How to keep ice COLD in the desert

Tips on how to keep your ice from melting too fast, how to keep your ice cold and your food fresh when traveling in the desert.

by Lynn Bremner of

One of the challenges of camping in the desert is keeping your ice from melting in a cooler and thus keeping your food and beverages cold and edible. How can you preserve your ice so it doesn’t melt quickly? Learn tips to keep your food from getting soggy from melted ice.  Discover techniques to keep a cooler cold for 5 to 10 days if ice is not available for purchase nearby.

cooler filled with ice and drinks
Keep drinks in a separate cooler.

What type of cooler should you use?

There are many types of coolers to choose from, including metal, plastic, Styrofoam, soft-sided nylon and hard-sided plastic. The soft-sided nylon coolers and Styrofoam coolers are suitable for day trips. If you are camping overnight or going on a longer trip, it is very important to get a durable cooler that can keep your food and beverages cold over a period of time. Metal coolers hold heat longer when left in the sun, so plastic coolers are the most popular choice for campers.

The Best Coolers of 2024

We read a lot of online reviews and these cooler brands/models kept coming up as the best coolers of 2024.

Best Large Coolers

OtterBox Venture 65
Orca 58 – 140 QT
Yeti Tundra 65 -350 QT
Pelican Elite 55-250 QT
Engel Deep Blue 50- 320 QT
Grizzly Cooler 60 – 400 QT
Coleman Xtreme 70 Quart (Best Value)
Igloo Quick and Cool 100 – 150 QT
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker 50 – 150 QT

Mid-sized Coolers

Otterbox Venture 45 QT
Orca 40 QT
Yeti Tundra 35 – 50 QT
Pelican Elite 45 QT
Grizzly 40 QT
K2 Summit 50 QT
Coleman Xtreme 50 QT  (Best Value)
Igloo Yukon Cold Locker 50 QT

Best Small Cooler

OtterBox Venture 25 QT
Orca 20 QT or 26QT
Yeti Roadie 20 QT/14 Can Capacity
Pelican Elite Cooler 20 QT, 35 QT
Engel Cooler/Dry Box 19 QT
Grizzly 15-20 QT
K2 Summit 20-30 QT
Stanley Adventure Small Ice Chest /21 Can Capacity

Trooper LT 30 gives you the option to carry with shoulder carry or backpack carry. (PRNewsfoto/OtterBox)[/caption]

Soft Portable Coolers

Otterbox Trooper LT 20 & 30 
Yeti Hopper Two 20 Portable 18-Can Capacity
Coleman Soft 10-Can Cooler
Ozark Trail 20-Can Leaktight Cooler

When selecting a plastic or hard-sided cooler, make sure to choose a ooler that has an insulated lid with a tight seal. Wheels and big handles for easier management are also beneficial features. Make sure your cooler has a plug on the bottom for water drainage.

Ice Chest Preparation

Pre-chill your drinks and food before placing the items in the cooler. You’ll extend the life of your ice by pre-chilling all items. You can also pre-chill your cooler by filling it with ice to chill the interior, prior to packing it with food and beverages.

Freeze plastic bottles of water or canned drinks that are not carbonated, such as Hansen’s fruit juices. The frozen drinks will act as ice and will keep the other items in your cooler colder. You can also freeze water or other non-carbonated beverages in gallon milk or juice jugs. They can be consumed when the liquid inside melts.

plastic bottles frozen
Freeze water or drinks in plastic bottles.

Freeze meat, and any other food that can be frozen, to help keep the food cold and fresh. Freeze bread and other food items that don’t require refrigeration, and store these items in a dry cooler without ice to keep food fresh and dry.

roll of reflectix insulation material.
Reflectix foil insulation can help add additional insulation to your cooler.

Line your cooler with Reflectix (aluminized bubble wrap). You can find it at most home improvement stores. It was invented to insulate homes and buildings. Smart campers came up with the idea to use Reflectix to keep the heat out and the cold air in coolers. Cut the Reflectix into pieces that fit, lining the inside of your cooler, including the top/lid. You can even throw a sheet of Reflectix over the outside of your cooler to further insulate it.

Packing your cooler

Pack items in your cooler in chronological order based on when you plan to use or consume the items. Put the items you will use last on the bottom of the cooler, and those you will need access to first, on top. Cold air travels down, so pack the items in the cooler first and then pack either crushed ice or block ice on top. Make sure you pack your cooler tight as air pockets can increase the temperature inside.

Pack perishables such as meat or dairy products directly on the ice. Put food in zip-lock plastic bags or in plastic containers to keep it dry as the ice melts.

For longer trips it’s a good idea to keep your beverages in a separate cooler that can be opened more frequently. Put all of your food in another cooler and open it less often.

What type of ice should I use in a cooler?

What type of ice should you use? Crushed ice cools items faster, but ice blocks last longer. Block ice is recommended for trips that are more than one or two days. Dry ice will last the longest and keep your food dry, but requires some special handling.

blue ice packs and ice

You can freeze water in quart-sized zip-lock bags. They will work just like ice packs, but won’t leak water as they melt. In addition, the bags of water, once melted, can be refrozen and used again. As noted above, frozen water bottles, milk or juice jugs filled with water or juice can be used in place of, or with ice cubes or blocks. Frozen blue ice packs also work well in place of ice.

If you are going on a trip where you will not be able to purchase ice or where you need your cooler to stay cold for several days or weeks, consider dry ice. Dry ice comes in blocks wrapped in paper. Keep the paper on the dry ice or wrap it in newspaper or craft paper. Don’t pick up the dry ice with your bare hands. Use gloves or some sort of barrier between your skin and the dry ice as it will burn your skin.

Dry ice will crack a plastic cooler if it is sitting directly on the bottom of the cooler or touching the sides. The dry ice needs to be wrapped in paper (NOT plastic), and placed on a rack or barrier so it doesn’t crack your cooler. You can cut down a cheap Styrofoam cooler, place the dry ice in the bottom of the cut down portion, and then place that inside of the plastic cooler. This creates a barrier between the dry ice and the plastic sides and bottom of the cooler. You might also try putting a stainless steel dish rack with legs in the bottom of the cooler and then placing the dry ice on the rack. Stainless steel dish racks can be found in most stores that sell kitchenware.

Anything stored right next to dry ice will freeze. Keep this in mind when packing fruit, dairy products or other items that you don’t want to freeze. Dry ice does not melt, it sublimates and keeps items cold or frozen, and dry.

Another idea is to pack the dry ice in a separate cooler and surround it with frozen blue ice packs. Don’t put any food or beverages in this cooler, just the dry ice with frozen blue ice packs. Once the blue ice packs in your food or beverage cooler are used up, switch the blue ice packs with fresh ones out of the dry ice cooler. It’s a great way to refreeze your blue ice packs and avoid damage to your food by freezing it too much with dry ice.

Does Salt Keep Your Ice Colder?

Fact or fiction . . . does salt keep your ice colder? Well, kind of. Salt melts ice. When salt is mixed with water and ice together, it can bring the freezing temperature of the water to a lower degree, making the water colder without freezing it. What this means is that the combination of salt, ice and water creates really cold water. The down side is that salt also causes the ice to melt, and the goal of keeping your ice cold for a long period of time is to keep the ice from melting.

The ice/water/salt combo is s a great trick if you are having a party, run out of cold drinks and need to chill something quickly. Put some water in a big bucket or pot, put the canned beverages or bottled beverages into the container, add ice and salt to the water and stir the mixture. Put the container with the salt water mixture and the drinks in the freezer and those beverages will be chilled in a matter of minutes. Or keep the mixture out and spin the drinks in the fluid – that will also speed up the chilling process. If you don’t spin the beverages or put the mixture in the freezer it will still chill the drinks faster than ice alone or your refrigerator would without the ice/water/salt mixture.

Ice will last twice as long if you put your cooler in the shade

Once you arrive at your camping location be sure to keep your coolers in the shade and out of the sun. You can put an old sleeping bag over them for further insulation. You can also use a tarp or Reflectix to keep the sun off the cooler. Ice will last twice as long when your cooler is placed in the shade.

Only open your coolers when necessary and when you do open the cooler, close it right away. Don’t drain the cold water from freshly melted ice out of the cooler, as the cold water helps keeps the items in the cooler cold. Drain the water only when necessary to create more space in the cooler or when adding more ice.

History of the Ice Chest

While the specific design and functionality of ice chests have evolved over time, the concept of using insulated containers to keep food and beverages cool dates back several centuries.

Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration, various methods were employed to keep perishable items cool. In ancient times, people used underground storage cellars or icehouses, where ice and snow were stored to preserve food. In the 19th century, iceboxes made of wood or metal with insulation, such as straw or sawdust, became popular for domestic use.

diagram of an ice chest from a patent in 1953
Ice Chest diagram from a patent filed in 1953. Richard C. Laramy, Joliet, Ill., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Emergence of Portable Ice Chests

The development of portable ice chests or coolers began in the early 20th century. These early models were typically made of metal and had double-walled construction with an insulating material in between. They were designed to be carried and used outdoors, making them suitable for picnics, camping, and other outdoor activities.

Ice Chest Improvements and Innovations

Over the years, ice chests saw various improvements and innovations. In the 1950s and 1960s, the introduction of plastic materials made ice chests lighter, more affordable, and resistant to rust and corrosion. Companies like Igloo and Coleman became prominent manufacturers of portable coolers, offering different sizes and features to cater to consumer needs.

Insulation and Cooling Methods of Ice Chests (coolers)

The early ice chests relied on ice blocks or ice cubes packed inside the cooler to maintain cool temperatures. Later advancements introduced additional insulation, such as foam, to enhance cooling efficiency. With the development of refrigeration technology, electric coolers powered by batteries or AC/DC power sources also became available, providing a more convenient cooling option.

Modern Features of Today’s Coolers

Today, ice chests or coolers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. They often feature durable exteriors, insulated walls, tightly sealed lids, and convenient handles for easy transport. Some advanced models include built-in drain plugs, dividers, cup holders, and even integrated Bluetooth speakers.

Various Names for Ice Chests …

  1. United Kingdom: Cool Box, Cool Bag, or Chilly Bin (used in some regions)
  2. Australia and New Zealand: Esky, Chilly Bin, Cool Box
  3. Canada: Cooler, Ice Box
  4. South Africa: Cool Box, Ice Box, or Lapa Fridge (in Afrikaans)
  5. India: Ice Box, Ice Carrier
  6. Germany: Kühlbox or Kühltasche
  7. France: Glacière
  8. Spain: Nevera portátil or Frigorífico portátil
  9. Italy: Borsa frigo or Borsa termica
  10. Brazil: Caixa térmica or Cooler
  11. Japan: アイスボックス (aisu bokkusu) or クーラーボックス (kūrā bokkusu)

It’s worth noting that while there are various names for ice chests in different countries, the purpose and functionality remain relatively similar across cultures. They are portable containers designed to keep food and beverages cool while on the go or during outdoor activities.

More Tips …

Heat acclimation – Combating the desert heat.

7 Apps to Improve Your Camping Experience

Desert Survival Skills

How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Survival Tool

65 thoughts on “How to keep ice COLD in the desert”

  1. I agree! Crushed ice cools items faster, but ice blocks last longer. Block ice is recommended for trips that are more than one or two days. Dry ice will last the longest and keep your food dry, but requires some special handling.

  2. As you use goods in the cooler and additional air space becomes available, cover them with a plastic bag to keep the air space above the plastic.

    If going on a camping/hiking trip and you cannot carry a cooler., Bring tube socks for canned beveridges.
    drench a sock with water and place a can or two inside.
    Hang the socks so that any breeze available will hit it. Fifteen to 20 minutes your beer are cold enough to drink.
    This only works in low humidity areas.

  4. I would say remove the water from the cooler if it touches the ice. Water will melt the ice faster. I catch the melted ice water and pour it over a beach town draped over the cooler. This creates an external evaporative cooling effect.

  5. Great topic! Another tip: In warm, dry weather a large wet towel draped over top and sides of the cooler will keep the inside very cold and extend the life of the ice, even or especially in direct sun. However this is only workable if you have an unlimited water source and will be nearby to keep re-wetting the towel as it dries. Evaporative cooling is amazing! I\’ve done this in the desert and in the 90\’s and 100\’s camping in western ID. Not going to work if you leave for a hike though, gotta get it into the shade, ideally with extra insulation wrapped around the cooler.

    On a recent warm 5day camping trip to Pinnacles, CA I had only a medium-small cheap thin-walled cooler, and an insulated cloth shopping bag. I pre-cooled both, and used 2 frozen 2-liter water bottles (1 in and 1 on top) of the bag so the bag wouldn\’t leak as they melted; and my own ice in the hard cooler (4 or 5 \’cakes\’ frozen one at a time in a square cake pan over several days in my small freezer). There was still plenty of ice in the cooler at the end of my trip – the 5th warm day! Reason was the extra insulation I gave them – the cooler stayed on the floor behind driver\’s seat on a folded wool blanket, and wedged against the back seat, plus another wool blanket wrapped all around it. And another loose blanket with a heavy reflective tarp over everything in the car, including the soft cloth \’cooler\’ bag. That bag stayed on the back seat directly behind/above the hardshell cooler. Another wool blanket was wrapped around the bag, and the aforementioned tarp over top. It stayed cool too though I think the ice in the bottles eventually melted (but that cloth bag was also stuffed so full of food I wasn\’t able to zip it shut the first few days). This even though the car was in the sun during most of the day. I never took the coolers out of the car, but burrowed down and opened them several times a day, mostly morning and evenings since I was hiking during the daytime. All that insulation around them did the trick.

  6. Waste Disposal Hackney

    I agree! Crushed ice cools items faster, but ice blocks last longer. Block ice is recommended for trips that are more than one or two days. Dry ice will last the longest and keep your food dry, but requires some special handling.

  7. When I’m not using my down sleeping bag during the day I drape it over my cooler. It’s a great insulator and has made a very noticeable difference in how long my ice lasts.

    Last year I splurged on an Rctic 65 cooler. So far I have been very pleased with it’s performance but it is incredibly heavy, especially when loaded up with two ice blocks and food and drink. I generally have to leave it in the back of my pickup to avoid throwing out my back.

  8. The key is to get that cooler as cold as possible before even using it. The night before using it, I take 5 or more lbs. of dry ice, wrapped in a t shirt, and place in the cooler on a hunk of cardboard. Direct contact with the plastic can crack it. Close up the cooler, but! Remember to open the plug, or vent the top just slightly if there isn’t one. By morning my cooler is like a freezer inside! It extends the life of my ice by a good 2 days,
    and that’s just loose ice, not block.

  9. Wrapping up ice in an aluminum foil will make it last for over four hours. All you need to do is get a plastic container and cover it with aluminum foil with the shiny side facing outwards.

  10. One of the best ways to keep your ice colder for longer is by chilling your cooler before you place the fresh ice in it. You can do so by adding ice a couple hours prior or even the day before, and allowing the cooler to chill as much as possible.

  11. f you want your stuff to stay cold after several days you must fill the cooler completely with ice. If you like your beer at 45 degrees just pull it out of the cooler 10 minutes before you open it. That said… any beer that starts out at 45 degrees will be 55 – 65 degrees before you finish it. The rule of 50 degree beer is from the days of drinking in a pub that stored their stock in a cellar and didn’t have central heat. I think we are beyond that now.

  12. While camping once , I strategically arranged my food / drink items in my cooler and filled with ice. I then sprinkled rock salt over the top of the ice.
    The next morning everything was frozen solid. I had to use my tent peg hammer to break up the frozen together ice.
    I found that my eggs , milk , bacon we’re all frozen solid. Even a jar of pickles was frozen.

  13. Walter Lambertson

    Keeping your cooler covered is also a help I suggest using a emergency rescue blanket shiny side out to reflect the sun.

  14. Thanks for all the suggestions. Our group has been going to Burning Man for the past 6 yrs, and we use dry ice and a good cooler. We insulate the ice off the food and cooler bottom with pieces of cardboard box, and pre-cook 10 days of hot dinners for 3 people (30 meals). We vacuum seal those flat, and stack them in the dry ice cooler in chronological order of need. By keeping the cooler off the desert floor, in the shade and insulated, we have 10 days of frozen food that we boil in the bag every evening for a ‘gourmet’ meal. We use the same cooking water all week, saves on having to bring out extra.

    We also use reflextix on the windows of the van to keep things cool.

    I second the need for ventilation for CO2 off gassing from dry ice while driving. We always keep a window open for safety.

    Note that grapes frozen in the dry ice cooler will become carbonated. A bit of a surprise, but still tasty. 😉

  15. I agree! Crushed ice cools items faster, but ice blocks last longer. Block ice is recommended for trips that are more than one or two days. Dry ice will last the longest and keep your food dry, but requires some special handling.

  16. hoi polloi boy

    Very good suggestions here.

    On long desert or river trips we would have what we called a long term cooler that we only opened once in the morning to get out the frozen food for dinner and use that “cold power” to chill lunch and our liquid refreshments in the day cooler. We would always use duct tape on the long term cooler between the lid and the body. For longer trips we would have two long term coolers and only get into the second after the first was depleted. Yes, dry ice was a life saver

  17. Idk if your aware but when using dry ice. when the frozen matter “sublimates,” it gives off CO2 gas. Especially if your cooler has a tight seal, that gas roams around the interior and gets into any open containers, so you have to keep everthing closed.

  18. Kelly Macfarlane

    Lifetime Products has long made a cooler that ranks in actual tests in the #2 spot among coolers and for less than half the cost of a Yeti cooler. They have parts that can be replaced to lengthen the life of the cooler that push it over the top in my estimation. No
    More buying a new cooler because the hinge broke or the handle of the drag pads or latches. And it boasts a 7 day ice keeper. It didn’t even make your list despite all these superior features.

  19. As you use items in the cooler and more air space is left, put a plastic bag over the items so the air space is above the plastic. It helps keep the cold under the bag.

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  21. Really enjoyed the artical. Great tips. Learned quite a lot. During this time of possible emergency planning will use the aluminum bubble wrap on windows.

  22. I think I’ve tried everything to maximize ice retention, and my conclusion is that you can have a the best insulated cooler out there, with all bells and whistles, but in fact if you don’t do the following, you’ll likely lose about 50% of its ice retention potential. What I have in mind, specifically:
    – use a combination of flake/cube ice (chills faster!) and large block ice (melts slower!)
    – the often recommended 2:1 ice to contents ratio is often not enough, consider this as a bare minimum
    – experiment with ice packs – good ones like cooler shocks can really make a difference. There’s also another one called Koolergel, not an ice pack per se, but an ice extender = lasts longer
    – cover the cooler with reflective blanket (even the cheapest one) when not in used
    – keep the cooler in a shade, if possible
    – don’t open it unless you really have to.
    – pack it right – perhaps the most undervalued tip on the list. The way you pack the cooler makes a huge difference. Plus, when you pack it right, you’ll likely spend half less time in front of an opened cooler.

    Hope it helps!

  23. A great cooler is a must. We’ve had great results from using the Yeti. Seems to keep ice for around 3-4 days in hot summer heat, which is very good in my opinion. Thanks for putting up a top 10 list, was curious to see that there are better coolers then the one I have.

  24. Thanks for the great article. We are considering upgrading our very old coolers. We will certainly take into consideration what you have posted. Thank you very much.

  25. Thank you for the suggestion and reviews. My family is planning on going on an adventure and this will help. We will be keeping it cold.

  26. Great tips here! I’ve always advised my friends that buying a rotomolded cooler isn’t as important as packing the cooler right!

  27. Thanks, for sharing such informative article. I have been using Coleman 18-Quart Cooler for last 2 years for my camping purposes whenever it is desert or rock or sea area.

  28. being retired and that does a bit of metal detecting , gold panning dry and water we usually rely on our Solar panels over the last three years as we found that we also use the solar power for our cooler fridges ( 2 ) and can keep thanks to our 500 watts of solar our food basically chicken , turkey, pork chops and ground beef, we also continue to keep on hand a minimum of 20 seven gallon water cans. as well 9 case of 24/30 water bottles// comes in handy…. solar power is the best way to really enjoy a week or more of quiet living. we also beach comb

  29. 1. Try loosely wrapping the outside of your cooler in Reflectix instead placing on the inside. The metallic silver will reflect the sun to help prevent the cooler from heating up. The exterior air gap between the Reflectix and cooler will also minimize external heating of the cooler from direct solar ray or high air temp. The longer the cooler’s exterior stays cool, the longer the cooler’s interior will stay cold.
    2. Anything in direct contact with dry ice will freeze. Dry ice on bottom cools everything above it. Dry ice on top freezes everything below it. Dry ice can ‘carbonate’ certain items as it sublimates (melts) and give that food a bad taste. (i.e. Unprotected tomatoes absorb the CO2 gas from dry ice.)
    3. Open air space inside the cooler is the enemy of cold. Use an internal insulated lid/sheet laid over the contents to keep the ice from working (melting) just to chill the air. Try a towel, zip lock bag full of air or wadded paper, plastic grocery bag full of crumbled newspaper, bubble wrap, Reflectix, closed cell foam pad (sleeping mat), polystyrene board, etc. inside the cooler above whatever you’re trying to keep cool.
    4. Every time you open the cooler, you loose the cold and introduce hot air into the cooler. Have a cooler for cool drinks that gets used throughout the day. Have a second cooler for cold/frozen items that only gets open for meals and stays shut the rest of the day. Don’t linger and window shop with the lid open. Get in and get out quickly and efficiently to minimize heat transfer.
    5. When using one cooler, I use a vertical center divider with frozen items on one side and chilled items on the other.
    6. Use colder ice. Deeply frozen ice (0°F ice) will last longer than 32°F ice about to melt (aka wet ice). When making your own block ice, try using square or rectangular bottles/containers. If making your own block ice, consider using a salt water solution for a colder ice block. A mixture of rock salt, ice, and water can bring the temperature down as low as 2°F when using deeply frozen ice. (The salty slush will be colder than icy fresh water.)
    7. Ice melt (water) eliminates air space and helps keep things cool; it is typically best not to drain the cold water if you are trying to keep everything cool longer. Unless you have more ice to add, why dump the cold water out onto the ground?
    8. Educate yourself on the magic of evaporative cooling for items outside the cooler. (i.e. coolgardie safe, bio cooler, evaptainer, pot-in-a-pot, etc.) Even something as simple as wrapping a water bottle or soda can in a wet washcloth (i.e. terry towel or inside-out sock) will pull heat out of the drink (cool it down) as the water in the cloth evaporates away. No body likes water that tastes like hot plastic or wilted produce and this can cool down your drink significantly and keep your food fresh longer. The technique works better in a dry heat (low humidity) and you remember to keep the material damp.


    This is really good article.Comment done by Karl for keeping ice COLD in the desert is really nice and very scientific. Well said Karl.

  31. When backpacking in the desert away from our car we also put extra sleeping bags around the cooler. That beer was very cold when we got back to the car!

  32. That’s pretty convenient that you can use a sleeping bag to help keep the ice cold. A friend of mine made that suggestion once and I thought it was wierd. However, as wierd as that is, if it works to keep things cold, then it’s worth trying out.

  33. Has anyone ever tried drilling holes in the outside of their cooler and putting in spray foam? Just curious if this might increase an ice chests ability to keep things colder for longer.

  34. You didn’t mention ‘party ice’. We used to order several blocks of it per couple, every year for our annual Labor Day week camping trip to a special cove along the coast of Baja California.
    Party ice is blocks of regular ice that have been frozen with dry ice for about a week. We ordered 60-80 blocks about a month ahead of time for our group of about 40 adults.
    These blocks were great.
    1 block in the smallest coolers, (meats divided into daily portions, and frozen at the lowest setting for about a week), which were opened only once a day. The medium coolers had party ice, and foods (as many frozen as possible). The largest coolers held party ice, regular ice, frozen jugs of juices, sodas & beer (this cooler was opened continually). And most of us had large Igloo jugs, where all the cold water ended up.
    We had an Army pavilion tent which was our only shade, so, coolers were half-buried in the sand, under the tent in rows, providing seats and tables.
    At the end of a week of hot beach camping, we all still had ice to cool our tequila drinks.

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  37. Thanks, Lynn. As SaunieInDiego said, having a premium cooler is key. An off the shelf cooler from Walmart will rarely hold ice for more than 1 day, regardless of the advice given. But, combine these tips with a high end cooler like a Yeti, Bison, or Orca, and you’ll easy keep ice for 5-7 days.

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  39. I would say remove the water from the cooler if it touches the ice. Water will melt the ice faster. I catch the melted ice water and pour it over a beach town draped over the cooler. This creates an external evaporative cooling effect.

  40. I’ve backpacked desert country for many years. Long ago I discovered that by wrapping my water bottles with aluminum foil, the water stayed cooler. Now days, using refletex the same way, as well as around cached water bottles, I find it works great. By the way, I learned this the hard way when the water deep in my pack became too warm to drink.

    I was getting ready for my recent solo walk across the Mojave from the Colorado to the Sierra by wrapping up the bottles I was taking. A friend saw me doing this and laughed at me saying there was no way it would help.

    As I said above, it worked just fine.

    Dr. Bob

  41. SaunieInDiego

    All good tips, but the cooler is key. I have several Tecni Ice coolers. As good as the Yeti at a fraction of the price.

  42. also if you takeziplock bags and fill it with that wood bedding stuff for animals and water it will last 4times as longs as ice does as there is less surface area for the molicles to melt or something.

  43. There’s been some good research on preserving cold, and turns out the best is a frozen mix of water and sawdust. This works well enough that there have been some experimental ships made of it that stayed afloat as long as six months.

  44. Pingback: Ice chest/Cooler... recommendations - Page 6

  45. Thank you so much. This article was incredibly helpful as I plan a long cross-country car trip with my dog. She’s a finicky eater and I’ve been concerned about keeping her well-fed. This information will help enormously.

  46. MojaveWheeler

    Have to say I disagree with not draining melted ice water. Yes ice water is cold, but I find that draining the cooler daily and only having cold air in the cooler works best. Per the FDA: “Cold food should be stored at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth.” Let that water sit too long and it may not be below 40 degrees. Best to take a thermometer and check it. Air is the best insulator, just don’t open the cooler all the time. Like the article says, having one ice chest for food and one for drinks is the way to go because then you only open your food ice chest 3X per day.

  47. Watch out when freezing bottles of water as they can break. Usually it’s best to drain some water out of the bottle before freezing it. Also, keeping the cooler off the ground will extend the ice life.

  48. I had a customer come into my store the other day looking for something that his mother used to use in their cooler to help keep things cold. He said it was a small brown bottle and she would put 1 or 2 drops on the ice and it would help make the ice last longer. I didn’t know what to tell him. I knew about the salt idea, because we used to pour salt on the ice that we put on the salad bar to get the bins colder faster in the mornings. Anyone ever heard of this item he might be asking for? I thought it would be liquid Magnesium Sulfate… any and all ideas would be awesome!!! ;o)

    keggarboy @ yahoo . com

  49. Nice pointers to consider on how to keep our food and beverages cold while in the wilderness. It’s good that we have a list of coolers out there for sale. But face it ice will melt a short time… short meaning not long enough to cater our journey. We’ll you have listed some helpful tips and I think it could help but how long?

  50. Mahlon Edwards

    Traveling with dry ice in a closed car can be very dangerous. As Bill Norman says, dry ice “sublimates,” and gives off CO2 gas. A friend was returning from a youth outing with several ice chests containing dry ice, became sick and almost passed out while drilving. It is a good idea to keep the window cracked to let in fresh air if you carry very much dry ice.

  51. Jeanne Willson

    I do lots of whitewater canoe tripping in wilderness desert areas of Colorado, Utah, etc. We use an evaporative cooling towel (e.g., highly absorbant camp towel) on the coolers (which are sometimes unavoidably in the sun, especially while we are on the river), and it’s amazing how well that works. You just have to keep the towel wet with river water at all times, and keep the cooler in the shade when that is possible, and you really can keep ice for 6 days in 95 degree weather.

  52. Take an old beach towel and get it wet, then wring out any excess water so it doesn’t drip. Drape the moist towel over the cooler. The evaporative loss of the water from the towel will keep the exterior cool, which will help keep the interior cool as well.

  53. I have been whitewater floating for over 20 years. everthing on this page works. what i have learned the most is that there should not be any air space. Fill the cooler full with everything frozen. Frozen beer cans are great. You need to choose a beer that is not a light beer . Too much water content and the cans wiil explode when frezzing. Frezze at a low temp wil also help from cans exploding. Aluimmun is a great conductor. I have had cold beers on the Grand Canyon for 15 days out of a quality cooler.

  54. Solid article. I never knew about the salt water with ice cooling bottles faster. Will have to try that at my next party.

    Instead of worrying about making your cooler thicker and perform better with lining, why don’t you just look at buying a better cooler? Yeti Tundra Series camping coolers are ideal for the long camping trip. They will keep the ice longer without modifying anything. They last forever and are tough as nails.

  55. I did an experiment yesterday with 2 x 3L milk bottles with fresh water frozen inside.
    I cut a 32mm hole in the bottom of one milk bottle to allow water to drain while melting. I sat both bottles in the shade for 10 hours.

    At the end of the 10 hours, the milk bottle that didn’t drain the water had no ice left and the water inside was ambient temperature (21degC). The bottle that had the water drained still had half it’s ice block inside.

    In response to draining the water, I believe the water if retained in the esky, should at least be drained away from the ice. Air around the ice can be below 0degC. Water (fresh) however can never be below 0degC. Therefore water will melt the ice faster than air.

    I tried to freeze salted water with this experiment also, but the salt content was too high to freeze the water at -10degC. I will try this experiment again with a lower salt content. To see the results look up member davec2353 on the site in a few weeks. I will also be posting a review of an isolated camping 7 day trip to fraser island at the end of march.

  56. One caution when using dry ice. As the frozen matter “sublimates,” it gives off CO2 gas. Especially if your cooler has a tight seal, that gas roams around the interior and gets into any open containers. I found this out the hard way when I put back in the cooler a cardboard container of milk. Even though the pull-apart top had been squeezed back together, the CO2 gas got in and we wound up with fizzy, very funny-tasting milk.
    Happy campin’,
    Bill Norman

  57. Have been camping in the desert for many years and after learning much of what is in your article life became much easier.The reflectix in and over the cooler and reducing the amount of air in the cooler really works. I have been putting some reflectix on top of the food/drinks which takes care of the air bit. Good article.

  58. Don Gilmore aka Desert Cruiser

    When I was younger and went fishing with my Dad he had one of those old Coke metal coolers and to make the ice last for the weekend he’d put 6 full sized sheets of newspaper folded in half and laid on top of the contents. I still do this if we’re on a trip of several days and it does work really well. I’m sure the Reflectix works great, but if your in a hurry and can’t find it then newspaper works great.

    Thanks for another great article.

    Don Gimore aka Desert Cruiser….

    Visit us at

    “Another one bites the Dust”

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