How Long Do Ice Packs Last?

Ice packs are amazingly versatile things and essential in either your first aid kit or your camping cooler. Whether you prefer gel ice packs or hard-side ones, there are a ton of great options to choose from. However, sometimes they can get warmer quicker than you might like. So, how long do ice packs last and how can you make them last even longer? Let’s dive in and find out.

Ice Packs usually consist of cubes
Ice Cubes, Source: Unsplash

Gel ice packs vs. hard ice packs

Fundamentally, there are two main types of ice packs, the kind that has gel in them that is flexible and easy to mold to an affected area, and hard-sided packs that are a bit more blocky but do tend to hold their temperature a bit better. 

So, they both have distinct pros and cons, so it depends on what you’re using your packs for. If it’s for your medical first aid kit, the gel packs are useful for applying in twenty minutes stints and wrapping around a joint or muscle. If it’s for sticking in your cooler, the blockier ice pack might be a better choice.

Reusable ice packs vs. disposable ice packs

On the whole, we’d always advise on the side of sustainability, so reusable ice packs are great. You can reuse the hard-sided plastic ones a lot more than the gel ones, but you can still reuse some of the gel ones for a long time, as long as you keep them in good condition. 

You can get disposable cold packs that use chemicals that react with the air instead of using ice or gel. This means they can get cold a lot quicker, but it also means that they cannot be reused. They’re good for an emergency or for a quick fix, but with chemical disposable, it’s not really an ideal option.

How long do ice packs last at room temperature?

At room temperature, ice packs don’t tend to last long, with both gel packs and hard-sided coolers lasting only around 2-3 hours. If you want to make them last longer, we’ve got a ton of tips further down in this article. 

Ice packs aren’t really designed to be left at room temperature and should either be in a freezer or cooler to maintain their temperature. Packs also will help you keep your food cold while camping.

How long do ice packs last in a cooler?

This obviously depends on the size and quality of your cooler. Gel ice packs in a cooler can last anywhere from 12-36 hours, provided that they’re left in good condition and the cooler isn’t in the sun.

Hard-sided ice packs can last a little bit longer and can stay cold for up to 48 hours in a cooler, so if you’re doing a weekend trip rather than a day adventure, consider opting for the hard-sided pack.

How can you make your ice pack last longer?

If you’re using your ice packs on a regular basis, you want to get the most out of them. Inevitably, they will become less effective over time and you’ll need to replace them, but here are some tips to maximize their usage and keep them going for longer.

Store them correctly

You want to store your ice packs in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. This might be on a shelf in your garage or gear store, or in a shed. If you’re storing them in the freezer, the gel ones tend to be good for three-six months, whereas the hard-sided ones can pretty much just live in there. Also, when used while camping, it helps to cool a tent first.

Look out for damages

Once your ice pack starts to crack, it’s time to replace it. Keep your ice packs in a smooth place, away from any sharp ages that could damage them. Over time, with the yo-yoing in temperature, cracks in the material are bound to appear, but given the contents are a mix of gel and water, you don’t want that seeping into your gear or cooler.

Pre-cool your items

As well as making sure that you pre-cool your ice packs with a couple of days’ notice, make sure your items and cooler are also being pre-cooled. If everything is icy cold, it’s going to take less time for the items and your packs to heat up. 

Use aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is magical, we all know this, especially when it comes to heat. It can insulate really well, so if you wrap your items in tin foil, it helps to keep them cooler for longer. This goes for ice packs as well as any cans of beer you might have in your cooler.

Use a decent cooler

There’s only so much an ice pack can do on its own – you also need a decent cooler to hold it and keep it icy cold. Now, there’s some debate on Reddit about how to keep your cooler cold, whether it’s frozen water bottles, or fresh ice, but all of them agree, the quality of your cooler is key.

How to use an ice pack for first aid?

If you’re using your ice packs for first aid out on the trail, it’s important you know how to use them before you head out.

Pre-cool your ice packs

A warm ice pack is no good, so make sure you’re pre-cooled your ice pack before you head out on your next adventure. Simply chuck it in the freezer for a day or two and you should be golden. Keep it in a cooler or cool bag while you’re hiking or exploring to keep it as cold as possible.

Wrap in a towel

When you need to use it, don’t just apply the ice pack directly to the skin of the affected area. This can cause ice burns and irritate the skin. It’ll also be super cold so you won’t be able to hold it on the affected area long enough to be effective. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel or shirt to help mitigate the immediate impact.

Apply to the area

Hold the now-wrapped ice pack in place on the affected area for no more than 15-20 minutes. Give yourself time to recover and warm up slightly. You might notice some swelling or bruising coming out depending on the type of injury. 

Repeat as necessary

Keep reapplying the ice pack in 15-minute stints as many times as necessary. You’ll likely have to do this several times over the next few days as you recover, so keep those ice packs cool and on-hand!


All in all, ice packs can last anywhere from 12 to 48 hours in a cooler, depending on the type of ice pack and the cooler. There are definitely ways to make sure they last longer, but if you’re going away for a week on the trails, you might be better off with ice in your cooler as it tends to stay colder for longer.

About Antonio

I’m Antonio, a passionate traveler, and outdoor lover who’s running this website. I started this site to share my passion for camping, traveling, and bikepacking.