Last Updated on
Our Top Choice...
Everybody needs ice at some point; it’s why you can buy bags of ice on the cheap from any gas station and a lot of other places besides. Whether you’re headed to the beach, on a fishing trip, or just need something to cool your drink, ice is a ubiquitous luxury these days.
But buying ice all the time is a pain: and ultimately unreliable. Regular ice melts quickly, and makes a mess when it does, so using it for daily use purposes can be annoying, and there are other advantages to having a reusable source of cold. So let’s jump into what makes ice packs so good, and what some of my favorites are.
Here are the best ice packs for coolers you can buy:
For the complete product list, please continue reading...
Top 7 Best Ice Packs for Coolers (2020 Reviews)
Highly durable nylon reinforced packaging
Extreme freezing potential
Huge size can cool down even the largest coolers
Replaces dry ice
Rated for hundreds of uses
First time setup is annoying
- Duration of freeze: up to 48 hours
- Design: screw cap soft pack
- Number of ice packs: 3
- Dimensions: 10” x 14”
- Total weight: 1.4 lbs. (unfilled)
These are high performance packs that come in at a great budget price. They’re long lasting and durable, rated for hundreds of freeze and thaw cycles, so they should be good for at least a year of daily use before they’ll need replacing.
Not only are they long lasting in a macro sense, they stay frozen for long periods of time as well; up to 48 hours under optimal conditions. This is because they’re not just meant to be simple ice packs, they accelerate cooling in other ways, being very good at dropping the temperature around them and setting your cooler to the optimal temperature as a replacement for stuff like dry ice to achieve long lasting cooling power.
I’m not usually a fan of soft packs like this in terms of overall longevity, but these really do the trick, with a nylon reinforced structure that can stand up to a lot of abuse and sustained use.
The only annoying bit is the setup needed. Rather than coming with a premade gel, these ice packs come with a dry formula you mix with water. You only need to do it once, but getting the formula and the water into that small opening the first time and making sure it mixes well is annoying.
There are always the “zip and iron” design packs, which are otherwise identical, but they have their own set of issues. I’d stick with the screw cap ones.
Reaches extremely cold temperatures; enough to freeze water on prolonged contact
Built extremely tough and hard to destroy
Comes in a variety of good sizes, all with similar performance
Freezes fairly quickly
Easy to grip
Expensive for a single ice pack
Built for intensity of cold, not longevity of cold
- Duration of freeze: approximately 6 hours
- Design: screw cap hard case
- Number of ice packs: 1
- Dimensions: 7.9” x 5.4” x 1.7”
- Total weight: 2 lbs.
Yeti is one of the leaders in making rugged, high performance cooling items, from coolers to insulated cups. All of these are quite good (their travel coffee mug is one of my favorites), and it should be no surprise that their ice packs are similarly good.
These come in at a very specific size, designed to reduce how long it takes to freeze and harden to the maximum. Once frozen, this insulated block of ice (coming in varieties between 1 and 4 lbs.) acts as an efficient ice replacer, or ice supplement as your needs may run. Each is large enough to take the role of a fairly large amount of ice, while remaining compact enough to fit into most coolers and the like.
The “rugged” part that the rest of their products share isn’t skimped on here either, with these ice packs boasting a hefty impact resistant design that makes it safe to toss or jostle without needing to worry about it breaking and leaking (ruining the insulation in the process as well).
This makes these ice packs perfect for hunting or camping trips where you can expect to not be able to be gentle with these at least some of the time.
Unfortunately these ice packs share the same problem as other Yeti products: they’re high performance, but expensive. You’re paying about as much for one of these as you would for a pack of 3 or 4 other ice packs. The performance difference speaks for itself in a way, but may be a hard pill to swallow if you’re looking for something for more casual use.
Keep in mind as well that this is an ice pack that is notable largely for its LEVEL of chill rather than its length; it only lasts about 6 hours, but is cold enough to freeze water with long enough contact during that period, and can be used to keep ice cold or frozen foods safe for longer periods than similar packs.
Slim and easy to fit in any pack or lunchbox
Stays frozen for about 6 hours
While frozen, safe to take through airport security
Slim design detracts from how long these packs stay frozen
- Duration of freeze: approximately 6 hours
- Design: sealed hard case
- Number of ice packs: 4
- Dimensions: 7” x 4.7” x .5”
- Total weight: 1.75 lbs.
These are some nice little ice packs; simple, cheap, and good.
The thin nature of the design does cut its longevity a bit, which is unfortunate, but also makes them easier to evenly pack into most lunchboxes and smaller flexible containers. They’re lightweight, which is the best part; you can put all four in a lunchbox without significantly adding to either its weight or its bulk.
The longevity though is the real issue. It’s not terrible, but the limit seems to be about an average of 6 hours in hot weather. For most short day trips or for taking your lunch to work, that’s pretty good, but relying on these for anything more intensive would be a mistake; these aren’t your ideal ice packs for taking on a deep sea fishing trip in the open sun and hoping they keep everything cool. Nor are they your ideal for cooling down the contents of your lunchbox in the first place, so be sure everything in there is already chilled.
Still, despite that minor flaw these are a great set of ice packs for keeping your lunch nice and cold, or at least cooler than room temperature.
Cheap and widely available; easy to buy anywhere
Impressive performance for such a cheap set
Don’t create a puddle when they melt
Non-toxic and BPA free
Lacks in durability
- Duration of freeze: approximately 9 hours
- Design: soft pack
- Number of ice packs: 4
- Dimensions: 6.7” x 4.3” x 1”
- Total weight: 2 lbs.
Ice packs like this are pretty much dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth looking at. These are cheap and widely available, so you can find these ice packs (or some just like them) at pretty much any department store.
Wide availability and lack of expense are selling points on their own, but these honestly aren’t that bad even in an absolute sense so long as you know what you’re buying.
They’re double walled, non-toxic and BPA free, so they’re safe even when they leak. While I wouldn’t recommend eating anything the gel leaks onto under any circumstances, you at least don’t need to worry about touching the gel to clean it up afterward.
The average time these stay frozen is about 9 hours, which is great performance for something of this kind. Obviously conditions will change that operating time a bit, but anything upward of 6 hours is laudable, especially for soft packs.
The only issue is durability; packs like this wear down very quickly and you’ll probably need to replace these within 6 months. Not a huge deal given how cheap these are, but worth noting.
Design: contoured hard case
Number of ice packs: 4
Dimensions: 9.3” x 3.6” x 3.5”
Total weight: 2.34 lbs.
In terms of performance, these leave a bit to be desired, but I think they deserve a spot on this list just for the design.
The contoured design is the perfect shape for holding soda cans or similarly small things (like baby bottles), and makes it exceptionally easy to pack into small lunch boxes and coolers. You can stick this in the middle, fit cans of soda or whatever you like into each of the contours, and make sure they stay cool and close to the ice the whole time.
The polyethylene construction is BPA free and fairly strong. I wouldn’t jump up and down on it or anything, but for casual daily use it should hold up fine.
The main issue is the ice itself; it’s nothing exceptional, and I wouldn’t trust it to keep everything ice cold throughout a long, hot day. But for a casual beach trip, or short fishing trip, something along those lines? It’s perfectly fine.
Perfect size and shape for small lunch boxes
Great 10 hour performance
Stays flexible while cold due to phase change technology
Large pack size for the price
Annoying first time setup
The smaller, more compact version of our winner, these share pretty much the exact same benefits and drawbacks as those larger options.
These stay cold a long time, as you’d expect. The operating time is significantly lower (down to about 10 hours) just because there’s less ice to work with, but overall it’s more than good enough for the purpose these are made for. They also start softening early (when they get up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit), so they’re flexible for much of the operating time. This is perfect for lunchboxes, which coincidentally these are made for.
Much like our winner, the only annoying thing is filling these up for first time use. After that, they’re easy to use and highly efficient ice packs which keep your lunch cool until you need to eat, and they have the durability to stand up to repeated daily use for long periods of time due to the nylon reinforced construction.
While I think overall the larger ones are better (hence why these are so low on the list), performance is close enough overall that if you like one, you’ll like the other; it just comes down to what your purpose is. Getting a pack of 5 smaller Cooler Shock Screw Cap is potentially a lot more useful than a pack of 3 smaller ice packs.
Easy to store before use
Modular design lets you choose the thickness of each individual ice pack
Huge number included in the package
Very long freeze time
Wear out quickly compared to other ice packs; don’t stand up to sustained use
- Duration of freeze: approximately 24 hours
- Design: soakable soft pack
- Number of ice packs: 10
- Dimensions: 9.3” x 8.1” x 1.3”
- Total weight: 13.6 ounces (unfilled)
Live 2Day Nice Packs Dry Ice Packs are an interesting set of ice packs. Despite the name, this isn’t really dry ice; it has no carbon dioxide content to speak of.
Instead, these are little cells full of some chemical compound that expands when soaked in water, and then freezes solid overnight. They store perfectly flat until used, can be filled up to two major sizes, a slim profile and a thicker one. You pick which size by just choosing how long you soak them; up to 5 minutes for the thickest possible size, and less for any of the slimmer ones.
This makes these a great versatile kind of pack that can be used either for lunchboxes for daily use, or coolers for long trips. In a sufficiently insulated box they can last for over a day and sometimes up to 48 hours, but the exact operating time is very hard to gauge with these.
The large pack size also goes a long way to recommending these ice packs, and the versatility for the value can’t be beat. The only problem is the durability. The average user experiences about the same thing: they work for about 3 months before they’ve completely fallen apart.
That makes these significantly better for short bursts of high performance use rather than long term sustained daily usage.
While I can’t quite say I like all of these equally, it’s difficult to recommend any one of these as an unequivocal better option over all the others; each has their individual strengths, weaknesses, and gimmicks that recommend them over others.
The large Cooler Shock ones are my preferred option for many things, given their size and overall performance, but it’s hard to say they’re actually BETTER than the smaller Cooler Shock ice packs, or the Yeti one, or even the cheaper Thrive option. They simply perform different roles that I value more; having an ice pack that can stand up to a long day or even two in the cooler on a fishing or hunting trip is more important to me than having a reliable ice pack for my lunchbox.
Any of these could serve you well based on your budget and preferences.
What Makes a Great Ice Pack?
There are only two main factors to talk about when buying ice packs: longevity and durability; and the two are closely related.
Durability refers primarily to how long you can keep using the same ice pack, and in what conditions. You bought these to replace, or at least supplement bags of actual ice, after all. A good ice pack should last you at least a year under normal conditions, though what “normal conditions” are is going to depend on your lifestyle. If you’re looking for something to take to keep your lunch cool every day, a simple plastic soft shell is fine.
But for more intense purposes, you’ll usually want a hardened shell on your ice pack, barring some kind of reinforcement of the soft design that makes it worthwhile.
Likewise longevity is important to different degrees. A minimum of 6 hours should always be assumed; lasting you from about 6 AM to 12 PM is often good enough. But it’s always better to have wiggle room; packs lasting 9 or 10 hours aren’t uncommon, and ones made for longer trips can last up to 2 days under optimal conditions.
Also remember to keep an eye on the price. A set of ice packs shouldn’t run you much more than $20, and often significantly less.