Not everyone has access to buy loads of ice for an ice bath (cold plunge pool).
You might either live very far from a convenience store, or you might find that they always run out of stock even before midday hits.
Either way, you’re looking to find a solution to cooling your cold therapy tub so that it's actually worthy of being called an “ice bath.”
Ice pack for a toothache. Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pixabay.
Here we’ll discuss the humble ice pack and its variations, and if you can use ice packs for an ice bath, and why you’d want to do so.
As someone who used a few ice packs in my first home ice bath, I can discuss from experience what it’s like to use them with ice bath therapy, and if it’s recommended at all.
First of all, yes, you can use ice packs for an ice bath, but if you’re thinking about instant ice packs, there are better ways to chill your plunge tub in ways that are more cost-efficient, less of a hassle, and less wasteful.
So, read on and you’ll also find out reasons not to use each type of ice pack—as well as what to do instead when you find that you can’t buy much ice.
Let’s get started.
Different Ice Pack Types
Yes, there are actually different types of ice packs, ranging from reusable to one-time-use only.
From my research, I came across 4 types:
- Instant Ice Packs
- Gel-based Hot or Cold Packs
- Ice Replacement Sheets
- Instant Cold Packs that are also reusable for hot and cold
Since we’re here for ice baths, if you already know what ice pack you have, we’ll discuss their pros and cons for ice baths later in the article.
First, we’ll discuss the best ice pack for ice baths, and why.
Which ice pack is the best for ice baths?
From my experience with home ice baths, I can say that both ice replacement sheets as well as reusable cold packs are the best ice packs for ice baths.
The first reason is that they’re inexpensive.
For home ice bath connoisseurs who want to get the best bang for the buck, you’ll soon find that ice remains the biggest recurring expense for ice baths after buying an ice bath tub.
This is especially true if you don’t have access to naturally ice-cold bodies of water like a frozen lake or backyard ice tub in the winter time.
The second reason why they’re the best for ice baths is that they’re space-efficient.
Anything reusable that you can just stick in your freezer in unused nooks and crannies will save you some expense since pretty much everyone just leaves their refrigerator or freezer running 24/7.
Of course, to help with saving money: fridges and freezers have an optimal capacity at which they run most efficiently, striking a balance between cooling and power consumption.
A rule of thumb is to keep that freezer almost full, but with enough air to circulate, to not overwork the compressor which might cause your freezer to break down sooner.
This ensures that every time you open the freezer door, as little warm air gets back in to raise the temperature: and make the compressor turn on again. Nice and efficient.
Air circulation will also help cool new things you put inside.
Reusable ice replacements, or hot and cold gel packs, are usually flexible enough to stuff in unused freezer space.
And lastly, the most important reason why they’re great for ice baths is that they’re reusable!
Unlike bagged ice cubes that turn into dirty cold water after an ice bath, as long as you keep the ice packs intact, you can reuse them again and again as long as you use and store them properly.
Keep in mind that ice replacement “ice sheets” can have a porous cloth side to them that can catch mould if you leave them out in humid air.
Thus, soon after they melt, you’d want to quickly clean them off with some running water to stick back in the freezer.
That way, when you’re preparing your next ice bath, you can just take them out and dunk them again.
Note that if you have more freezer space, it might be worth investing in some stackable reusable ice packs: specially-designed plastic containers with the usual mystery “blue goo” or gel that you can freeze.
They also retain their cooling for longer than regular ice.
Commonly used for camping and keeping lunch boxes cool, these can make your freezer organising simpler since they stack.
This makes for an alternative way of organising compared to the flexible soft gel hot or cold packs that you can stuff in between frozen goods.
Since they’re more durable than the softer reusable ice packs, they’re easier to use in ice baths as well since you don’t have to be gentle with them as much, at the cost of additional freezer space from their thick plastic construction.
Now, read on if you want to learn about other ice packs and how we think they’ll fare in an ice bath.
What about instant ice packs for ice baths?
Instant ice packs are a disposable way to quickly create some cold: good for localised cooling commonly needed in injuries and first aid.
Instant Ice Packs contain a chemical, usually ammonium nitrate, ammonium chloride, or urea, and then a small packet of water.
To use them, you locate the little bag of water inside the ice pack through touch, and you squeeze it to pop open the bag.
After that, you let the water mix with the ammonium nitrate by shaking the bag up, which causes the chemical reaction that absorbs heat, thereby making things cold.
The reason why these instant ice packs last longer than regular ice is that the chemical reaction needs some warmth to dissolve the chemicals, which makes things cold—until it gets warmer and then starts the process again until all the chemical has been fully dissolved.
The thing is, they cost way more than just making your own ice or buying it.
Instant ice packs may be convenient, but because of their cost per cooling capacity, they’re not the best if you want to keep your ice baths economical since they can’t be reused.
Also, some of them are marketed as instant “cold” packs, so they might not even get that cold by design, since they’re designed for injuries, which commonly don’t need sub-zero temperatures which might cause ice burns on skin tissue.
Best to keep instant cold packs for injuries in the field.
See our article on: Can you use dry ice for an ice bath?
Reusable Hot or Cold Packs for Ice Baths
As we discussed earlier, these usually have a gel (or “blue goo”) in them that retains heat and cold very well.
Typically, these are used for injuries, in first aid situations.
You make it a hot pack by microwaving it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For the cold, you put it in the freezer and it’ll still remain pliable (soft), which is useful if you want to wrap it around someone’s leg or where someone is injured.
There are even ways to make your own reusable hot or cold packs, but they’re not really meant for ice baths.
Stick with store-bought cold packs that don’t take up much space, and you can keep a bunch of them in your freezer for when you need them for an ice bath.
Instant Cold Packs that are reusable for hot and cold
Now, there are a few products that are for “instant cold” but that you can also reuse like the hot and cold gel packs.
As mentioned earlier, there’s the usual formula of water + another chemical that reacts to it to produce cold.
There are just a few additional chemicals, likely for the reusable part of the product.
Here are the ingredients for one of them: Water, Urea, Glycerol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Isothiazolinones. (Source: SurgiPack Instant Cold Pack Ingredients)
These combine the benefits of instant cold packs with the reusability of hot and cold gel packs.
One product called “Surgipack Instant Cold Pack” says that it’s freezable and microwaveable like the usual reusable gel packs, after the initial “instant cold” use.
This costs around $14-$18 for a one time instant cold use.
Again, it’s best to keep this for injury or first aid situations since you will need a lot more of them to bring a tub full of water to the proper ice bath temperature of 10-15°C.
Reusable Ice Packs Safety
Reusable ice packs that are usually for food refrigeration are commonly non-toxic, but needless to say, still shouldn’t be eaten.
Handle all ice packs safely.
If there’s any damage on any type of your ice packs, reusable or not, throw them out safely and use new undamaged ones instead.
Don’t let the contents touch any food or beverage.
If you notice any gel or blue liquid spillage in your ice bath, then inspect your ice packs carefully and throw out the damaged ones.
Yes, you can use ice packs for an ice bath, although using instant cold or instant ice packs isn’t the most cost-effective way to make ice baths.
Using bags of ice—whether it’s store-bought or homemade—remains the most straightforward way to make an ice bath, especially when using an ice bath in your apartment.
Although, if you’re dead set on using ice packs for your ice baths, make sure you pick reusable freezable packs, or reusable ice replacements, so that it’s actually worth it to use them instead of having to buy all of your ice every time.
We recommend using a few reusable ice packs in addition to store-bought ice to keep your costs low, and to lessen reliance on having to buy ice every time.
If you're ready to take the plunge and try cold immersion therapy, our portable Ice Bath is the perfect solution. It's easy to set up, requires no plumbing, and can be easily stored away when not in use. Just add water and ice! —Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.