Drinking Games

Worried about water? These safe water bottles let you BYOB in style.


I’m a hydrophile. One of my cardinal rules for travel, whether to the antipodes or to the neighborhood park is, “Water: don’t leave home without it.” But lately staying hydrated on the go has become a Gordian knot of health and ethical issues. One problem is that manufacturing containers for the 9 billion gallons of bottled water we bought last year in the United States uses a lot of oil and energy, while most of those bottles end up in landfills or the ocean. And bottled water is less regulated than the tap water available for free from your local faucet.

So, like many people, I took to refilling my old bottles with tap water. Turns out that’s not such a good idea either: A number of studies have shown that many types of plastics used in water bottles can leach some nasty chemicals, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. The worst offenders contain either #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or #6 polystyrene (PS) plastics, but the very common #1 plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PETE), isn’t great either, especially by the umpteenth refill. Even more durable bottles aren’t free and clear—as they age, hard plastic containers that use a #7 polycarbonate plastic can leach the hormone disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA).

The popular brand Nalgene has been in the news lately precisely because it uses this plastic in many of its bottles, however the company announced on April 18 that it is phasing out production of its consumer bottles containing BPA and many, if not all, of those bottles have been pulled from store shelves. 

While none of these chemicals have an instant impact, they’re not the kind of things I want accumulating in my body every time I take a sip. This gradual exposure is especially a concern for children, whose bodies are still developing.

What’s a thirsty traveler to do? Thankfully, there are many alternative bottles on the market that cut right through the dispute. Sure, they cost a bit more than your nearest Poland Spring, but they’re well worth the investment. Here are a few of my favorites.

Stainless Deals

One of the best options is a stainless steel bottle. They’re durable, non-toxic and match all your fancy kitchen appliances. In addition, its chromium content helps stainless steel have a strong resistance to stain or rust. The company KleanKanteen offers a variety of sizes and cap shapes, including one that converts their 12-ounce bottle into a sippy cup. Its 27-ounce model ($17.45) has a nice, wide neck and fits most cupholders. And KleenKanteens are dishwasher safe (not the caps, though). If you like your water cold (or your coffee hot, and I do mean all day), the super-sleek Nissan Silver Bullet Vacuum Bottle ($25.99) offers superior insulation in a compact design. The twist-off cup allows you to drink without hauling the whole thing around. The downsides to stainless steel are that it is quite a bit heavier than the old plastic standbys, some people dislike the taste it imparts to water and about 10-15 percent of the population are sensitive to nickel (used in making stainless steel).

Aluminum Foiled

For tipplers who are design- as well as eco-conscious, some of the coolest looking reusable bottles are made of aluminum. Swiss manufacturer SIGG has more than 100 designs to choose from, including cute kids bottles, like the 13-ounce Astronaut design with a glow-in-the-dark lid ($17.99). One practical concern is that SIGGs have a pretty narrow neck, which makes effective cleaning difficult unless you also buy its special brush. Though its products are a little harder to find in the United States, Spanish bottle-maker Laken also has developed a cult following among consumers who appreciate the company’s chic containers, wide mouths and lightweight construction. The ISO 70 ($28.99) is filled with insulating aerogel, and its Laken Jr. line features fun, colorful designs. Buyer beware: Aluminum has its own health risks, though SIGG bottles are lined with a non-leaching, water-based epoxy and Laken with a somewhat scary-sounding phenolic epoxy—both approved by the FDA, for what that’s worth

Plastic Fantastic?

If you’re not ready to give up on plastics completely, you can at least opt for bottles that use safer kinds of plastic. Nalgene’s 32-ounce HDPE bottle is made of relatively innocuous #2 plastic and comes in at a very affordable $6.60. The company also recently introduced its BPA-free Everyday line, made with Eastman’s Tritan copolyester. The line includes its iconic 32-ounce water bottle and the Grip-N-Gulp sippy cup. For portability though, it’s hard to beat the collapsible bottles from Platypus, which are made from #5 polypropylene plastic. The one-liter model ($7.95) weighs less than an ounce and folds down to the thickness of a newspaper when emptied. 

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

Platypus I'm a huge fan of the Platy bottles. They're highly versatile--can be folded down to pocket-size when empty, filled with boiling water, exposed to freezing conditions. I've used many sizes, and find the 1 liter handy for every day travel.

SIGG bottles I have a SIGG and love it!

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