If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider Yeti coolers extremely flattered. Its soft-sided Hopper cooler, with its zippered closure and daisy chain attachment points, might be the most ripped-off item in the outdoor industry — and for good reason. Now, there are soft coolers everywhere, all touting the same portability, durable design, and convenience as Yeti's Hopper. But nothing's quite like the original.
I've taken my first-gen Hopper on more adventures than I can remember. It's kept my beer cold in Mexico, my sports drinks cold at bike races in Colorado, and effectively saved my life by keeping my insulin cold in a southern Arizona desert. Despite almost three years of being thrown into the back of pickup trucks, slung over my shoulder, or checked on airplanes, the Hopper's still my go-to portable cooler.
Perhaps its best quality is how well it keeps ice. From ice packs and gas station bags of ice to the old standby of half-full plastic soda bottles frozen overnight, the Hopper works well with it all. I've even been in 105-degree days in Mexico where the Hopper was able to keep our water, soda, and insulin cold for over two days, and it still had traces of leftover ice chunks. I'm sure it could have lasted longer, but we certainly couldn't.
My time spent with the Hopper hasn't been a unanimous joy, however. One of its main features that still gives me fits after all these years is the zipper. Don't get me wrong, the zipper itself functions perfectly fine. Not only is it reliably waterproof but it's the same kind of thick zipper find in waterproof-necessary drysuits. For the Hopper, it's just not that great of an experience to use.
Reaching into the zippered cooler means scraping your arm on its teeth while fumbling around for a beer or soda. After spending a day crack climbing and shoving my hands and wrists into abrasive granite, I wanted a beer but wasn't keen on scuffing my wrists to do so.
The new Hopper
Luckily, Yeti fixed this issue in its newest iteration of the Hopper by introducing a magnetic closure. Called the M30 ($300), this new cooler promises the same waterproof tech as its predecessor, albeit with an easier means of opening and closing — of which I'm able to corroborate both claims as mine's both yet to leak and much easier and more comfortable to open.
With the M30, opening requires a simple pull of the two sides of the cooler and that's it — the thick magnets even close on their own to seal it. This also has the benefit of making sure you don't leave the Hopper open after quickly taking something out, a feature designed to keep ice intact longer.
Built to haul
The M30 holds 7.2 gallons, which equates to roughly 20 cans of beer or soda (with ice), or 28 pounds of ice. That should be plenty for any weekend trip and I rarely find mine overstuffed. Yeti continues to use its ColdCell foam, which helps keep ice even in beating desert heat. The cooler also has welded seams designed to prevents leaks.
It's not a cheap cooler at $300 but if I can rely on it for my insulin even after using it for more than three years, I'm happy to invest in something that I know won't let me down. Cheaper coolers often suffer from broken zippers or cracked seams.
There are two buckles on the outside of the Hopper that reinforce the magnetic closure, as well as daisy chain attachment points where you can use a carabiner clip to carry other accessories. There's also a bottle opener on the side and an extra-long padded strap if you want to carry the cooler across your body.
The bottom line
The old Hopper was one of the most reliable coolers I've used, but the new M30, led by its magnetic closure, quickly took its place. I've used the original for over three years and while there's nothing technically wrong with it, the pain of using the zipper closure had me eyeing for an alternative — and the M30 was just what I needed. The $300 price tag is sure to cause some amount of sticker shock but it's worth the investment if you get outside often to hike or travel.
- Should you buy it? If you're on the hunt for a reliable, portable, durable soft cooler, then yes. Yeti's been at the top of the cooler industry (for both hard and soft coolers) for years, and there's a reason why it continues to impress. With the M30, the brand's taken everything that worked so well in previous iterations like the ability to keep ice for days on end and a durable exterior built to take a beating, and combined it with a brand new closure system. Out goes the abrasive zipper and in comes an easy-to-use, fluid magnetic closure. It's worth the $300 investment.
- What are your alternatives? The soft cooler market brims with alternatives. Whether that's the IceMule Pro that features a roll-top closure system and convenient backpack straps or a soft-sided cooler from Polar Bear, there's no lack of variety. Picking one ultimately comes down to how you plan on using it, and what your budget is. Maybe you don't need an expensive, $300 cooler. If not, some IceMule Pro sizes run for just $115.
Pros: Magnetic closure is much easier and more comfortable to use than a zipper, holds up to 28 pounds of ice or roughly 20 cans of soda or beer (with ice), an included padded strap allows for comfortable cross-body carry
Cons: Its $300 price tag is a little steep, it won't take the place of a more rugged, higher capacity cooler