From Old School to Hardcore: A Review of Water Bottles

Gear Guide — By Alexi Ueltzen on January 8, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Alexi is a resident gear junkie at NileGuide. Have a question about travel gear? Shoot the gear junkies an email at

A good water bottle is essential when it comes to traveling. Read on for reviews of the best (and worst) choices for on-the-go hydration:

1. Old School: The Nalgene

The Nalgene Wide Mouth

The Nalgene Wide Mouth

A classic water bottle that has been a part of backpacking and outdoor adventure sports since the 1970s. The Nalgene Company originally produced laboratory supplies but created an outdoor products line when they realized that Boy Scout troops and avid backpackers were using their products. Recently, the company has come out with BPA-free versions of their classic bottles.

Buy a narrow mouth if you plan to drink in the car, and the wide mouth if you want to be able to drop ice cubes in. Another plus: most water filters screw into Nalgene tops.

Grade: C+. Light, durable, and you’re sure to look legit if there are a few weathered bumper stickers plastered on it. Nevertheless…plastic does leach, and you’re sure to have concerned know-it-alls constantly asking you if your bottle is BPA-free.

2. Sleek: The Sigg

The Sigg

The Sigg

Sigg water bottles are produced in Switzerland, are made out of aluminum, and have a special internal coating that is taste- and scent-neutral. The bottles come in a variety of sizes (especially cute: the shorties for little kids) and usually have colorful, artistic exteriors. Very popular in Europe, Siggs are sleek, cylindrical and eco-friendly.

The Sigg has a narrow mouth, making it a challenge to clean, and is not the best choice for serious outdoor enthusiasts, as water filters are not always compatible. The loop on the top can be used to clip the water bottle onto backpacks and potentially pants (in which case you’d better be wearing a belt, too).

Grade: B. Although Siggs look cool, the steel they’re made of is very thin; the material offers no insulation and dents easily. Fine for a walk through town, not for a hike through the Sierras.

3. Hardcore: Klean Kanteen

The Klean Kanteen

The Klean Kanteen

Like a Sigg that has been tweaked for serious outdoor enthusiasts. The stainless steel is thicker and more durable and the mouth of the bottle is wider (and therefore much easier to clean). This is also possibly the greenest choice of water bottle, since the Klean Kanteen Company maintains environmentally conscious business practices and works with other organizations to protect the environment.

There are many sizes and shapes of Klean Kanteens, as well as a variety of lids. Choose the classic screw-top, or the recently-released water bottle lid.

Grade: A. Fewer artsy choices than the other bottles, but the last water bottle you’ll ever need to buy. I’ve been banging mine around for years now.

4. Convenient: Camelbak

The Camelbak Backpack

The Camelbak Backpack

Camelbak has two hydration systems for the traveler who needs their hands free. Their classic Camelbak backpack has a plastic pouch and connected drinking tube that brings liquid right to the lips of the wearer. Plusses: Hands-free and carries a large volume of water. Minuses: The pouch and tube are no fun to clean, and the older they get the more likely they are to drip.

Their other popular product is a water bottle with a straw that extends to the bottom of the bottle, eliminating the unscrewing and tilting that all other bottles require. Good for parents with little kids who tend to pour the entire water bottle over themselves when they try to take a drink.

Grade: B-. Undeniably useful, but not the most travel friendly (how can a plastic pouch not leak on something?). Good choices for cycling or sight-seeing.

5. For the procrastinator: Bottled water, rivers, streams and lakes

Bottled Water

Bottled Water

Really cutting down on packing? Theoretically, you could count on bottled water and natural sources to keep yourself hydrated. There is also the odd garden hose, public drinking fountain and icicle…

Grade: D-. There is hardly a worse choice for the environment than plastic, disposable water bottles, as well as the fact that the water inside is often the same quality as tap. It’s also impossible to know the level of pollution or other contaminants in natural bodies of water – bringing your own, or a filter, is the safest choice.

Tags: bottle, CamelBak, gear junkie, Klean Kanteen, Nalgene, Sigg, travel, water


  • Jennie says:

    I just made the switch from Nalgene to stainless steel and I’m not goin’ back! Not only is it better for the environment, I feel like my water stays extra chilly extra long. :)

  • Tyler says:

    I totally agree with Jennie – I’ve switched to the Klean Kanteen and I’m lovin’ it! Nice post Alexi.

  • says:

    This was timely, as I’ve just been looking at biking water bottles for an upcoming 6 wk. New Zealand bike trip. Possible candidates

    Zefal 1l. bottles–hold the most, but typically leak, either around the gasket or the mouth piece

    Stainless steel–used last 6 wk. trip, but hard to drink out of on the go. I mostly either stopped an drank after taking the top off, or refilled the one smaller BPA free plastic bottle I had along. Also, because the stainless steel doesn’t give, my plastic waterbottle cages did, requiring replacement partway through the trip.

    various BPA free plastic bottles, or one’s of materials ‘supposed’ to be safe, based on the recycle number on the the bottom.

    I’m open to suggestions.

  • Lacey says:

    Yay! Glad you mentioned how horrible bottled water is for the environment. Shipping all that water releases a butt-load of CO2. Not cool!

  • Lacey Balz says:

    looks like i’ll have to add a stainless steel bottle to my collection. i’ve been checking them out, but it looks like i might have to finally give in and invest in one. good to know, thanks!!! :o)

  • Neil Jacobson says:

    I know exactly what you mean about the Sigg water bottles, It has the narrower opening for better drinking but its not a water bottle I can throw on the couch when I get home from school, klean kanteens are the ultimate but I am still just using the good ol’ Nalgene.

  • Alexi Ueltzen says:

    Check it out! Siggs are on sale REI ( for under $10.

  • maya says:

    What about Laken? I think they’re better than both Sigg and Klean Kanteen.

    Plus, there’s a lot of controversy right now surrounding Sigg and how their bottles use to contain BPA.

    Laken bottles are made in Spain. Check it out and let me know what you think!

  • Alexi says:

    Those bottles DO look pretty awesome Maya. I may have to add another water bottle to my collection. I’m especially enamored with the canteen…

  • Emily says:

    Thanks for the breakdown of the different brands! I currently use a Klean Kanteen bottle. It really is the last water bottle you’ll ever need to buy. It’s so durable and long tough, and I definitely trust their company to keep their bottles BPA free.

    Thanks for posting!


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