On an all-new episode of BIG DEER TV tonight, I spot and stalk for mule deer in a remote section of Montana. That leads to this product review:
I have been using Yeti Tundra coolers in deer camps and hunting rigs for years. Simple fact: no other cooler can match the one-piece, roto-molded polyethylene Tundra for durability and ice retention for your supplies and, once you shoot a deer, your quartered or boned-out venison.
The Tundra has become incredibly popular with hunters. When I show up in a camp anywhere in North America, it’s 50/50 that the locals will already have a Yeti or two sitting aside the fire pit. Nearly 100 percent of Texas deer camps have them, understandable since Yeti is based in Austin.
The Tundra is by design heavy duty, made for camp and truck. But sometimes you need to go mobile. Enter the soft-shell Yeti Hopper, which is lightweight and easily carried into the field. For the last year, I have packed the Hopper 30, which measures 16×22 ½”, across deer country, into blinds and out to glassing vantages. A smaller Hopper 20 is also available.
As you would expect, Yeti builds the Hopper with superior high-tech materials, like those found in hazmat suits and whitewater rafts. They call the shell Dryhide and the full-length top zipper Hydrolok. Translated, the high-performance shell has welded seams and closed-cell foam insulation; the sturdy, heavily sealed zipper with handle, which you grasp firmly with 2 fingers and pull hard to open and close, makes the cooler airtight.
Compared to the cheap, soft-sided coolers with the delicate zippers that you might have used in the past to carry your lunch and a few drinks—you know, the ones where the ice melts in an hour and the whole thing turns into a limp, soggy mess–the Hopper is in another stratosphere. Yeti bills it as the “first 100% leak-proof travel cooler” and my testing bears that out.
I first used the Hopper in mundane tasks—at the beach and on a fishing boat out in Chesapeake Bay on a hot summer day. My 30 version holds 20 to 24 cans and water bottles with a good amount of ice. On the boat a friend said, “Let’s see if it really is leak-proof.” We set the Hopper upside down, zipper to the bottom of the boat, and motored around and fished for the day. The ice retention was good, the drinks cold, and no leaks.
Later last fall I packed it on deer hunts from Virginia to Oregon to Canada, and then put it through a good field-test in Montana.
I shot a mule deer buck in a deep canyon, where the only way to get it out was to de-bone the meat and pack it. I lashed the Hopper 30 to a pack frame; it has 6 sturdy D-rings on the sides and ends for such a task. The cooler fit and balanced perfectly on the frame’s flip-down bottom.
We cut every scrap of red venison off the bones, and put the pieces in cloth game bags. I loaded bags of backstrap, ham and chunks of neck meat for stew into the Hopper and tossed in handfuls of fresh snow, nature’s ready-made ice. Then I lashed on the head and antlers. The cooler’s flat top seemed tailor-made for the job.
The pack out took a couple of hours, not brutal but enough to get you sweating. The load rode snugly, comfortably and dryly, with nary a leak of water or blood on my back. The meat stayed cold and clean. Back at camp, we removed the bags, and I hosed out the Hopper. Perfectly clean and ready for the next beach trip or hunting adventure.
On its website, Yeti has a section tabbed “Hunting Coolers” but curiously the Hopper 30 is not included. They should add it, because this is an awesome product for packing meat when you hunt in the backcountry.
Like all Yeti Coolers, the Hopper 30 is not cheap. To me it’s worth $350. I am not extravagant with my gear. I do not run out and buy all the latest and greatest stuff and use it once or twice. Rather, I do my homework and hone in on select quality products that I know I will need and use, and which I am confident will do good, hard work for years, be it a bow, rifle, clothes or optic. Or a cooler, like the Yeti Hopper, which has a 3-year warranty.
Note: It was so cold on this hunt in Canada last November, below zero, that I packed my lunch and water in the Hopper not only to keep it cool but also to keep it from freezing!