Is There a Way to Extend the Life of Ice in a Cooler?

Organizing a camping trip or an outdoor event How are you going to keep your food safe and chilled? In a cooler, how long does the ice last? Here are four types compared along with time frames for dry ice and water. Plus five suggestions for extending the shelf life of ice

The shelf life of ice in a cooler is between 12 and 7 days. The most durable hard coolers can last up to 7 days (or more). Some styrofoam and soft coolers can hold ice for fewer than 24 hours. Most hard coolers can keep ice for two to six days. Six factors determine how long ice will last.

how long does ice last in a cooler

What kind of cooler are you going to use? How long will these beverages need to stay chilled? Last but not least, what will the climate be like where the cooler is kept?

The duration of ice in a cooler

Here is a comparison of the four types of coolers. And for how long will each prevent the melting of ice?  

Coolers made of foam: 12 to 30 hours

The least expensive option for storing ice and cold items is a Styrofoam cooler. Typically white, but also available in light blue and grey

Regular ice will remain frozen in typical styrofoam ice chests for an overnight trip if not left outside in the heat and sun.

  • Ice Water: 12 to 24 hours
  • 18 to 30 hours for dry ice

A great way to extend the life of your ice is by using dry ice.

One traveler shipped frozen milk from Florida to Europe using this Ice Age Thermo Chill styrofoam cooler. She only used 1lb or less of dry ice. And the milk was still completely frozen 17 hours later when it reached Europe.

She probably could have survived on the ice for another 12 hours.

Styrofoam coolers are best for the following because of how long the ice stays in them:

  • Road trips
  • Picnics and football games
  • Nocturnal camping excursions
  • Delivering groceries to the cottage

Styrofoam coolers are not created equal. Some are more expensive shipping coolers, while others are single-use, less expensive coolers.

The cooler's dimensions and build quality will also affect how long the ice stays frozen. Styrofoam is a very practical and cost-effective option if you only need to keep items frozen for a day or less.

soft cooler how long ice lasts For use on a single day, such as packing a lunch, soft coolers are excellent.

12 to 18 hours for soft coolers

Ice should remain frozen in a quality soft cooler for no more than 24 hours. They cost more than styrofoam alternatives but are a lot more robust.  

  • Ice Water: 12 to 24 hours
  • I couldn't find any information about using dry ice in a soft cooler. They seem to be used mostly for same-day events, in my opinion.

If you plan to purchase dry ice, you should probably invest in a cooler that is superior to this one.

Ice retention in soft coolers for three days Some sources claim that soft coolers can maintain ice for three days. My experience has not been like this. To even dream of the ice remaining by the end of day two, the conditions would have to be ideal.

Even Lifewit's marketing for this high-end soft cooler jokingly depicts its ice as having melted after 12 hours. The expectation for the majority of soft-sided coolers is low.

Soft coolers are best for the following because of how quickly the ice melts in them:

  • Bringing lunch
  • Picnics and football games
  • Kayaking
  • Bringing food to the cottage if it's close by

Soft-sided coolers are ideal for use on the same day.

Unless the food and ice were completely frozen solid and filled the entire capacity, I wouldn't bring a soft-sided cooler camping. Alternatively, if I could get more ice for day two.

Soft coolers add reflective material to make up for their thin walls. This is beneficial, but they are still insufficient to keep ice for more than a day.

how long will dry ice last in a cooler Hard coolers are excellent for picnics and tailgating.

2 to 6 days with a hard cooler

Ice can remain frozen in a decent hard cooler for two to six days. The durability of a hard cooler is one of its main advantages.

Here is a rough estimate of ice lift in a hard cooler of reasonable quality.

  • Ice Water: 4 days
  • 5 days for dry ice

The quality of the cooler varies greatly, which accounts for the wide range in ice life. Simply put, a $10 cooler won't insulate as well as an one.

We purchased a Coleman cooler with a 7-day expected lifespan. We still had ice on day six of the trip, and on day seven we arrived home. This occurred in the height of summer, when it was frequently opened.

We purchased it many years ago, and we haven't recently seen that one. This more recent Coleman model claims to last 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F (32°C).

how long ice lasts in premium cooler Ice can be kept in high-end hard coolers for several days, often for a week or even longer.

5 to 7 days for premium hard coolers

Premium hard coolers have gained popularity over the past few years. Although these options are obviously much more expensive than their alternatives, the superior quality is indisputable.  

  • Ice Water: 5 to 7 days
  • Compared to water ice, dry ice is longer. Data demonstrating the distinction between dry and water ice in these coolers were not available to me.

The Yeti Tundra 160 is renowned for its long-lasting ice. Many travelers have reported that the cooler still has ice after seven days. While one load of ice lasts for a week, it's important to understand how large this thing is. I've seen pictures of an adult sitting in it who is fully grown.

45′′ long x 12′′ wide. 5″ wide x 21 5″ high And it has 159 pounds of ice in it. It is 54 pounds.

For better ice retention, the Pelican Elite 80 Quart cooler has walls that are 2′′ thick. While the majority of users only get about a week out of this cooler, some users are getting longer. Much more One user experienced 2-week-long ice during a cooler season when daytime temperatures were only 60°F (16°C).

Additionally, Pelican coolers have a lifetime warranty. I have several Pelican boxes and cases, and I appreciate their high quality.

An investment in a high-end hard cooler might be ideal if you use ice coolers frequently and for extended periods of time. If the right conditions are met and the cooler is kept in the shade, ice could remain frozen for almost a week.

how long will ice last in a cooler

6 Elements That Affect the Duration of Ice

The following 6 elements determine how long ice will last:

  1. Pick either dry ice or water ice as the type of ice. Although it will last longer, dry ice is less common. Additionally, since you cannot make dry ice at home, it will cost more.
  2. The objective is to fill the cooler completely with ice. Fill anything that isn't part of the contents with ice. It won't last as long if you only add one small bag as opposed to three large bags.
  3. The ice will melt exponentially more quickly on a day that is 104°F (40°C) than it would on a day that is cloudy and 64°F (18°C).
  4. Contents' temperature: It's best to chill or even freeze the contents of the cooler before placing them inside to ensure the longest possible ice life.
  5. Comparable to the ice volume, avoid using a cooler that is too big and has a lot of empty space. Try to fill the available space in your cooler with food, beverages, or bags of ice.
  6. Cooler type: This can address many of the other issues. Your ice will last longer if you choose a long-lasting cooler than any other kind.

Think about the six factors listed above, as well as the following five suggestions, for the longest life.

how long can ice last in a cooler

How Can I Extend the Life of My Ice? 5 Tips

There are ways to lengthen the life of ice in a cooler regardless of the type you are using.

Foil made of aluminum

Lining the interior of the container with aluminum foil is one of the simplest ways to keep your ice cooler for longer. Insulating and reflecting light away from the ice, this serves as a surface. To prevent hot air from reaching the ice, you could also use bubble wrap in place of the foil.

2. Get Your Cooler Ready

There are various methods to complete this task. Keeping your ice chest inside a freezer or refrigerator, if you have the space, is a great way to increase the amount of time ice will stay frozen.

Before starting your activity, you could also add ice to the container a few hours beforehand to lower the temperature inside. Another excellent suggestion is to place frozen water bottles inside. They serve as an extra layer of ice and, once they start to melt, become a satisfyingly cold beverage.

Last but not least, pre-chill any items you intend to put inside your cooler. It goes without saying that if food or beverages start out cold, they will stay cooler for a longer period of time.

3. Using larger ice blocks rather than cubes

A smaller surface area can be exposed to heat with larger blocks of ice. The block of ice lasts much longer than smaller cubes of ice that melt more quickly because the interior is kept far from any heat source.

Filling a milk or water jug with water and freezing it the night before is a common trick for making your block of ice. Place the plastic jug that has been cut free from the now-frozen ice block in the cooler.

4. Mix Regular Ice And Dry Ice

How much time does dry ice keep in a cooler? 109 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature of dry ice, not ice. 3 degrees below zero versus 32 degrees Simply layer regular ice on top of the dry ice in the cooler's bottom. Regular ice will remain colder for a lot longer thanks to the dry ice.

5. Keep Water Full as Ice Melts

Using chilled water will keep your drinks ice cold. The ice that is still intact will remain colder for a longer period of time if you remove the extra water as it melts.

DO NOT empty the cold water from your cooler after it has been used. The water helps keep the remaining ice warm. But avoid getting exposed meat and food in the water.


Improve your camping abilities Here are 18 methods for preserving cold food while camping.

how long does dry ice last in a cooler

Consider some of these camping hacks from packing eggs if you'll be camping for a longer period of time than your ice supply will last. Some foods don't even need to be refrigerated. Possibly a good way to wrap up your trip.

Your Turn

How long does the ice last in your coolers, in your experience? I'd love to know what products and strategies are working for you.

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