Yeti carved out the rotomolded cooler market with great marketing and an attention to detail, but technically speaking they did not invent the market sector. That was done by Engel coolers, the patent-holder in this area. Engel and all Yeti’s other competitors owe Yeti a great debt of gratitude for setting such a high expectation, both in terms of quality and in terms of what people will pay.
Now Yeti has gone a step further: they have invented a new product. The seeds of the Yeti Hopper were planted years ago, by Patagonia. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if my old green Great Divider bag was a cooler. In theory, it could have been. It had the same PVC construction (although that fabric has come a long way since the Great Divider). It had a waterproof zipper, and it had a modicum of insulation. Of course, we all used it for a dry bag instead of the opposite.
What Yeti has done is take the core concept of the Great Divider series and its imitators, and actually do the things necessary to make it a great cooler.
First and foremost, we have a really, really serious zipper. That thing is air tight–it’s designed for use in scuba applications. I actually sat on the cooler while it was inflated; it makes a very comfortable cushion. In fact, this gave me ideas about using the zipper in a camping mat (Therma-rest take note!). The zipper is so tight that Yeti warns against use of dry ice with this product. Not because the dry ice would hurt the cooler (it wouldn’t) but because dry ice melts as CO2 gas. Leave a block of dry ice in a sealed Yeti Hopper in a hot car, and you have yourself a car bomb.
Yeti also designed a great bottom. It’s press-molded EVA foam coated in rugged cloth. It has the Yeti logo (all Yeti products seem to have this even though no one looks at the bottoms; they are proud of their work). All seams are radiowelded like on the newest generation of breathable waders. The straps on the side are butterflied for easy use of a caribiner to clip on a bottle opener or, in my case, fishing accutrements like a Boga Grip.
Inside, the cooler is an icy blue color made of more PVC-doped heavy fabric. There is approximately an inch of soft padding on all sides, and the interior liner is not tacked to the inside wall in any way. It smells extremely rubbery but I expect that to fade quickly.
From a capacity standpoint, I would have to guess that this cooler can hold roughly as much ice as a Yeti 35. It’s bigger than you’d think and maybe bigger than it ought to be. No word yet on the length of time it will take a bag of ice to melt to water, but you better believe I’ll be doing that test.
The only real demerit I can give this product is on price. It’s $300. That’s a chunk of change, even for a boat cooler likely to last around ten years. That puts the Hopper in the exact same pricing category as a regular Yeti of roughly the same size–maybe even a little more.
So let’s look at what you get. With the Hopper, you’ve got a dry weight of less than 2 pounds. It has an easy-carrying satchel strap, is totally waterproof, and can do double duty as an accessory carrier (there’s even an optional outside patch to make this more of a boat bag). With the Tundra line, you have all of the above except the dry weight is 20 lbs. and you can’t carry it with a strap, but you can stand on the cooler.
I believe there’s a place for both coolers. It’s important to state this clearly: this is just as nice a cooler as the Tundra. It’s not a downgrade. I expect it to keep ice for very nearly as long; certainly as long as you’d need in real use. (In my tests for Fly Rod & Reel magazine, in this month’s issue, the Yeti Tundra and its close competitors kept functional ice for three days and cold water for just at five days). The Hopper is just for a different purpose. It will be far more appropriate in a drift boat, on a beach, or at a picnic or stadium than the Tundra. The Tundra meanwhile is far more appropriate in a skiff, in a truck bed, at a deer camp, or at a tailgate. Each has its specialty.
And if we’re really lucky, Yeti’s competitors will move quickly to enter this sector and release excellent but not quite as Cadillac versions of their own.
Rating: Four point five stars out of five (demerit for price).
Purchase: The Hopper will be available this October wherever Yetis are sold