Spring temperatures are finally starting to creep across the US – unless you’re in the Rockies (sorry for the May snow, Colorado). If you’re anything like us, warmer days and later sunsets mean getting out to the range and on the trail as much as possible. We’ve been lucky enough in the past to always have a cooler full of beer in the truck, but this year things have changed. We’re finding ourselves going further afield in search of the next hidden fly fishing stream, peak to bag, and alpine lake to swim in. Unless you’ve got an idiot proof way to haul that fifty-five quart cooler along for the hike, the beer – and any decent meat for some campfire cooking – is probably going to stay at the trailhead.
Looking for a solution, we turned to our friends at YETI. The Hopper is a radical departure from the typical roto-molded, bear proof bomb shelters they are known for. Rather than the typical hard plastic, the Hopper series is built out of tough Dryhide™, the same fabric that whitewater rafts are built from. An added bonus of this fabric on the inside is that it won’t absorb any stink or funk like some plastics (we’re looking at you, Nalgene) will over time. Seams are RF welded rather than stitched and taped, cutting down on material, but more importantly providing better waterproofing and abrasion resistance. Finally, the insulation is a closed cell foam; one inch on the sides and extra half-inch through the bottom.
Initial impressions were of its overall stiffness. The zipper had to be worked a few times (and actually comes with a small tube of silicon lubricant to keep it supple) for it to run smoothly. Even after a few dozen times filled though, the zipper closes with a satisfying “snap” and in 100% waterproof, avoiding any leaks and preventing contamination if it goes overboard. The Dryhide™ also felt incredibly abrasion resistant. It may not stand up to the bear proof guarantee of the larger coolers, but it did just fine taking a few spills out of the truck and getting dragged across camp by a greedy puppy trying to make off with our breakfast bacon. The padded shoulder strap is a godsend when hauling it along the trail, although we wouldn’t recommend hiking with the larger Hopper 30 ($349.99) for extended periods.
How does it do with ice though? YETI claims that the Hopper 20 ($299.99) we tested can hold a full twelve pack of beer and double that weight in ice, while keeping drinks cold for days. We loaded it up and left it on the back porch. Keeping it zipped up except for hourly ice checks, the ice was solid for about 27 hours. After that, the slushy mix kept beer cold for almost another full day.
However, real world use is a far cry from testing it out on a shaded back porch, so I loaded the Hopper with ten pounds of ice, drinks, bacon and sausage from our favorite smokehouse, and some dark chocolate to bribe my wife to come fishing. After a two-hour drive to Southern Utah, an annoying slog through alder and cottonwood undergrowth, and a full day of slinging flies in the hot sun, the Hopper had about two-thirds of its ice load left. A night in camp and a new load of extra drinks later, most of the ice was gone, but it was still noticeably cold for another twelve hours.
Is the YETI Hopper for you? If you’re looking for a way to transport a day’s worth of food and beer on the trail without lashing a heavy hard cooler to your ATV or kayak, yes. It is without a doubt the best soft sided cooler on the market, and will hold ice longer than quite a few competitors’ larger coolers. It is a truly unique product – yes there are other soft coolers out there, but none can approach the Hopper in terms of durability and cooling power.
Photo Credits: Kenzie Parker.