Sunday, July 22, 2012

Battle Of The Bottles

A few weeks ago, I posted a not-entirely-favorable review of the Camelbak insulated water bottle (shown on the left). While I wasn't entirely enamoured of Camelbak's take on the concept, the continuing Tatooine-like conditions (apparently, I can't describe heat without a geeky Star Wars metaphor) gripping Iowa kept insisting that a way to keep water colder longer was a good idea.

Enter the Polar bottle, shown on the right. Polar's the grand-daddy of the insulated bottle... I remember selling these things way back before the turn of the century, though I never gave them much thought myself (some kind of retro-snobby "regular bottles are fine" sentiment, methinks). At first glance, the Polar seems to address some of the shortcomings I noted in my Camelbak review:
  • THE CAP: On the Camelbak bottle, there's a rubber membrane (the blue part) covered by a rubbery plastic cap (the clear part). The whole thing twists (at those silvery wings) to provide a total seal. The Polar bottle uses a more traditional cap, similar to standard Specialized water bottles... a soft rubber poppet that pulls in and out of a plastic valve to provide a seal. Both provide water when you want it and seal when you don't, but the Polar does it more simply.
  • CARE AND FEEDING: I still have no idea how to clean that clear part over the membrane on the Camelbak bottle and keep it free of gunk. The circumcised cap (ew, now I'll be stuck with that image every time I take a drink) on the Polar bottle, however, provides easy access to all drinking parts. Also, while Camelbak specifically says their bottle should not go in the dishwasher, Polar specifically says yes to the lazy-man's cleaning technique... a real bonus for this lazy man.
  • LEAKAGE: Sadly, both bottles fall prey to the dreaded threaded-cap spillage. The Polar seems to do it a little less than the Camelbak, but both will still provide an unprovoked frontal shower from time to time.
  • COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Okay, full disclosure, I did not mention this in my original review of the Camelbak, simply because I'm not usually one to get my knickers in a huge twist over where products are produced (please, spare me the flames). However, for those who do twist their knickers over such things, the Camelbak is Chinese while the Polar's from the U. S. of A.
  • SQUEEZABILITY: I didn't mention this one either, but since Commenter Steve did in regards to his Polar, I'll mention it here. The double-wall construction of both bottles does make it tougher to squeeze out a drink with my desk-job-soft hands. Both share this trait in equal measure, and both can be suckled, so it's a push (I probably didn't notice since I'm used to entirely un-squeezable Kleen Kanteens).

So, you're asking (those of you who haven't dozed off yet, that is), how do they perform in the sauna? As luck would have it, I did two hours of suffering in the 100-something heat index today with both bottles. This is how much I care about you, dear reader. I suffer for my art.

Both bottles left the house filled with as many ice cubes as I could cram in, then topped  off with cold water. Both earn high marks for easy-ice-fillabilty, by the way... the wide mouths allow me to pack them with cubes straight from the fridge door ice dispenser. After an hour of riding in some pretty intense sunlight, both bottles, still had a few ice cubes left, and the water was still brain-freezingly cold in both. I did my best to alternate my drinks between the two, figuring that each drink probably introduced warm air into the bottle and accelerated warming (nothing scientific here, but I made an effort). After an hour and a half, both were free of ice, but the water I hadn't already sucked out was still refreshingly cool. At that point, I'd pretty much drained both and had to refill them from a not-incredibly-cold water fountain. Those refills were still tolerable at the two-hour mark but were slowly headed toward soup temperature.

(Verbose Parenthetical Aside: One more thing I hadn't noticed before today's test was the width of these bottles. I'd been running one insulated bottle only, and put it in my downtube cage. With either one in my seattube cage, I had to position the bottle very carefully to keep from grazing it with my calves. Those with less-fat calves or wider cranks might not notice, though. This "feature" was shared by both bottles, so it's a push. It may also be shared with conventional wide-mouth bottles, since I haven't run one of those in a seattube cage in years.)

The bottom line? If there was a difference in these bottles' ability to insulate, it was much too subtle for my heat-addled brain to detect. Both did a great job providing cold water long after the point where a conventional bottle (even one that started the day packed with ice) would have been delivering a steaming serving of broth. My preference is for the Polar just for its simplicity and dishwasherability, though it would be better with a bit more attention paid to leak-proofing the threaded connection.


Adeline Bash said...

Jason, thank you for the positive review of the Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle! As for the leaking, you might have a bad cap (we try our hardest to catch them but they sometimes slip through). We offer free replacement caps to all customers, no questions asked. Please check out our website for more info or feel free to email me directly ( and we will get you taken care of. Thanks again!

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Adeline, thanks for your comment!

I should amend my review (and will, in an upcoming "Things I Tried and Liked in 2012" post) to say that I'm not sure how accurate my first impression of leakage was. I think that a less-than-careful filling technique can catch some water in/around the threaded area, which -- being outside the real seal -- will make its way down the drinker's shirt. It's not a leak, really, just a bit of stray water outside the bottle.

Glad to know that Polar stands behind a cap if you happen to get a bad one -- one more checkmark in the "pro" column for this reviewer.