Message in a Bottle
Reusable water bottles you'll actually want to use.
Laura Moser was online Aug. 23 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
Unless you're stationed in the rapidly disappearing Arctic, you've probably heard about the evils of bottled water these past few months. I've watched this whole slow-news-season "controversy" unfold with great interest, as it spoke to my own fraught love-hate relationship with bottled water.
Like many, I am both concerned about the environment and incredibly lazy. I also happen to be hydration-obsessed. I drink water around the clock in obscene, probably insalubrious quantities.
While I've tried to skirt the bottled-water issue whenever possible—I opt for tap both at home and at restaurants—I've never figured out how to get my fix when out and about. I dislike the tinny aftertaste of water-fountain water (which has never satisfied my volume requirements anyway). And the permanent water bottles I've tried were either too aggressively outdoorsy, or—like the commemorative Houston Astros squirt bottle I owned in the mid-1990s—too hideous.
Over the cries of my liberal conscience, I lapsed into the (yes: profligate, expensive) habit of buying bottled water en route to the subway several times a week. Sure, it's a rip-off, but the water is always so clean, so cool, so ... effortless.
What other options were there? The solution is clearly not, as one of several recent Times editorials (subscription required) on the subject recommend, to refill my Poland Spring bottle more than a few times. I don't mind the bacterial buildup these bottles' design encourages. But I certainly don't want to be gulping down the carcinogens and hormone disruptors that the PETE No. 1 plastic may leach after more than one use.
Last month, I decided to end this internal warfare once and for all. I went in search of a reusable water bottle that I actually liked—a stylish, versatile, easy-to-clean (and carry) container that I could refill anywhere, as often as my thirst dictated.
With one exception, the bottles I tested held roughly 1 liter of liquid. I enlisted the help of six friends and discovered, to my surprise, that there is no one water bottle for all seasons, or all peoples. Some of my ad hoc focus-group participants ranked the size of the bottle's mouth (and the possibility of spillage) as paramount, while others immediately rejected the uglier designs. Some focused on the taste of the water; others on the weight of the bottle. Despite these divergent priorities, some clear winners and losers eventually emerged.
I should add that what works on the trail doesn't always work in the mall, and vice versa. My quest was for a water bottle to accompany me in the urban, not the actual, jungle. It isn't only that I last went hiking in 1995. It's more that I seriously doubt the backpackers among us are responsible for the estimated 38 billion plastic bottles we sent to landfills last year.
I evaluated eight bottles, which ranged in price from $7.20 to $29.95, according to the following criteria:
Are there any health and/or environmental issues with the material? Is the bottle easy to clean? Dishwasher-safe? Is the price reasonable? Is the bottle easy to open and stow? Built to last?
I filled these bottles with tap and filtered Brita water. I used cold water, lukewarm water, and water that had been left sitting out overnight, then in the sunlight all day. I then conducted rigorous blind taste tests.
Design matters. If I feel stupid, or more stupid than usual, carrying a bottle around, I'll probably leave it at home and end up hitting the Volvic once again. The ideal water bottle will be an attractive lifestyle accessory that enhances all sorts of settings: not only the gym, but also the airport or the boardroom.
Portability is key. I evaluated weight, shape, size, and durability. Leakage and sweatiness were also considered: A bottle should fit inside your purse without imperiling your iPod. Does the bottle's mouth prevent or promote spillage? Does it dent when dropped? Can you sip from it in a moving vehicle without ruining your silk top?
Here are the results, from revolting to refreshing …
Katadyn Water Bottle Microfilter, $29.95 Though roughly the same size as the other bottles, the Katadyn holds only 21 ounces of water. That's because its central feature is a thick tubular filtration mechanism. While the Katadyn might be perfect for my next kayaking trip around Three Mile Island, I don't require its high-tech filtration system in my daily life. That being the case, I didn't find much to like about this bottle. It weighs too much for its capacity, and the water post-filtration tasted no different than water straight from the tap. Another flaw: The only path from bottle to mouth is through a thin straw attached to the filter. Squirting is therefore not optional, and cleaning is difficult, since the straw and filter are connected. The Katadyn also cost about 50 percent more than the next most expensive bottle tested, so leaving it on the subway would hurt.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.