Adventurers need to stay hydrated to get the most out of their outdoor sports, and that means always carrying the right water bottle for the job. Owning a few water bottles with activity-specific benefits—but which are all easily washable, leak resistant and durable—will encourage you to drink adequately around the clock. To help you drink […]
Adventurers need to stay hydrated to get the most out of their outdoor sports, and that means always carrying the right water bottle for the job. Owning a few water bottles with activity-specific benefits—but which are all easily washable, leak resistant and durable—will encourage you to drink adequately around the clock.
To help you drink your way to peak performance and better health, we rounded up and tested water bottles across seven different categories. We looked to REI customers for guidance when narrowing the selection: Each water bottle we tested is highly rated in its category among verified purchasers from diverse demographics. After perusing the customer reviews and speaking with REI hydration experts, we tested the water bottles on runs, hikes, rides and in daily life over the course of three weeks. In addition, we did temperature testing on the insulated bottles to determine how long they would keep water hot and cold. After all the research, here are the results.
Best Insulated Water Bottle
Material: 18/8 Stainless steel
Insulation: Double-walled vacuum seal
Cap type: Threaded wide-mouth
Weight unfilled: 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
If what you’re looking for is insulation, longevity and the ability to carry lots of different drinks, the Rambler is a tank of a bottle. When it comes to having hot tea ready at the end of a long day of hiking, without having to boil a new kettle; keeping a container of ice on hand to cool water the next morning; or just keeping your cold-brew coffee cold throughout the workday, this bottle does it best.
The YETI Rambler vacuum bottle keeps liquids hot and cold for an impressively long time. In one round of temperature testing, near-boiling water (193 degrees Fahrenheit) wound up only 52 degrees cooler (141 degrees Fahrenheit) in the 36 fluid ounce YETI Rambler after 14 hours. At every temperature, the vacuum-sealing meant the exterior the bottle felt room-temperature to our hands.
Many steel bottles we’ve used retain flavors, but the Rambler can hold beer one day and coffee the next without issue. The dishwasher-safe Rambler has a wide mouth—the same 3-inch diameter in all bottle sizes—which also makes the bottle’s interior easy to clean. It’s also important to us that a bottle’s sturdy base makes it difficult to accidentally knock the bottle over. When we do want to move the Rambler, we can slip all four fingers into the cap handle; that briefcase-style carrying is very useful when the bottle is full. (We asked friends with varying hand sizes to try doing the same; even those with larger hands were able to slip in three fingers.)
Even after biking the Rambler around in bags, carrying it, knocking it off of picnic tables and stuffing it in bikepacking panniers full of hard and pointy bike tools—using it how we would in real life—the light-teal test bottle we used doesn’t show any dents, and dirt is easily removed. If we’d driven over it, that might not be the same story.
Best Water Bottle for Running
Cap type: Bite valve, leakproof
Weight unfilled (with holster): 101g / 3.5 oz.
Finding the right running bottle for you means knowing how much water you want to drink, and how you want to carry it. If you’re well hydrated and planning to exercise for less than five miles, you’ll likely be able to go without a water break on your run. But if you’re always hunting down water fountains or hiding bottles in bushes along your training routes, carrying a small handheld bottle can make life a lot easier. When you’re in the market for that type of bottle, the Amphipod Hydraform Soft-Tech is the way to go.
Some big issues people encounter while running with bottles are arm tiredness, chafing, water sloshing and leakage. Arm tiredness is easy to fix by carrying low weight. Keeping the weight to 12 ounces or less is advisable for most people, and if you need more than that, it’s probably time to invest in a hydration vest. However, we tested the 20 fluid ounce version of the Amphipod with a set of keys and an iPhone 8 Plus in the sleeve’s front pocket and the weight was only noticeable, not annoying. It’s hard enough to find a sleeve that can fit a phone that large, but to find one that does so with enough compression to keep our belongings from jostling around was impressive. We were also able to stow two gels on the sleeve-strap’s elastic daisy chain.
The insulating sleeve keeps the bottle and your hand well contained, which is important for chafing: When fabric has room to rub against your hand, that rubbing creates friction, and that friction creates skin irritations. We had to cinch the hand strap down as far as it would go to avoid rubbing, but we were able to keep our hands from moving around in the sleeve strap. That meant we were also able to let the sleeve rest in our hands, rather than having to grip it and risk getting a hand cramp. Our hands did get sweaty, so we had to alternate the sleeve between our hands as we ran every 10 minutes; but that felt like a small price to pay for keeping cool water handy. (No pun intended.) The sleeve is thick enough to pad your hand comfortably.
The bottle doesn’t insulate on its own. Using the sleeve makes holding the bottle easier, and when we did use the sleeve, the dregs of our water at the ends of runs were always lukewarm at most, if we started out with cold water. We only know this because we poured out the remains on our hands, and not because the bottle sprayed us as we whipped it around: It’s completely leakproof.
Most exciting, the bottle’s mouth is wide enough to not only fit ice cubes, but also clean easily. The bottle is dishwasher safe, and the cap can come apart for cleaning in case it you get dirt in the valve.
Best Water Bottle for Hiking, Best Plastic Water Bottle
Material: Hard high-density polyethylene (HDPE)
Cap type: Threaded wide-mouth
Weight Unfilled: 3.5 oz.
The Nalgene Ultralite wide-mouth bottle is not only versatile enough to be a great everyday bottle, but it’s light enough with the right features to get top marks as a hiking water bottle, too.
It’s hard to beat the Nalgene Ultralite as an everyday carry bottle. Its loop cap easily hooks onto the strap of a messenger bag, while the body itself fits in all but the most narrow backpack side pockets. The threaded leak-free cap means we can also chuck the bottle right in a bag. The wide mouth accepts ice cubes and offers a drinking experience most similar to a water glass. The mouth also makes the dishwasher-safe Ultralite a breeze to clean—but no amount of cleaning will completely remove all smells, which is one of the only downsides to HDPE. We learned the hard way not to fill this bottle with anything but water; after filling it with watermelon-flavored seltzer it took a couple of rounds in a dishwasher for it to lose the fruity smell.
For hiking, where flavor is much farther down the list of priorities, the Ultralite is an even bigger winner. Its low weight makes it a great choice for gram-counting backpackers; its printed-on liquid measurements help us track how much we're drinking; and in a pinch, we can even use it as a measuring cup while cooking. The wide mouth means it’s compatible with a ton of popular water filters, too; and while it’s not as durable as Tritan-based bottles, it’s survived PLENTY of accidental drops on the trail, and from standing desks. The simple threaded cap has no small parts that can fail, and the cap loop is strong enough to hang overnight from branches and bags.
Best Water Bottle for Biking
Material: BPA- and phthalate-free low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Insulation: Proprietary Chromatek bottle liner
Cap type: Push-pull, leakproof
Weight unfilled: 3.1 oz.
A lot of people talk about how your bike bottle needs to be light and durable to be worthwhile, but that’s not enough. The real mark of a great bike bottle is its ability to get water into your mouth with as little effort as possible. We’ve been relying on this type of Specialized water bottle for years for just that purpose—and this insulated version improves on a gold standard.
The insulated Purist’s MoFlo cap is easy to pull up and push down with your mouth, and it delivers a strong stream of water with a simple squeeze of the bottle. We can toss the leakproof Purist in a messenger bag and know its O-ring will keep our belongings from getting wet; it also shakes up colorful electrolyte mixes without spilling any water.
LDPE plastic bottles can get stained and pungent over time, which makes the Purist’s silicon dioxide lining really valuable. Our Purist bottles only start retaining stains from drink mixes after two or more years of regular use. We’ve given up on plenty of bike bottles that won’t stop smelling like a drink powder we used 20 rides ago, but the Purist only smells when we leave water in it and forget about it for a few days. (We’ve all done it.) Luckily, the silicon dioxide lining offers the added benefit of resisting mold and bacteria, as long as you don’t scrape the bottle while you’re cleaning it. When you do clean your bottle, Specialized recommends resorting to a warm-water rinse with mild soap; and using a soft cloth if you do need to scour the inside of the bottle.
The gripping channel around the bottle’s body provides just enough space to wedge in a thumb and pointer finger, limiting how much work we need to do just to hold onto the bottle—which, after a full day of riding and braking, can be essential. The LDPE plastic is soft enough to squeeze but tough enough so that one tester was able to toss the bottle on a wood floor while riding the trainer at home, without scratching the bottle.
The 23 fluid ounce bottle is versatile enough to fit a bottle cage on both the downtube and the seattube of a size 50cm road bike, and two can hold us over for an hour of hot-weather riding. It’s more expensive than the 26 fluid ounce uninsulated bottle, but on warm days, it’s worth it. We poured lukewarm water into one of each bottle, put them in direct sunlight, and looked to see how hot they got after half an hour: The water in the insulated bottle warmed by six degrees Fahrenheit, while the uninsulated bottle warmed by 16 degrees. On especially warm days, we like to pop the insulated bottle in the freezer before a ride, so that it keeps water cold even longer.
Best Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Material: 18/8 stainless steel
Insulation: Double-wall vacuum seal (24 hours cold, 6 hours hot)
Cap type: Threaded, carry loop
Weight unfilled: 12.8 oz.
The Hydro Flask Standard-Mouth's versatility and durability mean it’s an investment you’ll arguably get more out of in everyday life. It has a narrow-enough profile to fit in a cupholder, but a wide-enough mouth to fit ice and be easily cleaned. It didn’t grow visible bacteria after we left plain water in it for two days, but it did get a little smelly (naturally!), and we fixed that with some warm, soapy water. (Make sure to scrub around the cap’s O-ring, which is pretty well stuck on.)
Hydro Flask’s double-walled vacuum design helps keep ice water cold for up to a day, and hot liquids warm for up to six hours, making it useful year-round for more than just water. Plastic caps often negate the insulating power of a good steel bottle, but Hydro Flask’s insulated plastic cap worked so well that one tester burned their tongue on coffee that had been sitting in the bottle for an hour. (It’s a good idea to let your hot liquids air out for a bit before you cap them.)
The bottle is also easy to hold and maneuver. Insulated bottles are known to sweat—to collect condensation on the outside of the bottle—but this bottle didn’t. The vacuum seal moderated the water temperature well enough that the bottle always felt room temperature to our hands. The cap’s carry handle makes the bottle easy to grab out of a backpack’s side pocket.
Stainless-steel bottles like this one don’t retain flavors the way some plastic bottles do, and while some give water a slightly metallic flavor (since you’re putting your mouth on steel), the taste wasn’t strong enough for us to notice it while we were out living our lives.
Most importantly, it encourages us to stay hydrated: It’s sleek-looking enough that we want to bring it everywhere—from campgrounds to the office—and it holds enough water that we only have to refill it twice throughout the work day. It’s not the bottle we’d carry on a run or ultralight thru-hike, but it’s nearly perfect for everything else.
Best Collapsible Water Bottle
Material: Soft BPA-, BPS-, phlalate-free nylon/polyethylene
Size: 13 x 6 in.
Size when folded down: 6.5 x 2.5 x 1 in.
Cap type: Threaded narrow-mouth (filter-compatible)
Weight unfilled: 1.2 oz.
If you’re traveling with space and/or weight limitations, a packable water bottle can be incredibly useful to have on hand. Most are used strictly as backup bottles, but the Platypus Softbottle is easy enough to drink from that we used it as a daily water bottle without issue. Backpackers, climbers and bike tourers will appreciate the bottle as a drop-resistant, emergency water bladder that’s easily stowable in a pocket when not in use: Rolled down, it’s smaller than an iPhone (and much more durable when accidentally stepped on).
The ultra-lightweight Platypus SoftBottle can stay rolled tightly with a elastic band for hours at a time—without developing creases that could eventually evolve into tears—and still easily unfurl for filling. While the bottle isn’t advertised as leakproof, the threaded twist cap and thin-but-durable plastic body keep their contents locked down whenever we tote the SoftBottle with us on bike commutes. The bottle’s hourglass shape definitely makes it easy to grip with one hand; the bottle lies flat as easily as it stands up by itself; and the plastic keeps its shape so well under stress that we never spilled water on ourselves.
Platypus recommends washing the SoftBottle by hand. After washing, we propped the empty bottle open with a chopstick to keep the sides from sticking to themselves. Since the narrow opening makes it hard to clean the inside of the bottle (or to fill with ice cubes), we let the whole thing dry out in the sun for an hour to prevent mildew.
Each bottle material comes with its benefits and drawbacks, and the right one for your needs depends on what you’ll use the bottle for.
Plastic bottles tend to be lighter weight and cost less than glass and metal bottles. They come in hard and soft versions, the latter of which is necessary for squeeze bottles like you’d use while cycling. Some very flexible bottles include food-grade silicone and polyurethane, which prevent any plastic chemicals from reaching your water reservoir.
Stainless-steel bottles are incredibly durable and have great strength-to-weight value, but are heavier and more expensive than most plastic bottles. Some bottles give water a strong metallic, mineral-tinged flavor, though the bottles we’ve suggested do not have strong metallic tastes. (Some people even enjoy the feeling of drinking from metal for that reason.) Steel also does a better job of resisting odors and tastes from water or other liquids.
Glass does an even better job of resisting odors and tastes, and does not itself have a taste. Food-grade glass bottles also seem to present the fewest health concerns, since they’re made primarily from naturally-occuring sand and break down slowly. However, glass is heavy, and fragile. Glass water bottles are not often the best choice for daily use by people with active lifestyles, but they’re great to have at home.
Yes, but it’s not something you have to worry about at REI—the co-op does not sell bottles made with BPA. Plastic additive Bisphenol A (BPA) has been banned by the Food and Drug Administration from plastic bottles intended for babies and toddlers bottles since 2012, and at least 12 states have passed additional laws against the chemical, for good reason. Our bodies process BPA like the female sex hormone estrogen; introducing BPA into our bodies confuses our endocrine system, which regulates hormone signaling and impacts sexual and immune function as well as brain and body development. This is a concern for young children, but many manufacturers have elected to stop using BPA as an additive in bottles for adults as well.
Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning your water bottle, cap and/or valve. To wash by hand, fill water bottles with warm water and a pea-size amount of dish soap, and shake them up before rinsing them out. Bigger cleaning jobs may require you to mix lemon juice, baking soda, and water and shake those ingredients together in a capped bottle. Note: It’s rare, but some people have melted plastic bottles in dishwashers before; be sure to check the manufacturer's recommendations before tossing your water bottle in the dishwasher.
Bottle caps and valves are another story. Some bottles, like the YETI Rambler and Hydro Flask Standard-Mouth, have caps that are dishwasher safe. Make sure to remove O-rings from insulated caps before putting them in the dishwasher, if suggested by the manufacturer. Otherwise, rinsing out the caps in a small bowl of warm water with dish soap, swabbing any hard-to-reach dirt with a Q-tip or towel, and then rinsing, will do the job.
Whatever you do, don’t use a sponge or brush if a manufacturer advises against it: Lots of bottles come with antimicrobial linings that can fail if you scrub them. If there is residue in bottles like that, gently use a sponge, or let soapy water sit in the bottle for a bit.
Preventing bottles from drying thoroughly can also attract bacteria. Avoid this by towel-drying your bottles and caps, then letting them air out separately. Take apart bite valves when you clean them and let them dry.
A hydration bladder can be a great choice for running, hiking and mountain biking—but ultimately, whether you need one is a personal choice.
A lot of the decision depends on how much water you need for what you’re doing. Determining your unique needs requires some trial and error. Keep a hydration log and ask yourself: Do you do better when you drink a certain amount every few minutes? Was it warm that day? Did your mouth feel dry, or did you feel thirsty?
Once you know roughly how much water you need for a given outing, think about how you’d like to carry that water. If you’re mountain biking, you have less space in your front triangle for mounting water bottle cages than you do on a road bike, so you might end up having to wear a hydration pack on rides lasting longer than an hour. If you’re trail running and need to carry a phone, first-aid kit, hiking poles and snacks, it might be smarter to carry all of that and your water in one hydration vest—with a collapsible bottle and water filter stowed away, if you’re far from civilization. If you need to use electrolyte mixes, you’ll definitely want to put those in bottles rather than hydration bladders—it’s almost always harder to clean a bladder, tube and valve. And, if you want to monitor your hydration, it will be easier to eyeball how much you’ve had to drink with a small bottle than a large bladder hidden in your hydration pack.
Cost is the other large factor. Hydration packs tend to be more expensive than handheld- or waist-based bottles. Luckily, unless you’re competing in lots of sports, you likely won’t have to buy more than one hydration pack. That’s because while there are lots of packs available with features that benefit running, biking, hiking, and more, you can pretty easily retrofit a pack to work well, if not perfectly, for any of those activities.
Most people lose their water bottles long before they’ll have to replace them. None of these bottles present safety concerns that merit replacement warnings, like you’d see on some plastic bottles.
It becomes necessary to replace a bottle when it can no longer function the way you want it to. Hygiene is important: If a bottle is scuffed but clean, don’t toss it—but if a bottle or valve has developed mildew that you can’t remove, it’s time to put it to rest.
Vacuum-seal bottles, which depend on pockets of air in between layers of steel to insulate, can lose their insulating power if they get dented significantly enough. If they get cracked, toss them—but they’ll still be able to hold water with a small dent, even if they can’t keep that water hot or cold. If the dent is on the bottom of a bottle, it might impact its ability to stay upright, however.
Some bottle measurement markings wear off with use. If your Nalgene bottle’s markings are gone and you don’t want to eyeball your hydration, you need to replace it or draw on your own markings.