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Stainless-steel vs. aluminum water bottles

The two big names in metal water bottles, Klean Kanteen and Sigg, each use a different material to make their products. Sigg makes its bottles from aluminum, which requires a proprietary liner; Klean Kanteen's bottles are made from food-grade stainless steel, which doesn't require a liner. Each company touts the benefits of its respective material, and it's clear that stainless steel and aluminum are both better choices than disposable bottles or plastics containing BPA.

In the aluminum vs. stainless-steel debate, it appears that both types of bottles could be good picks in different situations. Environmental Defence, a Canadian nonprofit that led the charge against BPA in Canada, recommends glass or stainless-steel drinking bottles for water and lined aluminum bottles for juice or other drinks. Sheryl Eisenberg, an advisor to the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, recommends food-grade stainless-steel bottles.

Beyond health concerns, there are other considerations. When it comes to portability, aluminum offers some benefits. Namely, aluminum weighs less than stainless steel, so aluminum water bottles are usually several ounces lighter than their stainless-steel counterparts. This may be important if you carry your bottle on a regular basis. With weight, however, comes durability. Tests we've seen indicate that the stainless-steel Klean Kanteen bottles are more durable than the aluminum Sigg bottles.

Best metal water bottles

While it's clear that both bottles have their fans and critics, we include the Klean Kanteen instead of the Sigg in our Best Reviewed list for several reasons. In our latest roundup of reviews, the water bottles are nearly equal in recommendations, but there have been concerns about potential BPA contamination from older Sigg liners because the company refuses to release the secret ingredients of its proprietary liner. Sigg did release a new liner, called the Sigg EcoCare Liner, in January 2009. It's a baked-on, polymer powder coating that replaces the epoxy resin found in older Sigg water bottles. Many consumers see this as a step in the right direction, but Sigg still won't say what the EcoCare Liner is made of -- although the company says the liner has been tested and deemed free of BPA and phthalates. Still, while the liner is probably perfectly safe, critics fault Sigg for lacking transparency. On its website, Sigg gives some information about its liner but doesn't state specific ingredients.

Even though both Sigg and Klean Kanteen get their fair share of recommendations, in recent head-to-head tests the Klean Kanteen comes out on top more often. In a comparative test conducted by Wired, the Klean Kanteen water bottle gets higher marks for style and durability than the Sigg water bottle. After dropping both bottles -- and running each over with a car -- reviewer Daniel Duman calls the Klean Kanteen the "toughest we tested." In another test by the Gardenaut blog, the Klean Kanteen gets a "high" rating for durability and a "good" rating for value, while the Sigg bottle gets a "moderate" score for durability and a "fair" rating for value. The Klean Kanteen is also a favorite over the Sigg bottle in a Time magazine test, and a Men's Journal review calls the Klean Kanteen "simple and bulletproof -- a beefier cousin of the Sigg." The Sigg bottle does rate higher than the Klean Kanteen in one older test by Slate.com, where the Klean Kanteen gets knocked for being too heavy.

The Klean Kanteen Classic water bottle (*Est. $18 for 27-oz. bottle) is made with 18/8 food-grade stainless steel. It comes in 12-, 18-, 27- and 40-ounce sizes, with your choice of a polypropylene sport, loop or flat cap. If you want to avoid plastic altogether, the loop and flat caps are also available in stainless steel (*Est. $6), and Klean Kanteen has released the limited-edition Klean Kanteen Reflect (*Est. $33 for 27-oz. bottle), which is completely free of paint and plastics. The 27-ounce Classic bottle weighs a little more than 6 ounces empty. Its exterior is brushed stainless steel, although glossy colors (*Est. $20 for 27-oz. bottle) are also available. The Klean Kanteen bottles are dishwasher-safe and the nearly 1.75-inch opening can fit ice cubes. In durability tests, it performs very well. It suffers a few dents in drop tests, but survives being run over by a car in Wired's test. Jeremiah McNichols at the Gardenaut blog says "this water bottle is a tank," and finds that it suffers only minor dents when dropped.

The Klean Kanteen water bottle also gets very high marks in more than 1,300 owner-written reviews on Amazon.com. Most owners say water tastes fresh -- without a metallic taste -- and a tight seal helps prevent leaks. Since the Klean Kanteen isn't insulated, the biggest complaint owners have is excessive sweating. If you regularly drink cold beverages or live in a hot climate, reviewers suggest buying an insulation sleeve. Some also report that the sport cap makes an annoying squeaky noise, but overall, most owners are overwhelmingly pleased with the Klean Kanteen. It's also the highest-rated stainless-steel bottle among user reviews on Buzzillions.com.

Sigg water bottles (*Est. $25 for 1-liter bottle) come in four main collections, Widemouth, Design, Classic and Kids, although the Design and Classic lines are functionally the same. The Sigg Classic bottles come in glossy or matte solid colors, while the Design collection offers dozens of designs and colors including a Vivienne Westwood-designed limited-edition bottle. Both the Design and Classic lines feature Sigg's trademark Traveler bottle. As mentioned previously, Sigg water bottles are aluminum with a proprietary liner that's said to be free of BPA. Most Sigg bottles come with the screw top, but for an additional cost four other types of tops are available: kids (*Est. $5), sport (*Est. $5), retro flat (*Est. $7) and active (*Est. $7). Sigg water bottles get high marks for design -- reviewers love their splashy graphics and multitude of color options – but durability seems to be a concern in some reviews. In a Good Housekeeping test, two Sigg Traveler bottles perform well on leak and spill tests but suffer "serious dents" in drop tests. In Wired's test, a Sigg water bottle withstands freezing and dropping, but not crushing.

Sigg water bottles get excellent ratings at Buzzillions.com and Amazon.com, where reviewers praise the lightweight design, array of color options and lack of a metallic taste. Most owners say Sigg bottles do a great job of keeping water fresh. However, even reviewers who like the Sigg bottles overall acknowledge that they dent easily. One of the biggest complaints about Sigg bottles is that the opening is too narrow to accommodate ice cubes and makes it harder to clean the interior of the bottle. Sigg water bottles are dishwasher-safe, but the company recommends washing by hand. To meet the needs of consumers who want a wider opening, Sigg offers wide-mouth bottles in the Classic Traveler shape (*Est. $25 for 1-liter bottle) and Sport version (*Est. $25 for 0.75-liter bottle), both of which easily accommodate ice cubes. The Widemouth Sigg bottles come in almost as many colors and patterns as the Classic bottles.

It's worth noting that Sigg offers a Steelworks line, which boasts the traditional Traveler bottle (*Est. $22 for 1-liter bottle) as well as a Vintage Flask (*Est. $20 for 0.4-liter bottle), Thermos (*Est. $35 for 0.75-liter bottle) and Metro Mug (*Est. $25 for 8.5-oz. bottle), among other styles, in 18/8 food-grade stainless steel. While the line appears to be slow to catch on with reviewers, it seems to be a good option for Sigg loyalists who want a more durable steel bottle.

Nalgene also ventured into the metal water bottle market with the Guyot Designs Backpacker (*Est. $25 for 32-oz. bottle), but it appears Guyot Designs is now exclusively selling this bottle. The Backpacker is made from 18/10 stainless steel, with a wide mouth that can accommodate ice and most filtration systems. In a Good Housekeeping review, testers appreciate the attached lid and large mouth for easy cleaning. However, the Guyot Designs Backpacker is quite heavy at 12.3 ounces empty, some testers find the lip too thick to drink from comfortably and the water bottle dented in a drop test. The Guyot Designs Backpacker also receives an Editor's Choice award from Outside magazine.

EarthLust is another company producing metal water bottles, although not quite on the scale of Nalgene, Sigg or Klean Kanteen. Their stainless-steel water bottles (*Est. $16 for 13-oz. bottle) are available in 13-ounce, 20-ounce and 1-liter sizes in various colors and designs. The stainless-steel body is topped with a BPA-free polypropylene cap and a metal carabiner for easy portability. EarthLust bottles aren't as ubiquitous as other metal water bottles, so they attract fewer reviews. HuffingtonPost.com reviewer Lindsay Armstrong suggests EarthLust as a more stylish alternative to the Klean Kanteen. "This is where water bottle meets fashion accessory!" she writes. Elizabeth Turner, the editor in chief of Vegetarian Times, calls the EarthLust water bottle one of her "personal faves," saying she gets lots of compliments on her small 13-ounce bottle.

All of the metal water bottles mentioned above are single-walled, meaning they'll sweat and feel cold or hot to the touch depending on the liquid you put into them. ThinkSport water bottles (*Est. $20 for 25-oz. bottle) are double-walled stainless steel with a vacuum seal, so they don't sweat or transmit heat or cold to the exterior. ThinkSport bottles are BPA-free, and are available in 12- or 25-ounce sizes in silver and several other colors with an attached screw top. These water bottles also include a removable mesh filter that prevents ice cubes and tea leaves from entering the spout. The ThinkSport is a top pick in the Gardenaut comparative test, where it scores excellent ratings for durability, value, insulation and design. After four hours in a hot car, the water temperature inside the ThinkSport bottle didn't exceed 60 degrees. Among owners on Amazon.com, the ThinkSport gets high marks for keeping water cool, and the exterior doesn't heat up when the bottle is filled with boiling water. However, multiple owners complain about the cap strap getting in the way when drinking from this bottle.

Almost synonymous with insulated containers, Thermos also offers double-walled, vacuum-sealed stainless-steel bottles. The Raya Vacuum Insulated Hydration Bottle (*Est. $21 for 18-oz. bottle) boasts a push-button lid and straw. Available in a variety of stylish designs, it outperformed all other bottles in Gardenaut's insulation test, earning it a Top Pick. The Thermos Vacuum Insulated Commuter Bottle (Est. $31 for 16-oz. bottle) offers a similar push-button lid, but instead of a straw, this container has an open top for sipping without constraints. The Commuter offers fewer style options than the Raya, but HuffingtonPost.com says, "The Vacuum Insulated Commuter Bottle is a great, versatile container for everyday use."

The Green Bottle (*Est. $17 for 25-oz. bottle) also received attention from reviewers, but not nearly as much as other manufacturers' water bottles. HuffingtonPost.com recommends the Green Bottle as a less expensive alternative to comparable containers. In fact, this bottle is priced relatively close to ThinkSport's and Klean Kanteen's bottles, but the few Amazon.com reviews we saw aren't overwhelmingly positive. Users complain that the Green Bottle isn't durable and that the paint peels or seems to melt.

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Klean Kanteen 27oz with Loop Cap Stainless
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Thinksport Ss Bottle 750ml-blu SB9750BLUE
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Sigg Thermo Ring Top Water Bottle (0.75-Liters)
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Klean Kanteen Reflect Stainless Steel 27 Ounce Water Bottle with Bamboo Cap
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Thermos Raya 18-Ounce Hydration Bottle, Henna
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