Should You Put Ice on the Top or Bottom of a Cooler?

There’s nothing worse than packing your cooler for a long day out in the sun and when you finally go to pull out a drink, all the ice is melted and nothing’s cold. Randomly placing food or drinks in your cooler and then adding ice wherever it fits isn’t always the best approach. Knowing how to properly pack a cooler can ensure that your food and drinks stay nice and cold all day long. Especially if you are going to be in hot weather, placing ice in the correct areas will stop a disappointing moment when you reach to grab an ice-cold drink. So how should we pack? Should you put ice on the top or bottom of a cooler?

What Kind of Ice

Ice cubes stacked on top of each other.
Image Source: Unsplash

Before you even begin packing a cooler, you need to make sure you have the right ice. I have found that using block ice works much better than regular crushed or cubed ice. Although you usually can’t find block ice at your local gas station, it’s easy to make yourself and prepare the night before. Just freeze water in a baking pan or cooler tray and wrap it in a large plastic bag before placing it in your cooler.

Using block ice will give you a more evenly distributed cold and won’t move to one side or the other. Putting a piece of block ice on the bottom of your cooler will keep those items first placed in the cooler nice and cold. Crushed ice is also important when packing a cooler because it gets into the little spaces between the food and drinks. The more ice that the contents of your cooler can touch, the cooler they will stay. In short, I like to use both crushed ice and block ice when packing a cooler for a long, hot day in the sun. 

Putting Ice on Top 

Beer bottles sitting in an ice bath.
Image Source: Pixabay

Cold air sinks so it makes sense to put ice on the top of your cooler. However, if your cooler is going to be tightly packed, the air might not be able to reach each item. A downside to putting ice on the top is that if it’s hot outside, the heat will hit the ice first, causing it to melt quicker. Know how long you need your items to remain cold.

If you are only going to be out for a few hours, this method would most likely work well for you. But if you need to keep items cold for a few days, you will want to add much more ice throughout the cooler because the ice just on top won’t work. Block ice melts much slower than regular crushed ice, so I recommend using a block of ice if you can. Crushed ice, however, will still work well if you’re going out just for a couple of hours.

When to Put Ice on Bottom

Beer bottles in a cooler.
Image Source: Unsplash

Putting ice on the bottom of your cooler works well when you need only a select number of items to stay cold. In this case, you can put ice on the bottom and place the items that must stay cold right on top of that ice. This will keep those items particularly cold. Then you can put the other drinks or food that don’t need to keep super cold on top. Because the ice is at the bottom, it won’t be exposed to as much heat from the air coming in through the lid. 

The Best Method 

Putting ice on the top or bottom of the cooler sometimes just isn’t enough to keep everything as cold as you want. You usually need to combine these methods to get the best results possible. For a long day or if I’m packing for a few days, I like to include a block of ice on the bottom of my cooler and on the top. Like mentioned before, block ice melts slower than crushed ice which is why I put one on both the top and bottom. It works to insulate the cooler and keep everything super cold.

It’s important to think about what you will be reaching for first and pack that on top. It’s difficult when you have to shuffle around and dig to the very bottom of your cooler to find what you need. This is why packing in a strategic manner will help keep everything organized and easy to access. Throughout the different layers of items, I put crushed ice. I will create one layer of food, drinks, medications, etc., and then put a layer of crushed ice. I continue this process until everything is packed and top it off with a sheet of block ice. 

Tips and Tricks 

If you plan on being out with your cooler for a while, I recommend putting a bag of ice in your cooler the night before you pack it. This will help keep everything even colder. Make sure all the items you are packing are nice and cold before you put them in the cooler. Another tip to keep your cooler cold throughout the day is to keep it closed. Just like with a broken refrigerator, you don’t open it unnecessarily and you keep those times you do open it very quickly.

If you don’t want to make your block ice, you can also use big ice packs on the top and bottom of your cooler. Test different methods out and find what works best with your cooler. It’s also good to do your research and find the best soft coolers for camping or which one works best for your specific activity. 

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