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We have done a lot of camping and usually go for a week at a time. It was getting costly buying bags of ice all the time for the cooler. Then my husband came up with some solutions. First, we froze water in milk jugs for the beginning of the trip. They would last several days before having to buy ice. He also lined the top of the packed cooler with newspaper for insulation. When traveling in the car to the campground, he would cover the cooler with a heavy towel to protect it from the sun giving even more insulation.
By using these methods, we found we could go longer without having to buy bags of ice. We froze as much food as possible before leaving. We also planned our meals so the food on the top was the first meals for the week.
Source: My husband
For ice when camping, grocery shopping, etc. Use as many jugs as necessary for your time frame. If you need ice for a long time, freeze 1 gallon water/juice/cleaned milk jugs filled with potable water. Leave 1 cup headspace for freezing. If you only need ice for a short trip, or extended shopping trip an hour or two away, use the half gallon size. Keep a set frozen in the freezer to grab. This is a mainstay all summer long. Why buy a block of ice to keep things cold. This is recyclable and reuseable.
If you have a cooler for beverages of bottles/cans, freeze water in 9x13 inch cake pans. Pop out and place in bottom. When you get to location, put cans/bottles in and fill with water. Floating ice water will keep things cold for a long time.
By T&T Grandma from Benson MN
I can always remember weeks before a camping trip half gallon milk cartons being washed and frozen. They were our "cold" for the ice chests, works wonders!
My husband is a long haul trucker who normally uses an electric cooler to keep his food and drinks cold. Recently his electric cooler died on him, so he had to resort to a regular cooler until we can buy him a new one (they ain't cheap!). At first he was buying bags of ice once or twice a day, but it was melting awfully fast in the extremely hot heat we've been having. So we came up with an idea that is working out a lot better for him.
Before he comes home, I take a tall plastic container (I use a tall Lock and Lock container because the ice slides out real easy). I fill it up about 7/8 with water and freeze it. Just before he packs the cooler, we take the ice out of the container and set it in the bottom of the cooler, He packs all his things around it. Then we dump some ice cubes on top into any empty spaces. The smaller cubes melt at normal rate, but the large block of ice can last for two days or more! He has saved quite a chunk of money this way.
This same idea would work great on picnics or traveling. If you don't want the ice melting and getting all over everything, just leave it in the container and the container will hold the water. Lock & Lock containers are great at not leaking. But there are other brands too.
Freezing the ice in these large containers also solves another problem here at home. It takes up unused space in the freezer, which makes the freezer run more efficiently. I freeze the one container for him, and keep two liter coke bottles in there filled with water too.
By Cricketnc from Parkton, NC
If you are bringing meat in a cooler that will not be cooked soon, freeze it before putting it in the cooler. Cans of concentrated juice can be brought along to help keep items cool as well, just be sure to put each can in its own ziplock bag in case it leaks.