YETI Hopper M20 Review: Is This Backpack Cooler Worth It?

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by  Cooler Bill Barton | Last Updated: 
YETI Hopper M20 Review

The YETI Hopper M20 backpack cooler isn’t cheap, and it begs the question: is it really worth the price?

In this YETI Hopper M20 review, I’ve tested YETI’s backpack cooler against several of the best competitors to find out.

90
VALUE
6
score
CAPACITY
7
score
INSULATION
9
score
DURABILITY
10
score
EASE OF USE
10
score
PORTABILITY
10
score
FEATURES
9
score
Pros:
  • The best insulating power of any backpack cooler I’ve tested
  • Very comfortable design that’s able to carry a lot of weight without discomfort
  • The MagShield Access opening is fantastic—easy to open and close and it’s perfectly air-tight
Cons:
  • The inside has an extremely strong chemical smell that lasts for several weeks

I use my hard sided coolers all the time, but this summer I realized that they’re not always the best option.

Why? 

Because I went scrambling up a river and had to carry a massive, heavy cooler with me the whole time. 

That’s when I realized that having all my drinks and ice loaded on my back would be safer and more comfortable—because there’s no way I’m not scrambling up a river when I have the chance. 

So I picked up the YETI Hopper M20 backpack cooler. And not only that, but I picked up some competing backpack coolers from RTIC, Icemule, Tourit, and Igloo

You’ll see all my ice retention data on the YETI Hopper M20 here, as well as how these backpack coolers compare with one another.

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler Overview

The YETI Hopper M20 backpack is a fairly new release from YETI, coming out in March 2022. It’s an updated take on their popular Hopper soft-sided cooler. 

Obviously, the big difference is that the M20 is a backpack, so it’s much easier to load up with ice and drinks and carry longer distances.

The Hopper 20 can carry 18 cans of beer when loaded up with ice, so it’s definitely capable of bringing a full picnic on a long hike. 

I’ll explain in more detail later how I came to this conclusion, but in short: the YETI Hopper M20 is the best backpack cooler you can get—at least amongst the ones I tried (which are the most popular). 

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler

The Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler allows you to put the day on your back — literally. This hands-free soft cooler keeps you mobile, while an ultra-strong magnet strip keeps the cold locked in and the hot air out.

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Things to Consider Before Buying the YETI Hopper M20

The YETI Hopper M20 is the most comfortable backpack cooler I tried, and also has the best insulation. I also think it’s the most rugged, though I haven’t tested that aspect much. But the high density fabric on the outside certainly feels the most durable.

The big issue with the YETI Hopper M20 backpack is that it’s double the price of the next most expensive cooler I tested, the RTIC 20-can backpack

RTIC 20-can Backpack Cooler

This insulated cooler backpack is perfect for a day hiking, camping, picnic, fishing, a day on the beach, or at the pool. A hands-free carry cooler bag that straps comfortably to your back, leaving both arms free for what your adventure calls for. It will keep your food and drinks cool wherever needed.

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I think there are some compelling reasons to choose the YETI Hopper M20 as your backpack cooler, but ultimately, if you’ll be using your cooler for low-impact activities and only need the ice to last through the day, you can save over $100 by choosing another brand. 

That said, if you plan on doing anything more rigorous like bouldering, kayaking, or hiking in tougher terrain, the balanced fit you get with the YETI Hopper and the extra durability make the price more justifiable. 

One more thing: the YETI Hopper M20 is the worst smelling cooler I’ve ever tested. It has a really strong chemical smell that lingers for weeks, even when you air it out. It smells a little like trout powerbait, which isn’t good. 

Why You Should Trust Me

When I do a cooler review, I really do it. I not only tested the YETI Hopper M20, but also the RTIC 20-can Backpack, the Igloo MaxCold Voyager backpack, the Icemule Pro XL 33L, and the Tourit Cockatoo—all of which are five of the most popular backpack coolers on the market. 

RTIC 20-can Backpack Cooler

This insulated cooler backpack is perfect for a day hiking, camping, picnic, fishing, a day on the beach, or at the pool. A hands-free carry cooler bag that straps comfortably to your back, leaving both arms free for what your adventure calls for. It will keep your food and drinks cool wherever needed.

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I tested each cooler by placing 3.5lbs of ice and measuring the internal temperature over the course of 40 hours. 

Each test was done in a temperature controlled room in the dark to try and minimize any outside temperature inconsistencies. 

I bought each of these coolers myself—none of them were provided by the brands.

I’ve also taken each of these backpack coolers on a trip and worn them around to get an idea of how they feel and what they’re actually like to use regularly. 

Igloo MaxCold Voyager Backpack

Eco-minded and function-forward. Whether you’re crossing uncharted waters or trekking off the beaten path, the MaxCold Voyager Backpack cooler — built with REPREVE recycled material — features everything you need to see you through the journey.

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YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler Review

Value

Depending on what you plan on doing with your YETI backpack cooler, it’s either a fantastic value, or it’s overpriced.

Let me explain.

I think the YETI Hopper M20 is the best backpack cooler if your adventures are more rugged.

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler

The Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler allows you to put the day on your back — literally. This hands-free soft cooler keeps you mobile, while an ultra-strong magnet strip keeps the cold locked in and the hot air out.

Buy Now at YETI
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

For instance, I visited Big Sur over the summer and was scrambling over some boulders through a river. There were several instances where the backpack scraped against rocks and was partially submerged in the water. 

If you feel like your adventures have a bit of danger to them, then it’s worth the extra spend to get something that fits securely and comfortably, and that you don’t have to worry about ripping. 

Yes, the YETI Hopper M20 has the best insulation (I’ll show the graph in the next section), and it’s also the most comfortable. But the next most expensive backpack cooler I tested is the RTIC 20-can Backpack Cooler, which is less than half the price of the YETI. 

So that’s a significant difference in value-for-money.

If you’re on a strict budget and you mostly plan on shorter day hikes, trips to the beach, and other low-impact activities, then the Igloo MaxCold Voyager might be a better option. It doesn’t have nearly as much insulation ability, but it can keep a food safe temperature for 19 hours with 3.5lbs of ice, which is plenty of time if you’re just using it for the day (compared to YETI’s 28-hour food safe window). 

Igloo MaxCold Voyager Backpack

Eco-minded and function-forward. Whether you’re crossing uncharted waters or trekking off the beaten path, the MaxCold Voyager Backpack cooler — built with REPREVE recycled material — features everything you need to see you through the journey.

Buy Now at Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Capacity

One thing I learned when I tested a bunch of 20 quart hard sided coolers is that not all liquid quart measurements are created equal. Depending on the internal shape and dimensions of the cooler, some fit more practical goods in them, despite having the same liquid capacity.

So I measured what I call the “space efficiency ratio,” which is just the liter capacity divided by the number of cans the cooler can hold with ice. 

YETI’s ratio rating is 0.9, which is about the average of the five coolers I tested. RTIC’s is a little better because of its square shape—that’s just better for holding more cans, but it’s also less comfortable to carry around. 

The Igloo MaxCold Voyager was the clear winner in this category though. Because it has two pockets, it can technically hold more cans, though I have to note that the insulation on the outer pocket is probably not nearly as good as its main compartment—and even that wasn’t great comparatively. Still, the Igloo’s ugly design is great for holding a lot of cans.  

With the YETI Hopper M20, you could reasonably pack a picnic for six, including 12 cans, sandwiches, and pieces of fruit with a few pounds of ice thrown in. 

The only other backpack cooler I think is capable of that amount is the Icemule Pro XL 33L

The Icemule has the most liquid capacity, but it’s not as efficient with the space as the YETI. Still, both are large enough that you should also take into consideration the weight—these things can get over 50 lbs when fully loaded. Because it’s a backpack, I don’t think that’s too much for a young man to carry all day, but it might be a little heavy for other folks. 

Icemule Pro XL 33L Backpack Cooler

This backpack cooler is perfect when you're responsible for bringing the party. Next spring break or next surf trip, don't show up unprepared. The Icemule Pro XL soft cooler will make sure you're properly outfitted with the essentials to make any adventure a good time.

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Insulation

The YETI Hopper M20 offered the best insulation of the five coolers I tested.

I ran my test for 40 hours, at which point all the other coolers had been sitting at room temperature. The YETI still was a little below room temperature, but not cold enough at 40 hours to continue the test. 

The YETI Hopper held its contents below 40 degrees (food-safe temperature) for 28 hours. Compare that to the next best Icemule, which did the same for 27 hours. RTIC’s cooler was in the ballpark holding the contents below 40 for about 25 hours. Both the Tourit and Igloo kept a food safe temperature for 19 hours.

And when it comes to frosty beers, the YETI Hopper held below 50 until hour 33 compared to the next best 32 hours (the worst held below 50 for a little over 24 hours). 

How long does the YETI Hopper M20 hold ice for?

My YETI Hopper M20 held ice for 25 hours, and it held below 40 degrees for 28 hours.

question icon

The YETI was in a pretty tight competition with the Icemule—one thing they both have in common is that they’re completely airtight, which is what I think the big difference maker was. 

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler

The Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler allows you to put the day on your back — literally. This hands-free soft cooler keeps you mobile, while an ultra-strong magnet strip keeps the cold locked in and the hot air out.

Buy Now at YETI
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Durability

Durability is harder to test, but I actually got a good chance to put several of these coolers through rigorous real-world conditions. 

Like I said, I did a lot of river scrambling with the YETI Hopper M20 and it performed really well. With the RTIC 20-can, it flew off the back of an off-road golf cart while jamming up a hill—it had two bottles of super nice wine in it and kept them both safe. And the Icemule went on a fishing trip with me and had a bunch of hooks and lures bouncing around inside it.

While they all held up just fine, my feeling is that the YETI Hopper is the most durable. The shell is a high density fabric that feels much more stiff than any of the competitors. 

I’d say the YETI is the best suited for rugged travel. 

I’m a little less confident in the RTIC and Icemule because their shells are a sort of rubberized fabric that seems like it could tear if really stressed. 

That said, it wouldn’t be fair to say that either aren’t durable—they are, and probably plenty durable for whatever you’re planning. But the YETI’s harder shell seems more sturdy. 

Portability

The biggest draw of a backpack cooler is its portability, especially when you compare it to a hard cooler. 

The YETI Hopper M20 is my favorite cooler backpack in terms of comfort. The Icemule is right behind it, but I found the YETI felt much more balanced on my back. Of all the designs, the Hopper M20 felt the most well thought-out in terms of what it would actually feel like when hiking. 

And that’s one of the reasons I actually don’t think the extraordinary price difference between YETI and the other brands is too extreme. 

If you’re doing something that’s a little dangerous like scrambling over boulders, having something that sits secure and comfortably on your back is important. The YETI does this the best, which is why I recommend stumping up the extra cash if your hikes tend to get more wild than the average. 

Like for me, I rarely turn down the chance to hop over a few rocks to get to the best view. So over time, the slimmer design and more secure fit makes the higher cost more and more reasonable.

The Icemule is also very comfortable and easy to use, and I actually prefer it for kayaking because it holds more air and doubles as a dry bag. But the extra size and softer rubber shell can be a liability if I’m around sharp or abrasive rocks. 

The RTIC backpack cooler is just a big square you put on your back. It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s a big square. 

Features

The coolest part of the YETI Hopper M20 is the MagShield Access at the top. It’s basically a magnet closure covered in rubber. It’s completely air-tight when sealed, and it’s very easy to open and close (plus it stays open when you open it wide enough). 

This makes it really easy to get in and out of, and it’s also easy to open when your fingers are cold and stiff. 

The other coolers all have zippers with varying degrees of difficulty to open. The RTIC is definitely the most difficult to open. 

Other than that, the Hopper has the Hitchpoint Grid webbing on the back so you can attach a few other accessories if you want.

YETI Hopper M20 Accessories

Sidekick Dry Gear Case

With the Hitchpoint Grid web on the back, you can attach the Sidekick Dry Gear Case on the back to give the Hopper M20 an upgrade. I’d use the Sidekick for phones, wallets, and keys—or anything else you want to keep out of the cooler, like a map. 

I haven’t tested the Sidekick myself yet, so I can’t say whether this accessory is really worth it, but if you want to upgrade the M20, this is a cool option.

YETI Sidekick Dry Gear Case

Keeps valuables safe, accessible, and 100% dry whether you’re caught in a storm or anticipating sea spray.

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Molle Bottle Opener

Cut down on the amount of gear you need to carry around by attaching the Molle Bottle Opener. This easily hooks into the Hitchpoint Grid web on the back so you never have to think about bringing a bottle opener again—it’s already on the bag. 

YETI Molle Bottle Opener

The Molle Bottle Opener attaches directly to your Hopper Soft Cooler, meaning you'll never again be without a way to crack into those frosty brews.

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What do Other Reviewers Say?

The reviews for the YETI Hopper M20 are mixed on the YETI site. Some love theirs, and others really don’t. 

I’ve found with coolers it’s difficult for a single person to judge the effectiveness of one cooler against another, which is why I buy several and test them against one another. 

Only one other reviewer mentioned the smell, so I’m thinking my crazy smelling cooler may have been an outlier. 

YETI Hopper M20 Alternatives

Icemule Pro XL 33L

The Icemule Pro XL 33L is the best alternative to the YETI Hopper M20 in my opinion. Of all the backpack coolers I tested, I’m going to keep the YETI and the Icemule and probably give the others away. 

The Icemule carries the most, so if you’re packing a lot, it’s a fantastic option. The Icemule Pro is also less than half the price of the YETI, so that’s a major factor. And it holds ice for nearly as long.

The big downside to the Icemule is that it’s soft rubberized type of fabric that I’d try to be more careful with. 

I prefer the Icemule for watersports because it doubles as a dry-bag—I take mine kayaking and fishing. I bust out my YETI Hopper for camping and hiking.

Icemule Pro XL 33L Backpack Cooler

This backpack cooler is perfect when you're responsible for bringing the party. Next spring break or next surf trip, don't show up unprepared. The Icemule Pro XL soft cooler will make sure you're properly outfitted with the essentials to make any adventure a good time.

Buy Now at Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

RTIC Backpack Cooler

RTIC backpack cooler

The RTIC is also a worthy alternative at less than half the price of the YETI Hopper. The design isn’t as well thought out as YETI and the zipper can be difficult to open. 

But it’s a solid backpack cooler that’s decently rugged and can store food below safe temperatures for more than a day. 

The RTIC is more compact, but other than the easy-to-store shape and size, I think the Icemule Pro is a much better value for your money. 

RTIC 20-can Backpack Cooler

This insulated cooler backpack is perfect for a day hiking, camping, picnic, fishing, a day on the beach, or at the pool. A hands-free carry cooler bag that straps comfortably to your back, leaving both arms free for what your adventure calls for. It will keep your food and drinks cool wherever needed.

Buy Now at Amazon Buy Now at RTIC
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

My Thoughts Overall On the YETI Hopper M20

What I Like

  • The YETI Hopper M20 has the best insulating power of all the backpack coolers I tested.
  • It has a comfortable and secure design that makes it easy to carry a lot of weight, even when on uneven terrain.
  • The MagShield Access opening is awesome—I love that it’s airtight so I don’t have to worry about water seeping in.

What I Don’t Like

  • The inside of the cooler had a really strong chemical smell for several weeks (even when I aired it out).

Who is YETI Hopper M20 for?

The YETI Hopper M20 is the best backpack cooler for you if you always take the adventurous path. If climbing over rocks, squeezing through narrow passages, and scraping by tree branches is all part of your normal routine, then the YETI Hopper M20 is your bag.

The Verdict

What are you planning on using your backpack cooler for?

Are you the sort of person who does relaxing poolside days? Or does your weekend include intense hikes, hopping over boulders, or making your way through dense forest?

If you put a lot of demand on your gear, then the YETI Hopper M20 is worth the money. It’s the most durable of the backpack coolers I tested, and it also holds ice the longest.

If your use-case is a little more relaxed, you might consider saving some money and getting the Icemule Pro XL 33L.

Of the five backpack coolers I tested, I like the YETI and the Icemule the best. In fact, I’m keeping both for different reasons.

The Icemule is a great choice for watersports (I like to kayak and fish). But the YETI Hopper is the better choice for more land-based adventures like hikes and rock climbing.

While the YETI Hopper M20 is far more expensive than the competition, I think the high density fabric shell is absolutely worth it from a longevity perspective.

That said, if you’ll only ever just take your cooler to the pool, then durability isn’t so important, and any of the other coolers will do fine and hold your drinks cold for the day.

But if you want a backpack cooler that can keep up with the most rigorous demands, then the YETI Hopper M20 is the clear winner.

YETI Hopper M20 Backpack Cooler

The Hopper M20 Backpack Soft Cooler allows you to put the day on your back — literally. This hands-free soft cooler keeps you mobile, while an ultra-strong magnet strip keeps the cold locked in and the hot air out.

Buy Now at YETI
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

FAQs

Does the YETI Hopper M20 float?

Yes, if you leave some air in the YETI Hopper M20, it’ll float just fine, even when loaded with ice and drinks.

Is the YETI backpack cooler worth it?

For folks who go on a lot of rigorous hikes or expose their gear to tough treatment, I think the YETI backpack cooler is definitely worth it. You can choose something less durable and less expensive if you’re just taking your cooler to the pool.

Do you put ice in a YETI Hopper?

Using ice will keep the contents of your cooler cold for longer, but you can also use freezer packs. Freezer packs are fantastic in a hurry, but they won’t hold your contents near freezing ever, and you’d need several packs to keep a food-safe temperature in your Hopper.