The Best Water Bottle Review
Which water bottle is the best? To find out, we took ten of the most popular bottles on the market and put them through three months of testing! We used them for everything from rock climbing and mountain biking to the yoga mat and the office. Furthermore, we tested each product in our lab and rated them for their effect on the taste of water, resistance to retaining flavors, durability, and ease of cleaning. In the end, we did find a winner. However, we also found various options that offer top performance in niche categories. From the field, to the office, and in the lab, we asked a lot from these bottles. Read on to see how they performed and which bottle is best for your lifestyle and outdoor adventures.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Water Bottle
Klean Kanteen Original 27
Best Bang for the Buck
Nalgene Wide Mouth 32
Top Pick for Hot & Cold Liquids
Hydro Flask Insulated 32
Top Pick for Eco-Health
Lifefactory Classic 22
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Analysis and Test Results
When selecting your next water bottle, 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 keep my drinks hot or cold for extended amounts of time? The water bottles 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 of water bottles, we've outlined the primary features, advantages, and disadvantages of each major category.
For assistance in choosing the right water bottle for you, check out our Buying Advice article.
Types of Water Bottles
There are many different ways to categorize bottles - by activity, by size, and by design; however, in this section we will break down the products in this review first by discussing the materials used. This is especially critical since the materials used to produce water bottles have become a topic of increasing debate. Although plastic bottles can offer advantages in weight, versatility, and price, many consumers have made the switch to 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.
Water bottles with plastic bodies have long been a favorite choice among reusable bottle fans, and they remain the most commonly seen type of bottle at local rock climbing crags, campsites, and the gym. This is not without reason. Plastic is very lightweight, versatile, and often inexpensive. It can also be formed into any variety of shapes, making for many ergonomically pleasing bottles. Plastic is also translucent, allowing you to manage and keep track of your water consumption. Furthermore, plastic bottles are strong and durable, able to withstand most abuse, even from your freezer. Oh yeah, and they come in pretty much any color you can imagine, so you can match it to your mountain bike or purple laptop cover. These bottles are well-suited for a variety of activities, and are especially handy on backpacking trips and excursions lasting more than one day.
When we tested the bottles on how well they resist retaining flavors from a sport drink mix, three of the plastic bottles landed at the bottom of the list (see How We Test). Although the AVEX Brazos 32 and Nalgene Wide Mouth 32 fared very well, the Vapur Element 1L, Platypus PlusBottle, and CamelBak eddy .75L significantly held onto flavors in our tests. Also, although durability is one of their advantages, plastic bottles will break before metal bottles will when put under extreme stress. Some of the plastic bottles we tested, like the Nalgene and AVEX Brazos, are too large to fit into most cup holders, making them less handy to use while driving. Lastly, there is the potential danger of the chemicals in the plastic leaching out over time. All the water bottles tested in this review are BPA-free, yet there is mounting concern that BPA is not the only chemical from plastic that poses a threat to one's health.
What is BPA? And what is all the fuss about? As leaders in the field of gear reviewing, we believe it is our responsibility to make consumers aware of issues like this that involve the products we review. We've summarized the information currently available below to help you decide for yourself how you want to approach this controversy.
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:
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)
Stainless steel bottles, like the Klean Kanteen Original 27, Klean Kanteen Insulated 20, and the Hydro Flask Insulated 32, hold the champion's belt when it comes to longevity and durability. With proper care, they very well could last you your life. They can also take a severe beating without losing a single drop of liquid, although they will show signs of wear, such as dents and scratches. However, the plastic caps on these stainless steel bottles will likely break before the bottle ever will. The metal bottles we tested were all made from food grade 18/8 stainless steel, which is widely accepted as not having the health concerns of plastics, as noted above.
Metal options were formerly criticized for their heavier weight, but this is becoming a thing of the past. The Klean Kanteen is only slightly heavier than the rigid plastic bottles in this review. The small margin of difference is even easier to see when considering its weight in relationship to its volume: the Classic comes in at 0.27 ounces per fluid ounce held, while the Nalgene weighs 0.20 oz/fl oz.
This improvement in weight allows non-insulated metal bottles like the Klean Kanteen Classic to be justified for use on longer, multi-day trips. They can even serve as an emergency (or even primary) cooking vessel, although this is the exception rather than the rule. If every ounce counts, then plastic is going to be a better option. If not an issue, though, we find the added durability of a metal bottle to be a significant advantage. The Hydro Flask and Klean Kanteen Insulated did weigh significantly more than the plastic bottles (yet less than the glass bottles) due to the additional materials required for insulation.
The packaging on both Klean Kanteen bottles we tested claims that they do not "retain or impart flavors" on the liquids stored in them. However, in our tests, we found that they both imparted a metallic smell and/or taste on their contents. They also retained flavors to some extent when tested, falling in the middle of the pack in this criterion. In contrast, the Hydro Flask Insulated performed very well in the above tests.
The Hydro Flask did a great job of not retaining flavors from previous beverages. Even coffee couldn't leave its strong taste behind in this water bottle.
For water purists, glass is the way to go. In our testing, we found that water tastes best from glass bottles. Both the Lifefactory Classic 22 and Contigo Purity products scored well in the general taste and 24 hour taste tests, although they did slightly hold onto the flavor of the sports drinks used in our flavor retention tests. Additionally, glass is generally considered a safe material for storing food and liquids. Respected organizations like the Environmental Working Group have long lists of concerns about plastics, yet cite glass as a safe alternative.
(Find the full article here).
Both glass bottles in this review were designed for day-to-day use; they fit well into car cup holders (the Lifefactory was a very convenient size) and they have smaller volumes that reflect this intended use.
Glass does have two obvious drawbacks: weight and fragility. Both of these qualities make glass bottles a poor choice for most backcountry adventures. While well-suited for the office or studio workouts, they are simply too cumbersome to be taken on backpacking trips and too fragile for the average outdoor climbing session.
For more information on other water bottle features, check out our Buying Advice.
Criteria for Evaluation
We scored all ten bottles using the results from five criteria: ease of use, taste, durability, ease of cleaning, and weight. Below we summarized how we tested within each criterion and highlighted the best and worst contenders.
Ease of Use
As hydration is the main purpose of a water bottle, 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.
Overall, 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. 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 Classic scored well here as well, since it's simple and easy to use. The width of the opening is wide enough for easy filling and ice cubes, but small enough to drink from without spilling. Lifefactory performed well here too. We liked drinking out of glass the best, and this bottle's shape felt great in our hands.
The CamelBak eddy lost points here because it failed the leak test and only provides a slow flow of water. Although it didn't leak a huge amount, it was more than we would want ending 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 Platy PlusBottle lost points since it's awkward to drink from and easy to knock over.
Not only do we want to hydrate using our water bottles, we also want the water to taste good. Some bottles imparted flavors on the liquids they contain, a characteristic that we definitely did not appreciate. And if you store liquids like flavored drink mixes and coffee in a bottle for a day, some bottles will 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 a period of 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, the bottles were filled with tap water and taste tests were conducted to see if we could detect any residual flavors from the sports drink.
If your bottle is retaining flavors, trying soaking 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.
Both glass bottles, Lifefactory and Contigo came out with top scores in this category. They did not impart flavors on 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 bottle. 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.
Two plastic bottles, the Nalgene and AVEX Brazos, also scored very well in this metric. The other plastic bottles did not fare as well here, with the two collapsible bottles, the Platy PlusBottle and Vapur Element, retaining strong flavors of sports drink and even soap. The CamelBak eddy's straw imparted a strong rubbery taste on 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 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 Vapur Element and Platy PlusBottle proved that their flexible properties allow them to take a serious hit, walking away almost completely unscathed. We did have some bottles fail the drop test. The AVEX Brazos busted when its bottom hit the hard ground, while the Hydro Flask Insulated and Contigo both broke when dropped on their caps. All the other bottles survived with minor cosmetic damages. The biggest surprise in our drop tests was that the Lifefactory walked away with its integrity intact. The silicone sleeve and plastic cap did a sufficient job in absorbing the impact force, keeping the glass from shattering.
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 bottle. 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.
We highly recommend purchasing a bottle brush to make cleaning you bottles quicker and easier (and less frustrating!).
In general, the wider the mouth of the bottle, the easier it was to clean. The Hydro Flask Insulated and Nalgene bottles scored the highest in this category. They are both simple designs with wide mouths, allowing for quick and easy cleaning. On the other side of the spectrum were the bottles with complex parts, including the CamelBak Eddy and the AVEX Brazos. The Vapur Element and Platy PlusBottle proved especially difficult 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.
Although less consequential in day-to-day use, the weight of an empty water 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 versatility that a heavier bottle does not. When scoring in this category, we weighed the bottles using our own scale and divided by the volume to find out heavy each bottle is per fluid ounce (oz./fluid oz.).
We like to 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 back-up reservoir.
Unsurprisingly, the Platy PlusBottle and Vapur Element both received perfect scores in this category. They both weigh in under two ounces. The other plastic bottles also scored well in this category, as did the Klean Kanteen Classic. The insulated stainless steel bottles fell toward the bottom, but it was the glass bottles that came in last in this category.
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.
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 life spans, and are harder to clean than water bottles. And in the office, we definitely recommend a bottle over a bladder. See our full Best Hydration Bladder Review
CamelBak M.U.L.E., are usually lighter than most backpacks and have good 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 water bottles. It's also more difficult to ration your water with these packs. Lastly, hydration packs cost significantly more than water bottles. See our full Best Hydration Pack Review.
Running Hydration Packs
Mountain Bike Hydration Packs
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.
— Ross Robinson
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