REI is one of the most trusted Outdoors supply companies in the world. It is known for high product quality standards as well as for stocking many of the latest in outdoor, travel and survival merchandise. As you might expect, this company offers many different types of water bottles, both on its e-commerce site and at brick-and-mortar locations. You can find almost any water container you might need at REI, from a super-durable plastic bottle to an insulated steel canteen for arctic excursions. In this article, we will review REI water bottles, single out a few popular options and look at some of the other places where you can buy your liquid storage equipment.
An Overview of the Bottle Selection at REI
As mentioned before, REI is an outdoors store. Therefore, most of the bottles you will find there have a specific survivalist application. Others are simply rugged, high-quality containers. Some are adaptable for the daily commuter, and some are best for extended adventures, large expeditions or group camping trips.
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Refining the Selection
We had to narrow down the catalog of water containers available at REI before reviewing. That's because there are a lot of specialty items, such as high-capacity bottles for longer trips and lightweight hydration systems for trail runners. This review is focused on general-use bottles that you're likely to see used as somebody's primary personal water container.
A Range of Capacities
Generally, when you're shopping for a water bottle, you'll want to look for a capacity of somewhere around 32 ounces — one liter in metric. Go any smaller, and you might not have enough capacity to last between refills. Buy something larger, and the weight of a full bottle — not to mention the tare weight of the empty bottle — could become too much of an encumbrance for even relatively short treks.
Speaking of weight, lightweight is the name of the game unless you are doing most of your transport by boat or motor vehicle. Even if you're on a touring bike, a reduced load could be a good thing. With the bottles REI offers, it's usually pretty simple to lose a few ounces here and there.
You shouldn't have to worry too much about durability if you're shopping at REI. The company makes a point to only stock high-quality products. Of course, the trade-off for the quality selection and wide variety is that you pay a significant percentage over most other retailers. For some people, the confidence in quality is enough. After all, you certainly wouldn't want to cut corners if you were planning to stake your life on the quality of your camping gear.
REI Customer Service and Returns
Customer service at REI is good — in fact, it leads the industry in terms of major outdoors supply brands. When you're at the store, associates often know what they're talking about. Even the clerks at the cashier stations often have adventurous inclinations. Online, you can usually reach the company easily through the official website or on most major social media channels. Email and phone calls are also an option. The people at REI know the products they sell and are often willing to guide you towards a purchase that will satisfy your specific applications.
Another thing to keep in mind is that REI has a decent store return program if you do happen to buy a product that doesn't stand up to your expectations. It's easier to return an unused item, but you can usually exchange an obviously faulty product as well.
The bottom line is that REI or the manufacturer will probably stand behind any products you buy at the store. Therefore, it's safe to say that one thing that every REI water bottle is dependability. The retailer or the equipment maker will work with you to make sure you're happy with your purchase.
The Type of Bottles Available at REI
The material composition of your bottle often turns out to be its most important characteristic. Materials define the bottle along with the size. Everything else is icing on the cake. If you need a general-purpose bottle, then you will probably end up going with plastic. It is the best combination of utility, durability and low weight. Stainless steel is another mainstream option. You could get a bottle that keeps water insulated or one that you can heat over an open fire to thaw. If weight is your first concern, then you might decide to get a bottle made of flexible film.
One feature that REI will probably always demand of its plastic water bottles is that they must be BPA-free. BPAs are potentially harmful substances. It’s a major deal breaker in the high-end adventure athletics market that REI serves. Obviously, people would begin to distrust a store that sold them a product that could contribute to ill health. While the BPA-free process has become an industry standard, it might be good to check on your label of the bottle just to make sure.
Nalgene and Similar Bottles
REI carries many different Nalgene bottles. This brand is famous all over the world in hiking, backpacking and camping circles. Nalgene is known for its hard plastic copolyester that can withstand extreme impact without cracking or breaking, although the bottles can be susceptible to wear over time. If you're not sure you believe the hype, you can probably find videos online of people subjecting Nalgene products to horrible ordeals, such as bashing them with sledgehammers and running them over with trucks. Watch a few of those clips, and it should settle most of your concerns about the ability of the bottle to stand up during your daily use.
Not All Plastic is the Same
Generally speaking, the copolyester and HDPE plastics Nalgene and its competitors use are tough enough to stand up to adventures — as well as laboratory, mechanical and heavy-duty packaging applications. REI offers these bottles in many styles. There are also many limited-edition designs, although it's worth mentioning that the prints and decals tend to start wearing off after a few months of heavy use or else get covered up by stickers you accumulate along your journey.
As Strong as Steel
Another popular material in REI water bottles is stainless steel. Some of the biggest sellers for the premium retailer are from the YETI Rambler line of vacuum-walled bottles. This manufacturer makes a wide variety of different types of travel bottles and jugs. They're known in the camping and adventure community for extreme durability and good insulation.
Upping Weight, Adding Features
A stainless steel option, such as a Yeti bottle, is probably going to be a little heavier than most plastic bottles. Stainless steel makes up for the extra weight with its versatility, which allows it to provide some special features that aren't always practical with an all-plastic bottle. Most notably, you can cook in some steel containers.
There are many aspects to bottle design other than capacity and materials. REI has plenty of options to choose from. Each is good for specific applications. Here's an overview of what to consider while shopping.
Do you need a bottle that will keep liquids cool or hot? Double-walled stainless steel defines the category. The better the quality of the insulation, the longer you're going to have before your water freezes or warms up. The best bottles also reduce condensation as a function of their superior insulating capabilities.
How Will You Access Your Contents?
When you're shopping for water bottles, pay attention to the size of the opening. REI has wide-mouth bottles — easy to clean and hard to drink out of — and narrow-neck canteens for on-the-go chugging. If you depend on your bottle to serve double duty as a food dish, go wide-mouth. If you're going to be biking, get something with a hands-free sports cap.
If you plan on making your own attachment, or if you want the option in a pinch, then you should make sure that you get a bottle with a flange around the neck. That way, your rig will stay securely in place, allowing you to close your container securely. It will also keep your paracord wrap away from your lips when you try to take a drink.
Apart from access, the cap of your bottle makes a big difference in determining the overall durability. If you know that you're likely to lose caps, make sure there's some way you can secure yours easily — whether it's a lanyard attached to your pack or a loop going around the neck of your bottle. Similarly, try to choose a topper with sturdy-looking threads, good seals and durable components. Last but not least, the cap is one of the biggest heat-leak points for insulated bottles. A good cap can make or break your cold-weather water supply.
The Competitive Landscape
Campmor is one of REI's biggest direct competitors. There's a lot of overlap in selection and price: you can buy Kleen Kanteen, Nalgene, Camelbak and Platypus for comparable prices at both retailers, for example. However, Campmor doesn't have the same selection of high-adventure gear. If you want a $, all-weather YETI bottle, shop REI.
Customer Service: 5/5
Variety of Selection: 4/5
Overall Quality of Selection: 4/5
Seller Warranty: 5/5
Amazon is notoriously difficult to browse without picking up a bunch of stuff you don't need. The selection is amazing, but it can be a bit of a mess: you can find everything from super-premium YETI bottles to cut-rate Nalgene imitators. Also, returns are a bit of a gamble and often involve getting bounced around before you get satisfaction.
Customer Service: 2/5
Variety of Selection: 5/5
Overall Quality of Selection: 3/5
Seller Warranty: 3/5
American Science and Surplus is one of the nerdiest places you might ever shop — but remember that Nalgene bottles were originally only used as lab equipment before some enterprising scientist-cum-hiker decided to take one on the trail. A hearty warning to the buyer is necessary here. Products are quirky, and warranties are mostly absent, but there aren't many other shops that offer you closeout water bottles, brand-new lab equipment and surplus military canteens all in the same place — and sometimes at shockingly low prices.
Name: American Science and Surplus
Customer Service: 4/5
Variety of Selection: 3/5
Overall Quality of Selection: 2/5
How REI Compares: Pros and Cons
Since REI restricts itself to carrying the best brands, it tends to blow its competition out of the water when it comes to overall catalog quality. The average item is much more expensive, but it's on more or less an even level with other retailers that offer the same product. The customer service is great — you can walk into one of REI's stores and get a full gear load-out, custom-tailored to your adventure. It surpasses almost any other shop in this regard, with the exception of some smaller retailers, such as Uncle Dan's and Erehwon.
It's hard to find a lot of bad points about this retailer. You can find almost anything you need at REI, and the company is dedicated to its principles. The one thing you're not going to find at this retailer is a bargain. That's not so much of a big deal, except for one thing: you probably don't need a high-end bottle for most light hiking or for daily use. However, if you want to buy one bottle for the rest of your life — wherever your path might lead you — REI probably has something for you.
The Bottom Line
You're not going to go wrong with any REI bottles. Your only risk is buying one that doesn't fit your needs, but you can consult with a salesperson if you have any questions. You'll spend a little more money at REI, but the brand quality and the customer support are probably worth it for a small purchase like a water bottle. With the only drawback being a steep markup, and with a superior selection compared to other large companies that sell similar outdoors gear, REI gets 5/5 stars from us overall.