air in your cooler the less transference of heat occurs. In other words, as you pack your cooler try to get ice packed in between whatever you are putting in the cooler. Fill the gaps between cans plastic bowls or whatever you are using.
This will help in two ways. First, and the most obvious is you will have more ice in your cooler. Second, this will reduce the initial flow of air and transfer of heat around your ice. As the ice melts into water, this will also cause less air to fill the gap between the surface of the water and top of the ice chest.
Make your chest more insulated.
There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. The first is by using a wet towel and simply laying it over the ice chest. This will actually reduce the transfer of outside heat to the chest.
Another way is to actually bury the ice chest in the ground. This method is obvious in how it helps. Not only does this insulate against outside heat but it will insulate the cold air from escaping.
Wrap the chest in a blanket. This uses the same principle of burying the chest. This works the same way as a blanket keeping you warms. The insulating layers trap your body heat and prevent it from escaping. With a cooler, it traps the layers heat from the outside getting in and traps the cold from escaping.
If you are out at the camping site, this probably isn’t an option, but if you are packing up at home, this will add tons of life to your ice.
When I say everything, I mean the cooler, ice and whatever you are going to put in the cooler. If everything is already cool, then your ice will not have to expend energy to cool the items and will not melt as fast. You can pre-chill your cooler by adding ice for a couple of hours. Once the ice has been there for a few hours add your prechilled food or drinks then add fresh chilled ice.
By chilled ice, we mean ice that isn’t wet or melting. From from a freezer is best.
There are two ways to use salt to help keep your ice longer. The first is to simply add salt to the ice as you put it in the cooler. Salt lowers both the freezing temperature of water. So, now as your ice melts the energy transfer will actually cause the ice to get colder. This will, in turn, make it last longer.
Make ice out a salt and water solution. Uses the same principal but this is a little more effective. Since the saltwater solution actually has a lower freezing temperature, your ice will be colder than regular ice.
Two side tips to this, if you do not like a salty taste on your drinks, they will have to be wiped down before you drink them. Also, rock salt if better to use over regular salt. Also, if you have access ocean water is perfect for making salted ice cubes.
Ice types can make a big difference
Regular cubed ice is fine but block ice is even better. Block ice will melt at a much slower rate. For best result use block ice and mix in cubed ice in gaps to get as much out of your cooler as possible. The mixing of these two types of ice is the best method for adding to the longevity of your ice.
Dry ice is an even better option, but not all coolers are compatible. It is important to make sure your ice chest is compatible or to use dry ice in cooler hack.
Ice to product ratio
This an often overlooked or not known about rule. You should have a two to one ice to product ratio in an ice chest. This can ask a lot of someone on a camping trip if you want to pack only one cooler, but it will achieve the best results.
Don’t drain the water
I know the water can be annoying, but it actually helps to keep the ice that is left insulated. If you drain the water, the ice will melt faster. If you drain your water, every time you open the ice chest, you will allow warm air to get between the cube. It is far better to keep cold water between the cubes rather than warm air.
I know a lot of these tips I am about to list are pretty well known, but I will go ahead and add them for new ice chest users.
If possible, always keep your cooler in the shade and out of direct sunlight.
Try not to open the ice chest any more than needed. If you are getting something out ask others if they need anything while you have the cooler open. Every time you open the cooler you are letting the cool air out and letting warm air in. The ice then has to expend energy (melt) to cool this newly introduced warm air.
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