Skip to Content

What Can I Use Instead of a Cooler? (Explained)

We strive to provide you with authoritative, trustworthy, and expert advice. In doing so, the staff at performs extensive research, editing, and fact checking to every post on this webiste. If you feel that this article can improve, please feel free to reach us at

Before continuing this article, I wanted to let you know that I have a YouTube channel where I showcase all sorts of video content related to BBQ. Subscribing would mean a lot to me, and I very much appreicate all the support!

You might need to improvise a cooler if you’re dealing with a somewhat prolonged power outage, you’re primitive camping, or you simply don’t have enough cold storage space available.

There are a few different things you can use instead of a cooler to keep food and drinks cold. The best method will depend on what you have available, as well as whether or not you need the improvised cooler to be portable.

An improvised ground cooler is an easy option for keeping drinks cold, and only requires a hole in the earth with some kind of lidded vessel lowered into it. If you need something more portable, a small box with ice wrapped in plastic, inside a slightly larger box can double as a short-term chest cooler.

What Household Items Can You Use to Make a Cooler?

For the most structure and capacity, your best bet is to line a large and medium cardboard box with plastic garbage bags. Then put your food or beverages in the smaller box, set it in the larger box and fill the void space with ice or cold packs. 

If you don’t need a portable solution and you don’t have any ice available, you can dig a hole in the ground, and set a metal trash can inside it. Fill the surrounding void of the hole with water and put the items you need to chill inside in a plastic bag. 

The cooler ground temp and insulative properties of the soil will help keep things as cool as possible, without any form of artificial refrigeration. 

A small, highly portable option for keeping two or three cans of soda cold, is to put the cans in a medium ziptop bag. Then put them inside a larger ziptop bag and fill it with ice.  

How Do You Keep a Drink Cold Without a Cooler?

If you don’t have a cooler, but you have ice on hand, placing the drink in a plastic ziptop bag, inside a larger ziptop bag filled with ice will help keep it cold. Just try to keep it out of the sun, or perhaps stashed under some old towels for further insulation. 

How Do You Make a Homemade Drink Cooler?

Two reinforced plastic tote bins can be used to replicate a traditional cooler, so long as one is slightly smaller than the other. Set the smaller tote bin inside the larger one, and then fill the void with rolled-up old towels or old clothes to act as a layer of insulation. 

You can then add ice with cold food and drinks into the smaller cooler. The layers of cloth will reduce the rate of conduction between the inner tote and the outside world

How Do I Keep Something Cold Without a Cooler?

If you don’t have a refrigerator, cooler, or a large supply of ice available, your best option for keeping things cold is to build a ground cooler out of an old metal or perhaps plastic trash can. Just follow these steps. 

Step One: Find a shady spot and use a spade shovel to dig a hole in the ground that is at least 2 feet deeper and 2 feet wider in diameter than the trash can. 

Step Two: Pat the soil on the sides of the hole to smooth and create a partial seal. 

Step Three: If you have a 55-gallon trash bag, lower it into the hole, then lower the trashcan into the hole.

Step Four: If you have a hose available, fill the surrounding space in the hole or in the 55-gallon trash can with water.

Step Five: Load the items you need to chill into the trash can. Make sure any food items are in sealed bags. If possible, put low-value frozen items on top like freezer-burned meat. 

Step Six: Put the lid on the trashcan and loosely cover the hole with sod, an old comforter, or some other type of insulative covering. 

The soil and any water you are able to add to the equation will serve as a natural heat sink preventing the warmth of the outside world from rapidly affecting the foods and drinks being kept inside. With good weather, a fair amount of shade, and the patience to not open it frequently, you should be able to maintain refrigerator temperatures in a ground cooler like this for several days. 

Final Thoughts 

There are a few simple ways that you can improvise a cooler in a pinch. This includes ground coolers, improvised cardboard boxes with plastic liners and ice, or just repurposing a pair of ziptop bags. 

A ground cooler with clean garbage can sitting in a deep hole is a great way to keep things cool for a long time without using a cooler. This is a great way to keep drinks and semi-perishable refrigerator items cold during a prolonged power outage. 

A medium size cardboard box lined with plastic, inside of a larger plastic-lined cardboard box full of ice will replicate a hard-sided cooler for a day or so. If you want something stronger, you use the same concept with a pair of different size plastic totes. 

If you just need to keep a few cans of soda cold for a short hike or a trip to the beach, you can put them inside a medium-sized zip-top bag. Then place it inside a larger zip-top bag full of ice. Kept in the shade it should keep your cans cold for the better part of a day.