You can go ahead and buy ice packs for your cooler from $3 to $10 dollars if you like. Or you can use what you probably already have around the house and might have overlooked, such as empty water bottles. Ice is fairly inexpensive and so are the ice packs, however it can add up when buying cube ice every weekend to keep your drinks cold in your cooler. Someone has probably already thought of this, but my thinking came from buying block ice for my color. I would by block ice because it stayed longer than the chunk ice, thereby keeping the items in the cooler cold for a longer period of time and avoiding return trips to the store for more ice cubes.
For smaller coolers, such as a 10 quart Rubbermaid, I would prefer to use 2 bottles that come from empty vitamin water bottles, they are generally a bit fatter at 20 ounces than the standard water bottles at 17oz, so they last a bit longer. I simply rinse them out thoroughly and then fill them up with tap water to about 80 percent of being full. This is because water expands when frozen and I don’t want any freezer messes. Freezers may vary in the time they take to freeze these water bottles, however mine are frozen solid overnight.
Now you also have the options of using quality bottled water or the mineral water if you simply take out 15% to 20% before you freeze it. So after using your cooled drinks you could enjoy these ice treats on a hot summer day. It certainly beats frozen tap water if you get low on cold bottle water.
Another option one could choose would be to use a bigger bottle, such as a arizona ice tea bottle, which is 42 ounces. This bottle will outlast the smaller bottles, but makes packing a small cooler a bit more difficult. Unless that is, if you are using smaller 10 to 12 ounce bottles from vitamin waters, fruit drinks, or canned drinks. Notice how well the 42 ounce water bottle fits in the bottom of this Rubbermaid 10 quart cooler below.
These 42 ounce ice bottles are also good for 24 to 32 quart coolers where you might use 4 to 6 of these ice bottles to keep things cold depending on your needs. I always keep three 20 ounce ice bottles and one 42 ounce ice bottle in my freezer for spur of the moment needs. This all depends on the available space in your freezer, but if you have the room it will save you numerous trips to the store and save you money on ice packs, (which I think are over-rated).
Now for the 32 quart coolers and up you might also consider using 2 liter bottles or even 1 gallon jugs. Of course these will take up more room in your freezer and take longer to freeze, but if you have the room, you got all the cooling power you need. One thing to keep in mind though, it is easier to keep cold drinks cold than it is to make warm drinks cold. Ice cubes are probably better suited for that, however I refrigerate all my drinks prior to putting them in the cooler anyway. I hope these little tips will save you money so you can buy more drinks!