Updated Fall 2017
This September we added an exciting notable product: the Katadyn BeFree. It's a top pick for portability in our backpacking water filter review. The more we used it, more we felt it also deserved a mention in this review. It's changed how we hike, bike and backpack. We no longer carry a large bottle or hydration pack with bladder on long excursions. More details below and in our article how to choose a water bottle.
Best Overall and Best Stainless Steel Option
Hydro Flask Wide-Mouth Insulated
Effective insulation for hot and cold beverages
Comfortable carrying handle
Many color options
Minimal flavor retention
Easy to clean
The Hydro Flask's durability and overall design impressed us. That, combined with the ease-of-use and cleaning gave it the highest score. Though it is heavier than its plastic counterparts, we like that the Hydro Flask kept our drinks hot on chilly days and cold on hot ones. From carrying around town to long backcountry hikes, we were always happy to take the Hydro Flask. The rim is smooth for sipping from and doesn't get hot when the bottle is full of hot liquid. The carrying handle is simple and comfortable, and not too bulky. Also, if you want to change out the lid for some reason, Hydro Flask offers a variety of lid options.
2017 brought the Hydro Flask competition. The 36oz Yeti Rambler came close to rising to the top
as the Top Pick for Stainless Steel but fell short only because the bottle was a bit too heavy to be useful. Check out the full review of the Yeti Rambler if you're looking for an even sturdier version of the Hydro Flask.
Read review: Hydro Flask Wide-Mouth
Best Bang for the Buck
Popular, for good reason
Resists flavor retention
Simple and lightweight
Easy to fill
Too large for most cup holders
Spills if moving while drinking
For the best bang for your buck, look no further than the Nalgene Wide-Mouth
, which also wins the award for best in the plastic bottles category. Its simple design has been an iconic staple in the world of water bottles for a good reason. The bottle is durable, lightweight, and easy to clean, and is a useful measuring tool when you're in the backcountry with the graduations labeled on the side. Also, because the bottle has been around for so long, many bottle accessories (i.e. water filters, bottle insulators, and backpack bottle sleeves) have been made to fit the Nalgene's particular mouth size and bottle shape. This award winner deserves its popularity, and if you want to customize your bottle more, the classic Nalgene comes in a variety of sizes and shapes.
Read review: Nalgene Wide-Mouth
Top Pick for Lightweight Stainless
Miir Slate 27
Easy to use lid
Paint Scratches Easily
A new addition to our fleet for Spring 2017, the Miir Slate 27oz
stood out as a new contender in the lightweight stainless steel category. In the past, Klean Kanteen and Hydro Flask have dominated this category, but this contender proved to be tough competition. If a heavy duty, vacuum insulated bottle is too much, then these lighter weight plastic alternatives are the way to go. This model is lighter and more durable than glass and cleaner than the friendliest BPA free plastic bottles on the market. The bottle weighs less than the Klean Kanteen Classic and has a unique lid design that makes the bottle easy to carry and the lid easy to remove. It was lightweight, portable, and versatile. Its simple design made the Miir 27oz the bottle we reached for on our way out the door.
Top Pick for Collapsible Bottle
Very packable and lightweight
No frills design
Hard to clean
Out of the two bottles in the collapsible category; the Platypus Softbottle
won by a landslide. Regarding a lightweight bottle, the Platypus has it all. It's easy to fill, from a shallow stream to a tiny sink, not to mention it collapses down to the size of an empty plastic bag. Its collapsible features make it a great option for backpacking or climbing, where real estate is precious inside a backpack. The Platypus has trouble standing up on a flat surface, but it is better suited for the dirt and rocks anyway. The bottle is difficult to clean since it has such a narrow mouth, but at only $8, it's hard to expect the Platypus to last that long anyway.
Read review: Platypus Softbottle
Best for Long Hikes and Backpacking (Built-in Filter)
Filters waters as you drink
Lightweight and compact
When used properly, this bottle revolutionizes how much weight you hike, backpack or bike with. We take this on any outing of 3+ hours if we know there is a stream or lake. If you know where the water is, "be a camel" and drink a lot at each water source then carry only the amount you need to the next stream. Your daypack can weigh 2-6 pounds less throughout the day - a HUGE bonus. As a bonus, you drink water that is as cold and refreshing as the stream source. In our experience, you load up on water and stay better hydrated than carrying a full activities worth of water from the start and feeling you need to ration. For the ultimate combo, also bring the Softbottle mentioned above and refill the plus bottle from the BeFree.
The flip side is that this bottle might instill overconfidence. If the stream that you're counting on doesn't materialize, you could be in trouble. The cap design is poor for one-handed operation and you really have to close it to prevent leaks. At first, the taste is not great due to the filter - but it quickly gets better. Those few downsides aside, it's hard to overstate how much we love this bottle. Most products just get a little better. This product might totally change how much water you have to carry and therefore your comfort on the trail.
Read review: Katadyn BeFree
Top Pick for Glass Bottle
Lifefactory Glass Flip Cap
Nice shape for carrying
Durable silicone casing
Easy to clean
Problematic flip cap
We've added one new bottle to the glass category during this year's Spring update, which now makes for three contenders for our top pick in glass bottles. In addition to the Soma Bottle and the tried and tested favorite, the Lifefactory Glass Flip Cap
, we also checked out the new BKR bottle. Out of the three, the Lifefactory still proved to be our favorite. It is durable and practical, with different lid options if the flip cap design is not for you. The Lifefactory is small and portable, making it a great lifestyle bottle. In general, glass bottles are becoming more and more popular as consumers seek alternatives to plastic since they are considered to be safe from chemical leaching. The LifeFactory's narrow shape is easily carried by hand, or by the carrying handle, and the bottle fits nicely into most cup holders. No other bottles provide the portability of the Lifefactory while still evoking the feeling of drinking from a glass in the kitchen. Impressively, the bottle also passed our drop tests, due to its silicone sleeve. If cared for properly, this bottle will last.
Read review: Lifefactory Glass Flip Cap
Analysis and Test Results
This year, we decided to break down the bottles into categories based on the material used, except for the collapsible class, which are also plastic but perform a unique function versus your typical plastic bottle. This left us with four main categories: metal (stainless steel, both insulated and non-insulated in the same category), plastic (all BPA-free models), collapsible, and glass. From there, we chose the top pick in each material category. Then, we awarded an overall Editors' Choice Award, a Top Pick, and the Best Value. The winners of our overall awards were, as you'd expect, the top pick in their individual categories as well.
All thirteen bottles lined out at the beginning of this year's testing cycle.
When selecting your choice, there are a few things to consider. Do I want a metal, glass or plastic bottle? A screw cap or a straw for sipping? Do I need it to regulate the temperature of my drinks for extended amounts of time? The models tested for this review hosted a variety of differences in materials, lid types, volume, insulation, and even rigidity. To help you navigate the increasingly varied world, we've outlined the primary features, advantages, and disadvantages of each major category.
Types of Models
You can categorize bottles by activity, by size, and by design. However, this review is organized around the materials used in the design of these products. This is especially critical since the materials used to produce such bottles have become a topic of increasing debate. Although plastic bottles can offer advantages in weight, versatility, and price, many consumers prefer metal and glass bottles due to potential health concerns of storing liquids in plastic containers. We've highlighted the pros and cons of each bottle type, as well as dug into the main issue concerning plastic bottles.
The Citrus Zinger and the Camelbak Eddy both have straws for one-handed drinking; the Nalgene is the third plastic bottle we tested, shown on the right.
We scored all 16 bottles using the results from five criteria: ease of use, taste, durability, ease of cleaning, and weight. The most important area that we focused on was ease of use because that is what separates one bottle from the next each time you use it. Besides carrying these bottles around for three months, we put them through various tests indoors. Following the chart below, we summarize how we tested within each criterion and highlighted the best and worst contenders. For additional information on differentiating between the different types of bottles, consider reading over our Buying Advice
article, which you'll find at the top of the review.
Ease of Use
As hydration is the main purpose, we measured how easy (or difficult) it is to fill up and drink from each bottle. We also considered the likelihood of spilling when drinking, and we noted any signs of leakage. Other aspects of the bottle that went into this evaluation are lid design and the ubiquitous carrying handle.
Overall, we felt that simpler was better when it came to ease of use. We found some of these bottles to have too many features and were difficult to learn how to use effectively. The Nalgene Wide Mouth and the Hydro Flask Vacuum Insulated
, both winners in their perspective categories, were our favorites due to their simplicity.
The Miir has a narrow mouth, which is helpful for drinking, but large enough to avoid spilling and splashing when filling the bottle.
In general, the wider the mouth, the easier to fill, but also the more difficult it was to drink from. Somewhat of a surprise, we really enjoyed drinking from the AVEX Brazos Autoseal Stainless
. The AUTOSEAL lid mechanism works very well, allowing users to get a quick and easy gulp without unscrewing any caps; it also passed our leak test. The Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated
scored well here as well since it was simple and easy to use. The Klean Kanteen Classic
scored lower because of the sport cap, which we found to be difficult to drink from. On both Klean Kanteen bottles, the width of the opening was wide enough for easy filling and ice cubes, but small enough to drink from without spilling.
The Classic bottle from Klean Kanteen has a mouth wide enough to fill easily, yet narrow enough to make drinking easier, too.
The CamelBak eddy
lost points here because it fails the leak test and provides only a slow flow of water. Although it didn't leak much, it's more than we want to end up on our laptops/phones. The straw design was quick to use but did not allow for satisfactory gulps. It's for sipping, not gulping, which we found annoying when we needed water the most (like during workouts). The Platypus SoftBottle
lost points since it's awkward to drink from and easy to knock over, while the Lifefactory Glass
lost points because the shape of the spout sent water up our nose if we weren't careful when tipping the bottle back to drink quickly. The carrying handle of the Contigo Thermalock
was awkward to use and strangely shaped, discouraging us from using it when carrying the bottle around.
Not only do we want to hydrate using our bottles, but we also want the water to taste good. Some bottles imparted flavors on the liquids they contain, a characteristic that we did not appreciate. And if you store liquids like flavored drink mixes and coffee in a bottle for a day, some bottles retain that taste and pass it on to the next thing you put in the bottle, even after washing.
For our taste metric, we combined the results from three separate tests performed on each bottle. First, we filled each bottle and took a drink to check for any immediate effects on taste. Second, we left them filled with water for 24 hours before taste testing them again. Finally, we filled each bottle with a flavored sports drink mix, left them sitting for 24 hours, emptied the bottles, and hand washed each bottle with soap and warm water. Then, we filled the bottles with tap water, and taste tests were conducted to see if we could detect any residual flavors from the sports drink.
The offset carrying handle on the BKR makes the bottle more comfortable to carry in one hand. The bkr also scored a near perfect score for taste. Don't be fooled by the photo: it takes incredible finger strength to hold such a heavy bottle with one finger!
If your bottle is retaining flavors, soak it in a mixture of 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp vinegar, then fill the bottle with water. Let it sit overnight, following up in the morning with a thorough rinsing.
All glass bottles, the Lifefactory
, and the Soma
came out with top scores in this category. They did not impart flavors to the water and kept water relatively fresh-tasting, even in our 24-hour test. Furthermore, both bottles proved resistant to retaining flavors from other non-water liquids used to fill the bottle. No bottle scored perfectly in this test, as the drink mix was detectable in each model. However, the effect on taste was very minimal in the glass bottles, and after cleaning them again with baking soda and vinegar, they returned to "like new" tastes.
The Avex is a great bottle for use around town. It keeps your drinks hot for hours, you can drink with one hand, and it has a sleek shape that feels nice in the hand.
Two plastic bottles, the Nalgene and AVEX Brazos
, also scored well in this metric. The other plastic bottles did not fare as well here, with the two collapsible bottles, the Platypus SoftBottle and Nomader
, retaining strong flavors of sports drink and even soap. The Nomader also left a rubbery taste in the water the first few times we used it. The straw of the CamelBak eddy
also imparted a strong rubbery taste to the water, and also retained the flavor of the sports drink rather significantly. The stainless steel bottles fell in the middle of the pack in these tests, neither soaring nor flailing.
The Soma Bottle's sleek size makes it a good bottle to accompany you throughout your day-from work to the climbing gym.
The durability of a bottle is a major determining factor in value, especially if you're relying on only one vessel as your water source. Going from stream to stream in the backcountry, you need to know that your bottle won't break and leave you without water. Based on years of outdoor experience, the OutdoorGearLab team knows that collapsible models tend to be less durable than their rigid counterparts due to frequent stress on flex points. Meanwhile, the bodies of rigid contenders are usually very durable but often have failure points on the lids. To come up with a score in this category, we considered the type of material used for the bottle and cap. The stainless steel and rigid plastic bottles scored at the top of the materials test, with glass falling in the middle and collapsible bottles scoring the lowest.
Each bottle was also subjected to two drop tests. We filled the bottles with water and dropped them 3.5 feet onto a concrete surface, once on the bottom of the bottle and once on the cap. The Platypus Softbottle
proved that its flexible properties allow them to take a serious hit, walking away almost entirely unscathed. We did have some bottles fail the drop test.
This was our one attempt to bring the Rambler climbing. The bottle was way too heavy to clip to a harness, but worked alright when carried inside a backpack. In the future, we would recommend a different, lighter-weight bottle for vertical endeavors.
The AVEX Brazos
busted when its bottom hit the hard ground, while the Contigo both broke when dropped on its cap. All the other bottles survived with minor cosmetic damages. The biggest surprise in our drop tests was that the bkr
walked away with its integrity intact. The silicone sleeve and plastic cap did a sufficient job of absorbing the impact force, keeping the glass from shattering. The Klean Kanteen Insulated
, Nalgene Wide-Mouth
, Klean Kanteen Classic
, and Yeti Rambler
all earned high scores in the durability metric.
Ease of Cleaning
Even the dirtiest outdoor enthusiasts wash their bottles once in a while. At least, we hope they do. In this metric, we used a standard bottle brush and timed how long it took to hand-wash each contender. Although some of these bottles are labeled as dishwasher-safe, we decided to rate with hand-washing times for two reasons: 1) Not everyone has access to a dishwasher, especially in the great outdoors, and 2) As you read above, we do not recommend washing plastic components in the dishwasher. Lastly, we also factored in the number of parts and their complexity.
In general, the wider the mouth of the bottle, the easier it was to clean. The Hydro Flask Insulated, Nalgene, and Yeti
bottles scored the highest in this category. They are all simple designs with wide mouths, allowing for quick and easy cleaning.
With the Over-the-Nose design, the Yeti Rambler looks more like a glass than a bottle. There are no hidden nooks and crannies in the bottom where gunk can get lodged unknowingly. The wide mouth is great for cleaning, filling, and drinking from.
On the other side of the spectrum were the bottles with complex parts, including the CamelBak eddy
and the Citrus Zinger
. The Nomader
and Platypus Softbottle
proved particularly challenging to clean as well. Our bottle brush was too large to fit inside these bottles, and they required many cycles of rinsing to reduce the taste of soap left behind. We also found that dirt and other debris tended to stick to the Nomader more than other bottles due to its rubbery, soft design.
We highly recommend purchasing a bottle brush to make cleaning your bottles quicker and easier (and less frustrating!).
The beauty of the Hydro Flask is its simplicity. Its two parts, lid and body, are easy to clean, simple, and sleek. The bottle is heavy, but it makes up for it in all other categories.
Although less consequential in day-to-day use, the weight of an empty bottle is a major factor when considering which bottle to use on long hikes and multi-day backpacking trips. In this sense, a lighter bottle provides the versatility that a heavier bottle does not. When scoring in this category, we weighed the bottles using our OutdoorGearLab scale and divided by the volume to find out how heavy each bottle is per fluid ounce (oz./fluid oz.).
The Platypus SoftBottle
weighs in as the lightest bottle at only 1.2 oz. The other plastic bottles also scored well in this category, as did the Klean Kanteen Insulated
. The insulated stainless steel bottles fell toward the bottom, but it was the glass bottles that came in last in this category.
We like the combination of a rigid and a collapsible bottle for multi-day backpacking treks. We prefer the rigid bottle as our primary drinking vessel and the collapsible as a backup reservoir.
Hydration Alternatives and Accessories
While we believe a water bottle to be essential to anyone's gear arsenal, it might not be all you need. There are alternatives available that perform better than bottles in certain situations, such as when moving and times when you need both hands-free. For this, there are hydration bladders and hydration packs, some of which are excellent performers for specific activities. Below we've highlighted some of the uses and qualities of these alternatives.
The advantages of a hydration bladder like the Geigerrig Hydration Engine
include hands-free usage and larger volumes. The bladder, a collapsible reservoir ranging from one to several liters in volume, is attached to a hose that you suck on to draw water into your mouth. On long hikes, these are easier to use for hydration than a water bottle that you have to dig out of your pack each time you need a drink. Most backpacks made today come equipped with a hole for the hydration tube, and some even have a special compartment for a bladder. The downside to hydration bladders is that they are less durable, have shorter lifespans, and are harder to clean (than bottles). And in the office, we recommend a bottle over a bladder.
These are great when you don't want to carry your entire backpack on your full-day hike or bike ride, yet still need to stay hydrated throughout the day. Hydration packs like the CamelBak M.U.L.E. are usually lighter than most backpacks
and have proper ventilation, making them more comfortable on long days. They make drinking on the move a breeze, and their convenience helps you to stay fully hydrated. Most also feature pockets for storing additional items such as food, first aid kits, and tools. Like hydration bladders, they also are harder to clean and have shorter life spans than bottles. It's also harder to ration your water with these packs. Lastly, hydration packs cost significantly more than bottles.
Running Hydration Packs
These are designed to stay in place as your body moves while running. They often incorporate a vest design to achieve this feat and have pockets for stowing food, electrolytes, and blister supplies, as well as a phone or GPS. See our complete running pack review.
Mountain Bike Hydration Packs
These packs are a great investment if you like long biking sessions. Not only do they transport large volumes of water to keep you hydrated, but they also have space for food, essential tools, and sometimes even rain gear.
We tested many water bottles in many settings and found a big performance gap. There is no "best for all activities". Instead, we lay out the best for the big uses. Bottles for long hikes, bike rides, or climbing trips differ from the bottles used at work or taken to the gym. That is why weight and type of material used for the bottle were the most important factors in our tests.