The Hot Product: YETI’s “Hopper” is a Slam Dunk



By now, I have a pretty simple system for rating fly-fishing products:  A “good” product is one that I think will fill a niche, or successfully replace another that’s been on the market for a while.  A money maker.

A “great” product is one that I think will actually grow sales in a certain product category within the fly world… a rod (or reel, or line, or waders, or sunglasses) that offers performance advantages so obvious, that it changes the paradigm.  A money cultivator.

But the “slam dunk” rating is reserved for products that are so good that the appeal transcends the fishing world.  A fly shop might carry this one, but the mountain biker or the skier (or the camper or the soccer mom) comes into the shop to find it.

YETI’s new “Hopper” ($300 retail)  is one of those.  It’s a soft-sided cooler/tote bag with a beefy dry-suit zipper on top that keeps things cool to YETI standards… or so the promo literature says.

But don’t trust the company.  Hell… don’t trust me (I’m ultimately just another fish-head).  Trust my wife, Sarah.

Because the truth is, I get many products sent to me every week for review purposes.  (I’m not complaining, I actually LOVE that, but it generally ticks Sarah off, because our garage, storage room… sometimes the dining room table… end up cluttered with fishing swag.)

When this item arrived at our home, I was on a work trip (okay, fishing trip).  But for the first time ever, my wife called me to say: “You got something, and this is really, really cool.  It’s awesome.”

Minutes later, my mother E-mails: “Sarah said you got some cooler thing that’s really great from YETI.   You know… that mug (YETI Rambler) you sent me (for her birthday) is great… I left ice in it on my desk and it was still there the next morning!”

I called Sarah back, and asked her to help me get down to brass tacks.  “Take a block of ice from the chest freezer in the garage, and a six-pack of Coke, and stick them in that thing.  Zip it up, and set it out on the deck.” (We live at 8,300 feet in Colorado, where the radiant heat of July sunshine tends to warm things up quickly.)  “When I come home in a few days, we’ll see if that bag is worth the hype.”

I came home a few days ago, and the ice was still pretty solid.  In fact, I just pulled the last can of Coke from the bag (still with ice) and cracked that open as I sat down at my desk to write this review.

So, yeah, I buy the hype now.  Coolers and waders are the simplest things to judge in all of fishing.  In both cases, it’s really a pass-fail test.  They either work, or they don’t.  Right?  Size… shape… all that stuff is pretty subjective, and the onus is as much on the consumer to find the right fit as it is on the company to offer the right option.  But failure to perform is an automatic DQ.

What I can’t seem to shake right now is the way “the women in my life,” namely my wife and my mother, glommed onto this thing and were so jazzed about it.  I mean, I’ve been married for 25 years, so I’ve experienced the whole purse, handbag, beach-bag thing, and I think I get that (sort of).  But this was a different level… this bag-cooler thing was like manna from heaven.  I’m still processing that.

I’ve since shown the Hopper to other friends… the bait fisherman next door, who teases me about my “buggy whip” fascination… the pilot who wants a cooler that’s bendable and can get stuffed into a compartment or under a jump seat… the fireman who wants to tuck cold water in the extra compartment on the truck…

As such, I am learning that the universe of people who will pay $400 for a bad-ass, hard-side cooler is one thing… but the universe of people who will pay $300 for a softer, tote-bag type cooler that works well too might be slightly bigger.  Maybe more than slightly.

You’ll have to do your own tests.  Melt your own ice, over time.  Ask your own wives and mothers.

But I’m seeing something that’s full-on legit.  I’m seeing something that a fishing store could carry, and sell to people who don’t even fish.

And I think this is one of the most important and relevant products people will see at IFTD and ICAST.  If you’re too “rigid” to figure that one out, that’ll be your loss.


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