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Big shocker here (not really) – YETI takes our spot for the overall best soft-sided cooler. I know YETI takes a lot of heat for their pricing but if you’re truly looking for the best option out there regardless of price, YETI is just tough to beat all things considered.
YETI Hopper Design / Sizes
All YETI Hopper coolers come equipped with a DryHide Shell, which is the same material used in whitewater rafts. It’s waterproof, puncture-proof and resistant to mildew and UV rays. All Hopper coolers have YETI’s ColdCell Insulation, which utilizes closed-cell rubber foam. I know it sounds fancy but basically it means the coolers can keep beverages and food cold for a really long time. The Hopper coolers come equipped with YETI’s Hydrolok Zipper, which is ultra-durable and leakproof. Lastly, all Hopper coolers also feature multiple handles, molle straps and a removable shoulder strap for carrying purposes.
Jeff Carrying The YETI Hopper Two
The Hopper coolers come in three different models and seven different sizes. First, you have the Flip series, which comes in three different sizes. There’s the Flip 8 (holds 8 cans), the Flip 12 (holds 13 cans) and the Flip 18 (holds 20 cans). And just FYI the internal capacity listed assumes a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio – obviously if you use less ice, you can fit more cans and vice versa. The Flip series has more a square/box design compared to the YETI Hopper Two.
The YETI Hopper Two comes in three different sizes – the 20, 30 and 40. You can fit 16/23/34 cans, respectively in each size assuming that same ice-to-can ratio discussed above. The Hopper Two has a more slim, tapered design to it, which allows the coolers to fit in smaller and more odd-shaped spaces. It’s also important to note that this is the 2nd generation of this model. You can find the first gen model a lot cheaper, often around ~$100 less [check 1st gen price on Amazon]. That’s the route we would recommend going to save money.
Taking The Original YETI Hopper Out For A Day On The Lake
Really, there’s only a few minor changes between the two models – the zipper on the Hopper Two is more forward facing now, which makes it easier to load and access and there’s also an extra handle on top of the cooler. That’s really it.
New Zipper Location On The Hopper Two
The last model is the Hopper Backflip 24 backpack cooler [see on YETI.com]. This is a relatively new product for YETI. It has the same square/box design as the Flip series and can hold 20 cans (2:1 ice-to-can ratio). But what makes this cooler different is that instead of having one shoulder strap, it has two straps attached to the back so you can wear it like a backpack. Further, it has a removable chest strap and waist belt for added stability. It’s an awesome product. Really, the only reason why it didn’t grab our spot for the best backpack cooler is price – it’s ~$200 more than the IceMule Pro.
YETI Hopper Ice Retention
For our ice test, we tested the YETI Hopper Flip 12 and the YETI Hopper Two 20. Both performed extremely well – we filled each cooler with ice about half way up and included about six beers. Both still had a good amount of ice still left after 48 hours. All in all, YETI products are among the best out there when it comes to keeping beverages cold.
YETI Coolers Pricing
Here comes the bad news. We’ve already talked about what makes these coolers great – durable, easy-to-use design, solid ice retention, etc. But as we eluded to at the beginning of this post, YETI catches a lot of flak about price. They’re expensive coolers – not going to sugar coat it. YETI has become a lifestyle brand just as much as they have a cooler brand, which allows them to charge high prices. Pricing for the Hopper series ranges from $200 for the Hopper Flip 8 all the way to $400 for the Hopper Two 40 [shop YETI Hopper Coolers on Amazon].
Next up, we have our pick for the Best Cooler Backpack. Upsetting the YETI Backflip 24 is the IceMule Pro, primarily because we think its a better value.
IceMule Pro Design & Capacity
The IceMule Pro takes a slightly different approach than most backpack coolers out there. Rather than the typical square/box design and zipper most products out there have, the IceMule Pro has more of a cylindrical shape. Also, instead of using a zipper, the IceMule Pro employs a roll-top design where you roll down the cooler and cinch it with a clip. It takes a little longer but IceMule claims they design it this way so that the opening to the cooler is larger and it’s easier to access your beverages. Just make sure you roll it down correctly and cinch it down tight or else you will experience leaks. The IceMule Pro can hold up to 18 cans plus ice and weighs 3.2 lbs.
Jeff Rolling Down The IceMule Pro
For the exterior, IceMule uses their proprietary MuleSkinET fabric. It’s quite a bit thinner than the DryHide shell YETI uses. On the inside, IceMule uses their MuleSkinEV and PolarLayer Insulation to keep your items cold. Those are a lot of big words that sound scientific and fancy but honestly, in terms of durability and being able to withstand the elements, IceMule is definitely a level below YETI. However, the IceMule Pro does come equipped with an air valve. This allows you to add extra air to the insulation layer or release the air so you can roll up the backpack for storage purposes. The backpack portion of the cooler is actually pretty comfortable considering it is a cooler and it comes with a chest strap for added stability.
Jeff Trekking Through The Wilderness With The IceMule Pro
IceMule Coolers Ice Retention
We found that in our tests, the IceMule Pro performs well but not nearly as well as YETI. Still, the IceMule Pro was able to maintain ice for over 24 hours. As such, we think the IceMule Pro is ideal for 1-2 day trips. Anything over that, you should probably look into getting a hard cooler. Typically, the ice retention with those types of coolers are much longer than soft sided coolers. A few good ones to try (outside of YETI of course) would be Ozark Trail coolers [shop on Walmart], RTIC coolers [shop on Amazon] or Pelican coolers [shop on Amazon]. But of course, IceMule wasn’t going for super long ice retention here. They were going for a practical, comfortable cooler that you can take with you on a 5-8 hour hiking or boating trip. So with that in mind, I’d say the IceMule Pro exceeded expectations.
Here’s why IceMule got the nod from us. It’s super affordable. It retails for $100 but we’ve seen it even cheaper before [check current pricing on Amazon]. Compare that to the YETI Backflip 24 ($300) and you can start to see why it took this spot. It’s not a better product than the Backflip but its certainly a better value.
Our best budget cooler is the Coleman soft cooler series with hard liners. They’re ultra-affordable and they perform decently well all things considered.
Coleman Soft Cooler Design & Capacity
All the Coleman soft cooler models in this lineup have the same design for the most part. They have a rectangular design with soft-top lid. What’s a little different about the Coleman series though is that the actual insulation portion of the cooler is removable – the coolers come equipped with a hard, antimicrobial plastic liner. This gives you a little flexibility in case you just want to use the bag more for carrying/storage purposes rather than cooling purposes – you can just remove the hard plastic liner. The coolers also feature mesh pockets on the side and a front zipper pocket for extra storage – keys, wallets, bottles openers, etc. There’s also elastic tie-downs on top and an adjustable shoulder strap for additional carrying options.
The Coleman soft coolers come in three different sizes – 9-can, 16-can and 30-can. [shop on Amazon].
Coleman Cooler Ice Retention
As you might have guessed considering the price and removable liner, the Coleman soft coolers aren’t the best when it comes to ice retention but they’re certainly no slouch either. In our tests, the Coleman 9-can coolers went about 30 hours and still had a decent amount of ice left. And let’s face, given the design and capacity of these coolers, these probably aren’t the coolers you’ll be taking with you on a 3-4 day camping trip. You’ll probably be going with a much larger, hard-shell cooler for those types of trip. The Coleman soft coolers are more for day trips and taking with you to watch your son’s little league game. So with that in mind, I’d say 25-35 hours of ice retention is more than enough.
There’s a reason why these coolers are taking the best budget spot – they’re almost too cheap to pass up. Pricing varies a little by color and availability, but for the most part, here’s how it breaks down:
Overall, it’s hard not to like the Coleman soft coolers with hard liners. They’re functional, perform well-enough in terms of ice retention and are ultra-cheap. There’s a reason why they have a 4.5 star rating on Amazon with thousands of reviews.
Taking our honorable mention spot are the soft coolers from AO. These coolers come in a range of different sizes and designs and were dangerously close to cracking this list. Depending on the size you get, they either come in a tapered design (similar to the YETI Hopper Two, except the zipper is on top) or a rectangular design. These AO coolers also come with an adjustable shoulder strap and separate handles for multiple transportation options. They also come equipped with a side pocket for incidentals (location on cooler varies by size). Unlike YETI coolers though, which feature a rugged DryHide shell, the exterior of AO coolers is made of Canvas so durability just doesn’t match-up with YETI at the end of the day.
However, with that said, we were pleasantly surprised with how well these coolers performed in terms of ice retention. They come equipped with high-density insulation on the inside and can easily hold ice for more than 24 hours. In fact, in our test, the AO cooler still had a good amount of ice in it after 48 hours. In addition, they’re pretty affordable. AO coolers are much cheaper than YETI coolers and just a little bit more expensive than the Coleman soft cooler lineup [shop AO coolers on Amazon]. The particular model we tested comes in four different sizes – 12-can, 24-can, 36-can and 48-can. Also, just food for thought, AO also offers backpack cooler [see on Amazon] similar to the IceMule Pro.