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Hydration is an obsession of our times, and from the moment their tiny toddler can hold a cup, parents start fixating on how to get enough water into their children. Many preschools, camps, and grade schools also now require that you send your child with their own labeled water bottle, so the daily in and out from home to school and back again requires a hardworking vessel.
Most parents I know have cycled through quite a few water bottles in their day. Some break, some leak, and some get left at the playground (hopefully not your favorite). For an object so mundane, the world of kids’ water bottles offers more options than one may think. There’s insulated versus uninsulated, straw versus no straw, bottle size, and plastic versus metal, for starters. Beyond the materials and features of the bottle itself, one ought to consider the number of parts, ease of cleaning, and ability to withstand being tossed around and repeatedly dropped.
Leaking is the biggest, most common problem in flawed water-bottle design, followed by issues with mold. Mold is particularly a problem with bottles whose soft plastic straws trap moisture (and bacteria) in the drinking tube. I promise you don’t want your child drinking through that. Detachable straws are another pain point with many water bottles, as they get lost or fall off inside. Fortunately, many options offer built-in straws, lid alternatives, and leakproof solutions.
We spoke to parents, teachers, and nature educators about what else to look for — and avoid — and which water bottles kids use in their homes, programs, and classrooms.
What we’re looking for
Most bottles on the market are plastic or stainless steel; generally, stainless steel is more durable and can withstand the often careless hands of children. Stainless steel is also more resistant to mold than plastic because its smoother surface is harder for bacteria and mold to adhere to than plastic’s rougher exterior.
Insulation can keep your liquids very hot or very cold for the day. However, insulated bottles are a lot heavier than uninsulated ones, and some may not last as long if they go through the dishwasher regularly. Additionally, look into the level of insulation and whether the bottle can support hot and cold liquids if you’re looking to use it for both.
Depending on your child’s age, different tops will be preferable. Built-in flip-and-sip straws work best for toddlers and younger grade-school kids. They tend to have more intuitive opening, closing, and locking mechanisms, which means many kids will be able to drink from and refill the bottle on their own. Older grade-schoolers and tweens with more coordination may prefer twist caps and spout tops allowing them to drink more at once.
Volume and weight
Kids need bottles that will quench their thirst through a day of camp, day care, or school without having to refill them too often but that aren’t so big that they’re too heavy to carry. We recommend a bottle that holds 12 to 22 ounces of liquid and weighs one pound or less.
Care and maintenance
Bottles need daily washing, so if you have a dishwasher at home, you’ll want to consider a dishwasher-safe option. Plastic can take on some of the scent of dishwasher detergent, so we recommend using the unscented kind.
Best overall water bottle for kids
Material: Stainless Steel | Insulation: Double-wall vacuum insulation | Lid type: Built-in straw | Volume: 12 oz. | Weight: 1 lb. | Care and maintenance: Dishwasher safe
Dr. Dana March Palmer, a New York–based parent to a 3-year-old, likes the Yeti Rambler Jr., an insulated metal bottle that “keeps liquids cold or warm for a long time, is easy to clean, doesn’t leak, and comes in some great colors.” Multiple parents noted the bottle’s smart handle design, which makes it easy to grab and less likely to be dropped. This one is also a standout because its wide mouth and squatter shape make washing simple, and both the canister and the flip-and-sip straw are dishwasher safe.
Anyone who has picked up one of these bottles will recognize that it’s fairly heavy for its size, a testament to how unbreakable it is. Cookbook author Erin Gleeson notes that Yeti bottles are incredibly tough despite wear and tear from her three kids, and their thick steel construction makes them very durable. Strategist senior editor Winnie Yang sends her daughter to school, camp, and play dates with the Yeti Rambler Jr., and of the half-dozen bottles her family has in rotation, including the Thermos Funtainer and Takeya on this list, it’s her favorite for its durability and how easy it is to clean in the dishwasher. She and her daughter like the other lid options you can buy or swap in from larger Rambler bottles, like the Chug Cap and the MagDock, both with narrow mouth openings for tidier drinking; the latter’s cap secures conveniently to the top of the bottle with built-in magnets so it’s less likely to get lost.
My daughter also loves the Yeti for its customizability. She recently requested a “not babyish metal water bottle” for her 7th birthday, so we got her her first Yeti Rambler Jr., which she proceeded to cover with decals in the first few days and continues to drink from very proudly.
Best (less-expensive) water bottle for kids
Material: Stainless Steel | Insulation: Vacuum insulated | Lid type: Straw | Volume: 12 oz. | Weight: 4 oz. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe but handwashing recommended
Those who recommended Thermos’s Funtainer, a lighter-weight, insulated option with a silicone handle, were passionate about this bottle. It’s the “perfect size, works for hot or cold, never drips, never breaks, is satisfying to click open and closed, and is decently priced,” said Melanie Altarescu, a marketing executive and parent based in Brooklyn. Anjelika Temple, Co-Founder of Brit + Co and mom of two, added that it’s “easy for my 5- and 3-year-olds to open and close and refill on their own” and lauded the brand’s “chill color options” (there are also character-themed bottles for fans of Pokémon, Disney princesses, and Minecraft, among others). Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio, who swears by the Funtainer and especially appreciates its durability, said, “I’m shocked that they’re not way more dented given how the kids throw the things around.” While the Funtainer doesn’t keep beverages hot or cold for as long as the Yeti or the Hydro Flask, for standard daily use it gets the job done.
Best lightweight water bottle for kids
Material: Tritan Renew BPA-free recycled plastic | Insulation: Uninsulated | Lid type: Lock Top | Volume: 12 oz. | Weight: 4 oz. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe
“Water is heavy! The first thing you want in a kids’ water bottle is that it not be a giant weight in their backpack so they’ll actually carry their own water,” says Alexandra Lange, a Brooklyn-based design critic and parent of a 12- and 15-year-old. Her recommendation: Nalgene’s Kids On-the-Fly Sustain Bottle. Hofmann says this bottle is popular among the many families in her program in mid-coastal Maine. The drinking spout can be flipped open with one hand, and the “lock top is easy and fun for kids to use on their own,” she adds. It also has an intuitive locking mechanism to prevent leaks, and, maybe just as important, Lange says, it’s “always very clear when the lid is closed.”
Best kids’ water bottle for nature school
Material: Stainless Steel | Insulation: Double-wall vacuum insulation | Lid type: Built-in straw | Volume: 12 or 20 oz. | Weight: 9.6 oz. (12 oz. bottle size) | Care and maintenance: Dishwasher safe
Hydro Flask makes an insulated option similar to the Yeti Rambler Jr. featuring a flip-and-sip straw cap and a strong steel exterior that comes in two sizes, 12 or 20 ounces. Adrienne Hofmann, a nature-play facilitator in Whitfield, Maine, who spends her days with children outdoors in all weather conditions, noted that this bottle “keeps cool drinks cool and hot drinks (or broth) hot for hours. It’s suitable for any adventure and all seasons.” The Hydro Flask offers a finger loop for carrying rather than the burlier handle, and it has a slightly slimmer profile. It also provides a great surface for water-resistant stickers — or, for an extra $6, you can get your child’s name engraved directly on the bottle.
Best kids’ water bottle for hiking and camping
Material: 18/8 Stainless Steel | Insulation: Vacuum insulation | Lid type: Flip Straw | Volume: 22 oz. | Weight: 1 lb. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe
If you’re looking for a bigger bottle option for an outdoor adventure, Elizabeth Mastrianni, a mom of two kids, ages 7 and 4, recommends the Stanley IceFlow, which comes in a 22-ounce size. “It’s big enough for an all-day hike or camp,” she says, “but compact enough to be used daily at school.” This bottle also has a wide, sturdy handle that can be hooked onto a pack. Overall, Stanley was mentioned by multiple parents as a standout brand for durability and great customer service if you ever need to replace parts. The Stanley bottle is also notable its for ease of cleaning; all parts can go in the dishwasher.
Best kids’ water bottle with interchangeable tops
Material: Stainless Steel | Insulation: Both insulated (double-wall vacuum) and uninsulated options | Lid type: Loop cap, sport top | Volume: 12–27 oz. | Weight: 4.9–15.5 oz. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe
Klean Kanteen has long been a favorite water-bottle brand in my own household, largely because of the interchangeable tops. Zachary Finkelstein, a Brooklyn-based parent of two kids, 7 and 11, likes the rubber sport-top option on the uninsulated 12-ounce classic bottle. “It functions like a straw (without the plastic tubing) and has never leaked,” he says. Rion Nakaya, founder of The Kid Should See This video collection and parent of two, recommends the metal screw-top options: “They are super-easy to clean and don’t age. There are also no gross nooks and crannies,” which are common in other straw-based tops and can get gunky over time. Depending on your preference, the Klean Kanteen can be used with a plastic loop cap, a bamboo-and-metal loop cap, or a sippy top for younger kids. Klean Kanteens come in 12-, 18-, and 25-ounce insulated and uninsulated options, so you can choose the mix of features that best suits your kid.
Best water bottle for toddlers
Material: 18/8 Stainless steel | Insulation: Uninsulated | Lid type: Straw lid | Volume: 10–18 oz. | Weight: 7.5 oz. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe
For a toddler who’s new to drinking from a water bottle, Simple Modern’s Summit offers an abundance of more than 30 cute designs and combines a 100 percent stainless-steel bottle with a flip-top straw lid. It’s “lightweight, easy to use, and easy to hold” for small hands, says Renee Manorat, a parent to a 3.5- and a 1-year-old based outside of Boston. While this bottle does offer some insulation, it’s made to hold only cold liquids, unlike some of our other picks. The bottle comes in three sizes, ten, 14, and 18 ounces, and you can get it personalized with your child’s name or initials, which may keep it from getting lost at the playground.
Best kids’ large-volume water bottle
Material: 18/8 Stainless Steel | Insulation: Vacuum insulation | Lid type: Spout top | Volume: 18–64 oz. | Weight: 12.8 oz.–2.2 lbs. | Care and Maintenance: Dishwasher safe
As kids get older, or if your kids tend to get thirsty, Takeya Actives are a “great size for bigger kids who have graduated from straws,” says Michelle Curb, co-founder of the Gloria newsletter and a mom of two. Jen Hubbard, parent to a 5-year-old in Durham, North Carolina, also praised the size, commenting that “12-ounce water bottles aren’t big enough for my water-guzzling kid.” Takeya Actives are notably long-lasting and free of leaks, and none of our experts reported any issues with mold. However, the volume this style of bottle holds, from 18 to 64 ounces, means carrying more water weight, which may be overwhelming for smaller kids.
Takeya also offers 14-ounce insulated bottles with a straw top, recommended by Ms. Tamar, director of the Honeytree Forest School in Brooklyn. The children in her program spend much of their day outside in Prospect Park, and for their purposes, “the loop handle on top of this bottle is good for hooking quickly to the outside of a child’s backpack,” Ms. Tamar says. She also likes that the bottle is leakproof, which is “essential for working with groups of 3- and 4-year-olds!”
• Melanie Altarescu, marketing executive and consultant
• Michelle Curb, co-founder of Gloria
• Zachary Finkelstein
• Erin Gleeson, cookbook author
• Adrienne Hofmann, nature-play educator
• Jen Hubbard
• Alexandra Lange, design critic
• Renee Manorat
• Elizabeth Mastrianni
• Rion Nakaya, founder of The Kid Should See This
• Dr. Dana March Palmer, senior associate provost for academic programs and assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health
• Ms. Tamar, program director and lead teacher at Honeytree Forest School
• Anjelika Temple, co-founder and chief creative officer of Brit + Co
• Jen Trolio, Strategist senior editor
• Winnie Yang, Strategist senior editor
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