Irreducible perfection: The Klean Kanteen insulated bottle

My first canteen was a canteen—a WWII surplus aluminum one-quart M1910 with a chained bakelite cap sealed with a cork gasket. I was seven years old, my family had just moved out to the edge of the desert, and I thought that canteen was the coolest thing on earth (well, except for the sheath knife my stepfather had given me in a bizarre fit of generosity). The canteen and several similar examples served well for countless desert hikes and early backpacking trips into the Catalina Mountains, until replaced with stylish and lighter Olicamp polyethylene bottles, which in their turn were replaced with Nalgene bottles—my resulting antipathy to which is well documented (see here). 

In the early 2000s, my search for a better bottle led me to try one of the new stainless-steel Klean Kanteens, despite the fact that that I found the brand name wincingly Kute. The KK, as we’ll call it, seemed to be a vast improvement over the degradation-prone Nalgene. But the “Klean” part of the name was soon called into question when I found that the rolled lip of the bottle, while comfortable to drink from, had a miniscule gap underneath, which after prolonged use resulted in a funky odor that was difficult to exorcise—annoying in a $20 water container. That led to yet more searching, which resulted in an obsession with the even more expensive but indestructible Osprey NATO canteen (more about this in a future article). 

However, for some time Roseann has been urging me to try one of Klean Kanteen’s double-walled, vacuum-insulated bottles. A different lip design eliminates the bacteria trap of the original, and the benefit of insulation seems obvious in a desert (although privately I thought the vacuum space pretty thin to be of much value). So, one recent morning when I needed to spend the day in town in the un-air-conditioned FJ40 with a trailer, collecting building materials, and the predicted high was 105º, I filled a 20-ounce insulated KK bottle with water from the fridge and headed in. 

Six hours later I hadn’t touched the bottle. All my stops had been places with water fountains, so I’d stayed hydrated. Now, heading west toward home on Highway 86, I was thirsty. The bottle had been in the center console all day, and was now sitting in full sun. The exterior was uncomfortably hot to hold. Okay, now we’ll see, I thought. I opened the lid and took a sip. 

The water was . . . cold. Not just nice and cool, but decidedly cold. It was awesome, and I drained most of it in one go. 

Suddenly I found myself examining the bottle with new eyes (after I got home, that is). The “Responsibly made in China” label on the bottom made me roll my eyes; however, after reading up on the (still family-owned) company’s site, it does appear they take more care than most to ensure good working conditions in the factory (KK also belongs to the 1% For The Planet project).

There’s certainly no issue with quality: The bottle is made from 18/8 stainless steel, thick enough that it takes most of my thumb strength to even slightly deflect it. The brushed finish is as even inside as out, and the cap, while obviously not vacuum insulated, does have an air space to help keep contents cold or hot. Sure, I’d be happy if it held more—the 20-ounce size is the largest of KK’s double-walled bottles—but if the bottle were fatter it would be difficult to hold with one hand, and if it were taller it would be unwieldy and unstable. Besides, 20 ounces of cold water feels way more refreshing than a liter of 105º water from my NATO canteen. Titanium option? Well, okay, but titanium, while saving a few ounces, would add hugely to cost, so that’s a tradeoff rather than a failing. I note that the company makes a bicycle cage for the double-walled bottle, which could easily be adapted to suit a motorcycle—nice to have all-day cold water available on a warm ride.

Not as cool as a NATO canteen - but much colder

Every once in a while I come across a product that defies my best attempts at criticism—when function, style, durability, price, and social responsibility (40 million water bottles go into the trash in the U.S. every day) come together to create what I refer to as irreducible perfection. I have to add the KK double-walled bottle to that short list. 

As long as I don’t have to write out the name. Hey, if they made a Kup I could call it the . . . never mind.