Ice packs or ice bricks offer a convenient alternative to loose ice as they can be reused and don’t make items wet as they melt. But are ice packs better that ice and do they keep things cold longer?
Are Ice Packs Better Than Ice?
Ultimately the answer is no. There is no evidence to suggest that ice in an ice pack will stay colder longer than a similar amount of regular ice loose in a cooler or frozen in a water bottle.
However, ice packs do have different properties to loose ice (which we’ll called “wet ice”) that can make them better in certain situations.
Lower Freezing Temperature
Many ice packs are formulated to have a lower freezing temperature when compared to water. So rather than freezing at 32°F or 0°C they stay liquid until a lower temperature.
Yeti Ice bricks don’t freeze until 28°F and you can get Engel Cooler Paks that stay liquid until 20°F.
This can serve two purposes.
Firstly you can freeze them to temperatures colder than you could regular ice, meaning you’re starting with colder ice which will last longer than warmer ice.
Often ice your buy from a service station is just frozen and so close to melting temperature that it will melt very quickly. So the colder the ice is when it starts the longer it will keep items cold.
Also as ice melts the breakdown in the structure of the molecules uses energy, that energy is pulled from around it making the surrounding ice colder.
This means that when the ice pack melts it can actually cooler down the surrounding wet ice helping it to stay colder for longer.
They Don’t Get Wet When They Melt
One of the major problems with loose ice is that as it melts it fills your cooler up with water which sloshes around, can spill everywhere and can also make your food wet and soggy.
I remember having chocolate in my cooler that ended up submerged in water as the ice melted and was completely ruined. It was a devastating day.
Ice packs on the other hand are fully contained within their packaging so as they melt they turn to liquid but the liquid is inside a plastic container and thus doesn’t spill out.
This means there is no water to deal with (other than water droplets from condensation) and so your food is much less likely to get soggy and water is much less likely to leak out of your cooler or lunch box.
A ice pack is great for a little lunch box like the Yeti DayTrip that isn’t completely waterproof.
You Can Use Them Again and Again
Another major benefit of ice packs over regular ice is that they are reusable and can be easily thrown back in the freezer and used again and again.
The Yeti Ice bricks are backed by a 5-year warranty and are likely to last even longer than that given how tough they are built. That means you’ve got 5+ years to use them over and over and over again.
This both saves you money the more you use them as you don’t have to buy ice and it’s just extremely practical because at the end of the day you just throw it in the freezer and it’s ready to go by the morning.
Ice Packs Can Help Ice Stay Frozen Longer
This ice pack challenge shows that using just a couple of ice packs can help extend the life of your ice by as much as 12-24 hours in a good cooler.
When used in conjunction with ice it seems that this is where ice packs work the best and can actually be better than regular ice.
You may not own enough ice packs to fill an entire cooler, but if you own a couple adding them to a cooler you’re putting ice in anyway means you can keep items cold for longer.
What Ice Packs Last The Longest?
There are very few tests out there that accurately show how long an ice pack will stay frozen for so it can be very difficult to tell which ice packs last the longest.
Also, different ice packs have different melting temperatures with the Yeti Ice bricks melting at 28 F and then Engel Cooler Paks melting at 20 F. Other ice packs melt at 32 F or somewhere in between that and the Engel.
So while an ice pack may melt, it still may be colder than frozen ice even though the inside of it is liquid.
Larger ice bricks will also stay frozen longer than smaller ice bricks which have more surface area for heat to get into. So a 4 lbs Yeti Ice brick will perform better than the 2 lbs Engel, even though the Engel seems to work better when compared side by side.
With that said we can look at the few tests that have been done as well as anecdotal evidence from customer reviews to find some of the best ice packs out there.
1. Engel Cooler Pak
In one of the only documented ice brick tests the Engel Cooler Pak 20’s came out on top as the best performing ice packs keeping coolers cold for longer than other ice packs like the Yeti Ice.
This may be due to the fact that they melt at 20 F so maybe they start out colder than ice packs that melt at a higher temperature.
These are decently priced and aren’t too expensive. Would be a great addition to have to a larger cooler or could be used by themselves in smaller coolers to keep things cold for days.
Engel Cooler Pak 2 lbs: $30.77 (see details at Amazon)
2. Cooler Shock Hard Packs
I haven’t seen any tests of how long Cooler Shock Hard Packs stay cold for when compared to other ice packs, however the customers reviews for these ice packs are overwhelmingly positive.
They are quite cheap to buy and they come with the powder formula inside. You just add water and mix it up and then shut the lid on tight and you have a reusable ice pack ready to go.
They are made from rugged HDPE which is the same material used to make the Yeti Ice and they are BPA free and toxic free.
I’ve honestly never seen people so excited to review an ice pack, which leads me to believe these much work really really well.
The shape of them is quite large so they won’t fit smaller lunch boxes or lunch bags, but they are great for larger coolers.
Cooler Shock Hard Packs x2: $34.95 (see details at Amazon)
3. Yeti Ice
Yeti Ice are rugged and well designed ice bricks that fit perfectly into most Yeti products.
They are made tough so you can bump them around, drop them and even throw them and they’re not going to break.
By themselves they do a good job but they aren’t the best performing ice bricks on the market. But when combined with ice they seem to perform quite well, helping the ice stay colder longer.
Their unique design with the center cut out allows them to freeze fast and also makes them really easy to grab and put in and out of your cooler.
They come with a 5-year warranty whereas something like the Cooler Shock only comes with a 1-year warranty.
They aren’t the cheapest ice pack on the market, but they are high quality and will last you a lifetime without you having to worry about them breaking. So they offer value for money because you only ever have to buy them once.
Yeti Ice 1 lbs: $14.99 (see details at Amazon)
Yeti Ice 2 lbs: $19.99 (see details at Amazon)
Yeti Ice 4 lbs: $29.99 (see details at Amazon)
So Are Ice Packs Better Than Ice?
In some circumstances ice packs are definitely better than ice because they are reusable and don’t leave a watery mess. Their shape and design make them very practical to use again and again saving you money over the long run.
Do they stay cold longer though? The verdict is still out on that one but it seems they stay cold a similar length of time and obviously the larger the ice pack and the more ice packs you use the better ice retention you are going to get.
So do I think they are better? Yes I do. But there are also some situations where loose ice is just as good or other situations when they are best used in combination rather than choosing one over the other.
The question really should be, which cooling option is best for you and your needs. Whatever it is…go with that option.
Best of luck out there and until next time, stay cool.