Friday, August 23, 2013

Water Bottle Scoring System

This was inevitable, as inevitable as gravity.  My obsession with gear and design coupled with a significant weight lose caused by reforming my diet and drinking more water led me to a fixation on water bottle design.  I started this site by writing about things I would be interested in reading, so I thought this would follow from that idea.  If it doesn't work, oh well.

Here is a bad picture of my Camelbak Insulated (or is it a warp core from Star Trek?  Nerd alert...)

IMG_2661

Another reason I decided to do this is because water bottles are starting to get very expensive, relatively speaking, and complex.  In researching a bottle I took on a long road trip (purchased: Thermos Nissan Backpack Bottle, my first review, coming up), I realized there was no serious effort at reviewing water bottles or discussing the benefits and drawbacks.  A few magazines or popular generalized websites did a shootout (here is one, and here is another), but there is no systematic effort to review water bottles.  There is, of course, the greatest thread in EDCF history, discussing water bottles, but again no ranking system.  Given the increased complexity and lack of real reviews, I thought this might be helpful.  

It might also cross over with a different group of folks and bring in more and different readers to the website.  That's not the reason I am doing this.  I am doing this because I wish someone had done it when I was looking for a water bottle and well, I carry my bottle everyday, so it is definitely EDC material.  In fact, I carry my water bottle more often than my watch.  It would be awesome if Yoga Mom came for the water bottle review and stayed for the SAK Alox Cadet review.  More readers with different points of view is always a good thing.  But it is not the goal.  The goal, as always, is to give you folks good, researched, and understandable information.  If this doesn't work, if you don't like it, it will go away.  I am well aware that this just might be jumping the shark.  Then again, it might not be.  Only time will tell. 

One more thing, unlike in other reviews, I will not be giving these away.  Water bottles aren't disposable, that is one of their advantages over the Dasani's of the world, but they are little too used to be transferred between non-related folks.  I am not sure what I will do with the samples, but just like you don't want a swimsuit someone returned to the store, you probably don't want my old water bottle.

There is, right now, no GREAT water bottle out there.  There are some good ones, but nothing truly outstanding, no 20 out of 20s.   Not even close.   Hopefully this scoring system will help sharpen the issue and maybe a designer or two will take notice and change things.  People think the Kleen Kanteen is the iPhone of water bottles, only because it is the least worst option.  The real iPhone of water bottles has yet to be made.   And when it is, someone will make a load of dough because the water bottle business is booming and these things are cheap to make.

The scoring system will work like any other scoring system I have, 20 points total in ten categories.  Within each category the scores range from 0-2.  0 indicates a failure in that category, a 1 indicates average performance, and a 2 indicates excellent, well above average performance.  A score of 20 out of 20 should be rare, but that alone does not indicate perfect.  A perfect score is reserved for a flawless product (20 out of 20) that has that something extra that makes it unrivaled.  I do not consider price directly in handing out scores, though a $300 item needs better fit and finish to get a 2 than a $30 item.

Here are the other scoring systems:

Folding Knives
Addendum to Folding Knife Scoring: "Blade Safety" Update
Flashlights
Packs and Bags
Multitools
Fixed Blade Knives
Pens

Generally, there are three or four shared categories and then product specific ones.  Here the carry overs are:

Design
Fit and finish
Carry
Grip

Design, again, is how that thing looks on paper.   Fit and finish is how the design is implemented in real life.  Carry is how easily the water bottle is carried around.  Grip is how easy the bottle is to hold.

Drink Quality

It seems pretty obvious to me, but for whatever reason this needs to be spelled out because so many bottles get this so freakin' wrong.  I do not want to drink water from the threaded portion of the bottle, which could cause spills.  I do not want to drink water from a metal rim, which could impart taste or be uncomfortably sharp.  I don't want something that chokes off the water flow, but I also don't want the "ice at the bottom of the cup" tidal wave.  The absolute perfect, and I mean perfect, drinking lid is the Human Gear CapCap, which is compatible with a large number of different bottles, from the Nalgenes to the Kleen Kanteens and many in between (ho, HO, a rhyme).  It is gently curved and without sharp edges.  It allows for a moderate amount of water flow and has ZERO flavor.  It is perfect.  So, so many are not.  The Camelbak bite piece and straw are great for bladders or folks that drink on bikes or others that need hands free drinking, but for those of us that don't it is a compromise not worth making.  It causes spills and imparts flavor.  The Kleen Kanteen Rotating Lid is okay but chokes off the water, especially when there is ice in the bottle.  It is not ideal either.  None of the bottles on the market that I have tried come close to the Human Gear CapCap.    

Materials

This is pretty interesting.  All three of the main materials have some drawbacks and some benefits.  Glass, of course, imparts no flavor and can be used for multiple liquids.  But it is heavy and can shatter.  Tritan imparts flavor and can't insulate well, but it is as durable as all get out, taking bumps with aplomb.  Stainless steel imparts a little bit of flavor and can be well insulated but gets dinged easily.  Some designs are better than the materials would lead you to believe so it is important to look at not just what is used (materials) but how it is used (design and durability).  Again there is nothing close to perfect on the market.  I'd like a bottle that is as insulated as stainless steel, as dent resistant as Tritan, and as taste-free as a glass.  Unfortunately, there is nothing out there like that.  Yet.

Insulation

It seems silly to me that there are bottles out there that are not insulated.  If you go through the effort of carrying a water bottle and filling it in the morning (or whenever you leave) you probably want the contents to remain as you had them through out the day.  Additionally, there are very few beverages that we like to drink at room temperature, alcohol like wine or vodka, and they have their own special containers called flasks.  As such a bottle should be insulated.

There a lots of different ways to insulate a bottle, but they all are aiming at the same thing--allowing the  liquid inside to maintain its original, intended temperature as long as possible.  Some come with a sleeve.  I have found those to be wanting.  Others are stainless steel.  These work very well, but for reasons mentioned above, there are drawbacks.  Once the steel's seal (say that three times fast) is broken through drops or dents, the insulating ability is also destroyed.  Finally, there are insulated Tritan bottles that I have tried, but these are really more "insulated" than insulated.  They are about 1/3 as effective as stainless.

Durability

This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do in a bottle.  Lots of designs have weak points.  Stainless steel bottles get dings almost instantly.  Glass bottles can shatter and suffer catastrophic damage.  Tritan is nigh indestructible, but virtually every bottle's cap is an Achilles heal.  Some have lids that seem to be attached with perforated paper.  Some seem to have disks or rotating pieces that are made to jam.  There are a host of problems with water bottles on the market today and durability is the number one issue, in my opinion.

Leakproof

Lots of bottles claim to be "leakproof".  Thus far, none I have tried have been.  But it is like Animal Farm, all bottles that claim to be leakproof are leakproof, but some are more so than others.  The ultimate test of a bottle being leakproof is whether or not it can be placed in a bag, jostled around and upside down, and still remain dry.  When I have a bottle that does this consistently, I'll let you know.  None have thus far, though the Thermos Nissan Backpack Bottle is pretty good. 

Ease of Cleaning

All of the high tech lids and materials are all for not if you can't get the damn thing clean.  Very few bottles do this well.  The Human Gear CapCap is again the model of perfection, but no standard lids even come close.  A wide open mouth helps, I'm looking at you Kleen Kanteen, but that is not all.  I'd like the whole bottle to be two parts--cap and bottle, not this mish mash of plastic, rubber, and Tritan like a Camelbak.

First review: Thermos Nissan Backpacker


10 comments:

  1. There needs to be a taste category. With plastic water bottles or leather wine skin bags (bota bags), taste is a metric separate from materials that should be rated.

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    Replies
    1. This will be covered by drink quality and materials. Tritan holds smells which makes you think it imparts taste but a good cap removes the smell and makes you THINK the water tastes better.

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    2. Another reason I decided to do this is because water bottles are starting to get very expensive, relatively speaking, and complex.
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  2. That backpack bottle does look quite nice. I normally use this one by Thermos.

    http://www.amazon.com/Thermos-Nissan-Intak-Hydration-Bottle/dp/B001EGGQB6

    It's non-insulated Tritan, but it's as leakproof as I've found and the cap design works well for me.

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  3. For a few years I've been using bottles from G2V. They're vacuum-insulated stainless steel, and will keep drinks cold for over 24 hours regardless of ambient temperature. I tested one by packing it full of ice and leaving it outside on a summer day. After two full days there was still ice left in the bottle. It retains this performance even after being dropped and dented, which I've done numerous times. The narrow-mouth bottle has an internally threaded plastic lip that is taste-free and pleasant to drink from. The cap itself has a beefy silicone o-ring that seals completely. The bottle can be filled to capacity and inverted without leaking. This is my perfect bottle, the only caveat being dry weight: it's much heavier than a Nalgene.

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  4. I'm very much looking forward to this series! After spending imho way too much on a SS "better bottle" and pretty much hating it, I'm going to give the capcap a try.
    hopefully you will find a bottle suited for my needs and spare me the disappointment of more expensive bottles that can't stand up to a PET. thanks!

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  5. Definitely looking forward to your reviews. You're right, a detailed review of these bottles is lacking.

    Recently ordered a Kleen Kanteen--perhaps I should have waited. :-)

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  6. There is only one bottle worth talking about - the hydroflask. Head and shoulders above anything else.

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  7. I started this site by writing about things I would be interested in reading, so I thought this would follow from that idea. If it doesn't work, oh well. this blog

    ReplyDelete