Ice Packs vs. Ice Gel Packs: Exploring Differences and Applications

Ice Packs vs. Ice Gel Packs: Exploring Differences and Applications
Published On:December 2, 2020 Revised On:December 28, 2023

Ice packs and ice gel packs play a crucial role in the packaging industry, enabling the safe transportation and preservation of temperature-sensitive goods. Both options are designed to maintain the desired temperature range during transit, but they possess distinct characteristics that impact their suitability for various packaging applications. This article explores the differences between ice packs and ice gel packs for packaging purposes.

Difference Between Ice Packs and Ice Gel Packs

While ice packs and gel packs maintain temperature stability during packaging, their differing compositions and structures give rise to distinct advantages. Ice packs rely on freeze-resistant agents to maintain their solid state, while ice gel packs leverage a semi-solid gel composition to provide flexibility, conformity, and enhanced leak resistance. The choice between the two depends on the specific packaging needs and priorities of the goods being transported.

Composition and Structure

Ice Packs: Ice packs designed for packaging have a straightforward composition, primarily comprising a blend of water and a freeze-resistant agent. This mixture is carefully formulated to freeze at lower temperatures than pure water, ensuring the pack remains solid during transit and effectively cooling the packaged items.

The freeze-resistant agent stabilises, preventing the water from fully crystallising and thus maintaining the pack’s integrity. The outer layer of ice packs is engineered to be puncture-resistant, safeguarding against potential leaks that could compromise the packaged goods. This outer casing is usually made from durable plastic or similar material that can withstand the rigours of transportation. However, it’s important to note that due to their rigid structure, it’s essential when it comes to placement within the packaging. Improper positioning or rough handling could lead to unintentional damage to delicate or fragile items.

Ice Gel Packs: On the other hand, ice gel packs consist of a unique gel-like substance that combines water with a polymer. This polymer is chosen for its ability to freeze while maintaining a semi-solid, pliable form. The gel’s composition allows it to retain its flexibility even at freezing temperatures, making it well-suited for conforming to the shape of the products being packaged.

This flexibility ensures optimal surface contact, enhancing the efficiency of the cooling process. The gel’s structure and flexibility contribute to better conformity and reduce the risk of leakage. Unlike ice packs, the gel inside ice gel packs doesn’t melt into a liquid state as readily, which minimises the potential for leaks and spills. This design feature adds an extra layer of safety and protection to the items being transported.

Temperature Retention and Duration

Ice Packs: While effective for providing immediate cooling, ice packs have a limitation when retaining their coldness over extended periods. As the ice within the pack melts due to exposure to ambient temperatures, the pack gradually loses its cooling efficiency. This can necessitate frequent reapplication of new ice packs to maintain the desired temperature within the packaging.

Moreover, the melting ice in ice packs can lead to the formation of moisture. This moisture accumulation could be problematic in packaging scenarios where a dry environment is preferred, such as when transporting electronics or sensitive materials that humidity could adversely affect.

Ice Gel Packs: Ice gel packs distinguish themselves by their ability to maintain a lower temperature for longer. The gel-like composition of these packs is adept at retaining cold temperatures, even in the face of external warmth. This unique characteristic ensures that ice gel packs continue to provide effective cooling throughout the shipping or storage duration, reducing the need for frequent replacement.

The prolonged cooling effect of ice gel packs makes them exceptionally suitable for applications beyond packaging, such as in pain relief and therapeutic settings. Ice gel packs can offer extended relief from discomfort, inflammation, and injuries without requiring frequent replacements when used on the body. This is especially valuable in scenarios where continuous cooling is necessary for optimal recovery.

Weight and Volume Efficiency

Ice Packs: One of the considerations when using ice packs for packaging is their weight and bulk. Ice packs tend to be relatively heavy and occupy significant space within the packaging. This weight and bulkiness can potentially impact shipping costs, especially if the shipping charges are determined by weight or dimensional weight.

Additionally, the larger size of ice packs can contribute to increased package dimensions, potentially leading to additional shipping expenses. The weight and volume of ice packs can also influence the overall logistics and handling of packages. Heavier packages may require special handling and could be more prone to damage or mishandling during transit.

Ice Gel Packs: Ice gel packs offer a solution to ice packs’ weight and volume concerns. Their flexible and pliable nature allows them to conform to the contours of the packaged items and the available space within the packaging. As a result, ice gel packs are often lighter and more space-efficient than their rigid counterparts.

The ability of ice gel packs to fit snugly around the products being packaged means that there is less unused space within the packaging. This optimisation of packaging space can reduce shipping costs, especially if the shipping charges are influenced by package size or dimensions. Furthermore, the reduced weight and volume of packages containing ice gel packs can positively affect overall logistics, making handling and storage more manageable and potentially minimising the risk of damage during transit.

Applications and Usage

Cold gel packs last longer in transportation and storage when used in a well-insulated container. At conditions of optimum insulation, an ice gel pack can last about 24-36 hours. The ice gel packs will last approximately 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Ice gel packs are reusable, and some can work well for years. A durable plastic keeps the gel intact even after exposure to a higher temperature. Easy-to-store ice gel packs do not need to be frozen when not in use and can be stored at room temperature and last longer than ice. Use temperature labels and data loggers to monitor and track temperatures during transportation.

Cold Chain Packaging

Ice gel packs can be used in cold chain packaging as they are easily packed and transported with food and chemical products. The gel packs are often used in the packaging of temperature-sensitive products. The packaging solution helps maintain the freshness of the products during transportation. Cold chain packaging with ice gel packs can protect goods from temperature changes and ensure quality.

Cold chain containers should ideally be lightweight, portable, strong, and made from high-quality insulating material. Portable containers with insulating material reduce the heat from the surroundings that enter. Different items may require separate packaging containers. For example, liquids might require packaging with a top seal to prevent leakage.

An excellent cold chain packaging solution helps keep perishables cool and fresh for an extended period while protecting against impact damage. The amount of ice gel packs required for cold chain transportation depends on factors such as the amount of food, container volume and temperature requirements.

Medical Uses

Gel packs are ideal for treating common ailments such as bruises, pains, or swellings. They are commonly used in medical facilities like hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes. Moreover, it is often used in other facilities like schools, army camps, and offices to treat injuries. Medical associates, practitioners, and associates use ice packs for instant pain relief and prevention of swelling.

Cold gel packs can treat swelling, bruising and general discomfort. They are a cost-effective method to deal with minor injuries and are often used in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Applying ice gel packs to a wounded body area is known as ice therapy or cold therapy.

The body launches an inflammatory response to tissue damage, which results in swelling. Applying an ice gel pack to an injured area can help reduce swelling by constricting the flow of blood to it. It also promotes the flow of nutrients to the damaged tissue, which hastens the healing process.

Both acute (24-48 hours) and chronic (beyond 48 hours) injuries can be treated using ice packs. When applying an ice gel pack on the skin, wrap it in a towel to help it stay cold longer. Without an insulating cover, the ice pack will warm quickly as it remains in contact with the warm body.

Fitness and Sports Uses

Fitness training involves gruesome and exhausting exercises that cause fatigue. Fatigue and muscle pain, spasms, or injuries are widespread in fitness facilities, gyms, and martial arts training centres. Like medical facilities, ice packs also enter the fitness and sports industry.

Some of the injuries the ice packs treat are common to avid fitness and sports players. These include tendon and muscle damage and multiple forms of bruising and swelling. Furthermore, the fantastic pain-relieving properties that Ice Gel Packs encompass make them an ideal treatment for professional athletes who go through intense training, such as bodybuilders, martial arts fighters, and footballers.

Food Preservation

They are often used for keeping heat-sensitive foods fresh inside insulated containers for shipping. Ice gel packs can be used with the packaging when transporting perishables like fresh meat, eggs, or other dairy items. Inside properly insulated containers, ice gel packs can maintain their coldness for about 24-36 hours. Therefore, they slow down bacterial growth in perishables.

Food-grade ice packs are not toxic and can be used with food. Proper temperatures are crucial in keeping food fresh, and cold gel packs are often used for storing temperature-sensitive foods such as meat. Ice gel packs can maintain optimal temperatures for up to 36 hours in this role to reduce food waste.


The choice between ice packs and ice gel packs ultimately depends on specific needs and preferences. While both methods provide cold therapy and packaging purposes, the differences in composition, temperature retention, application convenience, and targeted efficacy make each option more suitable for particular situations.

Awareness of these distinctions allows individuals to make informed decisions when selecting the most appropriate method. Stream Peak produces quality ice gel packs using advanced Japanese technology and materials. Our production is ISO 9001 and 140001 certified. Contact us for a no-obligation appointment to learn more about our cold chain packaging solutions and gel ice packs.