Metal drinking bottles

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As everyone now knows, the BPA leaching out of polycarbonate Nalgene bottles will cause instant death, so many people have gone looking for alternatives. Although Nalgene has a new plastic offering using a copolyester called Tritan (which looks functionally, though not chemically pretty similar to polycarbonate), a lot of people have been going for metal bottles. The two leading contenders are the venerable aluminum Sigg containers and the stainless steel Klean Kanteen. I recently picked up one of each at REI and have been testing them enough to have some initial impressions.

Klean Kanteen
The big selling proposition of the Klean Kanteen is that it's stainless steel. We understand the properties of stainless steel pretty well and so you can have a fair amount of confidence it's not going to leach stuff into your water. Also, stainless is pretty tough, so you don't have to worry about damaging the bottles, which is a concern with the aluminum Siggs (the old polycarb Nalgenes are nigh indestructable, btw. I use one in the field to hammer in tent stakes). That said, I don't much like the Klean Kanteen. I've got four major complaints.

  • I don't like that it's totally uninsulated. This is a problem with any metal container, but it means it's uncomfortable to hold when you put in cold or hot beverages (polycarb insulates pretty well) and you also have to worry about condensation in your bag.
  • I don't like the screw interface for the top. The Klean Kanteen comes with either a stainless or a plastic top and I have the plastic. It's also really hard to get off. As long as it hasn't been cranked down too hard, I can unscrew a Nalgene with three fingers around the bottle and my forefinger and thumb around the lid. I can't do this with the Klean Kanteen at all, partly because the interface seems tigher and partly because the lid is untextured so you can't get a good grip. Finally, it seems easy to crossthread the top so it won't go on at all. I hear the steel tops don't do this, but from the people I know who own them they sound really loud, which could be a pain in public spaces like libraries.
  • The mouth is just a hair too big. This is supposed to be a feature so you can get ice in, but it has the same spilling problem a wide mouth Nalgene has.
  • The bottle feels hard. Whenever I'm drinking from it, I worry that I'm going to bang my teeth against it and chip them. It's very unnerving for me and doesn't happen with plastic.

I plan to return the Klean Kanteen (go REI!)

Sigg
Sigg bottles (yes, the ones that look like fuel bottles) are a backpacking standard and have had a resurgence since people went off Nalgene. They're aluminum, not stainless, with a plastic cap. Because of concerns over aluminum leaching into your drink, they're coated with some unspecified (but they swear it's safe!) proprietary enamel-type coating. I like the Sigg a lot better than the Klean Kanteen, but it's not perfect.

  • It's still uninsulated.
  • The screw interface is better. You can remove the top with two fingers, but it requires about 4 complete turns (compared to about 2 for the Klean Kanteen and 1.5 for a Nalgene), and it's not that easy to get reseated without crossthreading it.
  • The mouth is much better for drinking out of, much better than a wide-mouth Nalgene (about the same as a narrow-mouth Nalgene) but of course there's a tradeoff here, since you can't get ice cubes in. The mouth of the bottle is very nicely rounded and comfortable to drink out of, though occasionally you can feel the threads. It doesn't feel at all like I'm going to chip my teeth.
  • I have two concerns about durability: Internet reviews suggest that the aluminum dents very easily and I also wonder how well the coating will last.

I'm keeping the Sigg, but it's not a perfect replacement for Nalgenes. It's nicer in some ways, especially aesthetically (yeah, yeah, I know it's a bottle). When I brought it home, Mrs. Guesswork announced that she wanted to steal it, which she certainly doesn't say about Nalgenes. It's also about 17% lighter than a Nalgene (149g versus 180g). However, I don't like the lack of insulation or the fact that the cap isn't permanently attached, and I doubt it will replace my Nalgene in my pack, though I suspect I will favor it for everyday drinking, if only for comfort reasons (and less spilling down the front of my shirt).

One more thing: I was sort of surprised by how much I felt like I was going to chip a tooth with the Klean Kanteen but not at all with the Sigg or a Nalgene. I'm not sure what materials effects create this impression, but I wonder if simple hardness could be an explanation. It looks like tooth enamel is quite a bit harder than aluminum, but that stainless steel is of comparable if not greater hardness than enamel. [*]. It's not like I'm biting on the bottles, but I wonder if somehow the hardness translates into something you can feel when the material taps against your teeth (these particular measurements were Knoop test, where you look for indentation at a given pressure).

2 Comments

The Camelbak Tritan bottles with the silicone bite valve are quite good, and you can buy a neoprene insulating jacket for the 750ml model. The 500ml model fits in a standard car cupholder.

As for ice cubes with the Sigg, a company called Silicone Zone (www.siliconezoneusa.com) makes ice cube trays where the ice "cubes" are actually pencil shaped and thus easy to slip through a small-necked bottle. I bought a pair for $10 from Whole Foods.

The best isolation, of course, comes from a Dewar flask (thermos bottle). Zojirushi makes an excellent one that is all steel (not flimsy glass like Thermos) and Teflon-coated to make cleaning up easier. Sigg also makes one in 380ml size that fits in a standard cupholder.

I've been using Sigg bottles for years. They do bent easily, especially if you drop them while they're full and heavy. I like the narrow mouth to drink out of, but they're harder to clean than Nalgenes and don't encourage you to clean by looking fine from the outside even if they haven't been cleaned in quite a while. I actually have made relatively good experiences with the Siggs' insulation (if they're in a light color) considering they're just aluminum.

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