If you're hitting the road for a road trip, camping adventure or picnic and want to take some ice cream with you then you'll want to keep that ice cream frozen so it's not mushy or liquid when you go to eat it.
How long will ice cream last in a cooler? How quickly will the ice cream melt in your cooler and how soon do you need to eat it?
Ice cream will last 4-6 hours in regular cooler or up to 24 hours in a high-end cooler like Yeti. Adding salt to the ice in your cooler will keep ice cream frozen for 1-2 days and using dry ice can keep ice cream frozen for 3-5 days in a good quality cooler
It's not easy to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler. Even if you bury it completely under ice it's going to start melting pretty quickly.
However, there are some ways to keep ice cream longer in your cooler and to get it to stay frozen for longer.
Can You Keep Ice Cream In a Cooler?
While you can keep ice cream in a cooler it's designed to melt at a much lower temperature than regular ice.
Ice cream is made this way so it's not a frozen solid block when you get it out of your freezer.
It's made to be the perfect consistency at around 0ºF (-18ºC) which is the temperature of most freezers.
You're cooler is likely going to be much warmer than this. Usually between 10-32ºF (-12 to 0ºC). At this temperature ice cream will start to melt.
So a cooler really only slows the melting of ice cream, it doesn't stop it.
Think of it like putting regular ice in the fridge. The ice will melt slower than if you left it out on the bench, but the ice is definitely going to melt.
So you can keep ice cream in a cooler but you'll either want to eat it within a few hours or you'll want to do something to make your cooler colder than it would be normally.
Why Does Ice Cream Melt So Quickly In a Cooler?
Why does ice cream melt so quickly in a cooler even when there is lots of ice left?
Ice cream is designed to have a colder melting temperature than regular ice, otherwise it would be rock hard in your freeze. Because a cooler isn't as cold as your freezer ice cream starts to melt long before your ice does.
Because ice cream is designed to be just the right consistency at the temperature of your freezer (0ºF or -18ºC) and because a cooler filled with ice is usually much warmer than this your cooler will only slow your ice cream from melting. It won't stop it from melting.
How Can You Keep Ice Cream From Melting Fast In a Cooler?
A cooler filled with regular ice just isn't cold enough to keep ice cream frozen for a long period of time.
However, there are a few ways to keep ice cream frozen for days in a cooler. I've done a full article on how to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler but below are the easiest and most common methods.
Use Dry Ice
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and its temperature is much colder than regular ice and even colder than a regular freezer.
Dry ice is -109ºF (-78ºC) and this is cold enough to keep ice cream frozen solid. It'll probably make your ice rock hard and it'll need to thaw out before it's soft enough that you can eat it.
Or you can even mix in little bits of dry ice into your ice cream and stir to make it cold. It'll also make your ice cream fizzy which is lots of fun to eat.
Just be careful not to put in too much or not to add large pieces as they can burn your mouth because they are too cold.
Add Salt To Your Ice
Adding salt to ice is a really cheap and effective way to lower the temperature of your regular ice.
The reason this happens is that as salt dissolves into water in needs energy (in the form of heat) to bond with the water molecules. So it takes this from the surrounding ice making it colder.
Also salt water has a lower melting point than regular water so the salt will make your solid ice start to turn into a liquid. This process also requires energy to happen. So the melting ice takes heat from surrounding ice as it melts, making your cooler colder.
Doing this can lower the temperature of your ice significantly. Enough to to make it cold enough to keep ice cream frozen for a few hours…especially if you have a good cooler like a Yeti.
Learn more about the science behind this in my article on whether or not salt makes ice last longer.
Use a Vacuum Insulated Container (And Put In Your Cooler)
Vacuum insulation is the best kind of insulation so using something like a thermos, Yeti cup, Hydro Flask or even a thermal cooker can be a great way to keep ice cream frozen.
Fill up your vacuum insulated cup with ice cream and put the lid on. Ideally fill it all the way to the top so there is little to no air space in your cup.
Then place your cup/container in the bottom of your cooler surrounded by ice.
Doing this allows you to keep ice cream frozen for 12-24 hours in a regular cooler and as long as 2-3 days in a high end cooler.
Can a Yeti Cooler Keep Ice Cream Frozen? How Long Will Ice Cream Stay Frozen In a Yeti Cooler?
Yeti coolers have thick insulation and they are great at keeping ice frozen for days at a time. But can a Yeti cooler keep ice cream frozen? and how long will ice cream stay frozen in a Yeti cooler?
While a Yeti cooler can keep ice cream frozen longer than a regular cooler the ice cream will still melt in 1-2 days, whereas regular ice might last 5+ days. Ice in a Yeti cooler just isn't cold enough to keep ice cream frozen.
However, if you use dry ice in a Yeti or if you add salt to your ice in your Yeti the temperature inside the cooler can get cold enough for ice cream to stay frozen for longer periods of time.
So a Yeti cooler is going to be much better at keeping your ice cream frozen and solid for longer it's not a perfect solution and it's not a long term solution.