World’s Best Water Bottle for Runners

I’ve used handheld water bottles since the early nineties, after trying several belt packs and never really liking them.

Among the problems I encountered with the belt packs: the constant need to adjust them, removal required to go potty, belt-buckle tummy-bounce, etc.). I saw a photo in Running Times of Ann Trason carrying Ultimate Direction handhelds with foam straps. I bought a pair and gave up belt packs forever.

I do like backpacks, however – I’ve run up to 50 miles with my Camelback MULE. I’ve had it for 13 years, and it’s every bit as good as new. But for short runs, I still prefer handhelds. (On self-supported long runs without a water source, I’ll carry the pack and two handhelds.)

I started with the UD handhelds, figuring that if Ann T used them, they must be pretty good. Certainly, they’re rugged. And with the foam straps, you never have to worry about dropping them – an advantage on trails where a dropped bottle can spell dehydration or a scramble through poison oak. A shame, though, that UD doesn’t make a strap for their larger bottle. And, incomprehensibly, UD decided to make the hole in the second revision of its handhelds smaller, even though the flow from the first bottles was, at best, marginal. Finally, the UDs are prone to leak. I resolved to find something better. I’m happy to say that I’ve found the best water bottle ever.

First, four more things I don’t like about the UD bottles, aside from the too-small hole:

  1. The valve is hard plastic. Why? Many bike bottles have a nice, soft rubber nipple that’s easy on the teeth.
  2. It takes some care to drink from a UD bottle without accidentally half-closing the valve — very frustrating to have to run 20 yards on rough trail with arms and eyes pointed skyward.
  3. The bottles are so thick that when you squeeze them, they tend to stay squoze. How are you supposed to restore them to their normal shape? Blow hard into the nozzle? Doesn’t work well, and why should we have to be bothered? This is particularly irksome with the larger bottles.
  4. Finally, they aren’t transparent; they aren’t even translucent. When I carry two bottles, I often like to keep one filled with water, and the other with fuel. With the UDs, it’s hard to know which is which, unless you’re drinking dark fluids, such as Coke or coffee.

For a while, I ran with 16-ounce water bottles that I bought at Trader Joe’s for 29 cents. But they were small and quite fragile; when I dropped them, the “sport top” nearly always broke.

I’ve found a bottle that solves all of these problems gloriously: the Specialized Big Mouth Water Bottle

What’s so special about these bottles?

  • They’re transparent.
  • They’re tough.
  • They keep their shape. Sure, there’s no “finger grip” – but how bad an omission is that? The deep indent is just fine – in fact, it’s better than the finger grips on the UDs, because you never have to rotate the bottle to position the grips under your fingers.
  • The cap is huge (faster, easier filling and emptying than UD).
  • The nipple allows a strong flow, unlike the UD.
  • The nipple is soft rubber.
  • The nipple stays open – no UD-like accidental closing with a tooth-bump.
  • Specialized claims these bottles “absolutely won’t leak.” And that’s absolutely true. You can sling them in the backseat of the car with confidence.
  • They’re the right size: 24oz and 21oz.
  • They’re amazingly cheap (24oz – $4.99, 21oz – $3.99).
  • You’re almost sure to find them at a local bike shop — Specialized is a major cycling brand. I buy mine at Mike’s Bikes in Palo Alto.

Great gear is transparent. For example, the best running shoes “disappear” when you run; you hardly know they’re there. The “goods” that serve us best are simple, humble, functional, and well made. On those points, the Specialized Big Mouth Bottle succeeds brilliantly.