The Best Travel Mug

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After doing close to 50 hours of research over three years, looking at last year’s pick alongside more than 60 different travel mugs and testing it against 20 of them for heat retention, usability, and durability, we still feel that Zojirushi’s New Stainless Steel Mug offers the best balance of heat retention and versatility. In our latest round of testing, after a full eight hours the coffee kept in it was nearly as hot as the coffee in the old version of the hardware and 26.2 degrees hotter than the next mug down in our test group—just enough to make the difference between drinkable and lukewarm.

Last Updated: March 3, 2016
After a new round of testing, we still think the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug is the best travel mug for most people. It offers the best balance of heat retention and versatility, and it won’t spill in your bag. If it’s unavailable, or if you prefer a mug without Teflon coating, the Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug is our runner-up. If you need a mug that costs less, the Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean is our budget pick, but it won’t keep drinks hot for nearly as long as a Zojirushi.
Expand Most Recent Updates
September 3, 2015: We’re planning a new round of testing later this year, including several new models that we just added to the What to Look Forward to section below.
May 27, 2015: Zojirushi, maker of our top pick, is reportedly coming out with a new model called the SM-YAE48. Zojirushi enthusiast Max Temkin wrote about his sneak peak of the new mug on Medium.com and had very good things to say about the new design. The SM-YAE seems designed with commuters in mind as it is stouter than our current pick, which should make for a snugger fit in car cup holders. It also sports a wider mouth opening for easier drinking on the go. Considering its pedigree, the SM-YAE is something we’re very interested in testing as soon as it is available.
May 11, 2015: We added new models from Cozyna, Thermos, CamelBak, StanleySnowpeak, and Contigo in the What to Look Forward to section below. We’ll conduct a new round of testing in a few weeks.
August 27, 2014: After the latest update to this guide was published we were contacted by a reader who was concerned about the fact that the latest iteration of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug uses a non-stick flourine coating, which is contradictory to what we were told by Zojirushi on several occasions while researching the guide. Those who prefer a mug without that kind of coating should opt for our runner-up, the older model of the Zojirushi Stainless. See the Our Pick section for more details.
August 4, 2014: The new Zojirushi Stainless Mug is an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor (our previous pick for best travel mug) and doesn't compromise on design or insulating abilities. After 8 hours, coffee was 20 degrees hotter in the Zojirushi than the next mug down in our test group.
March 4, 2014: Added some long-term test notes below.
Zojirushi Stainless Mug
The new Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, but it still offers one-handed usability and a foolproof locking mechanism that will keep your valuables safe. It’s available in a 20-ounce version that can double as a water bottle, as well as 12- or 16-ounce versions.

The 16-ounce Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug is at the higher end of the cost spectrum. But its well-designed exterior, one-handed usability, non-stick Teflon interior that’s easy to clean, and foolproof locking mechanism are well worth the price of admission. It will never, ever spill in your bag. It’s hard to put a price on that sort of thing (well, actually, it’s about the price of a new bag, laptop, phone, and whatever else happened to be in there at the time).

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug
The old Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug is a great runner-up if the new version is unavailable (or becomes wildly expensive). It’s heavier and less compact than our main pick, but it’s also a slightly better insulator.

If the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug is sold out or you prefer to drink from a mug that doesn’t have a Teflon coating, our runner-up is the Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug. A previous top pick in this guide, it’s a slightly better insulator than our main pick, but we believe that the lighter, more compact design of the new model will be more appealing to most people. One of the only “complaints” we had about this mug was that it kept drinks too hot for too long. Otherwise, it has virtually the same design as the new mug, including the foolproof lid-locking mechanism. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them unless you had them standing side by side.

Also Great
Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean
The Contigo costs less, but it doesn’t keep drinks as hot, is not as easy to clean, and may not be as durable over the long term.

It won’t keep drinks hot for nearly as long as a Zojirushi, but the Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean, at close to half the price of our main pick, is a reasonable alternative. It comes in a variety of colors, is available in 14-ounce and 20-ounce sizes, comes with a leak-proof spout and, thanks to its new lid design, is easier to clean than its earlier versions.

Also Great
OXO Good Grips Water Bottle Cleaning Set
The OXO bottle cleaning set has a skinny straw brush and a looped detail cleaning brush, which are all you need to keep your travel mug squeaky clean.

And let’s not forget that these things need cleaning every once in a while. That’s why we also have a bottle brush recommendation for when you need to clean out the gunk.

Table of contents

Before we get started

We’ll be talking a lot about Zojirushi’s travel mugs in this guide. Unfortunately, while the company makes some excellent products, they’re not so great at choosing names for them. So, to keep things from getting too confusing, we’ll be referring to their SM-SA48-BA, SM-KHE48AG, and SM-YAE48TD mugs as the New Stainless Steel Mug, Original Stainless Steel Mug, and Zojirushi Travel Mug, respectively.

Our pick

Zojirushi Stainless Mug
The new Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, but it still offers one-handed usability and a foolproof locking mechanism that will keep your valuables safe. It’s available in a 20-ounce version that can double as a water bottle, as well as 12- or 16-ounce versions.

Zojirushi’s New Stainless Steel Mug is far and away the best travel mug for keeping drinks hot for long periods of time. It’s the new and slightly improved version of this guide’s current runner-up pick. It features similarly impressive thermal-retention abilities paired with a redesigned lid that’s smaller, lighter, and more comfortable to drink out of. And it comes in a larger, 20-ounce size, too. Having spent close to 50 hours on research, considering more than 60 travel mugs and having tested our pick against 20 different pieces of hardware over the past three years, we have no doubt that this is the best travel mug you can get.

travel mug zojirushi stainless steel

Zojirushi’s New Stainless Steel Mug has been our top pick for close to three years.

It has sturdy, leak-proof seals and a simple locking mechanism that we trust to keep our belongings dry. It’s easy to use one-handed. During testing and everyday use, it didn’t leak, didn’t spill, proved itself pretty tough, and could take a bit of a beating—and it has an attractive design that’s minimalistic, yet eye-catching in its simplicity. Over the two-plus years since we first profiled the mug, it’s garnered a 4.8 star average on Amazon from a total of more than 1,600 reviews, 87 percent of which are for five stars.

In the newest version of this guide, Zojirushi’s stainless steel mugs have continued to dominate the competition in our heat-retention tests. We filled the New Stainless Steel Mug with water heated to 201.5°F—a level within the range of the ideal brewing temperatures for a good cup of coffee—and left it to cool over an eight-hour period, testing the water’s temperature every two hours. At the end of the test, the water inside of the New Stainless Steel Mug was still 151.2°—a decrease of 50.3 degrees. That means you’re getting drinkably hot 150°-plus coffee eight hours after brewing. The only mug capable of besting this was Zojirushi’s Original Stainless Steel Mug, which allowed for a total temperature loss of 46.3 degrees—a difference of 4 degrees. Despite this data, we prefer the New Stainless Steel Mug over the Original Stainless Steel Mug for a number of reasons.

While the Original Stainless Steel Mug provided marginally better heat retention than the new version, it weighs 1.6 ounce more (about the weight of two AA batteries).

While the Original Stainless Steel Mug provided marginally better heat retention than the new version, it weighs 1.6 ounce more (about the weight of two AA batteries). This excludes the weight of any beverage you might put in it. While this might not sound like much, ounces add up to pounds, and for someone commuting with a travel mug in a bag along with a laptop, lunch, and perhaps a change of clothes for the gym, heft matters. After consulting with a number of our editorial staff on the issue, we decided that the New Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug’s lighter weight was worth trading away a few degrees of heat retention.

travel mug zojirushi stainless steel

The New Stainless Steel Mug’s lid can be opened with the flick of a switch and disassembles for easy cleaning.

In addition to its lighter weight, the New Stainless Steel Mug features a more compact lid design which, when popped open, obscures less of your view when you tip it to your mouth to drink. As with the Original version of the mug, the lid locks and unlocks by pressing a button, allowing you to drink from it easily without looking. But in the New version of the mug, the size of the lid latch has been reduced, making for a more comfortable drinking experience. No longer will you find yourself jamming your lower lip into the locking mechanism.

Both the New and the Original mugs have a secondary locking mechanism designed to prevent spills. Just flip the secondary lock into position and you’re guaranteed that there’s no way it will pop open when you don’t want it to. We feel very comfortable putting it into a bag with our valuables and letting it roll around on its side or upside down without any consequences. While other mugs, such as the Contigo West Loop and Cozyna travel mug, have a similar mechanism, we found them more difficult to use one-handed. While the locks on these mugs weren’t dealbreakers, they weren’t as convenient to use as just flipping a switch on the Zojirushi mugs.

Its non-stick flourine interior helps to prevent odors and stains.

It’s easy to clean the New Stainless Steel Mug with a quick rinse using some soap and sometimes a bottle brush when necessary. And its non-stick flourine interior helps to prevent odors and stains. (These are fluoropolymers of the sort used in Teflon—for those who prefer drinking from a vessel that doesn’t have a non-stick coating, check out the Original Stainless Steel Mug.) And, unlike some of its competitors, such as older-style Contigo mugs, the plastic lid can be completely disassembled for cleaning out any smells or gunk that might get lodged in hard-to-reach places.

The New Stainless Steel Mug is durable. It did show a few scuffs after our drop tests, but not any more than the other options. In the off chance that any of a mug’s parts be damaged or worn out, Zojirushi is generally good about providing replacement parts. Additionally, Zojirushi backs the vacuum insulation of its stainless steel mugs with a five-year limited warranty.

Unlike most of the other companies that we looked at, Zojirushi offers its travel mugs in a number of sizes. In addition to the 12- and 16-ounce sizes that the Original Stainless Steel Mug is available in, the new iteration of the hardware can also be had in a 20-ounce capacity.

What about cold drinks?

Although we didn’t place much emphasis on keeping cold liquids cold for this guide—check out our water bottle guide for what’s best in that regard—we did find that the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug retained cold better than all of the other mugs in our lineup.

Over a period of eight hours, it allowed our icy-cold 33°F water to rise by only 4 degrees.

Over a period of eight hours, it allowed our icy-cold 33°F water to rise by only 4 degrees, while the others in our lineup allowed the temperature to rise considerably more during that time. So, if you’re looking for a dual-use container that can preserve both hot and cold well, the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug can hold its own—especially as it’s available in a larger, 20-ounce capacity. Just be aware that its aforementioned narrow opening is less than ideal when you’re trying to quench your thirst after cresting a tall hill.

Who else likes it?

Despite the popularity of Zojirushi’s New Stainless Steel Mug, we’ve found few editorial reviews for it. But since the Original version is so similar to the New version, you may find it useful to hear some opinions on how that older one performs.

The Original Stainless Steel Mug was Tested’s choice for best thermal mug. In its tests, the editors found that the mug didn’t retain heat quite as well as heavier-duty bottles that come with separate cup tops, can’t be operated with one hand, are generally bulkier, and require you to keep track of more parts—not quite so good for the everyday commuter.

Good Housekeeping also named the Zojirushi an “outstanding performer at keeping drinks hot or cold,” and said it was easy to open and that it won’t obscure your line of sight when drinking.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Our only major complaint about the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug is that it’s actually a bit too good at insulating sometimes.

Our only major complaint about the Zojirushi New Stainless Steel Mug is that it’s actually a bit too good at insulating sometimes. We find that if we make a fresh pot of coffee and pour it directly into the travel mug, it ends up staying mouth-burningly hot for hours. Let it cool a little before closing the lid.

A lot has been written about the potential dangers of eating or drinking from vessels containing non-stick coatings. Some outlets, like Cancer.org, feel that as they have the potential to leech chemicals, those who use them could suffer long-term health problems (a stance supported unofficially by the EPA). Others look to the fact that so long as a non-stick coating like Teflon is not overheated (the chemical bonds in Teflon start breaking down between 400 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s a safe technology to use, provided you use it properly.

If you believe the latter is the case, like we do, then the New Stainless Steel Mug is for you. If you don’t, then go with our runner-up, the Original Stainless Steel Mug, which has no non-stick coating.

Another small complaint is that it’s a bit skinnier than your typical travel mug, which means it may not be a snug fit in a car cup holder or bike water bottle cage. If you prefer a travel mug with a greater circumference, check out the Contigo mug.

On a similar note, both the Original and New stainless steel mugs have a notably narrow opening. This is good for preventing burns from potentially scalding coffee or tea, but makes it less than ideal for use as a day-to-day water bottle or for people who like to really gulp down beverages. You could always take the lid off entirely, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose of the mug’s ease of one-handed use.

Finally, at around $30, the Zojirushi is on the higher end of the price range for a travel mug. But it’s worth the handful of extra dollars over the competition because of the container’s superior construction and performance.

Long-term test notes

After constant use for close to three years, our pick still retains heat just as well as the day we got it.

After constant use for close to three years, our pick still retains heat just as well as the day we got it. Although not advisable for double-walled stainless steel (see our Care and maintenance section below), it has survived several accidental trips through the dishwasher without any noticeable decrease in performance and has traveled around in many crowded bags, backpacks, and purses without any leaks.

A number of superficial scrapes and scuffs means it’s no longer as pretty as it once was, but having survived the occasional fall reassures us that this is a truly solid mug, and we have no qualms continuing to recommend it.

Runner-up

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug
The old Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug is a great runner-up if the new version is unavailable (or becomes wildly expensive). It’s heavier and less compact than our main pick, but it’s also a slightly better insulator.

If you can’t find Zojirushi’s New Stainless Steel Mug, or prefer to drink from a mug that has an electro-polished stainless steel interior (instead of a non-stick coating, like our main pick), get the Original Stainless Steel Mug, our previous pick for this guide.

It costs about the same as the New Stainless Steel Mug and will keep your drinks a few degrees hotter over the long-term. However, it weighs a little more than our main pick, has a bulkier lid that’s not as pleasurable to drink from, and doesn’t come in a 20-ounce size.

travel mug zojirushi stainless steel

Our runner-up is a little bit heavier and not as pleasurable to drink from as our main pick.

A less expensive alternative

Also Great
Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean
The Contigo costs less, but it doesn’t keep drinks as hot, is not as easy to clean, and may not be as durable over the long term.

If you don’t want to pay much for a travel mug and you don’t mind if beverages won’t stay hot for as long, get Contigo’s Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean mug instead. It costs close to half as much as either of our Zojirushi picks and has a lid mechanism that’s far easier to clean than other Contigo mugs we’ve tested in the past, and its lockable, leak-proof spout opens with the push of a button. And because it has a slightly larger circumference than the Zojirushi mugs, it may sit more securely in your car’s cup holder.

travel mug contigo west loop easy clean

The Contigo West Loop Easy Clean mug is half the price of our main pick, but it keeps drinks hot less than half as long.

At the two-hour mark, the contents of the Contigo mug had cooled to 149.5°F. That’s 1.7 degree lower than the temperature of our main pick after eight hours!

But there are caveats: First, the Contigo mug won’t keep your beverages hot for as long as our first pick. At the two-hour mark, the contents of the Contigo mug had cooled to 149.5°F. That’s 1.7 degree lower than the temperature of our main pick after eight hours! In its own eighth hour of testing, the water inside of the Contigo measured a lukewarm 108.6°F.

travel mug contigo lid

The Contigo’s lid is easier to clean than previous models, but durability is a concern.

Then there’s the build quality. The Contigo mug feels sturdy, and in a few weeks of testing, its button-activated locking spout hasn’t leaked. But there are a lot of plastic parts inside the Contigo’s lid that make its spout open, close, and lock, and according to a few Amazon reviews, these pieces can wear down after one to two years of regular use, or sooner if you’re too rough with them while cleaning the lid. Contigo sells replacement lids for $7. If you add that in it’s still less expensive than our main pick. But if you consider the cost of repairing or replacing anything potentially ruined by a leak in your bag, the Zojirushi is probably a better deal. We also saw complaints about the colored coating on the exterior of the mugs chipping off over time. But that’s something we’ve seen with other mugs, too, and is not unique to the Contigo.

Last, despite improvements to its design, the Contigo’s lid is not as easy to thoroughly clean as the Zojirushi gear is. The company did improve its design for this version of the mug by exposing the lid’s spout mechanism, but the mug still can’t be taken completely apart (whereas our main pick can).

The new competition

Lots of folks prefer to drink hot beverages from glass, so we took a look at Lifefactory’s 16-Ounce Cafe Cap Mug. It comes with a soft silicone wrap to help protect the glass from damage and a push-button lid that’s designed to keep liquids from leaking out. We looked past the fact that the mug is designed to keep drinks hot for only about an hour—but we couldn’t overlook the fact that this Lifefactory mug failed our overnight leak test.

Zojirushi brought its latest travel mug, the awkwardly named SM-YAE48TD, to North America last fall. It’s a 16-ounce mug that costs a little bit more than our main pick and runner-up. It comes with an electro-polished interior, like the Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug, with a shape that’s stouter than other Zojirushi mugs, and short enough to fit under the spout of a single-cup brewing machine. Its insulating performance is worse than our pick: After eight hours, the water temperature had dropped to 122°F—that’s 29.2 degrees cooler than our main pick. This may be because its plastic lid has a significantly larger surface area, which loses more heat, and also obscures your view as you drink (not good for use while driving).

In the last version of this guide, we recommended the OXO Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. But in the time since we first tested the LiquiSeal, we’ve found a number of customer complaints about the mug: Its open/close mechanism is prone to failure over time, its lid mechanism is almost impossible to clean, and the chunky size of the mug, while great for some cup holders, makes it a poor choice for stuffing it into a purse or a briefcase. And it costs more than our main pick, which doesn’t have any of these issues.

We considered testing the CamelBak Forge Travel Mug. It costs a little bit more than the Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean mug, and like the Contigo, it can be opened one-handed. It’s available in 12-ounce and 16-ounce sizes and, unlike older CamelBak travel mugs and water bottles, its lid is designed to be easy to clean. However, we found a number of user complaints regarding the build quality of the mug, that its push-button mechanism is difficult to use and that the mug frequently leaks.

We wanted to look at the Joeveo—a mug that purportedly uses a special insulating material to capture excess heat energy and then releases it over time to keep your beverage at an optimal drinking temperature. It was supposed to be released in 2014, but due to production issues, is now slated to be released in the first half of 2016. If we can get our hands on one, we’ll take it for a spin and let you know what we think.

We had high hopes for the Cozyna Travel Mug. It’s a 16-ounce container that takes its design cues from Zojirushi, with a similar lid that comes apart for cleaning. However, upon receiving it, we found that the lid’s locking mechanism juts out from the surface of the mug—if the mug were stuffed in a bag with anything else, the lock and latch could be accidentally pushed and opened. Plus, it arrived without an internal rubber stopper, making it possible for liquid to pour out of the mug as soon as it is upended. As such, we had to disqualify it, at least for the time being. We’ll test it again once we’re able to get our hands on a mug that comes with all its parts.

The Thermos Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug costs as much as our main pick and runner-up, and comes with a grippy handle that makes drinking out of this mug a pleasure. Unfortunately, that same handle sticks out so far that it’s a pain to try to jam the mug into a backpack—a fact that Thermos must realize as the mug comes with a carabiner for attaching it to a travel bag or pack. Plus, eight hours after we poured boiling water into it, the Thermos mug’s contents were close to 7 degrees cooler than the water in the Contigo mug (which costs far less). Finally, the mug has a twist-off opening which is impossible to use one-handed.

The Timolino PCT-46KMIW Icon is a 16-ounce tumbler-style travel mug with a flip-up lid and an electro-polished interior. We liked the look and feel of the Icon, but every time we flipped the lid open to drink from it, a small amount of liquid splashed out of the opening and off of the spout’s rubber stopper. Plus, it failed to keep beverages as hot as any of our three main picks.

We love the look of the Stanley 16oz Classic One-Hand Hot Beverage Mug. It resembles an old-school vacuum bottle, but has a modern button-activated lid that makes it easy to drink from it one-handed. We found that this lid mechanism, which comes apart easily, was a cinch to clean. However, after screwing it apart the first time, we found plastic debris in the threads, making us concerned about the mug’s long-term durability. Last, despite costing a few dollars more than our main pick, it was unable to keep beverages as hot—the Stanley’s eight-hour temperature reading was 125.1°F versus our main pick’s 151.2°F.

The old competition

We also considered the Zojirushi Tuff Mug, which is very similar to the Zojirushi Original Stainless Steel Mug in its design and functionality. The Tuff Mug performed exceptionally well in our heat-retention tests (it was basically tied with the last generation Stainless Steel Mug) but got the boot because of usability issues. The Tuff Mug has a completely removable top lid and a difficult-to-understand drinking mechanism. We gave it to several very technical friends to mess with, and no one could figure out how to make the liquid come out upon first blush. Separate parts mean more things to lose when you’re out and about, and confusing usage means murder for someone trying to keep their eyes on the road. You also can’t completely disassemble the top, meaning it might harbor smells or gunk later on.

The container that was the most like Zojirushi’s stainless steel mugs was the Thermos Nissan Stainless Steel Commuter Bottle. The design is almost exactly the same: a double-walled, stainless steel bottle with a screw-on top that has a button you can push to pop it open and a separate locking mechanism for when it gets thrown into a bag. Three years ago, it came in third place after the Zojirushi mugs and was the only other bottle in our lineup that kept coffee at barely above lukewarm temperature after eight hours. The main reason it lost out to the Zojirushi is that the secondary locking mechanism, which is just a metal loop that fits over the front of the lid, can be finicky for those who have ham hands (such as myself) or anyone who might be fiddling with it while driving.

We also tested a Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug (with tea hook). While we liked the look of it, the heat retention was just so-so—it was only able to keep coffee at or above optimal drinking temperature for about four hours—and we found the tea hook to be unnecessary. (There are people who use these containers for tea, and most of the time, they just plop the tea bag into the bottle without any problem.) The Thermos mug has a push-button interface just like the OXO discussed above: There’s a button on the top that you press in when you want to drink and press again to seal it back up again. Again, it can be confusing to determine whether the button is in the up or down position just by looking at it, meaning you may find yourself pressing it over and over again to figure out whether it’s open or closed.

And finally, we tested the 16-ounce version of the Contigo Autoseal West Loop (which was discontinued as of March 2015). Like the OXO, the Contigo was clearly designed more as an active drinking vessel than something you’d throw in a bag to drink later at work. It was wider, so it fit more securely in a cup holder, and it had a one-button interface, which meant you could easily take a sip without having to look at it. The downside here was that it had about the same level of heat retention as the OXO (which is to say not very much). The Contigo was only able to keep our coffee above lukewarm for between one and two hours, which might be fine if you make your coffee at home and drink it while driving to work, but it’s not particularly versatile for other situations. In this case, we just happened to like the OXO’s drinking button better than the Contigo’s, though in reality, the two could almost be used interchangeably.

There were several others that we considered but didn’t place in our final tests. For example, there’s the Contigo Extreme Mug, which Good Housekeeping says can obscure your view when drinking—bad for drivers—and can be uncomfortable to sip from.

Bodum also makes a combination French press and travel mug that sounds appealing because you can literally brew your coffee inside the mug as you take it with you. In reality, though, it’s not much different from brewing the coffee first and pouring it into the mug (in fact, it might be worse because the Bodum will keep your coffee grounds in contact with the hot water for much longer, therefore changing the flavor and making it more acidic). Additionally, as those familiar with French presses know, it could leave you with coffee ground bits floating around in your coffee.

We got some requests to look at the Hydro Flask, so we did. It’s not as good as the other options, let alone our pick. It maintains heat only at a drinkable level for a handful of hours (four or less), and the drinking lid can’t be locked so it’s at risk of flipping open, potentially spilling everywhere—a fact that the company’s own website points out. I would definitely not risk putting it in my bag, and I would be very careful about even dropping it or knocking it over.

How we picked and tested

Travel mugs tend to come in three basic materials: plastic, glass/ceramic, or stainless steel. According to previous tests performed by Cook’s Illustrated, all-plastic mugs can’t retain heat for more than an hour and all-ceramic for no more than 30 minutes. Good Housekeeping agreed, stating that plastic and ceramic mugs don’t retain heat for long and break easily. That wasn’t acceptable to them or us, so all-plastic and all-glass mugs were out (although we did look at an all-glass mug this year as we know that some people prefer drinking from a vessel made from the material, despite its shortcomings). Indeed, when you look at various other guides that have been written on the subject, including an extensive heat-retention test performed by Tested, the ones that rise to the top are always double-walled, vacuum-insulated, and stainless steel.

Occasionally, travel mugs come with a stainless steel exterior and a ceramic or glass interior. This option tends to be better for those with sharp palates—people who can taste (and care about) a change in flavor when drinking coffee directly out of a stainless steel container.

As such, it would seem easy to assume that coffee experts would never use or recommend a container with an unlined stainless steel lining, but that would be wrong. The problem with glass or ceramic interiors is that they can still break easily—one wrong drop or bump and your investment is in bits on the floor. This was a common problem among the ones we researched in this category, and few people are happy after spending money on something that breaks. Besides, a growing number of mugs lined with stainless steel (including our runner-up pick) now come with electro-polished interiors, which makes the steel less likely to hold on to strange odors and flavors. That’s why our experts recommended sticking with stainless steel for its durability and insulating capabilities—and if you feel you can taste a metallic flavor, try pouring the coffee out into an open-air mug before drinking it.

Some people actually prefer stainless steel interiors. According to Tested’s former editor in chief Will Smith, who performed his own extensive tests on insulated travel mugs, a container with a stainless steel interior is easier to clean and remove the coffee taste from if you want to use the mug for anything else (water, tea).

Regardless of palate sophistication (or lack thereof), our experts and research agreed that a vacuum-sealed travel mug made entirely out of stainless steel (save for the lid) was the best choice for most uses.

Regardless of palate sophistication (or lack thereof), our experts and research agreed that a vacuum-sealed travel mug made entirely out of stainless steel (save for the lid) was the best choice for most uses. It retains heat the best out of all the available materials and is the least breakable, which is a double win.

Despite limiting our focus to all-stainless models, there were still hundreds of options to consider. So, we turned to a number of publications to see what they liked the best and which criteria they used. The three best guides on the subject are the previously mentioned ones by Tested and Cook’s Illustrated, plus another one from Good Housekeeping, which all took a slightly different angle to evaluating travel mugs. We also considered the most highly rated ones from Amazon. From there, we focused on models that were highly ranked for heat retention and ease of use, taking extra care to select ones that would be easier to clean as well.

Using this criteria, we narrowed our list of test candidates, which included hardware from well-known name brands like Snow Peak, Bodum, OXO, and Hydro Flask, down to 18. From here we quickly thinned this group down by close to half, taking into consideration build quality, whether its lid could be locked for storage in a bag or purse, availability, cost, large numbers of reviews that stated that the mug in question was far from leak-proof, and whether the mug could easily be used with one hand—an important factor for anyone looking to drink their beverage while they drive.

In the end, we decided to call in eight mugs to test ourselves this year: Zojirushi SM-SA48-BA, Zojirushi SM-KHE48AG, Zojirushi SM-YAE48TD, Contigo Autoseal West Loop Easy Clean, Cozyna 16oz Coffee Travel Mug, Thermos 14-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug, Timolino PCT-46KMIW 16-Ounce Icon Vacuum Tumbler, and STANLEY 10-01394-001 16oz Classic One-Hand Hot Beverage mug.

At this point, we turned our attention to testing.

In order to eliminate any of the travel mugs as quickly as possible from our test group, we started by testing to see if they were as leakproof as their manufacturers said they’d be. To do so, we filled up each of the travel mugs with hot water and blue food dye and laid them down on a bed of paper towels and left them overnight. When we checked on the test the next morning, any bottle with a blue stain on the paper towel under it was disqualified. The same test was then conducted with each bottle standing upended on its lid overnight.

Next, we investigated how well each travel mug could maintain the heat of the liquid inside of it. According to 2012 U.S. Barista Champion Katie Carguilo, and supported by the findings at Cook’s Illustrated, coffee (and black tea) is typically brewed at about 200°F and the best temperature to drink is at roughly 145-155°F. There’s some debate over the technical ideal when it comes to the temperature for coffee drinking, but we used Carguilo’s guidance to perform our tests. Subjectively, when it came to drinking temperature, 155°F came off as a little too hot for our liking (but was still drinkable), while coffee seemed quite pleasantly hot down to about 140°F. Anything below that started to feel lukewarm.

We heated enough water to fill all of our test bottles at the same time, sealing their lids once the temperature of the water in each dropped to 201.5° F. We checked on the temperature of each of the bottles every two hours over an eight hour period, charting the heat loss on a spreadsheet.

We also tested the durability of each mug by dropping them all several times.

A good mug should be easy to both open and close, as well as lock and unlock, with one hand without having to look down at it.

Another important criterion that’s not easy to measure objectively is one-handed ease of use. If you’re going to be using it while driving or biking (not that we recommend it), you’ll definitely need at least one hand free and probably both eyes. A good mug should be easy to both open and close, as well as lock and unlock, with one hand without having to look down at it.

Care and maintenance

Also Great
OXO Good Grips Water Bottle Cleaning Set
The OXO bottle cleaning set has a skinny straw brush and a looped detail cleaning brush, which are all you need to keep your travel mug squeaky clean.

No matter which travel mug you chose, it should be hand washed. Dishwashers introduce heat and water pressure to the vacuum seal, which can potentially degrade the mug’s ability to retain heat over time.

When hand washing your mug, most of the time dish soap and water will do the trick (although sometimes using some baking soda and vinegar is a good idea too.) No matter which you choose to use, you’ll need a few different sizes of bottle brushes in order to clean in and around the travel mug’s lid mechanism, spout and deep into the vacuum bottle itself.

If your mug comes with silicone seals, like the ones used on our Zojirushi picks, you’ll likely notice that over time they’ll take on the smells of what you drink from your mug. To remove the stink from your seals, bury them in fresh baking soda for two days.

We found that the best bottle cleaning set out there is the OXO Good Grips Bottle Cleaning Set. It comes with a large bottle brush, a skinny straw brush, and a looped detail cleaning brush, all kept together by a handy ring so you won’t lose any of the parts. The set is dishwasher safe, and after 96 separate reviews it doesn’t have a single one-star review on Amazon, so it’s a pretty good bet for anyone looking to get gunk out of their hard-to-clean items.

(Photos by Michael Hession.)

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Sources

  1. Becky, Would get 5 stars if my lid didn't break, but I'd still buy one if I were you, Amazon Customer Review, January 11, 2015
  2. Liz Clayton, Coffee: Some Like it (Too) Hot, Serious Eats, January 16, 2013
  3. Cook’s Country, Travel Mugs, Cook’s Illustrated, October 2011
  4. Heloise, The Best Way to Clean a Stainless Steel Coffee Container, Good Housekeeping, May 30, 2008
  5. Ana Hurka-Robles, Tested: Six Insulated Bottles to Keep Your Coffee Hot, Tested, June 7, 2011
  6. LW, Peels badly - stick with brushed aluminum finish!!!, Amazon Customer Review, February 8, 2015
  7. Amanda Schaffer, Nervous About Nonstick?, Good Housekeeping, September 26, 2007
  8. Will Smith, Our Favorite Tech of 2011: Zojirushi 17-oz Thermal Mug, Tested, December 28, 2011
  9. The Good Housekeeping Institute, The Best Thermal Coffee Mugs, Good Housekeeping, July 2, 2010
  10. The Good Housekeeping Institute, Thermal Coffee Mugs Tested, Good Housekeeping, July 2, 2010
  11. Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), American Cancer Society, November 6, 2013
  12. Teflon™ Coatings — Six Basic Types, Chemours

Originally published: March 3, 2016

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