Review: Choose Your Vessel

water bottle collage

Comparing the merits of water bottles.

Gone are the days of canteens and bota bags—water-bottle options abound nowadays, with dozens of styles, shapes, and materials from which to choose. O/B reviewed the most popular options back in 2008, but a lot has changed since then—namely, everyone and their uncles pack their own water, everywhere they go. This hydrophilia—or dehydrophobia, depending on your perspective—has driven new developments in insulation and flooded the market with choices. Let’s take a look at a few of the top contenders for 2021.

Tried, true, and time-tested. It’s the one bottle that’s been accepted into every outdoor activity and can be found in every gear closet. It’s not trying to be anything it isn’t: a voluminous hunk of plastic equipped to hold water, without leaking or breaking. That’s it. Cheap, durable, and versatile (eggs in the backcountry, anyone?), the Nalgene is a true American workhorse—the honeycrisp of apples, the Michael Jordan of the NBA, the Budweiser of beers. You get the point.

We all know that Yeti makes high-quality stuff. But they also have a reputation for ridiculously overbuilt items at outrageous prices. So it comes as no surprise that their water bottles are the burliest out there. No doubt, you’re going to get a cold (or hot) drink all day long, given its top-of-the-line, double-wall vacuum insulation. But stainless steel ain’t light, and $30 for 12 ounces is a bit steep for most hardworkin’ outdoor folk.

New to the scene, this unique vessel has changed the game when it comes to weight and space. The Platypus is loved by trail-runners, resort skiers, and ultralight backpackers, among others. The pros are obvious: pack almost nothing but the water weight itself, and when you’re done, fold it up and stash it in your pocket. Cons: the lightweight body is susceptible to puncture, and its flimsy structure requires extra effort to avoid spillage while drinking. Besides, if you had room for the thing at full capacity, why do you suddenly need to fold it up? Are we missing something here?

Carried as an emblem of class, the S’well reflects how water bottles have shifted from function to fashion. The company’s website boasts 60 unique colors and patterns, with no actual difference in construction. You can customize the appearance and feel with glossy, matte, or textured options. S’well screams originality not only in name, but also size: 9, 17, or 25 ounces, all necked into one sleek, stylish, phallic status symbol. As for pricing, they may even have Yeti beat—$45 for the 25-ouncer.

Unique and built with a purpose, the Specialized squeezer is the gold standard of plastic bike bottles. Handcrafted, Swiss-tested, and BPA-free, this lightweight big-mouth is as clean and pure as the water it holds. While great on the trail, it isn’t the most office-friendly option. Not only will your colleagues know exactly how hung over you are—there’s just no way to hide that urgent squishy release noise—but your desk will likely be taking on water by the end of the day. Does anyone have one that doesn’t leak?