Stainless-steel mugs are most often recommended by reviewers because they do the best job at keeping drinks hot or cold. In fact, a student at the University of Southern California found that double-walled mugs made from stainless steel insulate much better than plastic mugs. Stainless-steel mugs and tumblers also retain fewer odors and flavors from coffee drinks than plastic mugs. The best travel mugs are double-walled and some are vacuum-insulated, which helps them keep drinks hot or cold for longer periods of time. Stainless-steel travel mugs are durable, but they're more expensive than your typical plastic travel mug.
The Contigo AutoSeal Stainless Steel Travel Mug (*Est. $20) earns more recommendations than any other travel mug. It's one of the top-rated mugs at Amazon.com, and the mug is recommended by reviewers at Good Housekeeping, Men's Journal, Shape, Budget Travel and Automobile magazines. BusinessWeek names it one of the 50 coolest products of the 21st century. The stainless-steel tumbler is available in six colors, and the lid is made from BPA-free plastic. It's also vacuum-insulated, and the manufacturer claims it can keep beverages hot for four hours or cold for 12 hours. The mug holds 16 ounces of your favorite beverage -- about the size of a medium cup of coffee at most coffee shops. The Contigo AutoSeal Stainless Steel Travel Mug is 3.3 inches wide and 3.6 inches deep, so it should fit in most car cup holders. The brushed stainless-steel version is dishwasher-safe, but the colored mugs must be washed by hand; none of the Contigo AutoSeal mugs can be used in the microwave.
Overall, reviewers love the Contigo AutoSeal Stainless Steel Travel Mug, saying it's truly impervious to leaks and is spill-proof. It is one of the top travel mugs in a test of 28 mugs at Good Housekeeping, where testers praise the design and leak-proof lid. Reviewers at GreenThinkers.org, a blog on eco-friendly products, report no leaks or spills in their months of testing. Reviewers at Amazon.com are also impressed, giving the Contigo mug a 4.5-star rating in over 100 individual reviews. "Mine has traveled upside down in my bag and not one drop has ever leaked out," writes one owner. "It may well be the most leak-proof cup ever," writes Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Not a drop was spilled in any of the tough-love slams we gave the mug." A writer for Budget Travel carried the mug upside down in a bag and dropped it down a flight of stairs, yet it still didn't leak until the button was accidentally pressed by another item in his backpack. Users also say the insulation is superb, keeping drinks hot for 3 to 4 hours, as claimed by the manufacturer.
However, some find the lid hard to clean and say it develops a funky odor after repeated use. Some owners are willing to spend the extra time required to keep it clean, but others are simply grossed out by the residue that gets trapped inside the lid. In addition, there is no lip on the lid, and some users find it hard to drink from and say it is easy to burn your tongue on hot beverages. A few testers also note that the travel mug can fly out of car cup holders during sharp turns.
A similar thermal mug, the Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel LiquiSeal Travel Mug (*Est. $22) also earns a few professional recommendations, but it receives slightly lower user ratings than the Contigo AutoSeal Stainless Steel Travel Mug. The LiquiSeal Travel Mug is made from double-walled, vacuum-insulated stainless steel and has a BPA-free polypropylene lid. It holds up to 14 ounces of liquid, but needs to be hand washed and like all metal mugs, can't be used in the microwave. The 3-inch-wide mug will fit in most standard car cup holders.
The Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel LiquiSeal Travel Mug earns recommendations from Good Housekeeping and a respected cooking magazine. It's one of the top-rated thermal mugs in a test of 28 mugs at Good Housekeeping; testers say the lid is easy to open with one hand and the insulation is great at keeping drinks both hot and cold. "While the mug works fine for hot drinks, it's particularly good at keeping iced drinks cold," write the editors of Good Housekeeping.
While these two professional reviewers are impressed with the Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel LiquiSeal Travel Mug, long-term reviews from users are a little less enthusiastic. At Amazon.com, the Oxo LiquiSeal mug gets 4 stars out of 5 in over 200 individual reviews. Many users praise the leak-proof design and say it keeps their beverages hot for several hours. However, there are many complaints about the mug's lid. Quite a few owners say it is hard to clean, and after several months of use, residue can build up in the lid. Many of these users say they like the mug otherwise, but can't use it because they're too grossed out by the lid. "The lid has nooks that are impossible to reach or clean and it cannot be taken apart," writes one disappointed customer. "It's unfortunate because I really like this travel mug."
The Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Tumbler CSS1010 (*Est. $15) also earns a recommendation from reviewers at Real Simple magazine. The stainless-steel travel mug holds 16 ounces and does not have a handle. It's rated to keep drinks hot for four hours or cold for up to nine hours. Testers particularly like the easy-to-hold rubber grip. CoffeeGeek.com reviews a similar travel mug with the same name, but different model number, the Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Tumbler JMH400 (*Est. $20), which also includes a rubber grip, but it holds just 14 ounces. A reviewer at CoffeeGeek.com praises the durability after he subjects it to various torture tests, including experiments involving a baseball bat and a drop from a fast-moving car. However, he notes that the mug is not completely leak-proof, but it does keep his coffee nice and hot. Both mugs have plastic lids, but all Thermos mugs are BPA-free.
Travel mugs with handles can fit awkwardly (or not at all) in car cup holders, but they are convenient for those who walk or take public transportation to work.
Thermos makes a number of stainless-steel travel mugs with handles, including the Thermos Nissan Vacuum Insulated Leak-Proof Travel Mug JMQ400 (*Est. $26). The mug is made with double-walled, vacuum-insulated stainless steel, and it holds 14 ounces of liquid, keeping drinks hot for four hours or cold for eight hours. An integrated carabiner (a small clip attached to the handle) allows you to attach the mug to a bag or backpack. The mug has a BPA-free plastic lid.
The Thermos Nissan Vacuum Insulated Leak-Proof Travel Mug JMQ400 is the top-rated mug on Amazon.com, where it earns a 4.5-star rating in over 230 user reviews. In all, 89 percent of reviewers give the thermal mug a 4- or 5-star rating. The travel mug gets high marks for resisting leaks and spills, and it does a good job of insulating both cold and hot drinks. CoffeeGeek.com tests four Thermos mugs, and the Thermos Nissan Vacuum Insulated Leak-Proof Travel Mug JMQ400 is the clear winner when it comes to heat retention. The mug is also durable -- many reviewers say they've used it for years. "I've been using this mug daily for five years and I love it now as much as the day I bought it," writes one user at Amazon.com. However, the handle and 5.3-inch-wide base make this a better choice for walkers and those who use public transportation rather than car commuters, although most reviewers say it fits in their car cup holders.
The Contigo Extreme Stainless Steel Travel Mug (*Est. $20) has a narrower base that is sized to fit in most cup holders. It also has a handle with an integrated carabiner clip and textured grips for easy portability. The mug holds 16 ounces and the double-walled, vacuum-insulated design is said to keep beverages hot for four hours or cold for 12 hours. It includes a leak-proof lid made from BPA-free plastic. Wired gives it high marks in a comparative test of four travel mugs, where the Contigo mug posts the best results in the site's leak test. Editors also like the carabiner handle and stylish design. "The lid really is leak-proof when closed," writes one tester in a review at GreenThinkers.org, a blog on eco-friendly products. "That means I can throw it in my purse when it's empty and I don't have to worry about coffee dripping on my wallet." However, this same tester notes that the carabiner clip broke within the first month. Several users at Amazon.com report that liquid can get trapped under the rim of the lid, which makes it difficult to clean.
If you need a more rugged travel mug, the Thermos Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug E10500 (*Est. $28) is a top pick for camping or other outdoor adventures. The double-walled, vacuum-insulated travel mug has a handle and carabiner so you can clip it to a belt or backpack. It also comes in an identical version without a handle, the Thermos Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Tumbler E10501 (*Est. $24). The travel mug holds 16 ounces of liquid, and the manufacturer claims it will keep drinks hot for six hours or cold for eight hours. The rubberized base is 3.3 inches wide and 5 inches deep, which is good for stability, but makes it unlikely to fit in most car cup holders. The travel mug is not safe for the dishwasher or microwave.
Users at Amazon.com, where the Thermos Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug E10500 receives 4.5 stars out of 5 in 80 reviews, say the mug has excellent insulation, keeping liquids warm for four to six hours. It also earns high marks for stability, with users saying it's hard to tip over on a desk. Wired, which tests the Thermos Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Tumbler E10501, calls it a "camping staple" and "bombproof." In its test, the mug kept coffee hot for six hours. Men's Journal gets a similar result in its test, and editors praise the comfortable drinking lid. Some reviewers at Amazon.com also say the Thermos Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug E10500 and lid are easy to clean -- a problem that plagues other travel mugs. However, others complain about the wide base, while still others say the narrow mouth doesn't accommodate ice cubes for cold drinks.