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Keeping your Icebox cold

8 Tips For Keeping Ice Longer In Your Icebox

by David Leslie on 8th December 2011 in Camping Tips | 23 comments

Whatever brand or size of icebox, esky or cooler you own, these tips will help you keep your ice longer so you can get the best out of your camping trip or backyard barbecue.

1. Prepare your icebox

Spread a layer of crushed ice around your ice box the day or night before you use it. A bag of crushed ice costs around $5 – but don’t worry it won’t be wasted. By cooling down your icebox and the air inside, in advance, you’re doing half the job of the ice you’ll put in later.

2. Use block ice

Crushed ice is full of space and air which means there isn’t much actual solid ice, so it melts quickly leaving you with an icebox of cold water. Block ice is a solid mass of ice. It will keep your icebox as cold as crushed ice but won’t melt as quickly.

When block ice is unavailable, make your own using ice cream containers or juice bottles, remembering to only part-fill them to allow for expansion.

3. Add some salt to your ice

Adding salt to water before freezing lowers the freezing temperature of the water, meaning that your ice will actually be colder than frozen fresh water. Using sea water will work even better than adding your own salt to the water.

ice blocks and bottles in a waeco cooler

Frozen ice blocks – they can be old bottles or ice cream containers if you want – are better than crushed ice.

4. Cool your drinks and food first

No matter what you’re putting into your icebox, cool it down first if possible. By taking your food or drinks from the fridge straight into your icebox, you’re saving your ice from having to cool the beers down in the first place, making the ice last longer.

If you don’t have room in the fridge, put your beers in the crushed ice you’ve already put in the icebox.

5. Adding the beers!

If you’re putting drinks in your icebox, leave the crushed ice in (from Tip #1 above) even if it’s already half melted. The cold water will help to slow your block ice from melting.

6. Keep it out of the sun

The sun is your worst enemy in preserving your ice and the reasons should be obvious. Keep your icebox in the shade as much as possible and ensure there is good airflow around the box. Sitting the icebox inside your tent or car is like putting it in an oven as temperatures can often climb 10 – 20 degrees higher than outside.

You could even cover your icebox with a blanket or towel to shade it from the sun, and if at the beach a wet towel will work even better.

7. Avoid opening your icebox too much

This is obvious, but every time you open your icebox not only do you let the heat in but you let the cold out. Avoid opening your icebox too much.

Here’s a tip. Rather than dashing to the main icebox every 10 minutes to grab another coldy, move enough drinks to a smaller icebox or soft-sided cooler bag to get you through a session. That way you’re only having to open the main icebox once, and you don’t go thirsty.

8. Fill your icebox as much as you can

An icebox packed to the brim will preserve its ice longer than a part-filled icebox of air. The more food or drinks you have in your icebox, there is less air which needs to be cooled down and kept cold.

Check out our range of iceboxes to keep you cool and read our blog “Quick Easy food for Camping and Hiking” for some ideas on food that requires no refrigeration at all.

David Leslie

David Leslie

G'day! My name is Dave and there is nothing I enjoy more than getting out in the bush and enjoying the challenge and serenity of travelling around this beautiful country of ours. After 6 years working as an Outdoor Ed Instructor, I've joined the team down at Snowys to help others get geared up and head to the outback! As an enthusiastic photographer and freelance writer for 4WD Action magazine, I love to get out and capture God's stunning creation and share it with the world. After getting married at the end of 2010 and having our first child January 2012, I'm looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country with my family.

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  • Abélia says:

    My family loves camping but the ice in our icebox never seems to last very long. We have a pretty old icebox. Could that be the problem? That’s a really good idea to put ice in your icebox the night before so it cools down. Adding salt would probably definitely help as well. Thank you for your helpful tips!

  • Roxane says:

    Thanks for these cool tips!

  • pete says:

    All the comments about freshwater and saltwater are very interesting. However, when I mentioned this to the guys at Werevr 4×4 they mentioned that the corrosion factor would need to be considered. Saltwater being more corrosive than freshwater.

  • David says:

    You’re wrong about using salt water. While salt water has a lower freezing point, the salt actually makes the ice melt faster.

    Salt melts ice. That’s why it’s used in making home ice cream: the salt speeds up the melting and since ice melting is an endothermic reaction, it draws more energy in the form of heat from the ice cream mixture.

    • David Leslie David Leslie says:

      Yes your right David, if we think back to the days of high school chemistry if you add ice to frozen fresh water then yes it will melt, it will also lower its temperature (exactly as you said with the ice cream but instead of cooling ice cream we are cooling our food and drinks) and so instead of having ice at 0degrees you have water at -5degrees (hence why sea water doesn’t freeze easily) This does however work in our favor when using it with an icebox, as the whole point of these tips is to keep things cold. Weather the ice remains in a solid block or not is neither here nor there but keeping your food and drinks cols is the goal! :)
      Using salted water means you can achieve a lower temperature than frozen fresh water and so whilst the ice may technically melt… it will still be bloody cold :) this is why you should keep it contained within an old juice bottle or something similar.
      If you read the ingredients on most ice packs you will find they are mostly saline solution, or a different chemical that is designed to lower the freezing temperature of the icepack, hence keeping your food and drinks colder for longer :)

      • Peter says:

        Tip 3 adding salt to water will only lower the freezing point of the salted water when freezing at home if your freezer runs at -18c both salted water and fresh water will be frozen but the fresh water would have frozen at 0c salted water depending on dilution will freezer at lower temperature but both will be -18c so adding salt can’t make it colder than what the freezer is set to.

        • David Leslie David Leslie says:

          Hi Peter, you are completely right :) I don’t think the tip is quite worded correctly now that I re read it.
          Whilst ice can be taken down to -18 it wont melt until it hits 0deg – so the surface of the ice will only ever be 0deg (ice actually has a thin film of liquid water on it all the time unless being kept frozen by another cooling source like a freezer) But when the ice IS the cooling source, it will take heat from its surrounding environment in order to melt – which occurs at 0deg.
          Salt water will do this process at a lower temperature, and so the salted ice will actually lower the temperature of the surrounding environment down to its melting point. hence the salted water will be colder when placed in the icebox. Whilst it may not stay as a solid as long, it should stay colder for longer, and also keep everything else colder for longer in the icebox :)
          A lot of the freezer bricks or ice packs that are available are designed around the same principal :)

  • David Leslie David Leslie says:

    Leaving the cold water in the Ice Box will help to slow the melting process of the rest of the ice. Also the cold water will be helping the ice to keep your contents cold.

    Em, I always leave the water in the Ice Box when I have drinks and sealed containers in the Ice Box, how ever, if you are putting fresh food into the Ice Box, I would drain the water out to protect the food from getting water logged.
    Gary, I wouldn’t drain the ice daily, rather i would add more crushed Ice as the Ice melts creating a slushy, icy mix that will keep your beers at the perfect temperature :)

  • Em says:

    Should the melted ice (water) be drained from the container?

  • Gary says:

    Howdy, had a talk with a fellow traveller, both ended up with wobbly boots on at the end of it.
    ICE in block form in a 100ltr ice box. Does it keep ice longer buy draining water daily or leaving the water around the ice ?
    Happy Australia Day.
    Regards Gary.

    • offroading says:

      Great question Gary, and I know why you had a long discussion of the pros and cons, because the answer will differ depending on the interpretation of the question. I believe that the simple answer to your posed question is that the ice will stay frozen longer if you continually drain the water off – and this would be fine if you were purely in the Australian Ice Block Race were the last cube standing wins, HOWEVER by managing your ice this way you would effectively wasting money in a camping scenario where your primary objective is to keep you food or drink cool. Sure your block might last longest but your food would not stay cold the longest.

      You see the water in the bottom of your esky still has stored Coldness thus if you drain off your water every day, it is like throwing away the last third of your coopers beer in the bottom of the can – there is still some value left.

      So if your question is ‘will it keep my food/beer cold longer by draining water daily or leaving the water around the ice? The Correct answer is ‘leave the water’. Of cause when you top up with ice at your next stop, this is the time to drain most or all of the water out of your esky for a fresh start.

      Remember that Ice has to melt to keep your food cold. If you manage your ice well it will die for a cause, manage it badly and you are just pouring money done the drain.

  • rob says:

    I freeze the long life milk cartons- they make great ice blocks which dont fill the esky with water once thawed and if you don’t end up opening them they go straight back into the cupboard when you get home.

    Maybe just refrigerate one for the first days use though, they take a while to thaw in the esky.

  • Offroading says:

    At risk of sounding like a nerd, if you want to get the best out of your ice, you need to wrap your head around some physics principals. Remember the action of ice melting is what produces the ‘coldness’ – that is, when ice melts it uses energy, one of the most common forms of energy is ‘heat’ thus when ice melts it effectively ‘burns heat’ resulting in the atmosphere being cooled. Therefore ‘ice melting’ is not your enemy but rather your friend, the trick is harnessing that friendship for the benefit of what you are trying to achieve. Eg are you trying to chill those beers in a hurry or are you trying to cross the Simpson with meat for the BBQ on night 4. If you can comprehend this you’re on your way, if not read it again from the top slowly because it’s really important.

    So what does this mean? Well as Dave has correctly alluded to, we know the size of the ice affects how quickly it melts. That is small ice melts quickly & large ice takes longer to melt, this is due to the different ratio of surface area vs volume of the cube. I can go into more detail of how that works but I will leave it there for fear of sounding too nerdy. Hang in there it will start making sense soon. So put simply the volume (weight) of ice will determine the amount of cooling power available (The size of your fuel tank) and the size of the cube will determine the speed of release (how far down you push the accelerator). Just tell me which ice to use, I hear you ask? Well as stated earlier it depends what you are trying to do. Let run through 3 examples.

    Party Ice
    As the name suggests if you are having a party (say 1-8 hrs long) the small ice is the go. Due to its high surface are it will release its magic power relatively quickly, bringing your beer and wine down to ‘Ice Cold’ quickly. You will notice that a lot of party ice is actually a donut shape (eg it has a hole in the middle), this is not so that you can thread it on to a necklace on a hot day to keep you cool, but rather giving the ice even more surface area. The additional tip here is that water is a better conductor then air this means that if you have water in your drinks esky your drinks will cool even quicker and stay colder, so don’t drain the water out. Infarct if you want really want to cool drinks quickly (ie you forgot to put the drinks in and guests are already knocking on the door) try pouring some water in the esky to make sure the ice can cool the beer quickly, your ice won’t last as long (due to having to cool the water as well) but your drinks will be ready when the BBQ is, rather than when it is time for everyone to go home. You can always make an excuse to duck down the bottle’o and grab more ice… serving warm beer – now that is unforgivable! Another benefit of water in your party esky is that when you return wine or soft drink bottles to the esky they will slide down between the ice easily keeping them cold, rather than sitting on the surface getting warm.

    Block Ice
    Block ice is your long range ice – it has a lower surface area to volume ratio and thus will take longer to melt resulting in a slow and more economic release of its magic power. It will take longer to cool stuff down from room temperature and may not keep the environment at zero degrees (more likely around 2-4 deg, depending on the set up, which is fine for milk) but when looked after block ice will go the distance (note also Dave’s salt trick in tip 3 above). This long range is critical weather you are tackling The Old Tele Track or just base camping in the Flinders. It will get you through a number of days without visiting civilisation – and isn’t that what camping is all about?

    Crushed Ice
    At the other end of the scale to block ice, crunched ice is the supercharged gas guzzler of the ice world – It has lethal power but will be spent before you can say ‘who wants a cold beer?’ Scientists and instrument technicians used crushed pure water crushed ice solution to calibrate their instruments because it melt so quickly that when used correctly guarantees zero deg C temperature. Perfect to pour in your cocktail or the initial chilling of your esky, but it won’t even get your esky three suburbs before its magic has all been released.

    My top tips for making ice last
    I should start by acknowledging the top tips above which are all very good tips, especially keeping it in a cool shady place. Further to those tips I would add the following comments;

    1 Put the milk/juice bottle/butter back in the esky as soon as possible. Pour you drink or prepare your breaky and put it away, this is because while it is out, it is warming up (especially during lunch on a hot day in Marree) when you put it back it will melt ice until to get rid of the warmth it has taken on. The longer it is out – the more ice you will waste (unless you’re camping in the snow… in which case, why are you reading this?).

    2 Freeze as much as possible before leaving home. This includes juice, meat and pre-prepared meals. This adds fuel to your long range tank. Often once you get into the outback you can buy frozen meat when you stock up. Take advantage of this wherever possible.

    3 As Ricky discussed – if you have 2 eskys or are traveling with a friend, dedicate one as an everyday esky and one as a long term esky. You would be amazed how long meat will stay frozen if you pack an esky full and don’t open it.

    4 Let leftover cool down before putting them in the esky for tomorrow’s lunch.

    5 Raw mince does not keep long once thawed out. We find that precooking our mince before leaving home and freezing it makes it last much longer. Just make sure you heat it up properly before consuming.

    6 keep your chocolate in a sealed air tight container. This will stop it droning and keep you in the Ms’ good books (this goes for vegetables too).

    Remember when you move up to a camp fridge / freezer or if you are already running one, all of the tips in this blog will help you save amp/hrs on your battery as well, meaning that your battery’s will last longer saving weight on carrying additional power cells. So get into some good cold storage habits and get out there and enjoy Australia.

    • David Leslie David Leslie says:

      Wow thanks for that Offroading,its great to see the science behind the tips and thanks for adding even more tips for using the ice to the best of its potential for every kind and every occasion!

    • Jeremy says:

      Cheers, top article, top comments, thanks Offroading.

      Of course like many reading this, I am dissapointed to learn:
      “You will notice that a lot of party ice is actually a donut shape (eg it has a hole in the middle), this is not so that you can thread it on to a necklace on a hot day to keep you cool, but rather giving the ice even more surface area.”

      Understanding ice as energy is an excellent explanation, cheers

      • offroading says:

        Sorry Jeremy I didn’t mean to spoil your fun, I’m sure the Ice Police will not arrest you for putting a piece of string though your party ice, especially if you mix it up with some fruit loops for good messure.

    • xcalibr says:

      Thanks for the novel…lol

    • Graeme says:

      Thanks nice article am building a wine ice table with marble wine cooler inside would love any ideas ! Have polystyrene reinforced fibreglass tape and latex cement over the top then tiles and outside wood so 50 mm thick approx so want ice to last as long as possible think I have most information from your amassing post was easy to understand but can’t be sure you might have a tip for my frozen table !

  • Ricky G says:

    Couple more tips:
    1. Ive found that with space I use about a third ice to about 2 thirds food and drinks.
    2. If esky is opened a lot often good to have a second smaller one with ice, food and drinks for the day when lid is opened a lot. Leave other one as main one which lid is not opened much keeping ice longer.


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