Through three months of testing and using the bottles, we found that some were impressive innovations, while others simply narrowed the bottle's range of uses. Below we outline the relative merits of some of the most common materials and features used in water bottle design to help you find the right type of bottle to match your lifestyle and needs.
Why Buy a Reusable Water Bottle?
If you don't already think a reusable bottle is a good idea, allow us to convince you with three simple points:
- It's better for the environment. Producing one bottle takes fewer resources and creates less pollution than the production of bottled water. Each refill saves a disposable plastic bottle from being made.
- A reusable bottle costs less over a relatively short amount of time. If you are buying bottled water each time you could be refilling a reusable bottle with tap water, you're throwing money away.
- Drinking from a reusable bottle is just as healthy as bottled water. With tap water being tested by local, state, and federal agencies, there is no reason to believe that it is less safe or clean than bottled water.
Things to Consider Before Buying
Before you hit the market, we recommend asking yourself a few questions first:
How will I use my water bottle?
Knowing how you plan to use your bottle will quickly narrow your field of choice. Is this bottle going to accompany you on rugged backpacking trips where you are counting the ounces of each item of gear? Or is it going to accompany you to yoga class, where you want it to look slick next to your yoga mat? Some bottles, like the Klean Kanteen Classic, are well suited for a wide variety of environments and activities. However, if you are looking for a bottle for one specific purpose, such as multi-day backpacking trips, you're going to be better served by the Platypus SoftBottle. If you need a bottle for everyday use around town, the award-winning Lifefactory Classic 22 is a great choice. Identify your needs, then find a bottle that fulfills them.
Collapsible vs. Rigid
Collapsible bottles are in their prime when space is limited and weight is crucial. Unlike rigid bottles, they don't take up much space when they're empty. Just roll them up and pack them away. For this reason, they make great back-up reservoirs on multi-day hikes. Not only handy in the backcountry, collapsible bottles are also useful when traveling.
That said, there are many distinct advantages to having a rigid bottle. We found them generally easier to drink from, as they don't flop around. In a pinch, they can double as a blunt instrument, rolling pins, hammers, or improvised waterproof canisters. Rigid bottles typically insulate better than collapsible bottles, as well. Rigid bottles, like the Nalgene Classic Wide Mouth, make great primary vessels in the backcountry.
How do I want to access my drink?
The most basic purpose of a water bottle is to transport liquids so you can stay hydrated. All the bottles in this review did a great job of transporting water, but some were easier to drink from than others. "Ease of Use" was our heaviest weighted metric rating because it includes not only drinking from the bottle, but carrying it and using the lid as well. Most of this depends in the lid type: is it wide mouth bottle? A flip cap? A bottle with a narrow mouth? We also found that the standard screw cap isn't the most convenient for those of us seeking a bottle to keep us hydrated at work and on the move. New cap designs give you some options to assist you in staying hydrated throughout the day. When drinking straight from the bottle's body, narrow mouths are easier to use, while wide mouths are handier in the backcountry. Bottles with a screw cap, straw lid, flip top, and spouts were all present in our reviews. We also had a mix of wide and narrow mouths. We broke these up into two groups for further details.
Quick Access vs. Screw Cap
Most bottle brands offer a few drinking cap options and for everyday use, we prefer quick access caps. The quick access options available range from the Citrus Zinger's straw to the standard push-pull caps offered by Platy Plus and Klean Kanteen. We found two advantages to these quick access cap types. First, they allow you quick, one-handed access to your liquids. Second, they actually affected how often we drank from our bottles. Being more convenient than a screw cap, the quick access cap options lead us to consuming more water throughout the day. One tester reported drinking two to three times more water when using a push-pull (or sport) cap, as opposed to her screw cap. If you like drinking from your bottle, you're going to drink from your bottle more, and that's its number one function.
A disadvantage of using a quick access cap is that anytime you add parts, you add potential points of failure. Additionally, caps that have exposed drinking surfaces tend to get filthy. This may not be as much of a concern in the backcountry (just a bit of trail pepper), but if you plan on using your bottle daily, expect to be sanitizing it often.
The alternative is a simple screw-on, screw-off cap. We favor these in the great outdoors because they have a smaller chance of failing when away from a water source. They are easier to clean and to keep clean than most quick access caps. We also consider these caps very unlikely to open themselves inside our packs and leak liquids on our gear.
Narrow vs. Wide Mouth
When drinking straight from the bottle's mouth, we found that narrow mouth bottles tend to be easier to drink from. They are less likely to splash down your chest, and you can usually continue moving while drinking, too. With the exception of the Platy PlusBottle or the Soma Bottle, the narrower mouths still allowed room for ice cubes and did not make filling the bottle much of a hassle.
Wide mouth bottles are easier to clean and fill, which we found to be crucial. The biggest advantage of wide mouth bottles is their compatibility with many water filters. Most wide mouth bottles produced today are also water filter compatible. This makes them more versatile and a good choice for gathering water from streams in the backcountry.
In general,we recommend narrow mouths for most single-day or everyday uses, and prefer wide-mouth bottles for multi-day trips where we'll need to use a water filter.
Do I intend on using hot and cold beverages in my bottle?
If so, an insulated bottle is for you. The insulated bottles in our review kept hot liquids hot for 6-7 hours, and cold liquids cold for over 24 hours (the Klean Kanteen Insulated 20 kept its ice water cold for 50+ hours!). They are what you need for transporting hot drinks to the office and in the outdoors in cold weather. Additionally they won't sweat when filled with cold drinks, making them great for cold juice, smoothies, and ice water anywhere you go. We loved the Hydro Flask Insulated 32 so much that we gave it our Top Pick for Hot and Cold Liquids! However, keep in mind that insulated bottles are often more expensive, so if you don't need to maintain the temperature of your beverages for long amounts of time, you can save a good deal of money, weight, and space by sticking with non-insulated.
Am I alright with the idea of drinking from plastic containers?
As you can read in our Best-In-Class Review, there is growing concern that plastic bottles might be leaching potentially harmful chemicals into the liquids stored in them. If this is a concern for you, we recommend a stainless steel or glass bottle. Our Top Pick for Glass is the Lifefactory and is a great choice for everyday use. The Klean Kanteen Classic will also help you avoid plastics (especially if you opt for the All Stainless Loop Cap, Stainless Unibody Bamboo Cap, or Stainless Swing Lok Cap); however, this bottle imparted a bit of a metallic taste to the water, so the Lifefactory is the ideal choice if you're looking for a dedicated around-town bottle.
Can I afford multiple bottles for my varying needs?
If you can only afford one water bottle and have a variety of needs for it, then the well-rounded Klean Kanteen Classic is probably your best choice. However, we find that most bottle options are inexpensive enough to allow you the freedom of purchasing a few bottles, each with a specific purpose in mind. For example, you might want to purchase a glass or metal bottle for everyday use, yet have a plastic bottle reserved for specific outdoor rec activities. Or maybe you want an insulated bottle for your daily hot beverage, and a non-insulated bottle for your athletic pursuits. It's up to you, but we feel that the modest prices of most bottles makes this a real possibility, especially if you add our Best Buy winner, the Nalgene to your "quiver."
Your other option is to complement your water bottle selection with a collapsible bladder. Check out our Best Hydration Bladder Review for a detailed look at this alternative.
Types of Bottle Materials
Now that you've spent some thinking about what you need from a water bottle, let's finish up by diving into the types of bottle materials you can choose from. The three most common bottle materials are plastic, metal, and glass, with some variation within each classification. Each has its own list of pros and cons, as well as its best applications.
On a daily basis, we prefer drinking from bottles that allow minimal/no contact with plastic. We tend to use our plastic bottles only when truly necessary, such as a collapsible when traveling or when every ounce is crucial.
Using plastic for water bottles gives manufacturers quite a bit of versatility. Plastic bottles can be rigid or collapsible, clear or colorful. They can be formed into a great variety of shapes. One of its greatest advantages, you can argue, is that plastic is cheap to make. Although plastic bottles can withstand some knocks, they are not 100% durable. Realizing that there are many different kinds of plastics available for a company to use for their bottles, we outlined some general pros and cons below - there are exceptions to these rules, but generally, this is what we found.
- More durable than glass
- Often less expensive
- Huge variety in design
- Translucent for better water management
- Able to freeze water inside
- Potential health concerns (see our Best-In-Class Review for more details)
- Less durable than metal
- Uses non-renewable resources to produce
We like using plastic bottles for extended backpacking purposes the best, especially in cold weather. The collapsible models make great back-up water reservoirs that pack nicely, and the rigid bottles are insulated enough to avoid freezing inside our bags. On cold nights, nothing beats throwing a rigid plastic bottle filled with hot water into your sleeping bag for extra warmth, something you can't really do with glass or metal. Additionally, traveling through airports with a collapsible bottle is slick and easy.
BPA and Estrogenic Activity
BPA (Bisphenol A) is a plastic-hardening chemical that has been abandoned in the water bottle industry in response to scientific research indicating its health risks. Over time, common stresses like hot liquids and exposure to UV light cause the bottle to break down, causing the chemicals used in the plastic to leach into the contents (typically water) of the bottle through direct contact.
The primary concern with BPA is that this chemical has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter in animal tests (See this scholarly article or this one.) This means that once inside the body, it can mimic the natural female sex hormone by attaching to estrogen-recognizing receptors, stimulating what is commonly referred to as estrogenic activity (EA). This would create a false presence of estrogen within the body. There is concern that in humans, this can lead to a host of potentially negative consequences in fetal and child development, as well as the reproductive system. (See this report from the National Toxicology Program for more).
Today, plastic manufacturers use alternative plastic-hardeners to avoid using BPA, and proclaim that fact loudly. Every bottle in this review came with a large sticker or tag indicating that it is BPA-free. However, the potential problem of other chemicals leaching into the contents of your bottle is not fully resolved.
What about other chemicals?
Although most water bottle manufacturers no longer use BPA, the problem is that BPA is only one of hundreds (or even thousands) of chemicals used to produce plastics. Other chemicals, including plastic softeners like phthalates, have also been called out as endocrine disrupters that lead to unnatural estrogenic activity. Six phthalates are currently banned by the FDA in the US, and even more in Europe. Unfortunately, there is very little research into the health risks of these and other chemicals, including those now used in place of BPA. Consider this quote from an article in Environmental Health Perspectives (a monthly peer-reviewed journal published with support from three federal U.S. health agencies):
"The exact chemical composition of almost any commercially available plastic part is proprietary and not known. A single part may consist of 5–30 chemicals, and a plastic item containing many parts (e.g., a baby bottle) may consist of ≥ 100 chemicals, almost all of which can leach from the product, especially when stressed. Unless the selection of chemicals is carefully controlled, some of those chemicals will almost certainly have EA, and even when using all materials that initially test EA free, the stresses of manufacturing can change chemical structures or create chemical reactions to convert an EA-free chemical into one with EA." (Full article available here.)
That said, much of the scientific research surrounding EA and its effects is murky, controversial, and entangled with lawsuits.
What's being done about it?
The safety of consuming water from plastic bottles remains very controversial. The plastic industry claims that their plastics are completely safe and do not pose any health risks. According to their own research, only trace amounts of chemicals are ever leached, and these small amounts are quickly removed from the bloodstream through normal bodily processes. However, we feel that more independent research and scientific studies are necessary in order to come to this conclusion. In essence, a lack of scientific evidence does not equal proof that these chemicals are safe for humans. As pressure from the consumer market mounts, it is likely that more studies will be conducted concerning this matter.
I need something unbreakable, what do I do?
So, we're left with a complicated situation. The label BPA-free does not appear to mean that the product is free of estrogenic activity (EA), which seems to have been the very issue originally raised with regard to BPA itself. Yet, the science is murky as to what effect, if any, EA has on humans (maybe it just passes through your body harmlessly, or maybe not). So, what should you do if you want to protect yourself from potentially harmful compounds?
We think the conservative approach is to go with glass or stainless steel. Products made of glass and stainless steel are quite competitive, and in many outdoor activities the added cost, weight, and breakage risk (in the case of glass), is just not a big deal. The potential health benefits will justify a bit more weight and cost for many consumers.
That said, those who choose the weight, durability, and other noted advantages of modern plastic water bottles, can know that we've looked carefully at this issue, and we found no scientific study that definitively proves a serious health risk.
Nonetheless, if you do use a plastic water bottle, we do recommend these practices:
- Do not heat up your bottle in the microwave.
- Do not use your plastic bottle for the consumption of hot liquids.
- Hand wash your plastic bottles, as opposed to tossing them in the dishwasher.
- Avoid UV exposure, such as leaving your bottle laying in the sun.
- Toss your bottle if the inside becomes heavily scratched, worn, or discolored.
For more practical advice on using plastics, in particular with regard to their potential impact on infants or a pregnant woman, be sure to check out this article, published by our sister site, BabyGearLab.
I want to do more research
For further research, the following articles provide more details:
Environmental Health Perspectives article
Mother Jones article
BabyGearLab's take on plastic baby bottles
More on BPA from the Endocrine Society (skip to page 58)
The metal bottles tested in our review were all made from food-grade stainless steel. Aluminum is another common option, but no aluminum bottle made the cut for our selection of finalists. Metal is an excellent conductor of heat, which is a mixed blessing for a metal bottles. On the one hand, it can serve as great emergency or spontaneous cookware. On the other, it's rubbish for hot liquids (unless insulated), and it gets too hot to use as a nighttime warmer.
If you are choosing an insulated metal bottle and want to avoid contact with plastic, make sure that your bottle does not have a plastic lining on the inside. Neither of the insulated bottles we reviewed had a plastic lining.
Speaking to their durability, the metal bottles we reviewed dented during our drop tests, which affected their aesthetic properties. However, all the steel bodies survived their falls onto a hard surface. We found that metal will bend, rather than break. That said, a bottle is only as strong as its weakest point. Case in point, the metal body of the Hydro Flask Insulated survived our drop tests, but its plastic cap did not.
- Most durable material, and therefore most reliable
- Generally accepted as posing no health risks
- Lighter than glass
- Can double as a cooking vessel in a pinch
- Metal components are dishwasher safe (excluding vacuum insulated bottles)
- Slightly heavier than plastic
- impart metallic taste
- Prone to dents
Several years ago, we would not have called metal water bottles "versatile," largely due to their weight and awkwardness. Today, we enjoy using our metal bottles at work, at the gym, and for most outdoor recreational activities. The insulated options are great at keeping our liquids hot or cold in the office and outdoors, regardless of the external temperature. We love using the non-insulated Klean Kanteen Classic as a do-it-all bottle, as it is easy to use, lightweight, and durable. As the technology for metal bottles improves, so does their functionality and versatility.
We think that the drinking experience from glass bottles is the best. There is just something about glass that makes water taste purer, fresher, all-around better. Also, glass is widely accepted as a safe alternative to plastic containers.
The glass bottles in our review incorporated a silicone sleeve into their designs to increase their durability, which proved effective in our drop tests. When impacted on the silicone sleeves, both bottles survived their respective falls. However, both bottles we tested had large areas of bare glass. And, the Soma Bottle had difficulty standing up on its own. An impact on these areas with a hard, pointed surface would most likely break the body.
- Generally accepted as posing no health risks
- Tastes great
- Transparency allows for easy management of water consumption
- Glass components are dishwasher safe
- Heaviest material
- Cannot use with extreme temperatures (no boiling water, cannot use to freeze water)
If you want a bottle that doesn't impact the taste of your water, and want to avoid using plastic, glass is your best option. We found that the Lifefactory and Soma Bottle are excellent choices for consumers seeking a bottle for home and the office. Great in terms of eco-health, glass bottles are also becoming more durable, and therefore more usable than even we initially expected.
Ask an Expert: Chantel Astorga
Adidas Outdoor athlete Chantel Astorga has been making headlines in the climbing world lately, both with her 2nd ascent of Polarchrome on Mt. Huntington in Alaska (with Jewel Lund) and her record setting speed solo of The Nose on El Capitan, which she completed in 24 hours and 39 minutes. She's no newcomer to the speed climbing world, having set the women's team record three times in previous years, but solo speed climbing is another thing altogether — essentially she climbed El Cap twice in a little over 24 hours! Prior to this awesome feat, Chantel had spent four seasons guiding on Denali, and several years as a member of the elite Yosemite Search and Rescue Team. She's also a competitive mountain bike racer, expert skier and professional avalanche forecaster. This multi-sport athlete shared her expertise with us on what water bottles work for various different applications, as well as a cautionary tale about what happens when you run out of what's inside them.
Do you have a favorite type?
I have a 40 ounce Klean Kanteen for everyday use. I've gone through two of them in the last seven years, and that's the one I throw in my pack if I'm going cragging. But that's not what I typically use when I go on big climbs or expeditions. That's my everyday water bottle.
So you use different ones for different sports?
Definitely. When I ski I tend to use a CamelBak, and when I climb in the alpine I use a Nalgene. When I go multi-pitch climbing I usually just use a Gatorade bottle attached to my harness by a piece of p-cord.
Do you have a preference of plastic vs stainless steel?
I think water certainly tastes a lot better out of stainless steel, which is why I use the Klean Kanteen day to day. But in the alpine world, especially when it's cold out, you can put a Nalgene into an insulated pouch and then it doesn't freeze and stays functional. I haven't found anything better than a Nalgene for the alpine environment.
Do you ever use a collapsible model?
I do have a Platypus and I love that thing. I use it if I am going alpine climbing in the summertime where I am not worried about it freezing. I also used it on The Nose. Those things are great.
What about mouthpiece design? Do you prefer and open mouth or a straw feature?
I've never used a straw feature. I think for alpine climbing the wide mouth is far more functional because you can pour hot water out of a pot into it, and the wide mouth makes it easier to refill.
Any features you don't like?
Something with a small top that is hard to fill up. I also don't like bulky or heavy water bottles that have extra stuff on them. I prefer super simple and straightforward designs.
Do you like to use them as hot water heaters in your sleeping bag?
Yes! Nalgenes are good for that, and it's definitely a treat when you are in a cold environment, especially if you're bivying in the middle of a climb. You tend to be cold in those situations, and it warms your soul and refuels you. If you have cold feet or hands it's really nice to have something to hold on to or put next to your feet when you are going to bed.
What's the most water you've ever carried at one time?
When I went to solo Mescalito on El Cap, a friend who had also done the route solo told me that it would probably take me around 12 days. So I took 12 gallons of water with me, and my bags were super heavy. Then, about halfway up the route I realized that I was on a much faster pace than he thought I would take and so I dumped out 4 gallons. I topped out on the morning of Day 7. I had never soloed a wall before and so I think he was probably trying to set me up for success in a way, but it turned out to be too much. What's nice about climbing in Alaska, or places where there is snow, is that you don't have to carry more than 1 or 2 liters at a time. It's easy to just stop and melt snow, and it keeps your pack lighter.
What water bottle setup did you use on your solo speed ascent of the Nose?
I had around 6 liters of water with me both times that I tried the route solo. 2 liters in a CamelBak, a quart on my waist for when I was leading since I was leaving my pack at the anchor, and then I had another quart and another liter in my pack. This worked fine on my first attempt, but on my second try I ran out of water.
What was different the second time?
It was really hot that day with stagnant air, and I just ran out. I think having a CamelBak may have been part of the problem, and I don't think I'd solo with one again. As nice as it is to keep hydrated, it's so easy to just drink it too fast. When you are soloing something you go through water so much faster. I was working hard and just so thirsty all the time.
What happened when you ran out? Were you still able to finish the route?
So, on my second attempt on The Nose I was out of water for around 14 hours. I was super miserable, and I was getting wicked cramps in my forearms and by my scapulae and I just had to keep pushing through it. I knew that if I slowed down too much I wouldn't be able to finish the route and so I just pushed through all that, but I was very dehydrated. When I got into the upper dihedrals I was having these moments where I'd stand at the belay for 10 minutes and stare at my system and make sure I was clipped in and my GriGri was on right. I wasn't hallucinating but I was definitely on the verge and I just felt completely out of it.
I was hoping that when I got to the top I could find some water stashed somewhere, but I was worried about finding it and the whole experience just seemed like the worse thing ever. Then I topped out (after 25 hours and 40 minutes) and there was a brand new 1 gallon jug of water sitting right by the Nose Tree. It was just glistening in the morning sun, and I sat down and drank that whole gallon in about an hour. It was the most wonderful thing in the world.
The whole situation was a little funny to me because of an experience I had this summer. I was in the Canadian Rockies and climbed the Northeast Buttress of Howse Peak with Jewel Lund. It's a big 5000 foot beautiful choss pile of a mountain. We planned to be out for two days on the route, and then descending one morning down a separate descent route. However, when we got to the top we realized that the descent route wasn't in — it was totally melted out. So we opted for this 30 mile bushwack out down the Howse River to the highway, and we ended up being just over two days longer than we anticipated. We had already gone light on our food and we had absolutely no food for two days but we did have water. At the time it seemed like the worst thing in the world to run out of food but I was amazed by just how well you can do without food and having water versus only 14 hours without water and having food. You can't even eat your food without water.