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Shopping for a new water bottle to take with you outdoors can be as simple as picking up the first one you like from your local outdoor gear store. However, if you really want to get the most for your money and not be left with a leaking bottle when you’re miles from the nearest water source, it’s wise to do a little research first. Just like any other piece of gear, water bottles aren’t all created equal.
Vacuum insulated stainless steel water bottles are perfectly suited for outdoor use, such as hiking, mountain biking, camping, etc. They are more durable than rigid plastic bottles, will keep drinks cold/hold for longer than flexible plastic bottles, and are overall the longest-lasting bottle you could hope for. Their biggest advantages are their toughness when it comes to accidental drops (no shattering or cracks) and their ability to maintain beverage temperatures for many hours.
Hydro Flask stainless steel bottles are considered one of the best by outdoor enthusiasts and casual users alike. Hydro Flask bottle tick off every box, including attractive color options, all-day beverage temperature control, and a useful overall design (i.e. different mouth options). Although you can often find Hydro Flask for a good deal from online retailers, it goes without saying that these a bit expensive compared to standard water bottles.
RTIC bottles are a similarly designed vacuum insulated, double-walled stainless steel beverage bottle. If you’ve turned your search for bottles to Amazon, there’s little doubt that this bottle will come up on the first page of your search. The price-point makes it a tempting buy and the positive reviews from customers back that many are happy with their purchase support it.
There are a few important differences between the Hydro Flask and RTIC bottles. Comparing these differences and weighing the pros versus the cons will help you best decide which bottle will meet your needs.
Hydro Flask is the industry leader when it comes to insulated water bottles. You’d be hard-pressed to find any outdoor or sports gear store that doesn’t offer Hydro Flask bottles for sale. Although it might not be the absolute best, the advantages it does offer keeps it right up at the top of the list for best stainless steel beverage bottles on the market.
There are three main factors that make Hydro Flask so popular:
If you’re a fan of bold colors for your gear, you’re going to instantly gravitate towards Hydro Flask. Hydro Flask bottles come in 14 different colors, 7 sizes, 2 lid types, and 4 parts. This means that there are 183, 456 unique combinations in total. Most of their bottle colors are bright and colorful, but there are still neutral shades for those that don’t want something flashy.
The most important feature of a bottle designed for outdoor use is temperature control. Hydro Flask bottles are built with TempShield double wall insulative technology. Your drink will stay cold for up to 24hrs and hot for up to 12hrs. Additionally, the steel interior won’t hold flavors. So you can use it for your coffee in the morning and your water in the afternoon with no flavor-retention issues.
Just like having different color options is an advantage, so is having options for different caps/mouths. Some people like a simple wide-mouth to drink from while others enjoy a sport cap mouthpiece. It can be frustrating to buy a good bottle that meets all your needs except for the cap. Hydro Flask solves this issue by offering different accessories, including a Hydro Flip cap, Sport Cap, Flex Cap, and Straw Lid.
Another benefit of the previously mentioned TempShield technology is that these bottles are sweat-proof, meaning the outside of the bottle will remain dry and free of condensation. The bottle itself is made of professional-grade 18/8 stainless steel while the colored powder coating on the outside allows for a nice grip.
Hydro Flask bottles come with a lifetime warranty that the brand always seems to respect. There are few negative reviews for this bottle and even when a defective bottle makes it out to a customer, Hydro Flask is very quick to fix the problem and issue a replacement.
The only real downside to the Hydro Flask is the price. Price is very subjective, however. Considering how often you’ll use your bottle and how important a sturdy water bottle is out on the trail, spending anywhere from $30 to $50 (depending on size) is actually quite a small investment. Still, for those that want a good bottle but really don’t want to spend more than $25, Hydro Flask will be out of your budget.
RTIC bottles are considered a budget bottle by many. They aren’t necessarily the best stainless steel bottle on the market, but they do perform well when comparing the cost versus value.
RTIC bottles look very similar to YETI’s water bottle line. Unlike Hydro Flask’s sleeker design, the RTIC bottles look more like old-school Thermos. They are all fairly robust in size and have a wide mouth. Even the 18 oz bottle looks quite short and stout.
The three main design features of the RTIC bottles include:
Similarly to the Hydro Flask, the RTIC bottle claims to keep icy drinks cold for up to 24 hours. RTIC bottles can also be used for hot beverages, but the company fails to mention just how long this bottle can keep hot drinks warm for.
RTIC bottles are double-walled and vacuum-insulated. Aside from being what maintains temperature, this design also prevents sweat from forming on the outside of the bottle. This is especially helpful as the RTIC bottles don’t have a powder coating to help with grip.
RTIC bottles are usually purchased because of their low price. Compared to Hydro Flask they’re about half as expensive. A 26 oz RTIC bottle will be $15.99 while the 36 oz is $18.99.
RTIC bottles do come in quite a nice color range, with 16 colors to choose from or the choice of just basic stainless steel. Some colors are only available for certain bottle size however. The RTIC bottle offers no options for different lids/caps, so you’re limited to only wide mouth.
Additionally, the cap/mouth of the RTIC bottle is an annoyance to many. There is no gasket between the cap and the stainless steel mouth, which means when you remove/screw the cap back on, it causes a terrible screeching sound that some liken to nails on a chalkboard.
Hydro Flask bottles beat RTIC without a question.
Hydro Flask bottles are better designed, come in a plethora of customizations, and have small features that really improve user experience (i.e. powder-coated grip). Hydro Flask bottles will outlast RTIC bottles and many have found that they are tougher in design as well. Hydro Flask bottles are made of 18/8 professional-grade stainless steel while RTICs are only kitchen-grade. This can mean all the difference when your bottle is put through a lot of abuse out in the backwoods.
The RTIC bottle isn’t a bad bottle and could still be useful for more casual use, but overall saving up for a Hydro Flask is well worth the extra $20 or so you’ll spend.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.