Best Water Bottles Buying Guide

Staying hydrated is a key consideration for all sports, and while wearable hydration packs have made considerable inroads in the world of MTB, the humble water bottle remains the vessel of choice for many.

From cyclists who prefer bike-mounted bottles over sweaty backpacks to runners looking for portable hydration solutions or gym-goers who need to precisely mix their sports nutrition supplements, a wide range of sports water bottles and liquid receptacles is available.

Read on to find our more about the different types that are available and to help you choose one that is right for you.

Which water bottle is right for you?

All sports water bottles are functionally the same – refillable receptacles that hold liquid, with a spout that allows you to drink that liquid. Simples. And yes, at the lower end of the range a simple bottle can be picked up for peanuts and will do the job of holding your water so you can drink it when you’re thirsty.

But taking a few other things into consideration – particularly sporting discipline, weather conditions, ease of drinking, ergonomics and materials available – has led to manufacturers refining the concept to now offer a range of sports-specific water bottles with features that you didn’t even know you needed.

• Capacity: How much liquid do you need? How much weight can you carry? Water bottles vary in capacity, from the standard ‘small’ and ‘large’ sizes of 500ml (16oz) and 750ml (25oz) to small belt-mounted flasks designed for runners and large shake mixers for the gym. In general your bottle’s capacity will depend on your chosen sport, but most cyclists will choose the 750ml size, mounting one or two bottles depending on the distance they intend to cover (or one bottle for water, one for energy drink). Runners may opt for the lighter weight of a slim 500ml or 620ml bottle, or choose a belt-mounted system.

• Material: While some ‘hard’ sports and outdoor bottles are made from materials such as stainless steel (for its thermal properties) and aluminium, most lightweight sports bottles are made of some type of plastic. Plastics used to make bottles include high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), copolyester, and polypropylene. LDPE is the least rigid so is usually used for ‘squeezy’ bottles, while polypropylene and copolyester (which is also transparent) are harder and more rigid. Look for materials free from bishenol-A (BPA), a material used in polycarbonate plastics over which health concerns have been raised. Also, many bottle manufacturers use plastic compounds or surface treatments which claim to prevent that ‘plasticy’ taste leaching in to the water flavour, which can happen when the bottle warms up – one reason to spend a few extra cents on a better-quality bottle.

• Shape: Bottle shape is important. Cycling bottles must be shaped so that they fit snugly into a standard bottle cage, with a moulded ‘collar’ to prevent them flying out on impact with bumps. Running bottles and flasks can be slimmer and more ergonomic to better sit in the hand.

• Mouth gape: While bottles with a narrow neck (when the lid is removed) may be fine for anyone just drinking water, a bottle with a wide gape makes it easier to put in ice cubes or scoops of nutrition powder when refilling. Wider-gape bottles are also easier to clean. On that – it’s worth checking whether your bottle is dishwasher safe if you don’t want to have to break out the Marigolds every time you need to scrub it out.

• Spout type: Spout types vary, from simple ‘push-pull’ type click valves to more complex types. A lockable valve, for example, can help prevent spillage in transport, while a bite valve or one-way flow valve may make liquid intake easier (they are self-sealing so you don’t have to remember to open or close them). You may also wish to consider flow rate – a large-aperture spout and squeezable bottle will offer a high flow rate, helping you get liquids on board quickly, such as in a race situation.

• Insulation: Insulated bottles feature double walls with a foam or vacuum middle layer that helps keep liquid colder (or warmer) for longer. Ideal for hot conditions where energy drinks turn into a lukewarm sweet soup, or cold climates where you need a hot beverage.

• Transparency: If you are just going to be drinking water, transparency isn’t a consideration, but anyone who intends mixing sports powders needs to see how much water they have put into the bottle in order to get the mix right. Hence the popularity of transparent bottles with graduated measuring strips on the side (like your measuring jug for cooking), or transparent viewing strips on non-transparent bottles.

Common types

Cycling water bottles
Narrow or wide neck. Shaped with ‘collar’ to prevent bouncing out of bottle cage.

Running water bottles and flasks
Ergonomic shape for ‘in the hand’ comfort. Smaller bottles may be worn as part of a belt hydration system.

Insulated water bottles
Double walls to keep your drinks warm or cool.

Aerodynamic water bottles and systems
Aero-shaped water bottles for time trial and triathlon cyclists, mounted via special changes or on the handlebars.

Wide-mouth, large capacity beakers with built-in mixers and filters for protein shakes.

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