Translucent polycarbonate water bottles (plastic water bottles) made by companies like Nalgene and GSI Outdoors used to be the only thing going for hydration in the outdoors. Now metal is moving in.
Sigg Switzerland Inc. and Klean Kanteen are two prominent bottle makers respectively banking on aluminum and stainless steel to captivate the market. Recent scares of polycarbonate and plastic leaching chemicals like bisphenol-A — whether founded in truth and logic or not — has no doubt been good for business.
The paranoia and polemics of plastic bottles — which I covered in a column last year (see this article on Polycarbonate Polemics and this article addressing BPA in plastic water bottles for details) — is not the topic of discussion for this column. Instead, I want to discuss metal bottles from the standpoint of performance in the field.
Test No. 1 was on a mountain bike, and both Sigg Switzerland (www.sigg.com) and Klean Kanteen (www.kleankanteen.com) failed to impress. While the companies make bike-bottle-shape products, I found metal to be a poor material choice for cycling on the road or off.
Among my several gripes, the metal bottles were more slippery than plastic. They don’t stay put in bike bottle cages as well, and some metal bottles weigh significantly more than their plastic counterparts.
But my biggest complaint on the bike stems from the fact that you can’t squeeze a metal container to get liquid out. Instead, the bottles require sucking, which is hard when you’re pedaling and huffing and puffing in the saddle.
For hiking and general use, metal bottles fared much better in my tests. Indeed, Sigg’s 1-liter bottles, which weigh about 3 ounces when empty, are lighter than many comparable polycarbonate competitors. A similar-size Klean Kanteen weighs 8 ounces when empty, which is a bit hefty if you’re counting ounces and grams on a backpacking trip.
Sigg bottles are not exceedingly durable. I dropped one from a few feet up and its base crumpled in slightly like an accordion, though it did not leak. The heavier material used by Klean Kanteen is more sturdy.
Liquid in a Klean Kanteen contacts only stainless steel (and sometimes a plastic cap), whereas Sigg bottles are lined with a resin to keep water off the aluminum inner wall.
The caps on both companies’ bottles come in multiple styles, most of which are plastic. Two Klean Kanteen caps — the Loop cap and Flat cap — have stainless steel bases, keeping water from ever touching a plastic surface, which is important for some people.
Collectively, Sigg and Klean Kanteen sell bottles in dozens of shapes and sizes, and almost every one is more expensive than a comparable polycarbonate or plastic model. Sigg’s prices range from $15 to $20 for bottles up to 1-liter in size; Klean Kanteen’s prices go from $15.95 for an 18-ounce bottle to $23.95 for the 40-ounce.
Polycarbonate and plastic bottles are still staples for me during activity. Metal hasn’t revealed any big advantage for biking or hiking.
For everyday use, however, I employ Sigg and Klean Kanteen almost exclusively. I like the cleanliness of metal, the aesthetic of the bottle, and the perception metal gives of a clean, cold and unfettered taste.