High-end rotomolded coolers are great for keeping your food and drinks cold for days, but you need to know how to pack your cooler properly. Here are some easy tips to maximize ice retention and get the best performance out of your cooler.
Pre-Cool Your Cooler
Loading a warm cooler that has been stored in a hot garage or car will waste a significant amount of ice to just bring down the temperature of the cooler. Store your cooler at room temperature and then pre-cool it with ice overnight before packing it the next day.
Load Frozen or Pre-Chilled Contents
Help your cooler out by loading frozen steaks or refrigerated six-packs. It can take over a pound of ice to cool a six-pack that started at room temperature, and a frozen steak will thaw perfectly over a couple days in a cooler.
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More Ice the Better
The ideal ice-to-contents ratio is 2:1, so don't expect a cooler full of food with just a sprinkle of ice on top to stay cool for very long. Pack as much ice as you can. Use a second cooler when necessary.
Use Cold Ice
Not all ice is created equal. The ice from your refrigerator is warmer than ice from a commercial freezer. Dry ice mixed with regular cubed ice is an ideal combination, as the cubed ice will chill your contents faster and the dry ice will last longer.
If dry ice isn't available, look for block ice will which also last longer. Cheaper plastic coolers can crack if used with dry ice, so check with your coolers manufacturer before using.
Avoid Air Gaps
Fill your cooler to capacity by topping it off with more ice. Any extra air space will accelerate ice melt because a portion of the ice will be used to cool the air. Some pros fill the extra space with newspaper or paper towels to avoid the extra weight of ice.
Don’t Drain the Water
It's tempting to drain the water from your cooler as soon as possible, but don't. The water is almost as cold as the ice and can help insulate the remaining ice. Make sure food and meat isn't exposed to the water by using a tray or water-tight container.
Keep Your Cooler Shaded
White coolers are ideal for absorbing less heat, and all coolers should be kept in the shade to retain ice longer. If shade isn't available, consider covering your cooler with a light colored blanket or or towel.
Opening a cooler on a hot day is a major ice killer. Cool air is replaced by warm air, which speeds up ice melt. Think of it like you would opening your refrigerator door. Grab what you need for everyone each time you access your cooler, which will retain ice as long as possible.
Use Rock Salt
To quickly chill room temperature beverages, load up your cooler and then sprinkle rock salt on top of the ice and close the lid. When salt is added to melting ice it lowers the freezing point, and in 30 minutes you'll have perfectly chilled drinks.
Thanks to Yeti for assisting with these ice retention tips.
Timothy is a lifelong DIY enthusiast who is fixated on smart home tech, beautiful tools, and wrenching on his FJ62 Land Cruiser. He’s the DIY editor at Popular Mechanics and also the founder of the home improvement site, Charles & Hudson, the Webby-nominated family site, Built by Kids, and Tool Crave. When not working, you’ll find him on his board or bike enjoying the LA weather with his family and friends. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.