The water bottle needs no formal introduction. Simple, utilitarian, environmentally responsible, and often boasting peacock-bright colors and unique designs, it can be easily spotted on trails, backseats of vehicles, and everywhere in between. These days the water bottle is ubiquitous, available at Saturday markets, grocery stores, gas stations, and anywhere that sells outdoor gear. Every water bottle does its job, which is to hold water, well. But with so many companies designing specialized models for specific interests, you can enjoy the benefits of a bottle that’s been tailored to your drinking style. This guide will introduce you to some topics that will help you choose the best water bottle for your needs.
Uses: Just when you think you’ve encountered a water bottle for every use, a fresh company arrives on the scene boasting new technologies that enables a better drinking experience. Hydro Flask builds double walled stainless steel bottles featuring baskets that capture debris from leaves so you can brew fresh tea to go by simply pouring boiling water into the bottle. They also make a model designed to eliminate the lingering reek of the booze you will inevitably fill it with. Vapur “anti-bottles” are collapsible and foldable so you can stick them in your pocket when not in use—a handy option when going through airport security. With so many options, how do you choose?
The first step in deciding the best water bottle for your needs is to decide whether you’ll be primarily using it around the house, for travel, or on a human-powered outdoors mission.
Around the House: Re-using your bottle instead of grabbing a clean glass every time you need a sip of water is a good way to avoid doing extra dishes. It’s also a more environmentally friendly option than using a plastic bottle. You can keep the bottle by your bed, between cushions on the couch, or on a pile of equipment in the garage and you don’t have to worry about it spilling or breaking when you knock it over.
As you shop for a water bottle to have around the house, consider going big on style over performance. Brands such as Liberty Bottleworks feature illustrations by local artists giving each bottle a personality of its own. Bamboo bottles by the Bamboo Bottle Company look cool and offer perks like internal straws and removable, dishwasher-safe glass inserts to make cleaning easy. Too heavy for serious hiking and a little too wide for cup holders in most cars, bamboo is an ideal style of bottle for home.
Pro Tip: You can use a water bottle to store dried food items such as noodles. Just be sure to put it in the back of the cupboard where your friends won’t see it.
Travel: Water bottles are a necessity when traveling by plane (just make sure they’re empty if you’re carrying them onboard), car, train, and however else you get to your next adventure. When buying a bottle specifically for travel, be sure to balance luxury with packability. You don’t need an ultralight performance bottle to get you through a redeye but being able to clip it to your bag or fold it up as you go through security are nice options.
Good travel bottles are tough enough to survive hard falls onto asphalt and repeat slammings by overhead compartments. They are equipped with straps for carabiners or some other way to hook them to your luggage without having to open it up every time you want a sip of water. Look for less a less flashy model if you plan to be traveling overseas.
Pro Tip: If you’re travelling to participate in a competitive event, do yourself a favor and bring only one bottle: the same one you used while training and plan to use in the event.
Human-Powered Mission: Performance water bottles must be able to survive abuses galore. A good rule of thumb is the rock test: buy a bottle that feels solid enough that it won’t break if you smash it onto a rock with all your might. If you are regularly bringing your bottle into the wilderness it’s likely that you will at some point take a spill and end up falling onto it with all your (and your pack’s) weight. If it shatters under the impact and you’re left in the backcountry with no way to distill water you’ll have a lot more to worry about than a bruised backside.
Water bottles for backpacking should feature some sort of strap system or carabiner loop so you can attach it securely to your pack’s webbing. That way you don’t have to risk it slipping out of the water bottle pocket when you bend over to investigate those bear tracks.
One of the most important things to consider when buying a water bottle for backcountry use is purification: Will you be using tablets, a filter pump, or a UV-pen to purify your water? If you’re using a filter pump or sterilization pen then you want to be sure to bring two bottles: one for filtering, the other for storing the latest clean water. And both should feature wide mouths so you have room to work.
Pro Tip: You can use a water bottle to store dried food items such as noodles on a backpacking trip. After you eat the noodles you’ll have an extra bottle to store water for the long slogs between streams.
Opening: Do you want to drink while trekking without getting splashed in the face? Do you require room to do some proper filtration? Nothing will determine how much you love or hate your water bottle as much as its opening. Choose wisely.
Spout: A spout is shaped like a cylinder with a small ridge on top where a person’s teeth, lips, or fingers could grasp it and pull up, releasing the plug in the middle of the cylinder enough that water can flow out when the bottle is tipped and a person sucks on the spout. Spouts are great for minimizing splash but can seem like a barrier between you and your water when you’re out of breath after a steep climb.
Nozzle: Water bottle nozzles are like short, thick straws attached to the top of a water bottle. They snap down to close and move up to open. Many nozzles are often bite valves, meaning slight pressure from teeth must be applied while sucking to extract water. Like spouts, nozzles are great for minimizing splash but can seem like a barrier between you and your water when you’re out of breath after a steep climb. On the big plus side, your tooth marks will decrease the likelihood of others asking to share your water.
Screw-top: Screw-tops are commonly used on multi-purpose and human-powered-mission-style water bottles. The lid may or may not be attached to the bottle by a thin strip of plastic or fabric. (Get the version where it’s strapped on.) The size of the opening depends on the manufacturer, but the larger openings allow for fast access to large quantities of water, while the smaller openings are more conducive to regular sipping and less spillage. An added benefit of a big mouth is the ability to scoop water out of streams for filtration.
Rigidity: Travelers should prize portability and look for lighter, collapsible water bottles, while hikers and mountain bikers should find sturdier, more durable containers. (See the rock test above.)
Size/Volume: Handheld bottles generally hold 12 ounces of fluid; smaller bottles on runners’ water belts (2-4 bottles) hold about 6 ounces each; and hydration packs may hold anywhere from 1-3 liters of fluid.
Weight: Water bottles are generally weighed in ounces when empty. Stainless steel and aluminum bottles are generally heavier than their plastic brethren. Although most athletes want lightweight materials to expend as little extra energy as possible, hydration is considered so vital that many athletes consider the extra weight of water more than worth any additional energy expended to carry it.
Carryability: Although a water bottle strap works for hiking, it’s a disaster for running due to bottle bounce. Although hydration packs worn on the back are excellent for long runs and mountain biking, they won’t work so well in freezing temperatures at high elevation since the hoses and nozzles tend to freeze up if not warmed with body heat or covered by an insulating sleeve.
Materials: Water bottles are made from a host of materials, each offering unique features, advantages, and sometime disadvantages.
Stainless steel: Water bottles made of stainless steel keep liquids cold or hot much longer than plastic bottles and are often BPA-free. However, they tend to get hot or cold to the touch depending on their liquid contents. Food-grade stainless steel bottles are highly recommended in order to avoid any metallic taste in water left in them for several hours.
PET: Many disposable water bottles are made from petroleum derived plyethylene terephthalate (PET), a recyclable material that doesn’t get recycled very often.
Polycarbonate: Many reusable water bottles are made of polycarbonate, as it is lightweight and shatter-resistant.
Aluminum: Although aluminum water bottles are heavier than plastic, they are usually lighter than stainless steel. Aluminum water bottles may also contain a thin layer of epoxy or plastic resign lining the side to protect the water from aluminum leaching in. Most liners today are now BPA-free.