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Cooler Use 101: Cooler Hacks to Keep Ice Longer

If you’ve got a high performance cooler, like a Pelican Elite Cooler, chances are good that you want to get the best performance out of it. Now, you’ve already been taking the basic steps to get the best ice retention—pre-chilling your cooler, following the 2:1 ice ratio, cleaning your cooler between uses—but it’s not enough. You want to maximize your Pelican’s ice retention so you can stay out on your adventures as long as possible. Well, you can use these cooler tips and tricks to give your ice retention every little boost imaginable.

Pack Your Cooler with These Cooler Hacks

1. Freeze Water Bottles to Exceed the 2:1 Ice Ratio

One of the simplest cooler hacks out there is just to freeze the water bottles (or other non-carbonated beverages) you’ll pack in your cooler. A frozen water bottle starts out the trip as additional block ice to keep your cooler as cold as possible, but once the bottle thaws out, then you can drink it. Freezing water bottles means you could start out your trip with even more ice than the 2:1 ice ratio calls for. Lots of folks actually fill empty 2 liter bottles and freeze them to use as big ice blocks over and over. The downside to this method is that packing around a 2 liter bottle can sometimes be a little awkward.

2. Fill Your Cooler to Cut Down on Airflow

When you’re packing your cooler, make sure to leave as little empty space inside as possible. The less airflow in the cooler, the better your ice retention will be. So what do you do if what you’re packing doesn’t fill the cooler? Well, if you have extra ice, top off the cooler with that! But you can also fill the space with almost anything that would cut down on airflow and provide a little extra insulation: folded bath towels, crumpled newspapers, even a cut-down (and cleaned!) yoga mat that you’re not using. Your imagination is the limit with this cooler hack to keep ice longer.

3. Pack Your Food and Drinks Separately

Sometimes the best way to keep ice in a cooler longer is to pack multiple coolers. In all likelihood you’ll be getting into your cooler more frequently to grab a drink. So if you pack all your drinks in one cooler and all your food in another cooler, the cooler with the food is going to retain ice longer since you won’t be opening it as much.
Two Pelican Elite Coolers side by side near a campfire; one is closed and the other is open. A person is pulling a canned beverage out of the ice in the open cooler.

4. Pack Your Cooler in the Cabin of Your Car

After you’ve packed your goods in your cooler, it’s time to pack your cooler for the trip. If you want to extend your Pelican’s ice retention when the weather is hot, don’t pack your cooler in the truck bed or trailer. You should do your best to pack the cooler in the cabin of your car. Your cooler won’t have to work as hard to maintain its temperature if it is inside the car. As a result, your high performance cooler will retain ice just a little bit longer after you get where you’re going.
On the left, a person packs a Pelican Elite Cooler inside their car. On the right, the cooler is secure on the floor of the car behind the driver's seat.

Cooler Hacks for While You’re Using Your Cooler

1. Keep Your Cooler Closed

Every list of life hacks needs at least one gimme—a hack so simple that it’s hard not to do it, even if you don’t know you’re doing it. Well, here is your gimme cooler hack to keep ice longer: keep your cooler closed when you’re not actively pulling something out of it. The less air that is flowing in and out of your cooler, the longer your ice will last. To get the most out of this hack, make sure your high performance cooler’s gasket is in good condition and be sure to latch the lid closed. You’ll be surprised how much this will improve your Pelican’s ice retention.

2. When to Retain and When to Drain Meltwater

Of all the cooler hacks to keep ice longer, you’ll never find one more divisive than whether or not to drain your cooler. As the ice in your cooler melts, it leaves your cooler increasingly filled with water. So do you keep that water in your cooler? Or do you drain it off?

Retaining the water will keep the temperature inside your cooler lower. While your cooler may warm up a bit as the ice melts, water does a better job at retaining temperature than air does. So the water ends up acting as another layer of insulation. In most situations, this makes it worth it not to drain your cooler.

However, there are some situations where it is better to drain your cooler. If your cooler gets contaminated by raw meat or spilled food, don’t just drain out the water. Empty the cooler and clean it before repacking it with fresh ice. No one wants a foodborne illness while they’re out on an adventure. If you’re on a fishing or hunting trip and you may want to drain your cooler for similar reasons to keep your fish/game from spoiling.
A stream of water pours out of the drain of a Pelican Elite Cooler as a person watches.

3. Leave Your Cooler Under Cover

Give your cooler a boost by protecting it from the biggest heat source of them all: the sun! Just find a nice shady spot to keep your cooler while you’re using it. You can keep the cooler under the picnic table or in the shade of a tree. One simple step to help you keep ice in a cooler longer. That’s done! Of course, if you’re an overachiever, there are ways to take this cooler hack a step or two further.

If you’re not someplace shady, you can create your own shade by covering the cooler with a blanket, sleeping bag, or a towel. In fact, if you use a wet towel to cover the cooler, you’ll get to take advantage of the cooling effect of evaporation to actively cool down your cooler a bit.

You can even create a cooler cover out of double reflective insulation from the hardware store. Start by wrapping the double reflective insulation around the sides of the cooler, folding it at the corners. You can tape the two edges together with duct tape. Then cut a square for the top of the cover and tape it down onto the sides you just created. When you’re done, your cooler cover should slide right over the top of your cooler, reflecting light away from every direction.

4. Give Your Cooler a Raise

By now you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a lot of these cooler tips and tricks are about reducing airflow inside of your cooler. But in a strange twist, you can actually improve your cooler’s ice retention by increasing airflow outside of your cooler. Raising your cooler slightly off the ground and creating a small buffer of air disrupts the transmission of heat from the ground to your cooler. You don’t even have to raise your cooler that high, maybe just an inch or so. So bring along some 1x4s or find a couple of flat river rocks to place under your cooler’s feet.

Which of These Cooler Tips and Tricks Will You Use to Get the Best Ice Retention?

Unfortunately, none of these cooler hacks on their own are likely to cause a huge increase in your Pelican’s ice retention. But you can experiment with all of them and then keep using the ones that give you the best results! Because when you’re trying to get the best ice retention from your cooler every little bit helps. And pretty quickly those little bits add up to some impressive gains!