When all of my working class, outdoorsy Florida friends started dropping entire paychecks on these big, clunky ice chests for their boats, I met their enthusiastic endorsements of Yeti coolers with a healthy dose of skepticism and curiosity. I’m a bit of a luddite. Lightweight, breathable, ultrastretch, ballistic, whatever — all that jargon fails to impress me. Even less so things referred to as being “bomber” or “bullet-” and/or “bomb-proof.” I mean, at more than ten times the price of your average suburban family’s beach day cooler, the thing had better take a mortar, open my beers and recycle my empties, let alone live up to its bold claims of keeping ice frozen for days and days.
So when a few very big boxes from the folks over at Yeti arrived at the SURFER offices, the team and I were eager to put them to the test. First, we tried to figure out just what made the damned things so special.
We started with the ice chests, two of Yeti’s iconic Tundra models, a 65L and a 45L, chunky and built from what looks like the same material comprising Stormtrooper helmets. These brutes are over-engineered as all hell, from the chunky rubber latches and military-grade nylon “DoubleHaul” handles to the thickly insulated (featuring PermaFrost™), rotomolded, and rumored to be indestructible construction. It’s “certified bear-resistant,” whatever that means. And one of the cooler’s ace features: the Vortex drain, which is threaded to receive a hose, so draining melted ice (i.e. water) is a breeze without having to lift and move around the cooler.
Which brings me to this: these babies ain’t light. But they were never going to be. The 45L Tundra clocks in at 23 lbs, bone dry. The 65L’s 26 lbs. At full capacity, the 45L holds 35 lbs of ice; the 65L maxes out at 56 lbs. So you’re deadlifting, and sometimes clean-and-jerking, a solid 60-80lbs to move these mothers around. Getting the 65L up into my truck’s camper platform is a feat, a real heave-ho. And our bomber 65L is still considered basically an entry-level Yeti. They make a friggin’ Tundra 420 that’s capable of packing in 403lbs of ice (or 268 cans of beer and 70 lbs of ice, approximately). Which, just, I mean, come on. It’s like a giant, insulated coffin.
We broke these babies in the first weekend we got them, dragged them up the coast for the California premiere of our most recent film, El Niño’s Wake. Loaded down with beer and coconut water, the coolers kept ice rock solid from San Diego to Santa Barbara, with three stops and four days of very excitable surfers grabbing cold Mexican beers from the chest’s belly, many stopping to admire our dueling coolers.
Since then we’ve dragged these beasts from Baja to the Lost Coast, with many a day spent posted up at The Wall at Malibu. But not all of us need to drag a massive ice chest around everywhere we go. Or can’t. Or shouldn’t. So Yeti went after the Everyman with their Hopper series, the first leakproof soft coolers on the planet. The Hopper’s secret to ice longevity is its ColdCell™, closed-cell foam insulation, which also makes these bad boys float. The zippers are modeled after hazmat suits--waterproof, airtight. And, like all their gear, the thing’s just over the top with three different reinforced handles and carrying traps. The Hopper’s been the go-to for the rest of the staff, for weekend jaunts south of the border, or for camping missions chasing souths up to Big Sur. Light, easy to cary, clean, and care for, it’s a great design and worth the $300+ price tag, considering the lifetime warranty.
Anyhow, we’re fans, converts, whatever. And if the products aren’t bomber enough, last month their marketing brains tapped Chris Malloy and the folks over at Farm League to make some beautiful films about fathers and fatherhood. Watch the Shane Dorian episode first, of course. But make sure to watch the clip below, which is totally un-surf-related, but beautiful as all hell, a short film about JT Van Zandt, Texas boat builder and fishing guide, son of brilliant country boozer, Townes Van Zandt.
When I called Chris Malloy to ask him about the project, he said, “They approached us about the films, and I mean, I can’t live without their stuff. I texted the guy that runs their ambassador program a photo of my pile of Yeti’s, and just said, ‘Hey, listen, you don’t need to sell me on Yeti, I’m in. But I don’t work with people I haven’t met in person.’ So we flew out to Austin and met the brothers that started it, and their whole crew--just good people, everyone wants to hunt and fish. And the gear’s as good as it gets.”
The Tundra line of coolers are made in the good ol’ U.S. of A, in two facilities in the Rust Belt of Wisconsin and Iowa. The Hoppers, as well as all their wildly popular accessories–steel, insulated coozies, burly thermoses, clever icepacks, even an insulated beer bucket big enough for half-barrel kegs–are made in China and the Philippines. If you’re a person that aspires to more remote adventure, or if you’re just someone who enjoys buying something once and being done with it–forever–then these beasts are for you. With the three-day weekend just getting started, we’re loaded down, packed in, iced up. On Monday night (or more likely Tuesday morning), I’ll go open the chest and the beers and beach days will be a quickly fading memory. But the ice in that damned cooler will be just getting warmed up, if you know what I mean.