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3 Cooler Hacks: How To Extend The Life of Your Ice

My family went camping over the weekend and we had to pack our cooler full of the food we would need for the next 2.5 days. This included sandwich meat, cheese, milk, and eggs. Now, it may have been the end of September, but even up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a surprising (and disappointing) 90+ degrees. Our campsite didn't have much shade, so our cooler was sitting out in the direct sun for quite a while each day. Normally, our ice would have been completely melted at the end of a really hot day, especially with repeated openings.

This is why I love googling anything with the word "hack" behind it. With enough time and planning before you go anywhere, you can basically get around all of the inevitable issues you'll face. In this case, I knew that our cheap Walmart cooler would not keep the ice cold long enough, and I didn't want all of our food going bad while we were camping in a remote spot without easy access to new food or ice. I googled, "cooler hacks" and gleaned the best possible options and combined them all into my cooler.The result was amazing. We had lots of fresh ice when we came home from our trip, and everything was perfectly cold; as if we had removed them straight from the fridge! I am going to share all of the tricks with you in case you have a camping trip or long road trip ahead of you.

Before I share the cooler hacks with you, here's an important tip:

Don't keep your drinks in the same cooler as your food. You'll most likely be opening the drink cooler much more often, and if you can keep the food cooler closed, you'll reduce the likelihood of losing that blessed cold air inside of it. We kept our drinks in an Ice Mule backpack. The Ice Mule is advertised to keep ice in it for 24 hours, but it really doesn't do a great job with repeated openings. However, our drinks didn't HAVE to be cold, so this didn't matter much to us for the camping trip. We didn't put any effort into keeping the Ice Mule super cold, but I know our cooler hacks would also work in the Ice Mule if that was all we had brought with us.

Hack #1: "Frozen" PVC Pipes

Measure the inside of your cooler. Purchase three 1-inch PVC pipes and cut them to fit the inside of your cooler, so that they can lay down flat along the bottom. Be sure to leave enough allowance on the PVC pipes to add two pipe caps to the ends.

Put plumbers glue on the end and tightly place a pipe cap on. Let it dry according to the instructions on the plumbers glue packaging. Once the glue has dried, fill the PVC pipe about 75% full of water and add 2 tablespoons of iodized salt. Glue the the other end of the pipe and tightly place the second cap. Stand the pipe upright as the glue sets.

Once the glue has set, put the pipes in the freezer overnight. When loading up your cooler, lay these down along the bottom, before putting in anything else. The salt in the water allows the water inside the pipe to freeze at a lower temperature, thus helping your cooler stay super cold for a long time. I really wasn't sure if the "ice pipes" trick would work, but they were still VERY very cold after a few days in the cooler.

Hack #2: Giant Ice Walls

Fill two gallon-sized Ziplock bags about 80% full of water. Be sure that the bags are really sealed closed. Lay them flat in your freezer overnight. Doing that will obviously turn the bags into a big block of ice. You can use these two big blocks to basically "pad" the inside walls of your cooler. by standing them upright on two parallel cooler walls and putting the food in the middle. I used two, because I needed to have some space for the food, but you could really get away with using more if you needed. Two was perfect for my "50-can cooler".

Hack #3: Top Layer of Insulation

Cut the handles off of a hot/cold insulated grocery bag. I got mine from Walmart, and I chose it because when it's empty it lays relatively flat. After you load all the food inside your cooler, put the insulated layer on top of everything. (I added a thin layer of ice on top of that just to be sure everything would be insulated in the cooler well.) The purpose of the insulated bag layer is to reduce the amount of cold air that will leave the cooler every time you need to reach inside. Now when you reach inside the cooler to get something, you only need to lift a corner.

The pictures from the image show the state of my cooler AFTER our trip. You can see that these cooler hacks really worked! I hope you find these tips useful. If you have some more helpful hacks to entend the life of the ice inside, please share them with me!

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